5 academic skills to prepare your students for higher education

Studying abroad in an English-speaking country is a fantastic opportunity for your students to use their language skills in real-world situations and give their confidence a boost. But how can we help prepare them for success, so that they can really benefit from their experience abroad?

One way to do this is to develop their academic skills alongside their language skills.

WWhy are academic skills important?
Academic skills encourage students to become more efficient learners. They give students the confidence to participate fully in English-speaking courses and are invaluable outside of the classroom and after they graduate. These skills, which include critical thinking and note-taking, are also highly transferable, and therefore vital for success in any career.

Students are expected to have a number of these skills when they start in higher education. The Global Scale of English (GSE) Teacher Toolkit organizes them into five categories:

Academic Discourse – skills for communicating effectively in debates, discussions and presentations
Academic Text Strategies – skills for analyzing academic texts in greater detail
Academic Strategies – skills for understanding and responding critically to lectures
Composition – skills for effective academic writing
Comprehension – skills for understanding academic texts and lectures
DDeveloping academic skills in the classroom
Here are five ways to help you build the skills in each of those categories:

Academic Discourse: responding to and asking questions
Many teachers ask their students to practice presentations in class and this is a great skill to have. However, it’s very easy to overlook the students who aren’t speaking. By asking these students to prepare follow-up questions for the speakers, you can transform this activity into an active listening task. After the presentation has finished, conduct a student-led Q&A session, and provide feedback to the speakers on how they can better deal with difficult questions.

Give your students extra motivation by offering a prize for the person that asks the most interesting question.

Academic Text Strategies: looking for inferred meaning in texts
Being able to make inferences is a very important academic reading skill. It not only helps students understand the text, but also encourages students to ‘read between the lines’ and look for deeper meaning.

How, then, can you strengthen this skill in the classroom? First, try developing this skill without a text. You can use short videos or pictures, such as the New York Times’ ‘What’s Going On in This Picture?’—in which students can try to infer the meaning of the photo. Once students have practiced this several times, move on to short texts. Take the first paragraph of a short story for example, and have students make inferences about the character, the plot and other aspects of the story using evidence from the text. Provide them with the rest of the story (or a summary if it’s too long) to have them find out whether their guesses were correct or not.

Academic Strategies: writing effective notes
How many of your students find it difficult to both listen and make notes at the same time when they are watching a video or lecture?

Effective note taking is an essential skill for your students to learn before they go on to further education. Using short videos, such as TED Talks, have students take notes while they watch. Then, in pairs or small groups, get your students to combine their notes to ‘recreate the video’ in as much detail as possible. Further extension tasks can then include having the groups summarize their notes into a tweet, or, if it’s a higher-level group, have them paraphrase their notes into their own words.

Composition: developing a coherent argument
When having class discussions, how effective are your students’ arguments? Producing coherent arguments is a vital skill for learners in higher education, and one that you can practice in the classroom. Find a model, written argument from the opinion section of a newspaper and cut it up into sections for your learners. Have them reorganize the text, and once correct, analyze the different components that make it coherent. Once students have discussed these, have them write their own coherent arguments on a range of topics that interest them. Then have them recite these arguments to their peers, and provide feedback on how logical their arguments are.

Comprehension: identifying specific ideas in academic texts and lectures
In the context of further education, it’s not just enough to say what you think the idea of a text is – students need to be able to provide evidence from the text itself. During class reading activities, have students get into the habit of underlining or highlighting parts of the text that they think support their answers, and discuss them during the feedback session after the activity. Encourage them to not highlight large parts of text, but instead, give them a word limit. By reducing the amount of underlined words, learners need to read the content carefully to really identify the key words and phrases.

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