Helping students become independent!

Kelly Draper

November 3, 2014

Teachers often say they want to help their students become independent learners. But a lot of the techniques you learn during teacher training or on the job, encourage dependence on the teacher. Students do not always come to class with study skills and increasingly, social skills either. The bleak choice is to do the heavy lifting for them to avoid problems in lessons or risk wasting time on non-subject specific skills.

I think it’s worth a shot to try to get them to leave the nest! Here are some skills that I like explicitly teaching at the start of a new term.

Using search engines

We call them ‘digital natives’ but they still try to write out full questions into Google. Show them how to get the most from their searches.

Looking things up in books

Instead of telling them what page you want them to turn to, tell them the topic of the lesson and give them 30 seconds to find the page and hold it up (You might need to teach them how to use the table of contents and an index.


Give students tasks where they need to describe diagrams to a partner and then the partner needs to copy them without seeing the book. Or they have to mime out ideas.

Time Management

Give them projects where they need to organize their own time. I find that the first couple of these end up in disaster (and involve deadline extensions) but after a few failed attempts, they get much better.

Being responsible

Give them a checklist at the start of every topic with the things you want them to learn. Give them five minutes every week to go through the checklist and mark when they learned something new. This pushes the responsibility onto the right person. If there are things that they need to work on, you can support them. However, you need to know what the problems are to be able to do that! You’re not psychic and tests only tell you so much.

Sometimes you get a bit of push back as students who are confused often want hand holding, but as long as you are being clear about your objectives and providing activities that help students attain them, be firm. You already got your certificates, your students need to do the work for theirs.

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