To Teach and to Train

Part 1

By definition, to train is "to coach in or accustom to a mode of behavior or performance." To teach is to impart knowledge or skill to. As teachers we must realize that to teach is not necessarily to train, but as we train we never fail to teach.

You may ask, "How can an English teacher or a science teacher be training students for a particular role?" These are the subjects that provoke a student to say, "Why do I have to learn this anyway?" or "When am I ever going to use this?" It is in these courses, however, as well as others that the teacher can become a trainer--a trainer in the study skills needed for their role as students.

Most secondary students do not realize that there is training needed to become a good student just as there is training needed to become a good doctor or technician. And we teachers sometimes forget that being good students does not come naturally to most young people.

To be effective trainers in the field of study, we must prepare to be good examples. A trainer in sports cannot be out of shape or lazy or disorganized in his approach to physical exercise. In the same way, a teacher should set an example for his students by being organized and "in shape" academically.

We cannot require of our students what we do not require of ourselves. If neatness counts for our students, a messy desk or briefcase sends them the message that neatness is merely a request, not requirement and certainly not something that is necessary for success.

Good study habits and skills are essential for success in school. As we impart knowledge to our students, we must also focus on training them to study. As they develop good study habits and acquire good study skills, they will retain the knowledge they acquire and will be able to make even better use of their study skills in the future.

Part 2

Many students believe that study time begins after class has ended, but two important study skills need to be practiced and mastered in the classroom.

The most important skill, listening, is often considered a natural ability, but it requires practice. Active listening takes discipline and hard work. The listener should sit up in his chair and focus his eyes on the speaker. This posture sends a message to the mind that what is being said is important. Since a listener thinks more quickly than a speaker speaks, keeping the mind directed toward the speaker also requires conscious effort.

The active listener does not merely hear words but focuses on the meanings. Toward that end, students should do the following:

  1. Mentally ask and answer questions related to the topic.
  2. Make mental pictures of the material.
  3. Periodically summarize what has already been said.
  4. Write down what needs to be remembered.

Writing down information (or taking notes) is the second classroom skill to develop. Notes taken during class will determine what is available for study later. Students should remember that it is important to think more and write less. If the mind is engaged, the notes will later trigger the memory of more than is written on the page.

Notes taken in class should be written in a student's own words. The ability to translate an idea into personal thoughts demonstrates understanding. It may be necessary to practice this type of note taking with directed exercises, allowing the students ample time to take in information, understand it, and note the thought.

Students are often frustrated with the methods of note taking. Some may find that simply indenting subpoints or identifying them with symbols, such as dots and dashes, frees them from having to follow a formal outline style. Visual learners may find it helpful to use mapping. Mapping gives a clear picture representation of the relationships between the main idea and the subpoints.

Just as warm-up exercises prepare the muscles for a difficult workout, the classroom skills of listening and note taking prepare a student for diligent personal study.

Part 3

"Now it's up to you. Study hard." How many times have you said that to your high school students? But following the test, despite their protests to the contrary, you see no indication that much real studying actually took place. It may be that those who received your admonition did not have a clear understanding of the process of studying. The following plan may make study time more profitable.


Have a place to study, but be prepared to study any place. Keep a card or list of information handy to learn so that you can use those waiting times—lines, doctors' appointments—to memorize or review.

Have a study schedule. Plan to study each subject ten to fifteen minutes each night, beginning immediately after the last test. Last minute cramming seldom helps.

Have everything you need. Hunting for a book or pencil interrupts the process and interferes with the memory.


Get interested. If you are not interested in a particular subject, get interested. Effective studying cannot take place without it.

Warm up. Like an athlete warming up to run, get your mind ready for learning by reviewing what you already know.

Get started. It is more difficult to bring a mind out of inactivity than to keep it running smoothly. Delay leads to an idle mind.

Keep going. Force yourself to focus. If you can keep your attention on the material for the first five or ten minutes, you will find it easier to continue.


Use as many senses as possible when you memorize. Read silently and out loud. Add hand motions to make it really stick.

Use some trade secrets. Make flash cards with questions on one side and answers on the other or divided pages with a column for questions and a column for answers.

Study the material, using the same method you will use on the test. Do not just read it if you are going to have to write it.

Overlearn the material. When you think you know it, study a little longer.

Visualize it. Close your eyes and picture what the words looked like on the page.

Plan to remember what is memorized. If you are not making an effort to remember, the information will not stick with you.

Use the material. Facts are not yours until you use them. Explain the information to someone else. Use it in some way to make it truly yours.

Review soon and often. If possible, go over your notes immediately after class. You will forget more in the first hour than in a whole day.

Let it set. Do not disturb what you have just learned by immediately going on to another subject. Take a short break.

Remember studying is a skill that requires practice. Helpful hints can chart the path, but effort and energy are required to reach the goal.

This article has been compiled from "To Teach and to Train, Part 1" (September 1998), "To Teach and to Train, Part 2" (December 1998), and "To Teach and to Train, Part 3" (June 1999).

 by Susan Young. Updated October 21, 2015.

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