Finals season is upon us. Students are stressed, teachers are frazzled, and the copy machines are doing their best to keep up with the demands. One of the things I have always loathed about finals is creating a study guide for my students. Reducing months of inquiry, research, and discussion into a few key terms seems counterproductive to the entire learning process. Handing students a list of things to focus on can help them, but it can also limit them. Many of my students peruse the study guide, focus on those terms of bullet points, and feel that it suffices. It feels very reactive, they don't really reflect on what they have learned. I strive for content creation in my class, not content consumption. Why then, should I throw away that core belief at the very end?
Despite my dislike of study guides, I realize that without some kind of guideline students are floating in the middle of the ocean without a compass. Many do not have the tools and skills to wade through all of the content from the semester and chunk it into manageable pieces. With this in mind, few years ago, I started having students create their own study guide for exams. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I always receive push back from them on this, they hate it (at first). Usually they say things like, "Why can't you just tell us what we need to know." "How do I know what's important from the semester?" "This is a waste of time, I wish you'd just give us a study guide."
Usually by the end they understand the method to my madness, and I think that they leave with a genuine feeling that they know and recall way more information than they realized. There are probably a million great ways to have students create their own study guides, but here's how I do it:
Prior to students coming to class, I come up with 6-8 (depending on the number of groups) broad categories from the semester (ie: WWI, The Progressive Age, etc). You want to keep these very broad.
When students arrive I split them up into groups of 4-6. I think I've mentioned it before but with less than 4 they can struggle with generating ideas, and more than 6 they tend to split into subgroups. I then give each group a different color marker and ask them to designate someone to write (I emphasize that it should be the person with very legible writing). I then put a giant post it (but you could use poster paper, or any other large paper that you have) in the middle of each group and assign them a category. They then have 5 minutes (or however long you want to give) to generate as many "items" as they can related to the category. They could put people, places, dates, ideas, concepts, acronyms, anything and everything that we've covered.
At the end of five minutes the paper stays but the groups and their markers rotate. I have them count up the total "items" that the first group came up with, I then tell them that they have five minutes to produce that number plus one. Beware, students will groan and say its impossible, that all of the terms have been taken. Explain to them that just the obvious "big picture" things are probably written down, they will have to do some digging and deep thinking to come up with more.
This continues until the groups arrive back to their original place. I do change up the number of required items on the third and fourth round as it does get tricky.
Once students arrive back, they go through the paper, now filled with everyone's ideas. This time they look for things to fix, any mistakes made, and add anything missing. When they are satisfied we begin rotating again. During this rotation students have five minutes to "expand" on as many of the items as they can. They may define a term, give more details about something written, anything that they need to do in order to connect the item to the original category.
Once we have rotated through all of the groups again, I take the sticky notes and post them on the board. As a whole class we go through each category and refine, correct, and add as we need to. We talk through and review each item on the list. This is also where I add in anything I feel that they missed that they will need on the exams.
I then take a picture of each piece of paper and create a PDF of all of them to give out to students.
I really like doing study guides this way because it has a review inherently built in, and I think students are really proud of themselves when they see the papers filled with all of the things that they learned. It gives them ownership of their studying and helps them to reflect on what we learned and generate their own ideas about what is important. After we're done, students usually agree that they liked creating the study guide and that it did force them to think.
I spread this activity out over two days, but you could cut down the rotations or how many minutes you give and do it in one period. Sometimes I also have students copy from the post-its on to their own paper to make the study guide, but in recent years I have found the PDF to be the best way to ensure everyone has everything they need.
How do you approach study guides?