How to Teach a SOAR Workshop
It was almost-summer of 1998. I was wrapping-up my first year of teaching… at my alma mater.
Just five years before, I was sitting in those desks. Now, my desk was at the front of the room.
From this new vantage point, I could see that nearly all my 9th & 10th graders struggled with something related to school: organizing assignments, taking notes, preparing for tests, taking tests, etc.
This was a shock to me; I had always assumed my challenges as a student were unique… that I was the only person who struggled to make sense of a textbook or understand the “big picture” of what was discussed in class.
Turns out, I was far from alone. Even many of my “straight A” students were a bit of an organizational disaster. (Which would later catch up with them in college.)
Meanwhile, my after-school tutoring business began to flourish. My “after-school” hours were filled, and my waiting list was growing. (Yes, I was a 22-year-old tutor with a waiting list… specifically because I marketed myself as a “study skills tutor.”)
Parents were begging, “My child desperately needs ‘study skills.’ How can I get your help for him (or her)?”
I will never forget the day, sitting at my desk in room 119, when I was struck with a blinding flash of the obvious. “I need to develop a workshop! I need to teach these skills to more than one student at a time.”
I quickly grabbed a sheet of paper to brainstorm, “What are the most common problems I am seeing in my students… in the classroom? In tutoring sessions?” Over the next 15 minutes, the most important thing I’ve ever written flowed effortlessly off my pen.
It was a framework for the key skills students needed to be successful in school. Almost immediately, the S-O-A-R acronym floated right off the page.
My workshop was born! That “brainstorm session” now hangs in our office (see photo). The lingering teenage writing still makes me cringe. But, I’ve always said my greatest asset as a “study skills expert” is that SOAR was born at a time when my experience as a student was still so fresh in my memory.
How Do You Teach SOAR as a Workshop?
Since that time, we’ve expanded the “workshop” into a full-blown classroom curriculum. But, we often get inquiries about how to teach SOAR as a workshop:
- How many sessions do you recommend?
- What should I cover?
- What tools should I use?
If you plan to teach SOAR as an after-school workshop, here are my best guidelines:
How Many Sessions Do You Recommend?
A workshop can be anywhere from 1 session, to 10 sessions. More sessions = more content. Less sessions = greater attendance. I started SOAR as a six-session workshop.
What Should I Cover? (Six Sessions)
The topics I covered (and would still cover) in a 6-session workshop include:
HOW Are You Smart?
This is a great topic for warming up reluctant participants. In fact, skipping this topic is non-negotiable for me; it goes such a long way in building intrinsic motivation, especially for the students who need it most.
I cover all chapters in this section because they flow together seamlessly. Be sure to use a real jar with rocks and pebbles. Students LOVE this visual! (And be sure the jar is plastic. Yes, I learned this lesson the hard way.)
Spend the most time on Organize Your Papers. For Organize Your Space, you can host a contest for best “Before/After” photo of an organized bedroom. (Don’t forget a second prize category for the student who had the “Most Organized Room” to begin with. Yes, another lesson I’ve learned the hard way.)
The final chapter, Organize Your Time is a quick review of several things covered in previous chapters, so you don’t need to spend much time on it.
In this section, I focus most heavily on How to Read Textbooks. That chapter is where students get the most value. How to Take Notes & How to Take Tests are the next two most valuable chapters.
For the chapters on communication, pull out the pieces that you think are most valuable to your specific group of students.
The final three chapters of this section, How to Write Papers, How to Give Presentations, and How to Use Language Resources, are the most difficult to do in a workshop. However, you could offer a 1-day workshop on How to Write Papers or on How to Give Presentations. But, I wouldn’t group these topics into a general workshop; it’s too much for the students to process.
Record Your Progress
In this final section of the program, emphasize the last page of the workbook (or software), “You’ve hit the homerun, now you have to run the bases.” Students will need explicit encouragement to use these strategies moving forward. So, I suggest closing out the workshop by asking students to reflect on THREE things they will do moving forward, to make their life easier.
What Should I Cover? (One Session)
If you do SOAR as a one-session workshop, I recommend covering/demonstrating the following topics and strategies:
- HOW Are You Smart?
- How to Organize Papers (the SOAR Binder)
- How to Read Textbooks
- How to Use a Planner (if there is time)
Students get the most impact from the first three topics listed here, which is why I select these for a shorter time-frame.
How to Use a Planner is also a very helpful skill for students, but it’s also the one that generates the most friction from students and requires the most time for them to “internalize.” So, it’s not always conducive to a shorter session, even though it represents one of the most impactful skills.
What Tools Should I Use?
SOAR curriculum packages are available with workbooks, software, or both. All curriculum packages include the Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide. I also recommend providing a few specific “school supplies.”
Software or Workbook?
The software is most engaging. After opening with a couple of ice-breakers, I recommend students go through a lesson independently using the software. Then, bring them back together for group discussions, using the Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide to guide the discussions. This process allows them to get engaged with the topic and information before being asked to participate in a discussion. Engagement is the key to success.
If you prefer to use only the workbook, lead with the visuals in the Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide, but pause for short breaks to let students read 2-3 pages at a time. (No more than 5-7 minutes at a time… it’s important to keep the pace going!)
Regarding “school supplies,” the SOAR Binder is, hands-down, the most popular strategy for students! They love assembling the binder and having something tangible to take with them. The supplies needed for the binder can be found here.
Finally, if you are planning to cover the chapter, How to Use a Planner, it is best to either supply a planner, or provide several photocopies of the reproducible planner page (provided in the student workbook, student software, and Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide).
As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to have a few ice-breakers prepared and you’ll want to do a live demonstration of the “rock, pebbles, water” activity.
If you plan to teach SOAR as an after-school or summer workshop, I hope you’ve found these guidelines helpful. Have more questions? Contact us! We’re happy to help!
To our students’ success,
Susan Kruger Winter, M.Ed.
Founder & Creator of SOAR
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