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Developing Foundations for Academic Success: Learning to Learn

by Suzanne Warsinsky |

In my EAP reading/writing course, I use the first 4-5 classes to set up my students for long-term academic success by helping them develop broad, foundational areas of knowledge. This particular class assists students in learning to work in groups, on task-based projects, while reading about, sharing, discussing and reflecting upon good learning techniques and traits that can be applied across the academic spectrum and into the job market.

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Audience: University

Audience Language Proficiency: Intermediate, Advanced

Duration: 75 minutes

Materials And Technology:

Handout, online articles, blackboard or whiteboard, chalk or markers, paper, pencil, pen.


Students will be able to

  • work in pairs and small groups
  • comprehend articles that include ambiguity
  • practice autonomous learning techniques
  • reflect
  • begin developing 3 ideal language learner traits:
    •                tolerate ambiguity
    •                communicate willingly
    •                search for patterns
  • have a positive classroom experience


Students will find and present information from a text in which they don’t know every word (reading comprehension, tolerate ambiguity, communicate willingly)

Students will begin developing relationships and comfort in and out of the classroom through participating in paired and group work (affective, paired and group work, search for patterns)

Students will begin creating their own learning program through writing reflective sentences regarding learning in another classroom (autonomy, reflection)


In the previous class, spend time pre-reading, looking for visual patterns in on-line articles such as key words in bold, examples in boxes, pictures, etc. Go over organization of paragraphs - looking for location patterns for definition, further meaning, importance, author analysis. Divide the class into small groups, give them the homework explanation and graphic organizer and assign them articles to read and prepare feedback to present to the class. Have the students share phone numbers and agree on a time and place to meet. Having completed the homework is key to this lesson plan.

Write objectives on the board.

Students will present learning techniques and traits, demonstrating

  • tolerance for ambiguity
  • willingness to communicate
  • pattern recognition

Students will discuss (compare and contrast) information presented

Students will write a paragraph describing how they will apply one learning technique or trait to a non-ESL class they are taking

  1. Students will share their experience with the first assignment (to prepare for this lesson with paired/group reading and a handout, discussed and assigned during the first class)
  2. Students split up into homework groups/pairs. Teacher will ask if they need a few more minutes.
  3. Have each group/pair write a list or outline of the main learning methods, techniques, and traits from their group reading on the board and present orally to the class. Teacher-led discussion after each presentation, modeling for student-led discussions in future. (Split the board so that the lists can remain up for all presentations.)
  4. Offer feedback
  5. As a class, compare and contrast the lists.
  6. In pairs/small groups, discuss what techniques and traits seem the most relevant and useful to students. Why?

Each student chooses 1 technique or trait that seems useful or that they would like to try out quickly. They will write a short paragraph about how they will use them in a specific, non-ESL class to benefit their academic success. Teacher collects.

Assessment: Observation and written paragraph, both formative.

Differentiation: This lesson can be followed by tutoring sessions in which each student must bring in an assignment from another class they find difficult or somehow challenging. They can then explicitly work with their tutor on identifying a good strategy for that particular assignment. This can also be done in class in small groups or as homework. Another extension is to go to the original websites from where the readings are taken. Have the students research the author, the website, the original publications. Develop skills for source evaluation and bias identification with critical thinking. Still another is to select specific paragraphs in the articles to assess good and poor writing examples.


Dormer, Jan (n.d.). Module 3 Myths about Language Acquisition [Course handout]. Retrieved from

Useful Link:

Supporting Files:
Developing Foundations For Academic Success Learning To Learn.pdf
Developing Foundations For Academic Success Learning To Learn (1).pdf

TESOL Interest Section: Higher Education

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