How to Learn Foreign Languages Faster & Better

Gretchen Wegner | Megan Dorsey | The College Prep Podcast | How to Learn Foreign Languages Faster & Better | Learning | English | Students | Vocabulary | Grammar | Word | Writing | Language | Does foreign language learning seem awfully slow? Tune in as Megan and Gretchen reflect about 10+ ways to learn languages, including English, faster and more effectively.

Today’s episode is a response to a listener named Hassan, who lives in Iran and is studying electrical engineering. He wants to know how to learn English faster. This advice will be for students who want to go “above and beyond” the language learning they’re already doing in their classrooms.

Some of the suggestions Gretchen and Megan include:

  • Daily practice of vocabulary and grammar
  • Sign up for a “word a day” SAT service, and practice incorporating that word in your daily life.
  • Speak with native speakers as much as possible. Finds ways to “immerse” yourself.
  • Listen to TV, radio, and podcasts. Talk about them with friends in the language you’re listening to them in.
  • Watch the “close captioning” so that you are seeing the language as well as hearing it
  • When there are words or phrases you really want to learn, put them up in your bedroom in visible ways, so you are surrounded by them
  • Practice writing  more in that language, and get someone to help you improve that writing by editing it for and with you
  • Get grammar support by googling “best online grammar practice.”
  • and more!

Click here to head over to the College Prep Podcast to listen to this episode.

If You Want to Be A Better Writer, Improve This First!

Does your poor typing slow you down when writing essays?

During client sessions, I often have an opportunity to watch my clients type. They often make so many mistakes that they are constantly deleting what they typed…and rarely can their bumbling fingers keep up with their brilliant minds.

Poor typing skills are not only frustrating but it is also stifling to creativity and the natural thought process. In this video, I discuss the possible reasons you or a student you know may be having difficulty as a writer. There are many resources out there to help sharpen your typing abilities, speed, and accuracy. I love to hear success stories. Leave them in the comments section above!

With the school year suddenly looming, now is the perfect time to get yourself some more tools to rock your grades this year. Click here to check out my favorites! 

How to Write Better Answers on Essay Prompts

Do you struggle to write the perfect answer for your essay prompts?

A number of my clients get really stuck when they have to organize their ideas for essays, and they often say a lot without actually answering the question in the prompt.

Recently a client was having this problem, so we worked on a method for making sure that the entire prompt gets answered. Here’s what we came up with:

What experiences do you have strengthening your answers to essay prompts? Are there other issues with writing essays that confound you (or your teen)?

I’d love to hear from you. Just comment below

A Simple Way to Write Papers More Efficiently

Does it take you a long time to organize your ideas when writing an essay?

Recently, a client tackled his writing process, and I thought it would be helpful for others to hear what we came up with. Check out this video!


Got any other ideas about writing more efficiently? Or questions? I’d love to hear from you, and I may even answer your question at length on the College Prep Podcast!

Why Obsessing About Word Counts Can Make Your Writing Worse

It’s typical in our education system for teachers and professors to assign essays that need to be a specific word count (500 words, for example) or a specific length (3 pages, for example).

Although I understand the need to set some kind of expectation for the length of an assignment, word and page requirements are my nemesis. And, I’d argue, they can work against students’ learning too.

Let’s look at my recent coaching session with Wendy, an 8th grader. She was preparing for an in-school essay she’d have to write the next day. Wendy was feeling super-stressed out beceause the essay would need to be 2-4 pages, but Wendy had no idea how to make it that long!!

We practiced outlining on a separate piece of paper. We thought through her introduction and conclusion and added topic sentences for all the paragraphs. When we were done, she had an outline that would EASILY fill up 2-4 pages.

While we were outlining, Wendy kept saying something that bothered me: “I want to write about (insert topic here) because it will take up more space!”

I redirected her: “It’s NOT about how much space you’re taking up! It’s about the quality of your ideas, and how to flesh them out. If you have a rockin’ outline, you can write a shorter or a longer piece, but at least there is a coherency and flow to the ideas. When you’re just trying to fill up space, your argument may not make sense.”

At the end of the session, I asked Wendy to give her future self some tips. Here’s what she said (in her own unedited words):

  1. Plan it out.
  2. Make sure that stuff that seems obvious is fleshed out to its full potential.
  3. If I notice myself making a list, look to see if one is more important, or if I can make write a sentence about each part of the lists.
  4. If I notice myself making a list, notice WHY I’m making it and what makes it different than the other writing around it. Write better transitions.

Do you have a good essay writing strategy? Talk about it in the comments!

P.S. If you know a student who could use this advice, be sure to forward this article to them!


3 Simple Questions That Unlock Hidden Brilliance

How do you go more deeply when you are writing a paper? It’s one of those catch 22’s, isn’t it. Don’t you think you WOULD engage in more critical thinking if only you knew HOW?!

Today I was working with a college sophomore who had just finished writing a draft of an essay for her Italian Culture class. She felt pretty confident that she was addressing the prompt. However, when I asked her if she had any way of assessing whether she was pushing herself to think deeply about the issue in question, she looked a bit confused.

‘Aha!’, I thought, ‘What a great opportunity for one of my 5-minute “mini-lectures.”‘  I whipped out a sheet of paper, and began to draw the image you see above, of 3 levels of questions.

The Three Levels of Questions

Level 1 — Factual. “Who, What, and Where”. In Level 1 thinking, the writer states the facts directly. There is often a “right” or a “wrong” way to answer Level 1 questions.

Example: What were Cinderella’s slippers made out of? How did Cinderella get to the ball? (Source: USD497)

Level 2 — Analysis. “Why, How, So What?!” Level 2 thinking analyzes data, looking for patterns, reasons, motives, etc. This is the beginning of critical thinking in action.

Example: Why does Cinderella’s stepmother care whether or not she goes to the ball? Why did everything turn back the way it was except the glass slipper? Why don’t the step sisters like Cinderella? (Source: USD497)

Level 3Connections. “Now What?!” This type of thinking goes beyond the text, assessing the value of the idea in a broader context. Level 3 thinking can make connections between the idea and other, seemingly irrelevant concepts; furthermore, the writer can make personal connections between the idea and his/her life. These types of questions are the “home run” of critical thinking; they knock your writing out of the park.

Example: Does a woman’s salvation always lie with a man? What does it mean to live happily ever after? Does good always overcome evil? (Source: USD497)

Applying the 3 Levels to Essay Writing

After I introduced these Levels to Elizabeth, she was easily able to see that her roughdraft — comparing feminism during the Renaissance and the 1960s — was largely a Level 1 essay. She had read the book and was re-presenting the information that she had gleaned. However, she hadn’t thought to look for patterns in feminist thought between the two eras (Level 2) or the impact of the history of feminism on her life today (Level 3).

When you sit down to write an essay, take a moment to jot down several questions that you hope to explore in your writing. Make sure that you have questions from each Level, as all of them are important. By asking — and answering — questions at each level, you can unlock your own hidden brilliance, and take your essay writing to a new level.

However, the three levels of questions are not just for writing. Here are some other school-related environments in which you can use these ideas:

  • analyze the type of questions your teacher asks, so that you know what kind of thinking they are *really* looking for.
  • participate in class discussion by asking yourself, classmates, and teachers questions at higher levels
  • annotate your readings, challenging yourself to write a Level 1, 2 and 3 question and/or comment on every page

What other places would these three levels of thinking come in handy? Please tell me, below!
Many thanks to the web pages at USD497Mr. Kash, and Noelle Combs for helping me hone my understanding of the 3 Levels of questions.

P.S. Did you find this post helpful? You can get more useful tips by signing up for free email updates!




What’s an Academic Coach?!

From Academic Coaching

There’s an area of my professional life about which I’ve been strangely silent on this blog: my life as an academic coach for teens.

I’m not sure why I’ve been so tightlipped about this amazing work; maybe I’m afraid others will find my musings boring. I mean —  time management, organization, and learning strategies? For teens? Biiig whooop! Who cares?

But the truth is this: I care. Very deeply. So do the parents. The teens care, too (for the most part; they want to be successful. They really do.). The work we do is amazingly transformative, for the teens but also for me. It’s time I start telling our stories.

Academic Coach Versus Tutor: What’s the Difference?

But first things first. Most people have no clue what academic coaching is. “So you’re like, uhhhh, a tutor?” they ask.

And the truth is — not really. A tutor helps teenagers understand subject-specific content. Want help memorizing and practicing the quadratic equation? Talk to a tutor.

An academic coach, on the other hand, helps kids troubleshoot their learning process so that they can eventually learn the content on their own. The goal is self-sufficiency. Need to figure out why you didn’t get the quadratic formula when the teacher taught it in class (and how you might get it next time)?  Talk to me.

Here’s another example: Want someone who knows a ton about US History and can help you answer the essay question? Talk to a tutor. Need help organizing your thinking and writing process so you can research and write the essay by yourself? Talk to me.

Maddy Learns a Writing Formula

This summer I had several clients who sought me out for extra help. Uhhh, well that’s only partially true. Their parents sought me out. Luckily, I’m gentle, fun, and full of good ideas. So by the end, the kids admitted it wasn’t that horrible. And they even learned a thing or two that they could actually use.

As one parent reflected:

The information you have provided is packaged in a much more user friendly way that Maddy can put to much better use.”

The information I packaged so well was, simply, this:

1. What are some basic writing formulas that help essays write themselves? (Maddy complained of working really hard on all her essays, but usually getting disappointingly low grades).

2. Given how much she detests doing homework  and her busy sports schedule (but also, given her goal to get B’s her sophomore year), how can she plan her afternoons so there is enough time for both sports and homework?

Maddy left my office much more confident about her approach to writing as well as to time management. She was psyched about the strategies that would help her work smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to find out whether this school year feels different than last!

Conrad Learns How to Advocate For Himself

Another client I saw this summer was a young man. Headed off to college after four years attending the “resource” class in high school (that’s the fancy term for “special ed”). This young man and his parents were concerned that he’d flounder during the rigor of college.

When I met Conrad, I was surprised that he barely understood his own learning disability. We spent most of our time reading through his Neuropsychological Evaluation, translating all the scary psycho-babble into teen friendly language, and role playing how he might explain it all to his professors? After four short sessions, Conrad’s mother raved:

Honestly, you taught my son more in regard to his learning style than he learned in years in his high school’s Resource program or with private tutors!!! I wish I had used you earlier.

Again, it will be fun for me to follow up with Conrad and find out whether freshman year felt more manageable. He certainly left my office in higher spirits than he entered!

It’s All in the Organization

It turns out that a lot of my job revolves around helping kids be more organized — organizing their time, their stuff, and their thinking.  Many teenagers just need a gentle but straight talking adult to help them troubleshoot their processes.

I feel so blessed to spend my days helping teens become self sufficient learners. I can’t wait to use this blog to tell more of their stories.