Note-Taking Pairs

Decorative: Two small figures sharing notes


"Note-Taking Pairs" (post) explains a simple collaborative learning technique that helps students "improve their individual notes."

  • "Working with a peer provides students with an opportunity to revisit and crosscheck notes with another source."
  • "Partners help each other acquire missing information and correct inaccuracies so that their combined effort is superior to their individual notes."

A. Basic Model

1. Characteristics of Activity

  • Group Size: 2
  • Time on Task: 5-15 Minutes
  • Duration of Groups: Single session or multiple
  • Uses: During lectures, reading assignments, etc.

2. Purpose

  • "[A] structured activity to pool information, fill in gaps, check for and correct mistakes, and help each other learn to be better note takers."  

3. Preparation

a. Show students "how to take good notes either in a mini lecture or a handout or with examples of effective notes."

b. "[P]resent material in class in ways that encourage students to take detailed notes."

  • "[S]peak slowly."
  • "[P]rovide handouts of complicated graphs and figures so that students can keep up."
  • "[U]se the whiteboard or presentation slide to show overall structure by using titles and headings."

4. Procedure

  • "Students individually take notes of the major points from a body of content ... [e.g.] a lecture or a text chapter."
  • "Students form pairs, at your direction or by choosing partners."
  • "Partner A begins by summarizing the main points from a section of the content to Partner B, who offers corrections an additional information."
  • "Partner B summarizes the next section, and Partner A offers corrections and additional information."
  • "The partners continue to alternate sharing summaries, corrections, and additional information until they have completed checking their notes."

B. Online Implementation

1. Characteristics of Activity

  • Timing: Asynchronous
  • Tool: Learning management system (LMS) [At Lakehead, D2L]

2. Purpose

"Students who receive content in new ways in online courses, such as through videotaped lectures, often do not know the best way to organize and synthesize the information." 

  • "Using Note-Taking Pairs can help students to clarify their notes and can allow them to develop effective note-taking strategies for online courses."
  • It "also allows students to have more time to digest as well as to reflect upon the notes."

3. Procedure

The challenge: "[H]ave students who are separated by distance compare a physical set of notes."

a. "[A]ssign Note-Taking Pairs using the appropriate tools ... [such as] documents and a wiki."

  • "Ask students to develop a set of notes using Google Docs or a wiki, which have capabilities for showing who contributed what."
  • "[R]eview the documents to see how strong the notes are and how complete each student's contribution is."

b. "Alternatively, you can ask students to use e-mail to compare and improve their notes."

  • "Divide students into pairs and ask them to use word processing attachments." [Track Changes is an option.]
  • "If you wish students to consolidate notes into a single partner version, different font styles or colors can distinguish individual contributions."
  • "If you wish to review these notes, ... be prepared for multiple e-mails from students sending you their assignments."

C. Examples Described in the Post

  • General Physics (Large Lecture)
  • Statics (Traditional onsite)
  • Geriatrics (Flipped)
  • History of Western Civilization (Online Course)
  • Physics (online Course)

D. Variations and Extensions

1. Ask student pairs to sit together during the lecture. 

  • "At various times throughout the lecture, stop and ask partners to participate in this [activity]."
  • "[O]ffer specific prompts, such as, 'Ask each other what was the major point so far and make sure that that point is clear in your notes.'"
  • "This ... keeps students' attention focused on the lecture and allows students to rehearse the information and to correct any misinformation or perceptions."

2. "Give students overnight to revisit their notes."

This allows students to ...

  • "[M]ake revisions and corrections"
  • "[A]dd information"
  • "[C]larify their own thoughts"
  • "[M]ake their writing more legible before sharing their notes with another."

3. Consider making your lecture notes available to student pairs after using this [activity].

  • This allows "students to recheck and thus revisit their notes a third time."

4. "[T]ell students to share their notes outside of class through e-mail attachments."  

  • "Students can copy and paste notes into a single partner version, using different font styles or colors to distinguish individual contributions."

5.  "Use this [activity] for students" for the following:

  • "[T]o review homework assignments"
  • "[T]o check answers to homework problems at the beginning of class"
  • "[T]o review for a test."

E. Observations and Advice

1. "This technique can ... reinforce inaccuracy if both students in a pair have faulty information."

  • "Repeat and emphasize the main concepts frequently."
  • "[R]eview and assess the notes periodically to make sure that students are learning the correct information."

2. "[E]ach student [must] take something from the other student's notes to improve his or her own notes."

  • "If only one student is taking good notes, that student will probably resent helping the student who is taking poor notes."

3. "To assess learning, use the Minute Paper method ... asking students to respond in writing to two questions":

  • "What is the most important suggestion you got from your peer?"
  • "What do you think is the most helpful suggestion you gave to your peer?"

4. "[T]o improve written note-taking skills, occasionally collect notes before the peer conversation and again after."

  • "[T]o simplify your review, ask students to highlight or indicate what changes they made as a result of discussion with a peer."
  • "[T]o asses[s] the quality of the peer suggestions, ask students to hand in one set of their notes with suggestions by their peer made in a different-color pencil."
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