Teaching Students to Take Better Notes

Decorative: A notebook in which is written, "Take note: If you don't take notes, your idea will get lost."


"Teaching Students to Take Better Notes" (post) outlines several practical strategies instructors can use to hel[p] students master note-taking that "focus[es] [student] attention, promotes more thorough elaboration of ideas, and encourages efforts to relate ideas and organize materials ... [as well as] process information more deeply."

1. "Outline Your Lectures/Use Transition Phrases"

"Be overt in the organization of your lecture, both orally and visually. "

  • "[W]rite your lecture outline on the board."
  • "[B]e discriminating in your use of the board or [PPTs] ... since students usually record what the instructor has written."
  • "[R]efer to your outline to highlight shifts in topic."
  • "[U]se signaling phrases and transition statements such as 'This is important,' 'You'll want to remember,' 'These differ in three important ways,' 'The second point is,' or 'Next,...'"

2. "Use a Framework"

"If appropriate to your subject matter, give students a framework or schema for how to organize information."

  • "Most information can be organized into one of two frameworks: sequence or classification."
  • "Both patterns can help students contrast and compare the material for similarities and differences."

a. "Sequence is used to explain change, influence, or phases.

  • "[I]nformation that illustrates time, space, or a process ... [is] most likely a sequence."
  • "[I]llustrat[e] [this process] with arrows" leading from one stage to the next. 

b. Classification is used for "information [that] consists of types, parts, characteristics, components, or elements."

  • "[C]lassify [this information] and present the information as a hierarchy."

3. "Tell Students What to Record"

"[P]rovid[e] explicit instructions, at least in the first few classes, about what to include in class notes":

  • "Should they record examples, sample problems, the questions discussed in class?"
  • "What about explanations of examples and solutions to problems?"
  • "Is it necessary to record names, dates, and research cited?"
  • "The answers to such questions differ from one course to another." 

4. Challenge Students to Think 

a. Have Them Review & Paraphrase Their Notes as They Go

"Pause from time to time and ask them to paraphrase what they have written in their notes."

  • Ask them "to rewrite definitions, to restate relationships, to retell an examples."
  • "Urge them to use their own words."
  • "Suggest that they explain their notes to a student seated nearby."
  • "The[n], ask them to write their paraphrased explanation in their notes."

b. Use Sentence-Starter Prompts

"To get students to elaborate and extend their notes (and their understanding), ask them to write endings to sentences ...to connect new material to what they already know, another step toward understanding and retention":

  • "Another example of this might be..."
  • "The last time I saw a problem like this was..."
  • "I remember talking about this issue with..."
  • "This information might explain why..."

5. "Train Students to Take Better Notes"

  • "Give students feedback on their notes." 
  • "Occasionally, hand out your version of lecture notes after class, so that students can compare their notes to yours. Note: Just be sure your lecture actually corresponds to the notes you give them!"
  • "When you meet with students who are having trouble with your course, ask them to bring in their lecture notes."
  • "Poor notes (or no notes!) may be the source of much of their problems."
  • "[R]ecommend that students in trouble re-copy their notes, and in the process organize them, fill in gaps using the text, and ferret out the points not completely understood which require extra study."

6. "Make Time for Notetaking Activities in Class"

  • "[N]otetaking ... encourag[es] students to think more deeply about the lecture content [and to] learn from taking notes and reviewing them."
  • "By showing concern for notetaking in your classes, you exhibit your interest in helping students 'earn how to learn.'" 
  • "And you may increase the likelihood that your students learn what you teach them." 
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