Note Taking

We must explicitly teach students how to take notes during lecture and while reading. Whether our students learn how to outline information in a textbook, explore ideas through Cornell notes, or capture critical concepts in graphic organizers, we should take class time to model and support the different note taking systems we want them to learn. One way to explicitly teach a note taking system is to create the notes with our students, illustrating for them what is and what is not important. Creating notes with our students will also help us establish our expectations for note taking. As students develop their proficiency, post student models in the room and spend time discussing the features of competent notes.

When teaching our students how to take notes, we need to make sure they understand how note taking will help them both in our classes and in the future. To do this, consider asking students to brainstorm some reasons for note taking.

  • Why do students take notes?
  • How can they help?

Once students are convinced that note taking is an important skill, they are ready to learn how to do it. We should establish our expectations for notes early in the school year.

  • Do we want our students to take notes everyday? (We like to say, "A page a day.")
  • How many pages per week?
  • What do the notes look like?
  • What system will you use?
  • Will they use color?
  • How will the notes be used once they are taken?
  • How will they be assessed?

We need to answer these questions and others for our students.

Advice from the Experts

Grading weekly notes can be a challenge, especially when students are writing five to ten pages of notes per week. One strategy is to create a simple rubric that you can use to grade penmanship, organization, and effort. Reading every word that students write down would be daunting. Come up with a system that works for you. I hear spiral notebooks are popular. With this system, students take notes in their spiral notebooks and turn in their notebooks at the end of the week. This system helps with organization and might make grading easier.

Engagement

There are a number of ways we can engage students in this academic work. We can have our students...

  • discuss the ideas in their notes.
  • share ideas with the rest of the class.
  • take notes while reading a text.
  • draw illustrations that represent ideas.
  • incorporate graphic organizers into the note taking system.
  • use color as a way to organize their notes.

 

Model and Support

Part of note taking should involve collaboration. While students record essential information, give them an opportunity to talk about what they are learning. Students can review their notes together, compare notes, and/ or discuss a concept before writing it down. Talking about their learning will help them clarify and process the ideas we want them to know.

We should also model for students how to use the note taking system we want them to learn. Teachers can model note taking under a document camera, on the whiteboard, or on flip chart paper. As we lecture or facilitate class discussions, we should take notes, showing students how to evaluate, synthesize, and summarize ideas.

Pace and Practice

Students thrive in environments that have clear and predictable routines. I ask my students to have two pages of lined paper out on their desks everyday for notes and other work. After the first week, students have learned this routine. Typically, my students complete one to two pages of notes per period. Students learn quickly how to take notes from PowerPoint and other visual presentations, but they struggle to take notes during lecture and class discussions. We need to provide multiple opportunities for students to practice taking notes from visual and oral presentations.

Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

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