How to teach note-taking skills is one of those topics that just never seems to come up when you’re in university or college.  And it’s often one of those skills that fall off the radar when teachers are planning out their curriculum.  Or they get bumped from the plan because of interruptions, illness, or the myriad other reasons teachers often run out of time to teach important skills and content.  

But today we’re going to look at how to teach note-taking skills and I’ll share 10+ tips for teaching note-taking to your middle and high school students.

To begin, let’s look at the obvious starting point, what are note-taking skills.

What are notetaking skills?

I’m sure there’s some fancy definition floating around about what exactly note-taking skills are, but I’m going to say that note-taking skills are the ability to process information and choose relevant parts to write down for future use.

Now that sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Writing down relevant information.  But the hard part is actually processing the information as it’s received, deciding immediately what’s important, and keeping up with the information that is continuing to be delivered while you write notes.  

Many adults have trouble with this skill, let alone middle school and high school students.  And in fact, students are actually utilizing many skills when they’re taking notes.  They’re:

  • Actively listening
  • Comprehending
  • Evaluating 
  • Summarizing
  • Paraphrasing
  • Writing
  • Ignoring distraction
  • Trying to keep up with the torrent of information spraying in their faces like a firehose


When I put it like that, it’s no wonder students often struggle to take effective notes.

Why should you learn how to teach note-taking skills?

Research shows that “[d]irectly teaching organizational skills aids students for their current task (school) while preparing them for their latter tasks (workforce)” (Gambill, J. Moss, L.A., Vescogni, C.D. 2008).  And other research shows that few students are taught organizational or study skills at school, despite explicit instruction improving academic self-efficacy (Wernersbach, Crowley, Bates, and Rosenthal. 2014). Research also shows that explicit teaching of study skills   

  • increases students’ organizational skills
  • increases students’ academic self-efficacy,
  • and therefore Increases students’ academic results

Knowing how important it is to teach study skills, such as note-taking, you are probably wondering, but how can I fit this in?

When can you teach note-taking skills?

The short answer here is any time you can.  If you do mini-lessons instead of devoting an entire lesson to them, you are much more likely to tackle this difficult-to-teach but still-important skill.  Other ideas to include study skills and note-taking are to spend time on them when you:

  • Recap note-taking before research assignments
  • Need last-minute filler activity if you finish an activity more quickly than you thought
  • Teach a study skills class or life skills lessons
  • Supervise study hall
  • Set homework
  • Plan work for a substitute lesson

Who should learn how to take notes?

Again, the short answer is everyone.  However, research does seem to suggest that students who have learning difficulties such as disabilities, hearing problems, processing issues, or attention difficulties benefit greatly (Boyle, Rosen, and Forchelli 2014).  Similarly, students with chaotic home lives or from poverty seem to benefit markedly too (Gambill, J. Moss, L.A., Vescogni, C.D. 2008)

What types of note-taking are there?


Ok, so you know you need to be teaching note-taking skills, and I’ve convinced you that it’s possible to do it in the limited amount of time you have.  Now you’re probably wondering, which note-taking style should I teach?

The answer here is, it depends.  It depends on your subject area.  It depends on your goals.  It depends on your students’ abilities and aspirations.  

So no short answer here.  And, while not an exhaustive list of note-taking techniques, I have a few styles explained below.

Note-taking techniques

  • Cornell notes – this type of note-taking is great for spoken lectures where students need to learn vocabulary and be able to summarize ideas.  For example, a biology lecture, an art theory lecture, or background information on an author.
  • Mind map notes – this type of note-taking is useful for establishing prior knowledge of a topic, connecting ideas within a topic, and organizing thoughts.  For example, writing down ideas for an essay, explaining how two texts are similar, or getting a broad overview of a complex topic such as heritability. 
  • Visual notes, sketch notes, doodle notes – this type of note-taking is great for reviewing information, improving retention of information, or synthesizing information in an easier-to-understand way.  For example, organizing notes to review before a final exam, using colors, symbols, diagrams, or illustrations to show relationships between information, or creating a poster summarizing a topic.
  • Outline method – this type of note-taking is great for subjects where information is presented in a linear and logical way.  It enables note-takers to have headings for main ideas and then sub-headings for information related to the main idea.  However, this style may be difficult to keep organized if the information is presented in a haphazard way.  For example, this style is great for taking notes from a textbook, but may be harder to use with lectures if the speaker makes frequent digressions or doesn’t use many verbal cues (such as ‘This is important/There are four types of . . . etc).
  • CUE+ method – the final method of note-taking is the CUE+ method, which is great for subjects with specific vocabulary.  This method encourages students to cluster main ideas (no more than 4-6 per session), use cues, enter important vocabulary, and add language, diagrams, and symbols to aid understanding.  

How to teach note-taking skills: 10 tips

Now we’re really down to it.  The ten tips for how to teach note-taking skills to your middle or high school students.

Note-taking tip 1:

To plagiarize Nike, just do it.  Teaching any note-taking skills or styles will be better than not teaching any.  Sometimes doing it just in time is best.  For example, right before a research assignment.

Other times you may wish to incorporate it throughout your units of work so that students continue to use the skills they learn.

Tip 2:

Remind your students that there are no hard and fast rules for note-taking.  They can take notes however they like and having multiple strategies is important for the variety of situations and subjects they will encounter both in school and in life. 

Visual notes are great, Cornell notes work, mind maps are fantastic, and the outline method is effective.  All styles of note-taking work better than no notes at all.  Basically, effective note-taking methods for high school are diverse and dependent on context.  Success will come from exposure to and practice with a variety of note-taking techniques and using them in different situations.

Note-taking tip 3:

Use templates. Find templates for the styles you want your students to use and get either digital or paper copies of them.  (If you’re after a Cornell template, click here for my digital and printable Cornell note-taking template). 


You can also use other styles of templates such as graphic organizers to help students organize their ideas, thoughts, and observations.

Tip 4:

Use videos to teach note-taking skills and other study skills.  Crash Course Study Skills has fantastic, free ten-minute videos on essential study skills such as taking notes, prioritizing assigned reading, improving concentration, planning and organizing, and much more. 


I have a bunch of note-taking worksheets and other study skills worksheets available on my TPT store to go with the Crash Course Study Skills YouTube videos.

There are also heaps of free videos showing examples of Cornell notetaking on YouTube, as well as examples of other note-taking methods. 

Note-taking tip 5:

Scaffold note-taking at the start and gradually release responsibility to students. 

This can be in the form of fill-in-the-blank notes, note-taking templates, asking students to copy notes that you’ve written, or giving students note-taking templates that match up with how you will teach the content. 

But remember that the goal here is to ensure students are learning to take their own notes, as that will serve them better in life than rote learning your notes and getting an A on the test.

Tip 6:

Explicitly teach note-taking skills (and other study skills). 

Use whatever time you have – an unexpected five minutes at the end of the lesson, as a bellringer activity, as a lesson opening activity, or set it for homework and review it at the start of your next lesson.

Note-taking tip 7:

Model note-taking and use think-aloud to show students how to identify important information.  Then allow students to practice on their own.

Remember that metacognitive skills such as note-taking are difficult to teach and learn, but essential for successful adults to master.  

Tip 8:

Teach a variety of note-taking styles so students have exposure to different styles and can pick and choose what works for them in different situations.  

Note-taking tip 9:

Teach note-taking skills in conjunction with other study skills so students can see how all the different skills fit together to make habits that improve academic success.

Tip 10:

Understand why students’ notes are often terrible and use strategies to try and overcome the reasons for terrible notes.

Note-taking tip 11:

Get students to confer on notes once they are taking independent notes – genuine collaboration on notes increases both the quality and quantity of students’ notes according to Luo, Kiewra, and Samuelson.

Tip 12:

Use pause breaks if delivering lectures or presentations to allow students time to process information and take more effective notes.  Again, research by Luo, Kiewra, and Samuelson showed that ‘pause breaks’ improved both the quality and quantity of students’ notes.  

Want more ideas for teaching note-taking or teaching study skills? 

Check out these blog posts.


Thinking of teaching Cornell note-taking? Click here and have our digital and printable Cornell notes template delivered to your inbox.


Need lesson plans teaching note-taking skills or study skills? Check out this blog post.

Research cited

Boyle, J. Rosen, S.M., and Forchelli, G., 2016. “Exploring metacognitive strategy use during notetaking for students with learning disabilities.” International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 44 (2): 161-180.

Gambill, Jill M.; Moss, Lauralee A.; Vescogni, Christie D. 2008. “The Impact of Study Skills and Organizational Methods on Student Achievement.” Action Research Project., Saint Xavier University.

Lou, L., Kiewra, K., and Samuelson, L. 2016. “Revising lecture notes: how revision, pauses, and partners affect note taking and achievement.” Instructional Science, 44 (1): 45-67.

Wernersbach, Brenna M.; Crowly, Susan L.; Bates, Scott C.; Rosenthal, Carol., 2014. “Study Skills Course Impact on Academic Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Developmental Education, 37 (3): 14-33.