Do your students struggle to take notes? Are you looking for fast and easy ways of teaching students to take notes? Then you’re in the right place.
But before we begin, students may need some convincing that taking notes is a skill worth learning. You may need to show students why taking notes is a useful skill.
Why is taking notes beneficial to a student?
Taking notes is an important skill for a variety of reasons, some of which include
- Taking effective notes improves students’ understanding of content because it takes ideas explained in unfamiliar language and puts that information into students’ own words – this parsing of information helps students remember information
- Taking notes is a skill that is useful in life beyond school – being able to choose and record important information is valuable in everyday life tasks, such as comparing insurance policies, taking minutes in a meeting, or choosing which car to buy
- Being able to take notes saves time – you don’t need to re-read all of the information repeatedly, you can simply scan notes to refresh your memory
- Taking notes can help students synthesize information from a variety of sources – not only does this lead to greater breadth and depth of understanding, it can also lead to better decision making
- Note-taking can help students ‘notice’ important information, compare information from different sources, and question information against others’ and their own ideas and experiences
Teaching students to take notes
Now that we’ve had a look at just a few of the important ways that note-taking is beneficial to students, we’re going to discuss three fast and easy ways of teaching students to take notes.
If you teach upper-middle-school- or high-school students, chances are your students have had some exposure to taking notes.
However, they may not have mastered the skills they need for taking notes. This could be for a variety of reasons including
- frequent interruptions to schooling
- inadequate practice to improve note-taking skills
- lack of variety of note-taking skills being taught
- inattention to previous note-taking lessons
And these are just a few reasons for poor note-taking that I came up with in a few minutes of pondering.
Now, some of these reasons for poor note-taking skills in students are not really within teachers’ control. Frequent interruptions to schooling comes to mind.
But some are areas that you may like to focus on to improve your students’ skills, such as students’ lack of variety of note-taking skills or inattention to note-taking lessons.
To address the lack of variety of note-taking skills, an easy fix is to teach students a few ways to take notes. Easy note-taking styles to teach include the Cornell note-taking method, outline notes, and mind mapping.
Teaching students to take notes using the Crash Course Study Skills videos
One of the fastest and easiest ways to teach those three note-taking styles is using the Crash Course Study Skill Taking Notes episode.
This episode explains how students can prepare for note-taking, as well as the format of all three of those note-taking styles.
Using this note-taking video is a fast, easy way to squeeze in a mini-lesson on note-taking and is useful to use
- at the start of the school year when you’re refreshing students’ skills after a break
- before a research assignment where students need to take notes
- during a life skills or study skills lesson or class
- before students head into the test-taking times of the year
- as a homework task for students who need a little more practice
I love to make it even faster and easier by running off copies of my visual note-taking worksheet above. It is a fast, easy way to show students the format of the different note-taking styles, as well as keep track of other important information from the video.
Teaching students how to take notes using graphic organizers
Another easy way of teaching students to take notes is to copy graphic organizers for them to use to write notes.
This type of note-taking is especially helpful when students are attempting to take notes independently but still need a little structure to help them choose appropriate information.
A great graphic organizer to use when teaching Cornell notes is this free Cornell note-taking template that your students can either use digitally or you can print and hand out. (You can have it delivered to your inbox or you can grab it from TPT.
Model specific note-taking styles to show students how to take notes
Another tip when teaching students to take notes is to model specific note-taking styles, as well as the difference between different note-taking skills.
If you want students to use a mind map to plan an essay, quickly model how to do that before students begin.
If you want students to use Cornell notes to summarize a topic, show them how to do that.
Finally, if you want students to understand the difference between different note-taking skills, model them too. Great things to show students include
- A way to distinguish direct quotes from paraphrasing in their note-taking (easy ways to do this are to use quotation marks around quotes, write quotes in a different color, or highlight quotes)
- How to paraphrase
- How to actively listen and actively read for information
- Tips for avoiding plagiarism
- How to track sources of information in note-taking
- How to use abbreviations and symbols to speed up the note-taking process
- Systems for organizing notes such as headings, subheadings, colors, numbers, and symbols
By directly modeling different note-taking styles and note-taking skills, you are giving students the tools they need to take effective notes.
Want more note-taking content? Check out these posts:
- How to teach note taking skills: 10+ tips
- 10 awesome study skills worksheets: high school and upper middle school
- 5 fantastic videos showing how to take Cornell notes
- Virtual note-taking: 9 powerful tips to use with high school students
- Why your students’ notes suck and how to improve them
- 5 research-based reasons you should be teaching mind-mapping
Want note-taking worksheets?
Download our free Cornell Notes note-taking template.