Note-Taking By Hand
Learning how to take notes is an essential academic skill, yet is often falls by the wayside as teachers struggle to cover a large amount of content in their subject areas.
Who Should Teach Note-Taking?
It is unclear who should teach note-taking skills – is it the responsibility of English teachers, or does it fall on the shoulders of content-area instructors? A majority of note-taking occurs in history and science classes, but there are strong reasons for students to take notes in English, math, and elective-area classes as well. Whether you teach elementary, middle, or high school, you may find yourself teaching note-taking, even if it is not a part of your subject matter. A study-skills class is an ideal setting for teaching note-taking, but not all schools offer this type of course until middle or high school.
Why Should Note-Taking By Hand Be Taught/Emphasized?
Note-taking by hand (as opposed to typing notes or receiving instructor’s notes), has several advantages. Here are just a few, but a quick Google search will reveal more research behind the benefits of taking notes by hand.
- It forces the brain to do more “heavy lifting” – you can’t just zone out when note-taking by hand the way you can when mindlessly typing on a computer.
- Students integrate and understand the material better when they take notes by hand.
- Students are required to pay attention and can’t multi-task (play Solitaire, chat online) when they put pencil to paper.
When Should Students Be Taught Note-Taking?
Students should be taught to construct their own notes as early as elementary school. The format of note-taking may be simple at first, such as “fill in” templates to keep them engaged during class. Starting early will normalize the note-taking process. Teachers should model, model, model the behaviors they want to their students to develop. There are several great resources available for early note-takers, such as this one.
What Are Some of the Problems Students Have When Taking Notes?
Ask your group of students to take notes from a short lecture or video, and then analyze the notes taken. Chances are, you will see one or more of the following issues:
- The student took too many notes
- The student wrote in complete sentences
- The student took wrote down information that was not important
- The student’s notes are not visually appealing (there is little white space on the paper and no evidence of highlighting, use of colors, underlining, etc.)
The reason that students have these issues when taking notes is that they have not been taught HOW or WHY to take notes. These are skills that must be explicitly taught by a teacher and practiced repeatedly until they are mastered.
How Do I Teach My Students to Take Good Notes?
The explicit teaching of note-taking is something that I struggled with in my classrooms for years. It was clear that my students had not been taught this skill in prior years, or if they had, it had not been practiced enough to master. I had to make time to teach it, because I knew that it was a skill that would benefit students in the long-run. I saw two types of note-taking that students needed to master – taking notes from a text (in the case of homework), and taking notes during a lecture. I researched and gathered important information about note-taking and created a two-page handout chalk-full of information to help students take notes in these two settings.
I taught and modeled each step of the process. I used a short video to model taking notes in “lecture” format; I played a video about penguins and had the students watch as I modeled note-taking in real time. After modeling, we stopped to discuss what students had noticed about my note-taking. I pointed out areas that they hadn’t noticed until I felt students really understood how to take quality notes. Then students practiced with another short video. To teach note-taking from a text, we used a passage from a student textbook and again, students watched as I modeled how to read, pull out important information, visually organize the notes, write using a modified “short hand” with no complete sentences. Students practiced note-taking from a text in class and at home. I created a note-taking template to guide students through the process. Not all students required the use of the template, but it was useful for many. The two-page handout, along with a note-taking template appropriate for middle and high school is available here.
It may be helpful for you to have your students peer-edit each other’s notes in order to determine if they are taking a good amount of notes, if the notes focus on important information, if the notes could be used to study material for an assessment, etc. (maybe create a peer-review note-template?). Rewriting their notes after peer or teacher-review will provide meaningful practice.
Learning how to take notes will be one of the most important skills you can teach your students. Not only will it support them in mastering the material in your class, it is truly a life skill that will help them throughout their education.