7 Types of Guided Notes that Will Improve Student Learning

by | Dec 13, 2018 | Interactive Notebooks, Writing | 0 comments

In my last post, we discussed the varying opinions of note taking and the different ideas that come along with them. Through research and experience, we came to the conclusion that guided notes are the most effective method of note taking.

Now that we’ve established that guided notes improve student retention, there is a whole new world that opens up. There are many different types of guided notes to consider, all with varying pros and cons. This post will look at a few of the most popular types of guided notes.

The following methods of guided notes should occur on a lined piece of notebook paper. You can use notebooks (composition or spiral) or loose-leaf paper and binders – you may have to test different methods to see what works best with your students.

The Charting Method

The Charting Method is similar to the Mapping Method, except in the Charting Method notes are split up into columns that equal the number of topics covered. Details are written under the corresponding column. (These are basically tables of information.)

The drawback of these notes is that they really work for comparing information. They are not as effective for information presented in time order. Personally, I mix charts into my other notes when the material is well-suited to a table.

The Charting Method is another method that would be really beneficial to those subjects that have a lot of information to cover. Your students should be able to get a decent amount of information on a piece of paper divided into columns by subject.

The Sentence Method

The Sentence Method is fairly explanatory. With this method, the student simply writes a sentence that needs to be remembered. This method works best for lessons or lectures that have a lot of information.

I think there is a danger with this method because it feels less like a guided note and more like a blank page. There is a definite potential for your students to write the wrong information, or to be overwhelmed with the number of things they think should be written down. Also, notes are often easier to remember when they are written in phrases or keyword chunks.

Personally, I believe this method is best left for people who are already experts at taking notes.

The Outlining Method


The Outlining Method is similar to the Mapping Method, except the relationship between subjects are shown through writing instead of bubbles. This method is beneficial when your topics include a lot of details students should remember.

Personally, I teach outlining during research. Outlining is a very effective way for students to organize notes from multiple sources. Outlining also helps students to connect details to main ideas.

Students who struggle with organization may have a difficult time with outlining. In order for outlining to be effective, students need to keep the sections of the outline straight. It may help to have students use a ruler and highlighter to create columns for each section (Topics, Main Ideas, Details).

This method could would be effective in a middle or high school classroom, as it requires a lot of writing. Like the other methods, teachers need to model this method for students until they understand how to keep the notes organized.

The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is a well-known note-taking style that is popular with middle school and high school teachers. It splits notes into three sections on one piece of paper, making it easy to find information in the notes. The page is split into two columns. A small column on the left is for keywords or questions. The larger column on the right is for notes. At the bottom of the page, 5 – 7 lines are left for the student to write a summary of the key ideas.

Although this method is well-organized, it requires a decent amount of explanation and practice to make using it truly effective. Also, a lot of the note-taking is done after class on the students’ time. For this reason, this method is better with more advanced student, and I don’t recommend it for elementary students.

Check out the University of Maine’s website to learn more about the Cornell Notes Method.

The Mapping Method

The Mapping Method is beneficial for students who are visual learners, as it clearly shows the relationship between subjects. The Mapping Method starts with the main topic and branches out to subtopics and key details. Some teachers call these Bubble Maps.

As with any method, you will have to explain and demonstrate the method to your students. This method may get very messy with a complex topic.

This method would work well for elementary students who are learning how to take notes, because the topics would be less detailed. Teachers would need to show students how to create these graphic organizers and model them many times before expecting students to create them independently. There is some potential for confusion if the method is not explained fully.

Skeleton Notes

Skeleton notes are basically a partial guide to a lecture. Students have to stay focused on the information presented to complete the notes.

With this method, teachers can provide lengthy definitions that may take students a long time to write. This allows the class to cover more information. In classes with complex material, such as formulas, skeleton notes can ensure that students’ notes are written correctly.

Skeleton notes do require prep time for the teacher. Teachers need to have their lecture planned out and make sure they follow the order of the guide, otherwise students will be confused as they try to complete the information. At the same time, the notes should not be so complete that students can skip reading or listening to the material.

These notes are recommended for secondary classes, including college level courses.

This pdf by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) has examples of skeleton notes.

Interactive Notebooks

An interactive notebook is a notebook that has graphics, lists, bullet points, maps, fill in the blanks, charts, and anything else needed to take effective notes for the subject. An interactive notebook essentially takes all the previously mentioned methods of note taking and puts it into one notebook for your student to use.

Interactive notebooks usually have a table of contents, which makes it easier for the student to review their notes as the year goes on. Also, some teachers have students add tabs for each unit.

Another benefit of using an interactive notebook is that there are many different types of learning involved, so it appeals to all of your students. Kinesthetic students get to cut and manipulate paper, auditory learners hear the information before writing the notes, and visual learners can write and add doodles or color their notes.

Using interactive notebooks takes more effort on your part, but in my experience, it has a better result. By using interactive notebooks in your classroom, you are ensuring student participation, and therefore are assisting them in the process of active learning.

There are a few drawbacks to interactive notebooks. The first one is time – it does take time to have students cut out the organizers. There are ways to trim the amount of prep time, but it does take practice and teaching expectations. Another negative is that students with fine motor difficulties can struggle with cutting and gluing, which make the paper interactive notebooks less effective for those students.


In my next post, I will look in detail at interactive notebooks and how teachers can use them so they are more effective than other methods of guided notes.

Remember that with any shift in your classroom, you will have to take time to ensure your students understand what is expected of them. Different types of guided notes will take more or less time to establish in your classroom. Don’t despair at the time it takes to establish guided notes into your classroom. The benefits will far outweigh the cost, no matter which method or methods you decide to teach your students.

Looking for Teaching Resources?

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

Read More

Join my monthly email list and get this Reading Comprehension FREEBIETeaching-Ideas-4U-Amy-Mezni-Reading-Comprehension-Questions-cover