Teaching Students How to Take Notes

by | Dec 6, 2018 | Interactive Notebooks, Writing | 0 comments

As all teachers know, our job is always changing and growing. New methods and strategies of teaching are being brought forward all the time, making it difficult to decide what to bring into our classrooms and what to leave out.

Over the years, methods have come and gone. One method that has stuck around is the method of note taking. When used correctly and to its fullest extent, note taking can be a game changer in your classroom. Note taking can improve students’ comprehension and recall skills, no matter their age.

This blog series will thoroughly discuss why and how note taking will benefit your students, both now and in their future education.

When Should Students Start Taking Notes?

First off, we should clear one thing up. You might be thinking, “I teach elementary school. My kids are not ready/don’t need to take notes yet.”

However, as an elementary teacher, you have the opportunity to give your students a strong foundation in developing note taking skills.

If your students can enter middle school with a solid understanding of how to take notes, they will find themselves far more prepared for their academic future.

When should students take notes?

Most of us think of that notes should be taken in a class with a lecture. But that is not necessarily true. If we limit note taking to lectures only, we miss out on a lot of learning. Notes should be taken whenever students are learning key information.

If your students are doing research, they should be taking notes. If they are watching a video, they should be taking notes. If your students are gathering key information, no matter the platform, they should be taking notes.

Why is it Important to Take Notes?

Research shows taking notes improves student retention and overall learning (Bligh 2000). If we want our students to really remember what they are learning in class, we should have them take notes. Research also tells us that information that is not recorded in notes has only a slim (five percent) chance of being recalled (Howe, 1970, in Longman and Atkinson, 1999).

Why? Why does note taking have such an impact on a student’s mind? That’s a great question. When a student takes notes, they are no longer an audience member but a participator.

There are pathways in the brain that are activated when a student becomes a participator in the learning process. These pathways enhance the student’s memory. When a student takes notes, the information is stored in their long-term memory. Later on, students can access this information in both their long-term memory and in their notes.

What is the Most Effective Way to Take Notes?

You might be wondering if you could just give your students a master copy of the lesson notes or the slideshow? While this may be an easy solution for you, and it does give your students something to review, providing students with prewritten notes does not activate pathways in the brain.

It is important for students to engage in activities that activate their brain. It is the actual recording of the notes that assists with memory (Foos, Mora & Tkacz 1994; Katayama 2005).


This isn’t to say you couldn’t pair your teacher notes with student notes. Some notes are better than no notes, but if your students are relying solely on your notes they will not remember the information to the extent they should.

Research shows students learn better when they take their own notes and review them, but students often do not have effective note taking skills. Most students record notes from what they hear (word for word).

Simply copying down words does not require students to process and analyze the information, and this strategy does not engage cognitive thinking. In the end, these types of notes will not help students when it comes time to review (Bretzing & Kulhavy 1981; Huxham 2010; Kiewra 1985). This is why it is important that we as teachers help our students learn how to take notes effectively.

When your students learn how to take notes effectively, it does more for them than simply increases their memory. It also does the following:

Increases focus and attention

Besides being able to recall information, there are numerous other benefits to taking notes during class. One benefit is

that once students learn how to take notes, they will have a new focus and attention. They won’t want to miss out on any details they need to write down.

Increases attention span

As students become more focused and attentive, their attention span will increase because of their active listening.

Increases active listening

Being a note taker makes you a participator, or an active listener. Active listening engages the brain and helps students reflect on what is being taught.

Teaches the skill of prioritizing

Students will also learn how to prioritize. As they learn to listen for key information, they will learn to differentiate between necessary and unnecessary information.

Teaches organizational skills

As students learn to listen with attention and prioritize information, they will also gain organizational skills.

How Long Does it Take to Master Note Taking

The process of learning how to take notes is a slow one. Do not expect success overnight, or even over your first semester of incorporating. This will take time; time out of your lesson planning and time out of your teaching time. But I firmly believe that once you have established and incorporated note taking in your classroom you will see a tremendous amount of growth in your students’ comprehension and recall skills.

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

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