Teaching the skill of taking good notes while readingI am trying to work on teaching the skill of taking good notes while reading, not just highlighting. Does anyone have any tips or handouts?

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a teacher, it will be a challenge to get students to make their own notes while they read.  Some of my High School students barely want to read, let alone take notes.

For me, topics must be defined and then explained by my notes.  Therefore, I read a concept and then define it, so that I not only know the concept word or phrase, but what it means.  When I put notes on the board, I always define concepts, then explain them in different language, try to tie them to something familiar, compare to relevant experience in the student's life to help them remember. 

When I was in college, I attended as an adult who was very busy and didn't have that much time to study, I recorded my notes on a cassette recorder so that I could listen to myself in my car.  This method helped me enormously.  I can tell you that if you have a great deal of studying to do, dictating the notes or highlighted portion into a recording device is very helpful. 

I don't know if kids would ever do something like this, they are all too busy and in a hurry these days. 

Once colleague of mine, required his students to hand in an outline of the reading assignment for each night.  This was their homework to hand in an outline of the reading assignment.  


alohaspirit eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes!  Have you ever heard of Cornell notes?  Cornell notes is really simple, organized, and then becomes a great studyguide.  You write the topic of your notes as your title at the top of the page.  Create a cue column(for questions) on left hand side of page about 1-2 inches in width. Then the right hand side of the page is for your notes to answer those questions.  At the end of your notes write a concise summary about the topic.  Then when you study you cover up the notes section, recite the questions, and try to answer on your own.  Its really organized and a great way for you to decipher the information yourself by creating your own questions.  You determine what is important in the text.  You can also do this in class.  Take notes in class in the notes column, then at the end of class or when you go home, create questions for the cue column that go with the notes, and create a summary.  This is also a good review strategy for looking back at what you learned in class that day.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Assess your lesson plan..... then come up with one question, write it on the board in BIG LETTERS. If students are asked or challenged by one BIG question they will be more successful in mastering the task (more thoughts, more possibilities, more courage.) Allow them the freedom to construct their answers in their own words, after all it's their notes. Stress to you students that each of us has a 'method to our madness'. Students need a framework, but if they write down what is important to them in almost any given subject, their recall will be higher, their responses will encompass critical thinking (even if it is not the classic kind) and best of all, THEY WILL REMEMBER WHAT THEY PARTICIPATED IN. In other words....LEARNING ACCOMPLISHED.

cburr eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have looked at the mindscapes site and am concerned that this method would require a type of artistic thinking and spatial planning that many don't have. 

It seems to me that the most important feature of mindscapes is to think through the essential elements and how they interrelate.  Once you get to that stage, you're in great shape even if you can't record it as elegantly as she does.

For those who are less artistic, a simple graphic organizer style -- which can use color, shape, etc -- would be far easier.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I encourage students to write down the thesis statement of things they read (and also the author's purpose of writing the piece).  I also encourage them to write down supporting details that relate to the purpose and main idea.  I encourage them to also write in the margins near important passages (things they find to be important or interesting, etc.).

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I haven't found a good way to teach note taking. I have the feeling that it's a skill that has to be developed rather than taught. I always tell my students to take notes, but I've noticed that most of them actually write something down only when I tell them it's important or that they should put it in their notes.


litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I carefully model the process. We begin with short stories and articles, and move on to novels and longer works. I give them specific strategies I want them to use. Rather than just highlighting, they also color code. In addition, we have other codes for specific analysis.
sbaichu | Student

My students use post-it notes to record their feelings and ideas about different parts of the books. For example, if they felt confused by a particular section, they add a post-it with a question mark, if they feel surprised they add a post-it of a face with a wide open mouth etc.  They aslo write any tricky vocabulary words on post-its to discuss with their reading partners. 

jaymac | Student

I find "rubrics" valuable while reading; after all, the mind is diseminating input according to its importance to the individual. Combining the list of noun and verb rubrics at the side of a paragraph or even a sentence like adding a column of numbers might "jog" their memories for a page's content etc. etc. even it's not important info to them personally.

ebbie479 | Student

There is a strategy I use called "marking up texts". I did not create it and I'm not sure who did. Students use symbols to mark sentences and parts of a text. They mark anything they don't understand with an "?". Anything they find interesting with a "!". Those are the things they will discuss and write responses to in the margins. Then, for things that are important or the main ideas or important vocabulary, they circle or highlight. The skill of taking notes is not just about "highlighting what is important". It also needs to be a student interacting with a text. If they are taking notes on what is spoken, there is no efficient way to do this if they do not have an outline of the words or a recording they can stop and start. Otherwise, they miss what is being said while they are writing something that has been said.

love2teach | Student

There is one strategy that I use quite a bit, especially with nonfiction text. While they read, they have to write a question mark by things they do not understand, an exclamation point by things they find interesting, and a check mark by things they connect with. With these icons, you can have them fold a piece of notebook paper in half (creating a t chart foldable), write the icons down the left side and the items they found on the right.

srjeannie | Student

Perhaps teach a lesson with an outline and then show students how to do that.

Also with fiction note taking-have students keep a SCAMPS list (Setting, Characters, Action, Message, Problem, Solution)

I teach writing with the hamburger approach- Top bun- main idea, meat, pickles, lettuce, cheese-details, bottom bun-conclusion.  Try showing students this when readingand ask them to fill it out as they read.

Graphic organizers can help too.

jkhanfland | Student

What I've found to be successful is reminding students about locating main ideas and referencing the graphic features surrounding the text. Remind students that titles and subtitles help pinpoint main ideas and that each paragraph under them has at least one supporting detail. Focusing on varying fonts also identify important vocabulary that is vital to comprehending new information. Bulleted points, charts/graphs, illustrations, and captions also give very useful information that can help comprehension and build prior knowledge before the student even begins reading the text. I would suggest creating a graphic organizer in which students may document text evidence of new important material that is designed around your content area.

marthamcg | Student

I'm a Visual Facilitator and Graphic Recorder...which means organizations pay me very well to "take notes" in a combination of words and pictures--then everybody gets the finished product.  (which is a mural or series of murals reduced to digital form) 

It's incredibly effective as a learning aid.  (I onceworked a medical conference where one of the doctors said he wished they'd had me in his classes--everyone would have gotten a full grade point higher.)

OK, to the point.  These skills can be learned by ANYONE and are very effective in personal note-taking.  I highly recommend books by Nancy Margulies who has focused a lot of energy on education and is one of the leaders in our field.

When memories are linked via multiple pathways using color, image and pattern, they are more complete and easier to recall.

Best of luck!

Martha McGinnis

President, Visual Logic, Inc.