Having students take more thoughtful notesOur school had a project involving the use of Cornell notes, a way of having students organize their note taking to maximize what they get out of a lesson...

Having students take more thoughtful notes

Our school had a project involving the use of Cornell notes, a way of having students organize their note taking to maximize what they get out of a lesson and to be able to recognize key ideas presented within that lesson. I was wondering if anyone has any innovative ideas to get the students to take more thoughtful notes to help them get the most out of a discussion or lesson.

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have a handout I wrote a long time ago showing students some effective ways to take notes, along with some tips and tricks. (The handout itself is formatted in note form.) For many students, even the fact that they don't take notes in complete sentences comes as a big surprise! Part of the handout is a list of abbreviations that they end up using over and over. In discussing the handout, invariably there will be a few students who share their own abbreviations and note taking tips.

One of the most helpful parts of the handout shows students how they can use graphics (boxes, circles, triangles, arrows, ladders, etc.) to organize material, highlight important information, and show relationships between ideas/information. For graphic learners, this is especially useful.

Finally, to encourage students to take notes, I always make tests open-note. Any notes they take in their notebooks are fair, including notes they take on their own outside of class. That is a huge incentive to work in class and on their own.

I've always thought the real value of having them take notes is that it engages them in class. They must really listen in order to take notes--and that's half the battle.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What Dr Monica said is THE prime thing to do. Modeling-modeling-modeling.

With my students I did it in a mock lesson in which I showed a video of how to make a simple dessert from one of those food network channels.

I asked them first to take notes of the most important things (NOT the ingrediets) but about the process. Things that will ensure that they will not burn or mess up the dessert.  So, I caught them writing nonsense a couple of times, but then in the end, we saw the video again, and I modeled the notes that I would have taken. None of them got it right because none of them had a clue about the dessert in the first place, so we watched it again, after the modeling session (sounds fancy), and they got a better idea of what "thoughtful" meant.

But yea, model-model-model-and once again model.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have found this to be a consistent problem in my school, and one of the areas in which we have failed, often times, to prepare them for college, when note taking becomes even more important.

One thing I have tried which has had some success is to give students outlines for the notes of the day - with only a few key words filled in.  I leave gaps in places, and some concepts unfinished.  I don't write anything else on the board the whole period unless it is graphic or visual.  They have to focus their listening skills.  Then I grade them every time I pick up their notebooks, and I give them feedback on the notes if they come and ask for it outside of class.

This also avoids the trap of students only writing down what we write down on the board and ignoring you the rest of the time.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not a huge note-giver, but the first time we take any notes, I follow up with a quiz the next day--an open-note, timed quiz.  Lots of things happen here.  First, some students don't bring them to class.  That rarely happens again.  Second, when it's timed, they're forced to focus quickly on the key points which they should have somehow noted (and I did try to make it pretty obvious that first time, so no excuses).  Third, they often struggle to remember what some of their notes actually meant, and I often get some pretty bizarre answers.  Of course I go on to use this exercise as a learning opportunity, and they generally have lots of ideas about how to improve their work for the next time.  It's a process, but that's how I start.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have used Cornell notes and two-column notes before.  I find that having students read with a stack of post-it notes works best for most students, however.  This way, they can put whatever comment, observation, question, connection, etc. right in the book where the idea occurred.  In my class, I have students keep a reading journal, so after they've recorded their thoughts on the post-its and we've had our discussion, they can simply put those "notes" in their composition notebook on a page with the title of the piece and the date of the discussion.  They always have something to say in class, and they are able to study more effectively for exams which deal with those readings when their notes are in one place.

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've always had trouble teaching effective note-taking. Like kiwi, I'm amazed by students who write down EVERY SINGLE WORD I write. I try to model abbreviations/shorthand, but I think part of my problem is that I rarely take notes in my own education. Thus, my models are not the best. I often get frustrated (as I'm sure my students do as well) by the fact that they cannot distinguish b/n relevant information, and the filler. Of course, that may speak to my teaching skills too.....

My school decided 2 years ago to implement Cornell notes across the board, but I have not seen a measurable difference in students' note-taking skills.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All notes that students need from my lessons are on Powerpoints which I save to the school intranet system. I use the powerpoints in my lesson, advise students to write down salient points to get them used to note taking, then give them a lesson to 'revise' the notes on a topc. Students add to the saved powerpoint, amend with their own ideas and save in a revision file.

I also teach how to abbreviate - I was amazed at how many students laboriously wrote out names and terms again and again. I am also not averse to being recorded - a facility we offer via mp3 for students with learning challenges. 

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I was in the classroom, I made a point of letting students know WHEN something needed to be entered into their class notes. I also spent time at the beginning of the semester demonstrating for students how I take notes myself.

For slower students, I made my own notes available in photocopies if they needed them. I would let them know privately that this support was there for them, so they wouldn't be embarrassed, but I also required them to take their own notes and use mine only as a supplement to make sure they didn't miss anything important.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I always try especially with my Grade 12 students to include teaching notetaking and notemaking as part of their assessed work to prepare them for college. I will normally lecture on a book (I teach English) for about two or three classes, and I will then take in their notes and grade them. We go through various notetaking strategies before hand that hopefully prepare them for the realities of having to sit through long lectures! These include things such as use of colour, symbols, signs, highlighting, organising, use of space etc.

knowledgenotebook | Student

"I will normally lecture on a book (I teach English) for about two or three classes, and I will then take in their notes and grade them", actually, you could save yourself a lot of time by letting an algorithm do the grading for you or even better, let students themselves use the algorithm (linguistic computing) do the work, it's "Approximately Correct".  It's Learning Assessment Engine by Knowledge NoteBook.

Yes, I agree Cornell Method is one of the best... but let's not stop from here...

Hope it helps.