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Helping Students Take Notes

Structuring Student Notes

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Students often find taking notes in class a difficult proposition. Typically,they don't know what they should and should not include. Some tend to try and write everything you say without really hearing and integrating it. Others take very sparse notes, giving them little context for when they refer back to them later. Some students focus on irrelevant items in your notes, missing the key points entirely. Therefore, it is important that we as teachers help our students learn best practices for taking effective notes. Following are some ideas that you can use to help students become more comfortable and better at note taking in the classroom setting.
  • Scaffold Your Notes - This simply means that you are giving your students clues to the key items you will be covering when you lecture to the students. In the beginning of the year, you shoudl provide the students with a fairly detailed scaffold or outline. They can then take notes on this scaffold as you talk. As the year progresses, you can use less and less detail until you simply list out the key topics and subtopics you will be covering. However, it is important to note that you should give students a chance to read through the scaffold before you actually begin your lecture.
  • Always Use the Same Key Words - As you are lecturing, highlight key topics and ideas in some way. In the beginning of the year, you should be very clear when you are covering a key point that the students should be sure to remember. As the year goes on, you can make your hints more subtle. Though, remember, the goal of teaching is not to trip up your students.
  • Ask Questions Throughout - Asking questions throughout your lecture serves a few purposes. It keeps students on their toes, it checks comprehension, and it highlights key points you want them to remember. However, with that said it is important that your questions do cover key points.
  • Introduce Each Key Topic Before Getting Down to Details - Some teachers lecture by providing students with a lot of facts and expecting them to connect them to the overall topic. However, this can be very confusing. Instead, you should introduce the topic and fill in details always showing how it relates to the topic.
  • Review Each Topic Before Moving On - As you wrap up each key topic or subtopic, you should refer back to it again and restate one or two key sentences the students should remember.
  • Teach the Students to Take Notes in a Two Column System - In this system, students take their notes in the left column. Later, they fill in information on the right column from their textbooks and other readings.
  • Collect Notes and Check Them - Take a look at what students are doing and give them feedback to help them improve. You can do this right away or after they go home and finish out their notes from the textbook.

Despite the evidence which shows that students need help taking notes, many teachers do not see the need to help them by scaffolding and using the other ideas listed here. This is very sad, for listening, taking effective notes, and then referring to these notes when studying helps reinforce learning for our students. Note taking is a learned skill. Therefore, it is important that we take the lead in helping students become effective note takers.

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