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Teaching Students How to Review Notes

By Trent Lorcher

Improve your students comprehension of material taught in class by getting them to review their notes. These tips should help break the norm of any ineffective cycles, and create a quality review process that teaches and engages.

Teaching students note taking strategies facilitates learning in a short amount of time. However, we often forget one of the most important strategies is reviewing notes.

Has the following ever happened to you? You spend hours preparing a lecture. You explain complicated concepts clearly and concisely. Students (semi) eagerly write down important information. They put the notes in their notebook...never to be seen again!

Break the Cycle

It's time we break this cycle of non-learning by emphasizing and teaching students how to review their notes. Here are some ways to facilitate note review in the classroom:

  • Ask a lot of questions before, during, and after note-taking.
  • Assign partners for each student. Have them stand up, face each other and give them one minute each to repeat everything they know about ______.
  • Use individual white boards or chalk boards for students to write answers, ask questions, explain difficult concepts, etc...
  • Share the expectations and benefits of reviewing notes.
  • Use a note-taking system that facilitates and encourages note review automatically, such as Cornell Notes.
  • Force students to keep a notebook and hold them accountable for knowing what's in it.

Good Review Habits

Review notes with students and intellectually feed them for a day. Teach students how to review notes and intellectually feed them for a lifetime:

  • Review within 24 hours: Many students don't realize the benefits of reviewing notes the same day, so they don't. Explain the benefits. Once they understand the benefits, they will be more likely to do it.
  • Edit Notes: Reviewing while the information is fresh allows students to edit notes properly. Clarifying confusing concepts and correcting misspelled or illegible words and grammar help students own the notes. Demonstrating note editing with a student's notes helps others grasp the concept.
  • Fill in key words in the left-hand column: Cornell Notes force students to do this automatically. Traditional note-takers should write key concepts and key words in the left hand margin for quick reviewing.
  • Take notes in different colors: Teach students to use different colors to highlight important material for later review.
  • Use graphic signals: Teach students to use signals such as brackets, stars, arrows, equal signs, etc.

Additional ideas

  • Check notebooks and see if the notes are easily reviewable.
  • Collect individual notes and assign a grade.
  • Show them examples of well written notes, ready for review. It's even better if the notes belong to you.