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Teach Your Students to Take Great Notes

By Trent Lorcher

Often the problem with note taking has very little to do with what happens in class. When students (or teachers) fail to prepare outside of class, students have a hard time following along and understanding what the main point of the lesson is.

Don't just assume students have mastered note taking skills. They haven't. That's why you get to teach them how.

Help Students Prepare

Share these tips with your students and watch their skills improve.

  • Complete outside assignments: Instructors assume that students complete assignments, and they construct their lectures accordingly. The more familiar students are with a subject, the easier it will be to understand in class.
  • Bring the right materials: A good pen does not automatically make a student a great note taker, but the lack of one can be distracting. Instruct students to bring a pen, pencil, and textbook to class.
  • Evaluate goals: a student who arrives consistently unprepared for class sends a strong message concerning his or her intention. Help students formulate an achievement plan and explain how taking good notes will help them achieve the plan.
  • Conduct a short pre-class review: Students who arrive early, review their notes, skim the reading selection, and review assigned problems or exercises put their brains in gear and create a link between past knowledge and present knowledge.
  • Clarify your intentions: Have students write a short intention statement on what they plan to get out of the class. Have them write down specific ways to get more out of the class. If note taking has been a weakness for them in the past, have them set some goals for improvement.

What Students Can Do During Class

The following note taking skills serve as a foundation for life long learning.

  • Notice the environment: Help students understand they are in a classroom, not a locker room or the gymnasium or their bedroom. Learning takes place in a classroom. Hopefully your classroom decor is conducive to that environment.
  • Postpone debate: Instruct students to postpone debate until after the note taking is finished. Simply making a note and discussing it at a more appropriate time is sufficient.
  • Ignore personal feelings: Often students harbor ill feelings toward the teacher for any number of reasons. Tell students not to let these personal differences rob them of an education.
  • Listen for key words: Instruct students about your particular lecturing style. Give them key words. Write things on the board. Do jumping jacks.
  • Watch the board: Tell students if you write something down then it's important.