Ten minutes into class, the PowerPoint is on the SMART Board and I’m animated as I discuss the different types of figurative language and their uses. My students are actively engaged, sure, but something is missing. Not one single student is writing anything down. Maybe they already know the material and I’m wasting their time presenting a lecture? I ask if they’re already comfortable with this material. The resounding answer is no. Not only that, but they are clamoring for a printed handout.

After conferring with several teachers over lunch that day, I came to the conclusion that teachers, who are fighting time constraints, short attention spans, and negative student behavior, have become enablers. By providing so many handouts, we are killing the art of note taking.

It’s an art worth reviving, ASAP. After all, studies show that effective note taking leads to improved long-term retention, increased comprehension, and it also provides the foundation for students to make connections between ideas.

I encourage all of us, all teachers across the curriculum, to teach our students how to take notes and to emphasize the importance of it. After all, regardless of what career field students find themselves in after high school, they will need to be able to write down important information in an organized manner, and not expect employers or professors to provide pre-packaged notes for their convenience. Many of my colleagues use what’s called “structured note taking” in their classrooms. They provide easy to read graphic organizers that only require students to pencil in short, specific information. This is an excellent beginning strategy that enables students to grasp difficult concepts and focus on content and connections. But we shouldn’t stop with graphic organizers.

Consider teaching your students three different ways to take notes on their own:

1. My students seem to enjoy the Cornell Method (Download the Handout), where a student divides her paper into three sections: keywords, notes and a summary.

2. Other students tend to favor the Outlining Method (Download the Handout) (a technique I prefer and use), which involves writing the main topics and subtopics using a number/alphabet combination.

3. My more advanced students, and those who are able to write very quickly, tend to prefer the Sentence Method (Download the Handout), where they literally write out–using full sentences–every major and minor topic/keyword on a separate line.

It’s important to remind your students of the overall goal of all note-taking methods: to capture the main topic, subtopic and keywords. Note taking should not be made into a complicated event where students become frustrated if they aren’t able to write down every sentence or point verbatim.

My favorite note-taking tips for students:

  • Focus on recording the main points of the lesson.
  • Try to summarize the information in your own words.
  • Jot down words you’re unfamiliar with or confused about and look them up later. Consider circling these words, so they’re easy to spot when you’re reviewing your notes later.

Do you teach note-taking in the classroom?