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NOTES-TRADAMUS: Student Success Is in Your Future When You Teach Them to Take Notes!

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NOTES-TRADAMUS: Student Success Is in Your Future When You Teach Them to Take Notes!. Chester Goad. We need to nurture our students!. REUTERS/Sigit Pamungkas (INDONESIA). After all, they’re just like we used to be…. Sometimes they don’t realize they need help!.

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Student Success Is in Your Future When You Teach Them to Take Notes!

Chester Goad

we need to nurture our students
We need to nurture our students!


questions we should ask ourselves
Questions we should ask ourselves
  • Do I ever assign my students something to read, such as a chapter in the text or a magazine article?
  • Do I teach them how to read those things?
  • Do I ever say anything important enough for students to take notes on it?
  • Do I teach them HOW to take notes on the things I say in my class?

Fact: Students entering colleges and universities today lack basic note taking skills.

Fact: Secondary institutions generally are not teaching and do not require college success courses which would include essential note taking and organizational practices.


Aside: Learning disabled students have particular difficulty with note taking skills.

link to cheating
Link to cheating?
  • 2002 National Survey of 4,500 high school students found that 75% engaged in cheated and 50% admitted to plagiarism.
  • Recent survey found that 100% of teachers have caught students teaching.
  • 1998 survey found that 4 out of 5 “top students” admitted to cheating.
  • Another found that generally students do not know how to paraphrase.

Could it be that student cheating is tied to a need for patient teaching of note taking skills? “Take Note”

11 % of a lecture is all that 1st year college students typically capture in their notes.

Even the best college level note takers capture less than 75%

Kiewra, K. A. (1985). Providing the instructor\'s notes: An effective addition to student notetaking. Educational Psychologist. 20. 33-39.

retention is an issue
Retention is an issue
  • Studies also show that during a 20 minute lecture, students retain approximately 70% of what is presented in the first 10 minutes!
  • In contrast, students only retain 20% of what is presented in the last 10 minutes.

Encyclopedia of Educational Technology: Publication of SDSU Department of Educational Technology.


After hearing a lecture studies show the average person is able to recall:

50% after ONE day

35% after ONE week

20% after TWO weeks

Listening to a lecture without taking notes is a formula for failure.

Steidler, Alyse. “Helping Students Take Effective Notes.”


“The quality of notes taken during a lecture have a direct relationship to retention of the material presented.”

Gales, P. (2005). Instructor-provided notes. In B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from


“ Taking notes aids comprehension and retention. Researchers have found that if important information is contained in notes, it has a 34% chance of being remembered.Information not found in notes only have a 5% chance of being remembered.”

Howe, 1970, in Longman and Atkinson, 1999

two theories
Two theories…
  • One effective approach is to teach students how to take notes.
  • Another suggests, shortening lectures to 20 minutes is a better alternative.
  • Both of these have been PROVEN to provide better results.

According to the Research…

“The best solution (and least popular) is instructor-provided notes prior to the lecture.”

“Skeletal format has gained the widest support.”

(Hartley, 1978; Russell et al. 1983; Kiewra 1985)

sample skeletal notes
Sample Skeletal Notes

Provide the main ideas of the lecture.

Hierarchical relationships or schematic or outline.


German Occupation France


What msg did pro-German newsclips send?

Free zone:

Occupied Zone:

(Kiewra, 1985)

if you re still uncomfortable
If you’re still uncomfortable…

A posting from the message board, “Tomorrow’s Professor” on University of Nebraska at Lincoln website suggests that instructors:

“write their outline (or their skeletal notes) on the board remembering that students to tend to want to write everything the instructor writes on the board down in their notes.”



Big Question:

How can we in post secondary address this problem without compromising time and material dedicated to our subject matter?


By making a deliberate and purposeful effort toward teaching best note taking practices which are tailored to our specific classes, at the very beginning of each academic semester.

The more instructors emphasize note taking and reinforce good academic practice the better student outcomes will be.

how do we do this

How do we do this?

Practical Suggestions

simple ways to address note taking
Simple Ways to Address Note Taking:
  • Discuss note taking after you’ve discussed your syllabus.
  • In addition, incorporate note taking into your class syllabus.
  • Hold students accountable for note taking or at least suggest that you will be holding them accountable.
  • By checking notes sometime during the semester. This can be formal or informal and may or may not be subject to grading or extra credit.
  • Provide students with a list of symbols you will be using during the class or symbols they can use as you lecture. Ex. %, ?, $ etc.
  • For practice dictate a sentence to them and have them write it.
  • “Jack has a question about problem number one and would like an answer.”
  • Students may write:

“J has ? Re: prob #1 & would like an answer.”

From 57 characters to 33.

Emily Levy. (2007). Teaching Students to Take Class Notes. LD Online.

  • Help students break larger words down into chunks with shortened versions of words.
  • Provide students with a list of abbreviations you suggest they use in your class. (in your discipline)
  • Encourage students to come up with their own.




Ex. Wed-Wednesday





Emily Levy. (2007). Teaching Students to Take Class Notes. LD Online.

demystify your policies regarding student notes grades
Demystify Your Policies Regarding Student Notes & Grades

Try to give students a general idea of what to look forward to as they take notes during your lectures. When possible explain to them the percentages of exam questions which come from lectures and from the textbook respectively. Explain the correlation thereof.

After all, is it our test methodology that we want our students to learn or is it the content material?


Teach them how to discern when information might be exam worthy.

Provide them with a list of terms or phrases to listen for as you teach.

teach them what to listen for
Teach them what to listen for…
  • “Furthermore…”
  • “Finally…”
  • “Therefore…”
  • Anytime you write Ex. on the board.
  • “Here are three reasons why…first, second, third”
  • “And most important”

(main idea) or “a major development”

  • “On the other hand…”
  • “On the contrary…”
  • “For example…”
  • “Similarly…”
  • “In contrast…”
  • “Also…”
  • “For instance”
  • “Finally…”
  • “Remember here…”

North, Gary. “Lesson 9: Taking Notes”


Remind students that they need to take notes actively not only in lecture but as they read the text!


Many students are apprehensive to make notes in their books as they study outside class.

Free your students up to write in or highlight sections in their textbooks.

provide students with examples
Provide Students with Examples

You may not have time to model various note taking strategies. However, discussing them, providing lists, and showing students samples, will still benefit them and heighten awareness.

A variety of samples for addressing learning preferences for diverse learners is best.

linear learners
Linear Learners
  • Linear learners will appreciate note taking methods specifically designed for them.

Some of these are:

Cornell Note Taking Method

Column-Style Note Taking

Half-Page Note Taking

Basic Outline Methods

sample of cornell method
Sample of Cornell Method

The page is divided into three parts.

The larger division to the right is for lecture notes from the instructor.

The smaller division to the left is for key terms, questions & definitions.

The bottom is the student’s summary of the day’s notes in his own words.

Object used is from WRHS/APUSH

sample column style notes
Sample Column Style Notes

Main Ideas Notes

  • Causes of WWI Leaders\' aggression

↑ing nat\'lism

Economic comp.

  • Battles of WWI Battle of Liege

Battle of Fronteirs

Battle of Lorraine

Battle of Mons

1/3 of page 2/3 of page for notes

non linear visual learners
Non-Linear & Visual Learners
  • Students who do not like Linear Learning Methods may appreciate non-linear and visual methods.

Some of these are:

-Mapping or Webbing

-Visual/Iconic Pictures

-Use of colored pens and/or use of highlighters with a key.

webbing sample
Webbing Sample

ideas for reinforcing note taking
IdeasforReinforcingNote Taking
  • Quiz your students from their notes.
  • Allow them to partner up and go over notes together.
  • Spot check notes early on in the semester or take them up once.
  • Grade or award extra credit for notes from lectures and from the text.
  • Call on a student and allow her to teach yesterday’s lesson from her notes.
  • Give them an opportunity before tests to examine your lecture notes to fill in any gaps.
  • Provide incentives for students bringing notes to class.
students thinking through their notes
Students Thinking Through Their Notes

Ask them to write endings to sentences like:

“Another example of this might be…”

“The last time I saw an example of this was…”

“I remember talking about this issue with…”

“This might explain why…”

Erickson, B. L. & Strommer, D. W. (1991) Teaching College Freshmen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


In his book, The Overnight Student , M.L. Jones explains that one of the ways he learned to take good notes was to “lecture to the wall.” After a class, he would take his notes and literally face the wall and teach the notes to it.


“The only voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust