Note-Taking Methods We Need to Teach Our Students6 min read

If you asked me in high school or college why I took notes, I would have told you it was so I had something to study with after whatever presentation I listened to. Of course this is true, it’s helpful to have something to review after a lecture or video. However, I’ve since learned with my own students that while note-taking is good for review, it’s perhaps even more valuable for the learning taking place in the moment.

Note-taking does a number of things for students or any kind of audience member. First, it keeps them engaged during a talk. They are no longer just listening, but physically doing something during a lecture. This helps with attentiveness. They are having to listen better; their minds are engaged more fully. Note-taking also improves learning. This is because note-taking requires effort. Listeners are no longer passively hearing information, but are now having to process and synthesize it in real time. This act of transferring the information into words or images creates new pathways in the brain, enhancing short and long-term memory.

Yes, your audience will now have notes from your talk to refer back to and have your message and information reinforced, which is a benefit of note-taking. But I think the larger benefit is the learning that happens during the talk. Here are a few note-taking methods to enhance the learning for whoever your audience is.

Note-taking that requires comprehension.

When most of us think of note-taking, we might be thinking of the traditional method of writing down as much as you can while listening, or writing down the main points of a talk. Now this can work for some, but what often happens is the note-taker just writes everything they hear and do not have to actually comprehend the information. If the objective is for students to be fully activated and not just hear, but learn, note-taking methods should require comprehension.

Sketch Notes

Sketch Notes

Sketch notes, or visual note taking, are visual ideas an audience member creates when listening to a speaker or reading a text. Rather than traditional note-taking techniques where it can be easy to regurgitate information and text and not actually comprehend the material, with sketch notes the learners sketches out what they are hearing. To be able to draw what you hear, you have to have some comprehension of it. This forces students to lean in a bit more to the lecture or presentation. It encourages engagement with the lecture and active listening. Sketch notes can contain a combination of visual and text notes. The primary objective for the audience isn’t to draw works of art, although some might do that, but to create notes that work best for them.

Double Entry Diary

Double Entry Diary

Another one of the great note-taking methods to encourage is called the double entry diary. With this strategy, students create two columns on a sheet of paper. Title one column: “Quotes,” and the other column, “Thoughts.” As the students are listening to the lecture, they write down any quotes they hear that stand out to them in the “Quotes” column. In the “Thoughts” column next to the quote they wrote down, they write their reaction. Their reaction can sometimes be whatever is in their stream of consciousness, simply putting their thoughts on paper. They can also write down questions that they have to be asked later or just to ponder over. The Double Entry Diary serves two purposes. First, it makes great notes for the audience to recap what they heard and to have access to later on. However, more importantly it provides another opportunity for the audience to engage with the talk. It simulates a conversation with themselves, giving them focus and making them think about everything they’re hearing.

Mind Map

Another note-taking method to have your students try is the mind map. Mind maps help students organize information in a textual, but also visual format. They should write what they think is the main idea of a talk in a circle. Then they should create corresponding circles containing supporting information for that main idea. When more supporting information is introduced, the students just branches off and creates more circles. This requires comprehension of the material and engagement in the lesson. It also provides organized notes following the presentation.

Require or ‘strongly encourage’ note-taking.

If you’re a classroom teacher, I would suggest requiring some form of note-taking from your students whenever you present to them. And if you’re presenting information to large groups who are not students, it would be beneficial to your audience to strongly recommend it as well. Say at the beginning of your presentation, “During my talk today, I would encourage you to create what is called a double entry diary- or sketch notes- or write down ‘Ah Ha’ moments- or whatever method you prefer.” And then demonstrate or explain what you mean by that. Show them what the note-taking methods looks like. Some people will take notes anyway, and others just need a little push. It’s another way to engage them and encourage interaction with your presentation, encouraging your students to not just be passive listeners, but active participants in your talk.

I’ve got a new online course coming out soon about how to give epic, engaging, and memorable lectures to your students. Not the kind of lectures that are long, boring, and ineffective, but the kind that actually make people lean in.

Be the first to know when the course is released in June!

Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.