I will admit it – I am an avid PowerPoint and Smartboard user, and honestly, it’s for a selfish reason.  I tend to ramble and get off topic (a teacher getting off topic?  Shocking!) and seeing a giant screen with my main points helps redirect me to the lesson itself.

Yet every time I use a PowerPoint, it goes something like this:

Me:  Okay, now you don’t need to write down every single word. Just take notes so that it makes sense to you.

I go to switch the slide

Students:  Not yet!  I’m still writing

Me:  Remember – you don’t need to write down every word.

3 minutes later.

Students:  Wait!

5 minutes later.

Students:  Almost done…

And after 10 minutes I am through one slide of the presentation.

It was last year when something finally clicked – my students had no idea what it meant to take notes!  It was something that teachers, myself included, had told them to do time and time again but had never modeled.  And so here I was, making mindless chitchat after each slide while I waited for students to finish copying every. single. word.

I knew I wanted to create a mini-unit to teach note-taking skills, but just the thought of that had me yawning.  To hook the students, I decided to prove to them WHY note-taking was an important skill.  And so I looked to the brain.

notetakingI did some research into how the brain works, focusing on memory and encoding.  (A few years ago I had taken a course on brain development and education which helped too!)  Our brain is like a giant filing cabinet, and every time we learn something it goes in a new file.  But it turns out the typical students forgets 90% of what they learn in class after 30 days because those “files” get hard to find. Writing stuff down helps them save the information in multiple ways, pushing the files back to the front.

When I found scientific proof to support the benefit of taking notes, I set to work putting it together in a student-friendly version.  I included mini-experiments, links to Nat Geo’s Brain Games and a ton of visuals.  I even created a crime scene activity where students could see how writing notes helped them become better witnesses.

Next, I began researching different note-taking methods.  I found seven that I wanted to focus on (INSERT and Gist from Max’s Teaching Strategies, and then Cornell, Mapping, Outline, Sentence and Charting).  I created mini-presentations for each style.  Every time I introduced a new note-taking strategy, I played a fun video as a practice “lesson” for the students to practice their new skill.

Within the unit, I sprinkled some extra activities.  I did one where students practiced using abbreviations, and they were pumped to be allowed to use text language in school! I also tried having students “grade” their teachers to see the different lecture styles each one used.

All in all, I was happy with the outcome.  Each student learns differently, so it makes sense to me that each student should be allowed to take notes in a way that works for him or her.  Sure, at the end of the unit not every students became a note-taking enthusiast, but there were many who began to associate with a specific style.  And my presentations went a lot faster!

What do you think – is note-taking still a worthwhile skill?  Are you a proponent of letting students choose their own note-taking method?  Leave your feedback in the comment section!

Click here to purchase my entire note-taking unit!