Teaching Note Taking Skills

by Jimmie Lanley on August 9, 2010

note takingI’ve been introducing Sprite to taking notes. Of course, I don’t lecture. But note taking is still an important academic skill.

My primary goal is to help her capture the main ideas for narration later. When a passage is detailed or long, taking notes becomes necessary. Otherwise it’s easy to forget or get things mixed up.

I also think that the very act of taking notes helps you to focus and remember what you’re hearing.

Since it’s a totally new skill, I’m giving a lot of specific directions. Here is my procedure:

  • Read orally while Sprite takes notes.
  • Stop and repeat key sentences saying, “Okay, that is important! Write that down.”
  • Emphasize the use of abbreviations and symbols as shortcuts. For example, before we begin a passage, I have her think of the words that I’ll be repeating over and over — maybe a person’s name or an event. Then we select some abbreviated ways to indicate those repeated words. Also I taught her the tricks such as w/ for with and w/o for without. I’ve said time and time again, “Don’t write a or the.”
  • Work on physically arranging the information on the paper through numbering, arrows, bulletted lists, etc.  But don’t get bogged down in numbering or outlining. Think mind maps or clusters where relationships are easy to see without complicated numbering systems.

In the past, I’ve frequently given her very specific directions for highlighting, saying, “That’s a key idea. Let’s highlight that in pink.” I’ve also given her color suggestions to help keep the information visually distinct. For example, using yellow to highlight the presidents’ terms of office and blue to highlight their accomplishments. My hope is that she will internalize these directions and eventually be able to meaningfully highlight text on her own.

I also like some of Education World’s Lessons on Note Taking.

And the very end of this Note Taking PDF has a great example of condensing notes with symbols and abbreviations. It also shows how individual note taking can be!

Have you done any note taking with your children? Any tips to share?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy August 9, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Nope, haven’t tried that yet. Great ideas. We are still in the oral narration stage. Hoping to start notebooking for science soon – though getting my boys to actually sit down and write is a constant challenge around here. My girls, on the other hand, I can’t get them to stop scribbling and writing on everything, and neither of them can even read yet!


Jimmie August 9, 2010 at 11:18 pm

The innate differences between boys and girls amazes me. Folks who say we’re the same… I don’t get them.


Allie August 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Wow, this is a really helpful post! (I also enjoyed the at-home upholstery and chinglish posts.) 🙂
I am homeschooling my seven-yr.-old daughter (our only child) and appreciate your insights!


Ticia August 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

We haven’t started yet, but then my kids aren’t writing yet. We’re still at the drawing pictures of what we understand phase.


Jimmie August 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Well, enjoy that state, Ticia! 🙂 Even the drawing pictures is a step in the process towards college note taking. I mean, we all have to start somewhere.


Angel in Tx August 9, 2010 at 10:33 pm

The way we do it right now is to read it aloud together, discuss, then I write the points on the board for my ds to copy. He’s got some learning differences and writing/spelling is a chore, so he would get bogged down, but he is learning through this to pick out the important points. Later on when he’s more comfortable, we will be able to skip my writing it down first. We take the notes & points and this is what he puts on his paper, lapbooks or notebook pages.
It’s a good first step to him pulling this information and writing it on his own.


Jimmie August 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I like your approach, Angel. The modeling will hopefully be internalized so he can do it on his own later.


Paula (Belgium) August 9, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Yes, we are starting with taking notes. When my daughter listens to an audio on ‘Important People’ or something alike, I hand over the ‘Biography Poster Report’, and while she listens, she fills in the blanks. This is for children younger than Sprite, I think.
Here it is:
Many thanks you for your resources.


Jimmie August 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

That’s a great PDF, Paula. Thanks for linking it here. Very age appropriate.


Kim August 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm

These are really good ideas. I need to start doing that with my son.


Margaret August 10, 2010 at 2:44 am

We have done a little note-taking work. I have one child who has difficulties with writing and organization, and also forgets things, so this is pretty important for us. Thanks for the links and new ideas!


Nadene August 10, 2010 at 3:54 am

My high school daughter uses a large page, folded so that she can write the main facts, highlight theories, or note her equations in different colours on each section. When opened up, the page gives her an overview of all her work. We use mind maps, again with colour and symbols to summarize work.
My children all love making notes and lists. It is just a step-by-step process to find the method that “works” for each child.


Susan August 10, 2010 at 6:25 am

Institute for Excellence in Writing. The first unit is on note taking, there are nine units. I’m very hard to please as I taught English for 10 years to high schoolers. I am pleased with this program and would never buy another. I watched some of the seminar this summer. My kids are all enjoying the program, two of them even call writing their favorite subject! They are all doing level B, they are 10, 12 and 13.


Briana August 10, 2010 at 8:02 am

Great idea, Jimmie! I have always felt that a good note taking skill is so very important. I agree with everything you pointed out. I always had an uncanny knack for noting all the important stuff in HS & in college lectures. It really saved me a LOT of time, too, because by the time I focused on the lecture, etc., to take good notes and read over my notes later, I hardly ever had to study! I still run into situations to this day where a good note taking skill comes in handy. It doesn’t have to be just in school either–planning sessions, meetings, workshops, and other speaking events where information is disseminated. Thanks for reminding me that we need to touch on this very soon! 🙂


Chi-ann August 10, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hi Jimmie, great post! How old is Sprite? What age did you start the note-taking? We do notebooking and since the kids are younger, I do mind maps on a board together with them when we are either brainstorming for our projects, notebooks or lapbooks. I also do this when reviewing a topic. I thought that if I do it together, they will see it modelled and ‘catch’ the concept.


Angela August 12, 2010 at 3:05 am

Thanks for sharing this; it made me think about consciencously teaching note taking. I’ve had my children write summaries from what they’re read or I’ve read aloud, but your post made me realize that I need to teach note taking. Thank you!

I’m glad your trip to the USA went well. Keep posting; your blog is one of two that I check regularly (I really enjoy reading what you write about). 🙂


Alexandra August 16, 2010 at 2:55 am

Yes! We began note taking this past year. My son used the writing outlines that he had learned in English. This gave him a guideline as to how to find what is important. Instead of answering the comprehension questions at the end of each chapter, I had him take notes for Science , and then take the tests. He seemed to retain more, and the self correction of the tests reinforced where he needed to improve.


Alli August 17, 2010 at 6:49 pm

And idea my husband and his friend came up with is to have older children watch some TED talks for experience listening to a lecture and taking notes. While this won’t work for my kindergartner now, it might work for my husband’s friend’s ninth grader.

This talk by Malcolm Gladwell is a family favorite. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4651524651477591115# But I am sure, given the wide variety of topics, you can find other appropriate lectures for her to watch.


Mary May 28, 2013 at 7:01 am

Just reading this… and I love all of your suggestions. We’ve been doing this a lot with Anna, and actually Grant (8) is pretty good at taking rough notes on things. I think I saw that Michael Hyatt just had a post about the importance of taking notes in meetings, too 😉

Thanks for the additional suggestions, Jimmie!


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