Whether listening to a classroom lecture by the teacher, a video or slide presentation, or processing information from a textbook, being able to take notes on the content is an important student skill. Because note taking is a complex task that requires students to focus and listen, determine which information is important, hold those thoughts in working memory so they can be sorted or processed, and then record their ideas in an organized way, students with executive function deficits often struggle with taking notes.
The good news is that we can provide support for those who struggle with note taking. Whether a student uses a paper and pencil format or an electronic device to capture their notes, consider these ideas:
- Use key phrases to draw students’ attention to what is important. Some examples might be: “This is important”, “This will be on your test”, “Make a note of this”, or “The top 3 things to remember are . . .”. Tell students to pay attention to these cues as well as additional cues from their teachers. For example, a teacher may pause or alter the tone of his voice when trying to draw attention to a point. When recording notes from a reading assignment, instruct students to look for written cues such as words that are italicized or bolded.
- Use another adult or a capable student to model note taking strategies. While you lecture, have the individual take notes on a flip chart or a classroom whiteboard, or use a document camera so that the process is visible to all students.
- Encourage students to use abbreviations (for note taking—not essays!) when possible. Students who are adept at texting may already have a system of text or chat abbreviations that will be useful for capturing what the teacher is saying without having to write out every word. Students can also use symbols and drawings to represent information.
- Encourage students to review their notes and ask questions if anything is not clear.
- Provide a visual support. Mind Mapping and Concept Mapping are alternatives to linear note taking and are useful tools for some students. Another support is a Note Taking Template, a tool adapted from The Cornell Note Taking System, a method for condensing and organizing notes that was developed by a Cornell University professor named Dr. Walter Pauk. The Note Taking Template provides structure—students can visually see key points and details side-by-side. Following the lecture, students provide a summary of the information. Until students become capable at accurately recording notes, teachers can scaffold the use of the template by providing a template that has key points already filled in. Students fill in the details and, as they become proficient with this, they can be provided with a blank template.
These are just a few ideas that can support students’ active engagement with content through note taking during lectures, reading assignments, or other presentations. If you have additional strategies to support students in effective note taking, we’d love to hear about it!