If you read my last post HERE, you know that I believe it is important for students to have good note-taking skills as they enter high school, college, and career. And there are some simple ways to build these skills.
Previously, I talked about how it is important for students to get proficient in summarizing material. This builds their ability to take a large amount of information and distill it down to the major points. After all, that is pretty much what note-taking is, isn’t it?
Taking notes does not mean that the student writes down EVERYTHING that is said in the way a court reporter does. That is not note-taking. In fact, unless you are professionally trained in shorthand or other abbreviation constructs, then you will not be ABLE to write as fast as a person can speak. Instead, you are expected to take good notes, sifting through the sentences coming out of the lecturer’s mouth and determining what is significant and what is not.
Why is this so important? Well, one reason is that taking notes presents you with two opportunities to learn the information presented. One opportunity is during class while you are taking the notes and the other is when you review the notes during study times. Another reason to take notes is that when you write notes in an organized manner, you are better able to see the overall organization of the information presented, and this will help you to identify the central ideas given and the overall flow of thinking.
Additionally, when you write information as well as listen to it, you are more likely to remember the material better. This is actually a proven fact: when students record information to study, they will more easily remember it later and will do better on exams.
Finally, taking notes helps you to maintain your concentration in class. Less daydreaming will occur if you are actively involved in the lecture by note-taking. This is especially helpful if you have one of those “less than interesting” professors.
There are many more benefits to taking notes, but let’s get into some practical helps!
Let’s say you are sitting down to listen to a lecture or a presentation. How do you know what to write down? Well, there is not one easy answer to this because there are innumerable ways that people present information. Often, a lecturer will use a Power Point presentation that includes an outline from which he or she will speak. Well, if that happens, you are fortunate, because you can just write down the outline headings as each one is addressed. Then you can fill in extra information in each section as it is presented.
But what if there is no outline? Or what if there are just one or two points given? In that case, you need to begin to listen for signal words. You see, instructors don’t do a song and dance when an important idea is given. But often they give you verbal helps to clue you in to what they are doing. For example, they may introduce new information using signal words, just like I did in this sentence. The words, “for example,” can clue you in to an important point or explanation of a topic.
Here are some specific verbal signal words:
“An important point to remember is…”
“You need to know that…”
“The main idea here is…”
“There are 4 reasons why…” (and here they come, get ready to write numbers 1-4!)
“This will be on the test.” (I know this is an obvious one, but I can’t tell you how many students would just stare at me when I would say this.)
A new idea is coming if you hear:
“First,” “Second,” or “Third”
“On the other hand…”
“Similarly” or “In contrast”
“Also” or “Furthermore”
Sometimes a lecturer will have a louder voice when moving to a new topic. This means that if you are writing notes in outline form, you may be adding another point. Another way to signal a new topic is with a pause. This often means that the lecturer has completed a thought or idea and is getting ready to go on to another one.
Now a lecturer may also give you a clue that a specific point is important by repeating it. Remember…in a lecture or presentation, time is often limited. So if you hear a point repeated, you can be pretty sure that it is important. Write that point down!
Also, if a lecturer takes time to turn around and write something on the board, you should be writing it as well. Any idea that is written on a board or put on a Power Point slide is likely to be important.
Finally, you can identify that a summary is coming if you hear words such as: therefore, in conclusion, as a result, in summary, or finally (see what I just did there?).
Once a student has been alerted to and on the lookout for word signals, their ability to take notes will greatly improve. They will be identifying the verbal clues given by the lecturer to help them follow along with the organized structure of the lecture, whether they are given an outline or not.
In the next post, I will go over how to organize your notes as you write them, and then we’ll go over specific “note-hand” that helps students to write or type lots of information more quickly.
I have actually put all this material into a small note-taking booklet that includes much, much more information, but at present it is not available. As I go through this blog series, if there is much interest, I will likely make it available as a very inexpensive download. I would appreciate any feedback on this!
Have an extraordinary day!