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Learning Environment

Notes on Helping Students with Notetaking

To help students comprehend notetaking strategies, it is important to practice purposeful instruction of methods and offer a variety of templates for the choosing.

Many teachers get frustrated when students are unable to properly complete routine processes and/or practices. One question that begs to be asked as frustration seeps in is Were students ever taught said process/practice in the first place? If teachers are frustrated by students’ inability to navigate certain components of learning, imagine the frustrations the students are experiencing.

Peg Grafwallner recently shared a surefire method for alleviating some of those frustrations encountered when practicing notetaking. As an instructional coach and reading specialist, Grafwallner saw a need for students to be more prepared for tackling complex texts. Power Lesson: Note-Taking Stations details her work with a chemistry teacher at a suburban high school to aid students in tackling the intricacies of notetaking. Students were unable to comprehend their science textbooks and/or extrapolate key information because they didn’t have an understanding of how to dive into text and take proper notes. Implicit instruction in notetaking methods had never been introduced, but that was about to change.

Working with the chemistry teacher, the two devised a station rotation lesson that introduced students to four different notetaking methods to be used for breaking down information in their textbooks. The templates included a concept map, a magnet summary, Cornell notes, and annotations. Each station held a completed exemplar that students could reference when tackling the strategy on the provided textbook page. Grafwallner paired the most befitting template with each of the four text pages the chemistry teacher provided. One of the students’ key observations was that certain notetaking styles lend themselves to certain types of texts. Depending on the amount of text, pictures, charts, examples, etc., certain styles just make more sense.

Each of the four stations was briefly explained to the whole class, and then students broke into groups and spent fifteen minutes reading through a single page of provided text and applying the notetaking strategy selected for that station. As students began working, they also began comparing their findings and discussing the different notetaking practices. Overall, the student responses were extremely positive, and the teacher began to see marked improvements in students’ notetaking abilities.

As in any situation, the more opportunities students have to utilize a practice, the more well-versed in it they will become. The key is ensuring that students are able to effectively execute the practice before setting an expectation to commonly use it. In taking the time to outline processes and provide exemplars, teachers are actually saving time and frustration in the long run.

Just as those tenth grade chemistry students discovered there are certain methods that lend themselves to certain types of passages, building a larger toolkit for notetaking is a great way to ensure students can get the most out of any type of text they may encounter. These four additional ways to organize information are perfect additions to any notetaking repertoire.

  1. Venn Diagrams– These easily created organizers are perfect for comparing and contrasting any two texts or subject matter within a singular text. Two overlapping circles are all that’s needed to get students organizing their thoughts. The overlapping section of the diagram is where similarities between the two elements are recorded. On one side of the overlapping similarity section, the unique qualities of one element will be recorded, and the second element’s unique qualities should be written on the opposite side.
  2. Webs– A mind web isn’t just for brainstorming. Webs are great ways to organize and find the connections between concepts found in informational and fictional text. Textbook chapters can be webbed with branches containing each subsection and its key details. When students make tangible copies of their mind webs, it’s also much easier for teachers to understand their thought processes as they are encountering the text.
  3. Fact/Opinion Charts-By creating two t-charts, readers can create an extremely enlightening avenue for comprehending text. The facts and opinions presented within texts, especially informational ones, can do a lot for helping students gain an understanding of the position and validity of the information presented. These two-columned charts will state either Fact or Opinion on the left, and the element that will aid in understanding is the second column labeled How I Know. An excellent tool for encounters with persuasive text, position papers, or political writings, but also an interesting lens to use when reading fictional text and determining the reliability of a character or narrator.
  4. Think Tanks– Summarizing text by putting it into their own words can be challenging for many students. By creating a Think Tank, readers can get some help in organizing the information. The larger portion of the organizer should be a rectangular tank where students record any key details they encounter within the assigned text. After reading and recording, all the details within the tank get reviewed and broken into 3-5 categories. Students place these columned category labels underneath the rectangular tank and add the appropriate details to each column. From the processing of the information and the chunking of details into big ideas, students can now devise a more succinct summary of their reading.

Helping students successfully tackle complex texts is no easy feat. When teachers take the time to implicitly teach notetaking strategies, they are giving students a skillset that they can take with them into any subject area to gain a better understanding of any text they may encounter. Whether using any of the methods shared above or adding another tried-and-true notetaking strategy, exemplars and purposeful instruction for utilizing the methodology are the key to ensuring success!