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How to take great notes

Taking good notes requires students to evaluate, organize and summarize information. It's a key survival skill your child will need through high school and beyond.

By GreatSchools Staff

Your child may be able to type "CUL8R" faster than any of his text-messaging friends, but that doesn't mean he understands the process and purpose of taking notes.

As he moves through middle and high school, he'll need to develop the ability to take good notes — from class lectures, reading assignments and research materials. That's where parents can help, says author and California high school teacher Jim Burke.

"Sometimes you have to sit down and say, here's this whole chapter. How do you decide what's important? What are you going to use these notes for? To take a test? To write a paper?" said Burke, whose The Reader's Handbook explains reading strategies and tools for high school students.

"Students who don't take notes well, don't use them," he says. "They lose faith in the process."

Burke prefers to use the term "note-making" — making meaning from information — to the more passive "note-taking." Note-making, he says, is "manipulating information to make it sticky." Some students can make information "stick" by making outlines. For other more visual learners, colors might work better. Burke gives the example of one student who went back over her science notes using red highlighter to indicate blood and blue for oxygen.

Taking notes in class

Writing at the speed of speech can be daunting even for an adult. These tips may help your student as he develops his own system:

Start a new page for each new class each day.

Date it. Leave space between topics or ideas so you can scan the page more easily later.

Take down key words and concepts, not sentences.

Develop your own system of abbreviations or symbols (such as w/ for "with" or math symbols such as > or =) to take down key points. Here are some abbreviations to get you started from the English-Zone Web site.

Listen for word clues from the teacher.

Teachers often signal what's important to note, using phrases such as "the three incidents that led to the War of 1812 were… ..." Here are some examples of word clues.

Review notes after class to make sure they're accurate and complete.

Doing this just before starting homework in a particular subject can help a student focus on the topic at hand.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/23/2012:
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11/3/2011:
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11/1/2011:
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09/20/2011:
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04/30/2010:
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03/11/2010:
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10/19/2009:
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08/24/2009:
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06/1/2009:
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05/28/2009:
"Thanks a lot for this article. I have a daughter who will be entering high school this fall, and this information may be very helpful. I definitely think it will help me to help her. She has difficulties keeping organized. "
04/27/2009:
"Thanks for the information! I am starting High School soon, and I think this will definitely come in handy! "
02/5/2009:
"Thanks for the info. I think taking notes and pre-reading is very important. However, I have one question. What do I do if the teacher already has pre-made notes on a PowerPoint out but he talks as everyone writes down notes? Sometimes the notes aren't clear and the teacher tries to explain it, but because I'm trying to copy down notes I do not understand what the teacher really says. Perhaps I should throw away some of the pre-made notes and focus on the explanations of my teacher?"
01/2/2009:
"I home school a 9th grader and I am looking for info that will assist me in preparing him for college. After reading this article it occured to me that he has not had much note taking skills. I don't want this to be a hinder to him in college. Thank you for this valuable information, I will start incorporating note-making skills into his lessons. He is looking forward to attending college and I don't want him to be discouraged because he doesn't have note taking skills that will help him be successful in college."
01/2/2009:
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12/3/2008:
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07/11/2008:
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11/12/2007:
"This article is great! It's helping me a lot, I often have trouble following what my teachers say when they're lecturing because I can't write fast enough to get the information I need and still hear what else they have to say so the abbreviations are really making it easier. Thanks a lot for the great tips! Note making just got a whole lot easier."
10/25/2007:
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09/4/2007:
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08/21/2007:
"This article is very helpful for me since I never felt I was a very good note taker. My oldest is starting 5th grade and I want to be able to help her so she doesnt get discouraged by the increased work load."
08/20/2007:
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06/18/2007:
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10/2/2006:
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09/6/2006:
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08/31/2006:
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08/30/2006:
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