The recent issue of English Teacher professional (Issue 117) featured a piece on the benefits of teaching students how to take notes. My friend and colleague Naomi Epstein asked me a question on Facebook a few days before the issue was distributed. It was a question about taking notes at conferences.
Naomi’s crowdsourcing survey results showed that many of her respondents preferred to use digital notes. They used Evernote, Word, Notepad.link, and Google Docs to remember the key points and organize the information. Some prefer the traditional pen-and-paper method of taking notes, while others prefer the digital approach.
Not everyone kept notes to be able to go back to later. I for one admit that I take notes during conferences to help me understand the information and process it while I listen to the talk. While my notes can sometimes be used as a basis for blogposts or inspiration in my teaching and training classes, my main purpose for taking notes is to focus on the talk and find relevant and valuable information. Note-taking, if I’m honest with you, also helps me stay awake and alert during the talk.
My students use different methods of taking notes, and I find them less efficient than the ones I have used. Students sometimes take photos of slides or board work with their phones or ask to audio record the class. These photos and audio files can be used as a record to help students recall the lesson later. However, if taken on their own the students may miss out on the chance to process the information and learn from it.
It is a valuable skill that can be used in many areas of our lives beyond academic life. Good note-taking skills are vital to our daily lives, whether we’re taking notes in meetings, writing down messages on the phone, summarizing long emails or articles, or organizing our thoughts on Notepad.link.
This post might be for you because you want to help others learn note-taking skills or because you want to improve your own note-taking. These ten tips will help you, your learners, and all of them become better note-takers.
- Make sure to date your notes and keep the main topic visible
You can quickly identify the contents of your notes by giving them a title. A title and a date, which should be visible at the top, will help you organize your notes and make it easy to find them later.
- Do not write down everything. Only the most important points should be written down
Do not jot down everything (or all of the slides) word-for-word. Copying everything would consume you and make it impossible to have enough time and brain space for the processing of the information. Instead, listen to what you have heard and then summarize it in your own words.
Ask yourself: “What are the most important issues? What is the main takeaway for me? This will help you not only remember the information better but also make it more relevant to your situation.
- Take a few minutes to note the following examples
Sometimes, abstract concepts seem more abstract to me when I revisit them later. If example, the speaker/teacher/presenter gives illustrations and anecdotes to back up certain main points, consider using keywords to make short notes of them. These keywords could be used to clarify difficult concepts.
- Use color
My university classmates used to bring a bunch of highlighters and colored markers, and their notes were a confusing rainbow-colored mess. While I don’t recommend that you obsess about the color of your next word, a well-judicious use can bring variety and clarity to your notes. For example, you might use one color for your key points and another for the examples. You can also use color to indicate your opinions and comments, not the speakers.
- Use drawings and illustrations
Sketchnotes allow you to take visual notes with illustrations and drawings. If you aren’t confident drawing, it’s okay to use sketchnotes to illustrate your notes. Drawing our notes forces us to do more than just take down information word for word. We are also forced to process it and create our own sketches. Your drawings don’t need to be shared with anyone if you don’t wish to.
- Use headings and subheadings
Each set of main points, or ideas, should have a heading. Headings can be used as a summary and break up long notes. They also provide clarity and help to refer back to notes later. You are also requiring yourself to process the information and connect the points by using your own words for headings.
- Keep your sentences brief. Use bullet points and numbered list.
Long sentences can seem overwhelming. Notes should be able to quickly grasp the essence of what is being stated. You can make it easier to process information by keeping sentences short. For more clarity, make sure you include keywords. You can underline them with a colored pen. Bullet points and numbered lists are great ways to keep your notes short and easy to reach.
- Mindmaps are a great way to visualize how everything is connected.
Some people enjoy reading lists while others prefer mindmaps that are more linear. Mindmaps provide a visual representation of how concepts, ideas, and examples connect and can help make information more memorable.
- Be sure to leave space between your notes
A page is divided into sections to serve different purposes. Consider leaving a margin in your notes to allow for comments and thoughts. This will help you when you are reviewing your notes later.
- Keep your notes organized
There is nothing worse than randomly finding sheets of paper in different notebooks or drawers and then wondering what they are. Ask yourself why you’re making notes. Do you want to keep them for later reference or are they just to help you understand the information (and then you’ll throw them away in a few days). Decide how you will store it if you plan to use them in the future. Are all your conference notes and lesson notes in the same notebook? Do they have to be arranged in chronological order? Or are they sorted by topics or themes? Do you have a place to keep your notes? Do you have a system for storing digital notes? Do all of your notes have a commonplace? Are they scattered around the internet?
Although many of these tips are not rocket science, if you take the time to consider and implement them, you will find that you make the most of your time listening to lectures, classes, workshops, and other presentations.