Note-worthy Practices

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Students will learn how to take notes and use them for effective study practices.

Big Idea

Studying is active, not passive.


5 minutes

Ask the warm-up question and listen to 3-4 students responses.  Look for students to talk about the factors that contribute to them scoring well on a test and not scoring well on a test. Connect these factors to the concept of independent and dependent variables that were discussed during the scientific method lesson taught earlier.

Ask pointed questions that will lead students to identify that there is a relationship between note-taking and academic success.  For example, "What resources do you use to study outside of class?  Or, "Have you gotten home and haven't had a good set of notes to use to prepare for a test?"Encourage students to describe what can happen when students do not take notes in class.


Introducing New Material

20 minutes

Explain that there are many different and effective note-taking strategies and the Cornell notes format is not intended to suggest that this is the ONLY way to take notes.  I like to use the Cornell note-taking strategy because I think it lends itself to students ability to easily identify the “what, why, when, how and where” of any material that is presented by a teacher.  Show students the format and explain each of the sections:

  • Explain that the topic header should easily explain what the notes are about.
  • Show students how to use the left margin (about 2 ½ inches) for sub-topics,   questions or sub-headings.  I like to use the question format because it fits     wells with one of my standing homework assignments, which is to re-write      the notes into inquiry questions using what, why, when, how or where.
  • Explain how to use the Notes section for writing narrative notes, bullet points  or drawings and diagrams.

Emphasize that the summary section of the notes is not something that is done in the class but after school as a means of effective review of the content, i.e. actively studying. After presenting the  Cornell notes format, discuss the need for note-taking. While this seems apparent to us as educators, this is not readily apparent to students.  Talk about the need for note-taking to raise awareness among students that there is a benefit of taking notes that directly contributes to their ability to learn and recall content. Briefly discuss the research around how we learn and muscle memory. 

I like to remind students of how they learned spelling words when they were younger.  They all can relate to the practice of writing the spelling words in multiple activities throughout the week in preparation for the test on Friday.

After discussion of the need for note-taking, present a few examples of study activities with the class.  Describe specific things that they can do to actively participate in the  learning of new content.  I share my experience when students come to see me about failing grades.   I ask the “How are you studying?”  I always hear back, “I look at my notes.”  I tell my students that looking at notes is a passive activity that does not engage them in the learning process. Studying should involve some activity that requires more than looking at a paper.  They can write the notes, sing them or talk the notes or recite them while engaging in exercise but they cannot just look at notes and expect that practice to pay off in improved grades.  That practice works for a very small minority of students because most students will fall asleep  or daydream while looking at a page of notes.


Guided Practice

15 minutes

To help students understand how to engage in note-taking, model the practice using a short informational text that you and students read together.

Select a current topic from the internet or use a science journal segment that can be copied and shared with students. Allow students to read the literature for a timed period and then call the group back together with a short count-down, “Thank you for ending your reading and giving me your attention in 5-4-3-2-1-“.

Perform a “think aloud” process which allows students to hear you thinking about the process out loud.  Make it a point to write brief narrative points and include a diagram with labels, if possible. Emphasize that materials included in instruction by teacher has merit and value for note-taking. 

I find that many students falsely believe that teachers are just giving them “busy” work instead of meaningful activities, reading, videos, etc.. that are meant to reinforce key concepts.  If they fail to take notes, they can continue in this false belief and they miss the point.  When students fail to take notes, they do not give themselves the opportunity to make the intended connections, no matter the format.  

Independent Practice

20 minutes

First, to reinforce the merits of materials included in instruction (like videos), show a brief video clip and instruct students to use the Cornell note-taking format while watching the content. I like to use a non-science related video clip on sport success for this portion of the lesson.  My reasons for this are two-fold:

  1. Using a non-science related video allows students to discover the merits of the note-taking practice for any subject matter.
  2. I liken academic success to success in a given sport because both require discipline and an unwillingness to quit.  So, I use this lesson as an opportunity for students to reflect on academic success and what is needed to gain “success”. 

After students watch the video and take notes independently, draw the Cornell notes format on the whiteboard.  Ask students what the title of the notes should be.   Allow students to identify the topic sub-headings, calling on those who volunteer and those who do not. Resist the urge to correct their suggestions as this portion of the work should reflect their thoughts, entirely. If there are different opinions among the students, refer them to the academic discourse prompts for meaningful academic discussion.

Once the title and sub-headings are noted on the board, call students to the white board by table groups to write one point from their own notes on the board.  To maintain classroom order, only send small groups (last name A-C or tables 1-2, etc...) to the board at short intervals until all students have written something on the board. Make sure that there are an adequate number of dry erase markers at the board so that 6-8 students can write at the same time.

Second, use the tradition information format like a short informational reading.  I use a set of infectious disease cards that I obtained for free from the CDC.  Instruct students to work in groups of two and read the infectious disease cards.  The task that follows includes creating Cornell Notes for the disease that is on the infectious disease card and creating 5 study questions and answers based on the notes that they have written.

Allowing students to work with two different formats helps them to see for themselves that there is merit in note-taking for any format that information that is given by the instructor.

Lesson Close

5 minutes

Distribute post-it notes to students. Instruct students to use the post- it note to write one thing that “stuck” in terms of understanding the content taught today on Note-taking and Study Skills.  Students place the post-it on a prominently placed poster board as they exit. Read the comments to gain a sense of what students gained from the lesson.  Use this information in planning future lessons.