Want your child to learn more? Make sure she is taking notes.
Studies have shown that students who take notes and later review them will recall and connect more learning than students who do not.
There are many different ways to take notes — and many possible reasons why a student may need to. If your child has an inventory of note-taking strategies, she can use the approach that is best-suited to each learning situation.
1. Venn Diagrams
Venn diagrams can be used to compare two concepts or categories, such as frogs and toads or horses and camels. Venn diagrams are created by drawing two (or sometimes three) partially overlapping circles with ample space in each circle that doesn’t cover the other. In the amphibians example above, a child would write similarities between frogs and toads in the overlapping area of the two circles, and then add the characteristics that only frogs possess in the non-overlapping portion of the frogs circle and the characteristics of toads in the respective area of the other circle.
Venn diagrams are useful for visualizing similarities and differences between subjects, and they can also be used for taking notes on a wide range of topics. In addition, they offer a way to lay out ideas or details rapidly — both simple concepts and complex relationships. They are especially effective for children who synthesize information visually. One limitation, though, is that it may be difficult to include many details or lengthy descriptions for each subject (legibly) within the limited space of the circles.
2. Bubble Maps
An alternative note-taking tool is the bubble map, which can be used to create connections between a central idea or topic and the details that relate to it. By taking notes in different areas of a page and drawing differently sized circles — or bubbles — around each note according to its significance, a student can begin to map the relationships among the details of her subject. Drawing lines between the bubbles enables children to understand which ideas connect to one another and which are independent. This note-taking strategy also allows a child to return to add details as she learns more information and to spread her thinking out more expansively than in Venn diagrams.
3. Combination Notes
Some experts argue that the best approach to note taking involves combining words and pictures to help students keep track of and synthesize important information about a text. Choice Literacy’s Heather Rader teaches kids to fold a piece of paper into two sections vertically, dividing the page into approximately two-thirds and one-third. She instructs them to add the label “Words” across the top of the larger portion, and “Pictures” as a header for the smaller section. Students then fold the bottom inch or two of the page, and write “Summary” as a subheader for this area. As they read or hear a text, they may add written and visual annotations to each of the top portions of the page. Once they finish taking their notes, they may return to them to create their summary of the text along the bottom section of their papers.
Rader explains that combination notes give students areas for experimenting with verbal as well as visual representations of information. This format also helps students practice distinguishing important details from other parts of the text that they don’t need to retain. By returning to the words and pictures they jotted down to develop a summary, they also learn the value of note taking for recalling and synthesizing information.
A particularly effective note-taking approach for older children involves marginalia, which are notes or symbols in the margins of a student’s book (be sure the text belongs to your child, and not to the school or library!). By writing marginalia, students can keep track of ideas as these pop up during the course of reading. Students write their thoughts as they progress through the chapters or sections, a practice that eliminates the need for integrating other media (sticky notes, computer notes, and so forth) into the note-taking process.
Pulling It All Together
Regardless of the note-taking strategy in play, notes need to make sense to the person taking them. If a word is abbreviated, the note taker needs to understand what the abbreviation means (and to use that shorthand consistently!). It’s also helpful for kids to review their notes regularly, both to familiarize themselves with the information and to integrate note taking into their learning on an ongoing basis.
Check out these resources to learn more about note taking for children:
- Incredible Shrinking Notes
- Notetaking by Crayon
- The Long and Short of It: Summarizing Important Details
Check out additional articles about literacy by Kimberly Moran, including Writer’s Notebooks: A Simple Way to Foster Kids’ Writing.
Bishop's Blackboard: An Elementary Education Blog: Is It a Toad or a Frog? (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2015, from Boshop’s Blackboard.
Hippie, D. (n.d.). Grades 6-8: Activities to Teach Note-Taking. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from Scholastic.
On Marginalia: Notetaking for College Students. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2015, from Hanover College.
Rader, H. (n.d.). Helping Children Build Notetaking Skills. Retrieved July 15, 2015, from Choice Literacy.
Take Note: Five Lessons for Note Taking Fun | Note Taking Lesson Plans. (2015, July 15). Retrieved July 17, 2015, from Education World.
Thinking Marks/Coding. (2013, February 3). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from ELA in the Middle.
Venn Diagram. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2015, from University of South Florida: Broward.
Walbert, D. (n.d.). Higher order thinking with Venn diagrams. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from Learn NC.
Wexler, N. (2014, May 14). If you want students to learn, teach them how to take notes. Retrieved July 15, 2015, from Greater Greater Education.