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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

The Importance of Note-Taking in Digital and Face-to-Face Classrooms

by Monica Fuglei The Benefits of Taking Notes in Class

During a recent discussion and lecture in the writing class I teach, I filled two dry-erase boards with information and explained that much of it was not available in the text. One student scribbled away in a spiral notebook and a few others were typing notes on their laptops, but the vast majority simply sat quietly, watching. 

At the end of class, a few more students used their phones to take pictures of the lecture notes, but the vast majority walked out without any way to access that information again. I suspect my online students are even more reticent to take notes on any lecture or reading material they encounter. It’s likely not complacency but rather lack of training that spurs their passiveness in the classroom.

Note-taking’s big impact on content retention

My students aren’t rare — many students resist taking notes as a regular habit. It’s unfortunate, too;  information retention without note-taking is about 10 percent. If a student takes notes, content retention can hover around 80 percent.  This significant difference makes note-taking an important educational skill that is worth teaching students.

The act of taking notes influences recall

According to Edudemic’s Katie Lepi, how we take notes has a direct influence on what we remember. While making audio recordings or taking pictures of an instructor’s notes seems like an efficient way to retain every available bit of material, the act of taking notes appears to have a direct influence on our ability to recall information.

When notes are typed, more material can be recorded and students often have live access to the internet, so they have the ability to search the web for key terms or clarification during the lecture. This appears to be a significant influence of modern student culture, but can come in handy if you encourage information and note sharing among students. Still, Lepi points out that nearly 40 percent of all people surveyed prefer a mix of typing and handwritten notes. Hand-writing notes is slower, but has a higher rate of content retention.

Finding the note-taking strategy that works best for each student

Teaching students good note-taking strategies is essential. Cornell Notes are one effective method; other techniques include idea mapping, outlining, using multiple colors of highlighters, or recopying or typing notes the evening after a lecture.

Because all students have different learning styles and needs, they should be encouraged to choose the process that works best for them.  Students should be reminded that due to the constraints of typing or writing by hand, they must use note-taking to capture key ideas and phrases, not everything the instructor says. Additionally, they should leave plenty of space in their notes to fill in if an instructor skips around during a lecture.

Reinforcing note-taking: Strategies for teachers

To ensure that notes work, teachers can encourage students to review their notes after the lecture to identify any missing information or key questions. To reinforce this habit with my students, I open our classes by asking if they had any questions about our last class meeting or their reading material. 

In the blog The Art of Manliness, Brett and Kay McKay explain that the student’s job doesn’t end when the class lecture is complete. A key component of effective notes is to synthesize in-class material and reading notes into a master outline. The combination of lecture and reading materials helps foster both understanding and retention.   

Modeling is another excellent way to share the importance of note-taking strategies with students. I often share my notes on reading material and am always swift to take notes when they are talking. One way to quietly drive home the effectiveness of note-taking can be to listen to class discussion, review your notes each evening, and return to the next class to ask them questions about what they had to say. Consider sharing your own notes or even dedicating class time to mind mapping or outlining together to show students that often the act of taking notes is an essential piece of their educational success.


Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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