4 Techniques for Effective Note Taking without Technology – Better Learners Series

What is the most effective way of students taking notes?  Giving complete handouts with comprehension questions? PowerPoint while they summarise? Fill in the blanks? Write it on the board while they copy? Distribute textbooks? Creating their own notes? Graphic Organisers?  What is effective note taking?

Note – taking as in writing a record of events that happened in class is often ineffective. Students copying off the board is one of their most hated activities and is rarely effective in learning.  There is little processing of the information and simply recording what they see or hear. Laptops and digital techniques do not help if used simply for verbatin recording what the speaker is saying. Note making, when the student has to summarise and consider what and how to record the information is more likely to be effective. There is no single best method for all students but these are ways that some find helpful. Getting your students to select the best method for them is a possible strategy. Here are 4 methods that I have found to be effective. Fundamentally the students need to understand the difference between work and learning. There should be little or no work, such as copying of notes that make no sense, and lots of learning.

(1) Cornell Notes

This is a tried and tested technique that involve the students dividing their paper into sections and systematically filling in the sections

A video explains the process

In a Reddit post on Note Taking in HS Science  one respondent


I tried “active listening” which the students seem to enjoy more than PPP (PowerPoint Poisoning). Set at timer, explain a new concept for five minutes. NO WRITING ALLOWED, only listening. Now, the students pull out a sheet of paper, Cornell Style, and write down everything that I just said. I may push the ppt slides once more but with no explanation. They then share with a partner what they wrote and add more that they didn’t have. Turn in notes for participation. Maybe try again for another 3-4 minutes, then switch gears. By now, they class is 20 into something, so let them get up, walk around to share for 2 minutes. Start classwork problems, short video, etc.

(2) Visual/Graphic Notes

Rapid notes are created pictorially by the student using combinations of text, images and other graphic elements. Can Doodling  help students process ideas? 

A comprehensive summary of these is  50+ Awesome Resources to Create Visual Notes, Graphic Recordings & Sketchnotes


from http://www.gerrenlamson.com/blog/category/sketchnotes/
from http://www.gerrenlamson.com/blog/category/sketchnotes/

A video explaining the ideas

(3) Filling in the blanks

These can be useful for students who struggle to keep up with writing notes or when you simply want them to have standardised notes but require them to put some effort in.

You can create Cloze Passages some tools are here

Guided Notes can be effective – Research here found them potentially more effective than Cornell notes

Guided notes provide a framework for students to locate relevant information in a text or lecture by using prompts such as fill-in-the-blank statements or partial outlines. This system focuses on the “external storage” benefit of note taking because it requires a low degree of processing on the part of the student

A summary on creating guided notes gives the advantages as


  • To complete their guided notes students must actively respond—by looking, listening, thinking, and writing about critical content—throughout the lecture.
  • Guided notes have been shown to help English Language Learners and learning disabled students immensely.
  • Students produce complete and accurate lecture notes.
  • Students can more easily identify the most important information.
  • Students are more likely to ask the instructor questions.
  • Guided Notes can serve as an advance organizer for students.
  • Guided Notes help teachers prioritize and limit lecture content.
  • Guided Notes content can be easily converted into test/exam questions.
  • Low cost and efficient strategy

And the cons as


  • Instructors must prepare the lecture carefully, this can sometimes be tedious
  • Students are not learning to take notes themselves

A Biology example is here

(4) Graphic Organisers

These can range from simple templates to structure student notes in efficient summaries  to mind mapping using the ideas of Tony Buzan


Students can either create these themselves or be given the main branches that summarise the topic to be learned. At the end of each lesson they add their own notes to the map.


These are the ways of keeping notes without technology. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to see the using technology notes that I am currently writing.

I also offer CPD to students on improving their effectiveness at learning . Please contact me through the CPD link

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