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Note Taking Strategies and Tips for Secondary

Looking for ways to teach note taking strategies, but not sure where to begin? Keep reading.

Okay class, today we are going to be taking notes during our mini-lesson on summarizing. Please pull out your notebooks so that we can begin.

If I utter these words to my students without first teaching them strategies and expectations for note taking, I’ll generally find one of two outcomes:

  1. They will stare at my like I have food stuck in my teeth. After I ask them why they aren’t taking notes, they will claim, “We don’t know how!”
  2. They will pull out their iPads or cell phones and proceed to screenshot the notes I display.

I’m not saying that taking notes by hand is the only way to succeed in life, but I do think it’s imperative for secondary students to learn note taking skills. For one, studies have shown that taking notes by hand helps students process the material better. Plus, there are other benefits. Note taking improves focus, attention to detail, organization, creativity, prioritizing, comprehension, and retention.

How to teach notetaking skills with examples #Notetaking #MiddleSchool #HighSchool -

Tips for Teaching Note Taking Strategies

Explain the relevance. 

Students want to know why they should take notes. How does it benefit them both now and in the future? The now aspect is simple. In addition to the research proven benefits mentioned above, note taking will also help them to succeed in their classes. It’s easier to study with notes than without. It’s easier to stay organized with class material with notes than without.

The future is where things get fuzzy. This is also where you can start to differentiate. Explain to students that most employers demand soft skills. Have them research soft skills that are highest in demand. Then, have them make connections between the benefits of note taking and those skills. You can also share this note taking infographic with students or have them create their own based upon their research about the benefits of note taking.

Encourage color.

Research shows that color has brain benefits with memory. I encourage students to color code their notes to help them recall information. Colored pens, highlighters, and even colored paper can add some pizzazz to an otherwise mundane task.

Another success I’ve had with note taking is simple. One day, I found some stationary that had clouds on it. It had been sitting in my double door cabinet for a couple years, and I thought it might interest the students to use it. Their enthusiasm about taking notes on stationary was much greater than I had anticipated. Whenever I asked them to get out their cloud notes so that we could add to our Odyssey timelines, I never heard one groan.

I wouldn’t recommend this fancy paper approach for the whole year, but it’s a fresh approach for a unit that’s heavy on note taking. Try it.

Give feedback.

When you first begin asking students to take notes, make sure to give them feedback. A grade is not really necessary, but feedback is beneficial because it will help students to know whether they are on the right track and where they have room for improvement. We want students to view notes as documents that are worthy of attention from and communication with a teacher.

Because one of students’ main struggles with note taking is not knowing what to write down, providing feedback will help students to know whether they are writing too much or too little.

Model different kinds.

We’re talking metacognition now. Students need to know that there are different ways to take notes. They also need to understand that they have the power and responsibility to choose the mode that best fits the content being delivered. I try to incorporate a different type of note taking approach each day during mini-lessons at the beginning of the year. As I do, I talk about the benefits and drawbacks to different note taking strategies. It’s also important to think aloud about why you are writing down some information but not others…why you are placing information in a specific area on your notes.

Free Style: Free style notes (as I like to call them) are my favorite place to begin. I call them free style notes because students just write down all of the information they find important as they listen, not worrying about where they are putting it or what it relates to. This strategy is good for students who have a hard time listening while they are also trying to analyze and organize. However, it’s important to take free style notes a step further by teaching students how to reflect upon their notes and reorganize them. The following approaches can help students make meaning from their free style jottings.

Notetaking strategies for middle and high school #Notetaking #MiddleSchool #HighSchool


Outlining: Outlining is beneficial because it doesn’t require students to do anything other than organize the information into headings and related information. Depending on how fancy your note taking expectations are, they can also prepare students to write an outline for an upcoming research paper. Double duty! Here’s a tutorial on using the outline note taking strategy.

Cornell Notes: Cornell notes usually consist of three sections. I like to think of it as a glorified T chart. Students write key ideas or terms in the left column, and the right column, which is sizably larger, lists all of the important ideas related to the main ideas in the left column. The bottom portion of the Cornell Notes is a place for students to reflect on what they have learned. Typically, this space is used to summarize ideas, but teachers can easily ask students to synthesize ideas from multiple texts, to make connections, or to ask questions, among other options. Here’s a brief Cornell Notes “How-To.”

Question and Answer:  Students write down questions and answers that capture the big picture of what was discussed. Notes reflect conclusions about information. Share this short video on Q & A note taking with students!

Notetaking strategies for middle and high school #Notetaking #MiddleSchool #HighSchool


Webs: Maybe students aren’t quite ready for the depth and complexity of sketch noting. Instead, showing students how to complete a simple cluster web graphic organizer is beneficial. This type of note taking can be done on the fly.

Mind Mapping: With mind mapping, students write the topic in the center, and then subheadings branch off from it. Students then write more specific details around the heading and subheadings as needed. Mind maps help students to see the connections between related ideas. Here’s a video about the basics of mind mapping for teachers and students.

If you'd like a free lesson to help students get started with sketch-noting, subscribe to my email list. You'll have access to my growing resource library, which contains a presentation on how to take sketch notes. Also, I love this post because it gives some examples of how students can use sketch notes in the classroom.

Sketch Noting: Sketch notes are a form of note taking that combines text, layout, color, and imagery. It has powerful brain benefits, but it definitely lies in the realm of creativity. Many students who enjoy coloring, drawing, and thinking outside the box would love it. Because of its rising popularity, it’s worth at least introducing to students. Sketch noting is most beneficial when students already have a good grasp on the material, so asking them to doodle sketch notes during a lecture might not be effective.

If you’d like details for specific lesson plans that will help you introduce sketchnotes in the classroom, read this post.

Sketch notes examples #SketchNotes #SoftSkills #MiddleSchool #HighSchool #NoteTaking

Let students choose.

After showing, modeling, and providing feedback slowly over a period time at the beginning of the year, let students choose which style they find most comfortable and valuable. Giving them freedom to choose is a form of differentiation, and it gives them voice in their own learning.

Make suggestions.

Sure, we want students to be self-sufficient note takers, but the secondary classroom is where they are honing their skills. While teaching, make sure to give students hints about what information they might want to write down. Explain to them why they should have recognized that it was important information. Perhaps it was because you referenced a test or because you mentioned it was the building block for a more complex idea. Guidance will help students enjoy note taking and be more confident when they attempt it on their own.


One of the most abstract notetaking strategies to teach is sketchnoting. This resource provides two class periods worth of step-by-step directions to help students get started.

Get started with sketchnotes in the classroom using these engaging introductory lessons! #Sketchnotes #Notetaking #HighSchoolELA #MiddleSchoolELA