Take Note: How to Help Your Child Organize and Take Good Notes
Updated: Apr 5
When you are getting your kids ready for school, you have to make sure they have their calculators, pencils, erasers, and especially their notebooks. Notebooks are on every back-to-school shopping list and are huge part of school for many children.
Taking notes during lectures are critical for most students both for learning during school and for studying after school. But note taking isn’t as simple as it appears to be. It actually helps your child utilize all three learning styles. The learning styles are the different ways people learn new things. Many favor one style over the others, but few would argue that accessing all three is highly useful when learning.
Normally in class, students are learning visually, since they are seeing the board or a book, and they are learning aurally, since the teacher is usually talking. Note taking introduces the third style of learning: kinesthetic.
Kinesthetic learning is when children do something actively to help them learn. This is a learning aspect that note taking provides since the children are physically taking their own notes. Notes are also useful for learning because they require that children do a little more mental processing than the other two learning styles. In order to take good notes, children have to absorb the material, organize it in their heads, and communicate on their papers what they think the teacher is teaching.
The complexity of the process might be a little surprising. But understanding this makes it less surprising that many students do not take good notes. Some of them don’t know how to take notes at all.
Learning how to parse through information to pick out what is important in a lecture then organizing it so it makes sense—all in a moment—takes practice. Here are some ways you can help equip your child to take good notes.
Find a Structure that Works
Many students don’t take notes because they don’t know where to begin organizing all of the information coming at them. They are right. It’s hard. But there are different methods people have invented to make note taking easier.
One note taking technique is mind mapping. This is especially useful for interrelated or interconnected ideas. As an example of this method, you put the main topic of class lecture inside a bubble, then draw branches to the sub topics as they come and put them in boxes. Then elements of the sub topic branch out from the boxes. When elements relate to each other, even across sub topics, you can draw a connecting line to remind yourself of the relationship.
The second note taking technique is outlining. This is where a student identifies an overarching idea in the lecture and uses it as a title, then takes down information relating to that idea underneath the title. This can be applied to sub topics under that idea as well, with the main idea being in a large font, underlined, or in a box, and the sub topics marked differently with information pertaining to the subtopics underneath the appropriate heading.
Another useful element that can enhance this kind of organization is using bullets and lists. Each bullet point can be used to distinguish different pieces of information from each other, and each sub topic can contain its own list of information.
The third note taking technique is the Cornell Method. This method splits the top two-thirds of the paper in half, with the left side focused on overarching ideas, themes, timelines, and even sub topic headings, and the right side containing all of the smaller pieces of information relating to what is written across from them. The section at the bottom of the page leaves room for the student to summarize the notes, either during or after the lecture.
It may be helpful to modify the Cornell format slightly. Some people make the left side smaller and use it for questions and keywords with definitions, explanations, or answers on the now-larger right side. The summary is done on a separate sheet of paper and covers the topics in the lecture which may have been spread out over several note pages. This works well for dense information that needs a lot of clarification. The Cornell Method also works well for computer notes, something we’ll mention further later.
If your child is not helped by structure, other approaches may work better. Flow notes are notes that encompass whatever the student feels is important in no particular order or area of the paper but connected via lines and arrows. Slide notes are when a child prints out the PowerPoint slides from the upcoming lecture in advance and writes down additional information as the teacher moves through the presentation.
Identify What Makes for Good Note Taking
Any of the above methods will help your child get started on organizing his or her notes. But all of these systems require a certain kind of writing to make them functional. Use the acronym “DUSK” to help you remember the important parts of good note taking.
D: Define the different ideas – Whether your child underlines, boxes, or uses a different color for important concepts, make sure the different ideas are clear.
U: Use symbols – Arrows! Stars! Triangles! Any shape is free to use if it helps your child relate concepts, remember terms, or emphasize points.
S: Space – Leave blank space around different key terms for explanations, details, or definitions. This is also useful for organizing and clarifying information after the lecture.
K: Keep it short! - This may be the most important aspect of good note taking. Full sentences, even sometimes full words, are unnecessary in order to get the information down. For long words, put abbreviations next to them that can be used throughout so things can move faster. Learning shorthand is another useful skill for reducing note taking time.
The more your child can use these concepts, the more light is shed on studying, and the less “dusk” there is in his or her education. It’s a reach, we know. But if it helps, then mission accomplished!
Computer-Typed or Hand-Written?
As with any comparison, there are pros and cons of both sides. Computer notes are typically faster as many people can type faster than they can write, they easier to revise if your child needs to, and they
aren’t difficult to copy if you need to pass notes along. Hand-written notes tend to be more active and so more directly related to kinesthetic learning, and they are more flexible since symbols and arrows can be drawn quickly on a notebook instead of needing to be inserted. Ultimately, it depends on what your child prefers.
If the process of teaching proper note taking techniques and finding the exact right method for your child sounds a bit overwhelming, conferencing with a teacher or tutor can give you support and lead you in the right direction. Spark Tutors has lots of experience optimizing students’ work for a smoother academic experience. Contact us when you find yourself in need of encouragement and guidance in finding what academic strategies are best for your child. Helping students find ways to succeed is our priority and we would love to privilege to join you in supporting your child.
We hope this article has explained some of the concepts behind notes and how to help your child use notes to advance in his or her academic journey. Remember, if something works, it’s a good thing. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!