There are few things my students hate more than taking notes—and I don’t blame them. Hardly anyone enjoys taking notes. No matter the energy of the teacher or the diligence of the student, it’s extraordinarily easy to lose focus while listening to long, uninterrupted lectures.
And lectures are often as boring for teachers as they are for students. Few teachers like to hear the sound of their own voice for an entire class period.
Taking notes is a necessary component of many classroom curriculums, as lecturing is arguably the most effective way to get information to students quickly, but we can try to enhance the activity. These three strategies help make taking notes more fun and engaging for students and teachers.
1. Walking Notes
Many teachers, myself included, rely heavily on PowerPoint or Google Slides for displaying notes while lecturing. Instead of the usual teacher-as-presenter and student-as-listener format, try printing out your presentation and posting it all around your classroom or an available hallway. Using clipboards or books as a hard surface, students can take notes by hand while walking around and viewing the slides. If you have a large class, consider printing and posting two copies of your presentation so students have the option of moving if there are too many students taking notes at a slide.
This strategy is an easy way to incorporate more physical activity into the classroom, especially during a usually sedentary activity like note taking. It works especially well when students are learning information that doesn’t rely on a linear order of delivery (e.g., the six traits of writing, the parts of a cell, etc.). I give my ninth graders a graphic organizer so they know which slides they’ve taken notes on and which they haven’t.
Another benefit of this strategy is that students can work at their own pace. Set up a review tool for students who finish taking their notes earlier, so they can practice and apply what they’ve learned. My students make flashcards or use their laptops to access a premade Quizlet game.
2. Students Teaching Students
Provide students with a list of questions that would previously have been answered by a lecture you would have given. Have them pick a question they’re interested in and, either individually or in pairs, research it. To ensure the information the students use is valid, you may want to provide them with a reputable text set. This ensures that they’ll be using quality sources and takes up less class time than finding sources. Finally, have the students teach each other the answer to their question. Students have observed hundreds of lesson plans, and they often have great ideas for their own.
While you can require students to teach their peers in a variety of ways, I set the following requirements for my students: They need to have a five-minute presentation, a short review game (bonus points if it gets listeners out of their seats!), and a five-question quiz as a formative assessment for the audience. When students think about content from the perspective of the teacher, they comprehend it much better than when they simply take notes.
3. Fact Checking
For this method, give your students a copy of notes similar to ones they would take during a lecture. Then inform them that several facts within the notes are incorrect. At this point, it becomes the students’ job to be investigators of the content you have provided and sift fact from fiction. To add an element of collaboration to the lesson, have them work in pairs. You might also consider rewarding the first three to five groups of students who correctly adjust the notes with a small, meaningful prize. The competitive aspect will motivate students to work efficiently and deter them from divulging their findings to everyone around them.
This technique for note taking requires teamwork, evaluation skills, and common sense. Students must consider what information in the notes is probable and what isn’t, and then find the correct information as a replacement.
Like walking notes, this lesson benefits from having a review or application activity after students complete it. Students who finish earlier will have more time to review the content in class as they wait for other students finish fact-checking their notes.
There are days when taking notes is simply unavoidable. With all of the content that needs to be delivered and the limited time of a class period, note taking may be the simplest, quickest way to share knowledge. These three lesson strategies may make the process more engaging for your classroom, as they have for mine.