Having some background information about the subject also makes it easier to make connections. Learning is all about connecting new information with things you already know. If you go into a class with a little knowledge to connect to the lesson, you’ll learn a lot more than if you go in completely blank. Your class textbook is the best place to get that information. (I might add that SOAR®’s study skills curriculum includes strategies for reading textbooks faster and with better comprehension.)
Second, pay attention to the teacher—not just what they say, but how they say it. If your teacher gets loud or animated about a concept, or they repeat it more than once, that’s a big clue that you should write it down! If your teacher takes the time to write something on the board, you should write it down too. If your teacher says, “This will be on the test,” well, you had better write that down—and put a star next to it to make sure you remember to study it.
Add visuals to your notes whenever possible. Create your own pictures, graphs, or diagrams. Recreate visuals that your teacher shares in class or related pictures from the textbook. This will give you more than one way to think about the content, so you’ll have an easier time remembering it.
Also remember that you don’t have to take your notes from the top down. You aren’t just transcribing what your teacher is saying, so you don’t have to write things on the page in the exact order that the teacher says them.
Instead, make a “mind-map” by drawing lines connecting related concepts. If there’s room, write related ideas next to each other. Draw boxes around each concept and draw connections across the page if you have to. This can get messy, but it’s a great process forlearning the material.
A Common Roadblock: Writing Too Much
Students usually try to write down everything their teacher says—which is practically impossible. Or they try to summarize what their teacher says in complete, grammatical sentences—which isn’t much easier.
The most essential rule of taking notes is to keep it short and simple. Only write down key words and main ideas. Skip as many unnecessary and “helping” words as possible.
A Little Help From Technology
It’s actually easier to explain the concept of “shorthand” to students today than it used to be. I used to have to force my students to use abbreviations and shorthand in their notes; it didn’t come naturally to them at all! Now, thanks to technology, I can give students some tips that they understand perfectly.
“Take notes like you are texting,” I will tell them. Texting has taught them all about abbreviating and leaving out all but the most important words in sentences. We might wish they would use proper spelling and grammar the rest of the time, but they’re on the right track for taking notes. It’s much faster for them to write “Xndr Gr8 kng mcdnia” in their notes than “Alexander the Great was the king of Macedonia.”
Google and internet searches in general have also helped students understand “key words” and “main ideas.” Try explaining it in those terms: when you’re taking notes, write key words and phrases as if you were entering search terms. The right key words should summon related information from your memory.
Note-taking is an important study skill, but parents and teachers can forget to teach students how to do it. Students need a system. They should prepare for class by reading ahead to get a handle on the information they’re going to learn. They should try drawing connections between ideas to make a “mind-map.” They should know to use shorthand and to only write down key phrases and ideas. And, of course, they should watch their teachers for cues about what facts and concepts are the most important.
Note-taking is a skill that takes some practice, but it makes a tremendous difference in grades and—more importantly—improves students’ ability to learn and feel successful in school.
See examples and more “efficiency” strategies in the SOAR learning materials. For families: http://studyskills.com/products/?product=152. For educators:https://studyskills.com/educators/study-skills-curriculum/.
To your students’ success!