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Teaching Note-Taking Skills

Strategies | Organization | Practices & Assessment Ideas | Ideas for Presenting Lectures

Being able to take good notes is a skill that never goes out of style in a college classroom, yet it can prove to be a daunting challenge for many second language learners. It's hard enough just to follow along with everything a professor is saying in a lecture, let alone actually write it down. As time is against them, the heart of any good note-taking lesson should be how to write the most relevant details in the shortest [and thus, fastest] understandable manner. Fortunately, there are a few strategies to help students accomplish this.

Note-Taking Strategies

  1. Don't include information you already know. - [This may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning. After all, if the purpose of taking notes is to give students something to refer back to when studying for an exam, why include information that's already in their memory.]

  2. Use keywords: Include only the words that carry the meaning. This means omitting grammatical forms like articles, prepositions,...

  3. Use shorthand techniques:
    • Shorten long words into short words. - There is no one best way to do this, but some techniques include:
      • deleting vowels from words: ex: ppltn for population
      • shortening words to single syllables or even single letters ex: 86 mil p. for 86 million people.
      The context (topic of the lecture) makes it easy to remember that ppltn means population or p. means people.

      [In the end, each student will develop abbreviations that they understand, and I like to remind students that it doesn't matter if their neighbor can understand their shorthand. They're taking notes for themselves. Besides, it will stop their lazier classmates from asking to borrow their notes.]

      * Special Note: Don't shorten new vocabulary terms the first time you see & define them.

    • Use symbols whenever possible. A good place to begin our search for symbols is with they keyboard attached to any classroom computer, particularly from among the top row of keys.

      The list above is by no means all of the possible symbols students can use, and in fact, I always find it helpful to elicit suggestions from my students for additional symbols. Don't worry if none are forthcoming right away since new symbols often come to light as students go through the process of taking notes on various topics.

Up Next... Choosing good lecture material


page last modified: June 17, 2015

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