When I was a student I excelled at taking notes on lectures. I would listen to what the professor said and scribble down important words and phrases. Then I would go home and organize my scribblings into something I could follow and study later. I was less good at taking notes on my readings; instead I gloried in using my highlighter pen. The problem with this is that rereading highlighted passages really didn’t help me interact with the text or remember it. I used to think I was spending hours learning but instead I was just spending hours studying. 
Much much later, as a teacher trying to help my students take better notes  I found 2 excellent options. I wish I had known about these when I was a students so I could have gotten more out of my readings but, since I can’t turn back time, I will share them with you so you can share them with your students.

1.  Make the Margins Bigger and Require Students to Use the Space for Notes.

Make the margins as big as you can when you print out the text you are asking your students to read. This sounds too simple to be true but it made all the difference in how well my students understood and discussed the reading.
In the right margin, I asked my students to write short summaries of each paragraph. If the paragraphs were short I would tell them to write a one sentence summary for every half a page they read.

In the left margin I asked them to write any questions, opinions, thoughts, ideas, reactions, and connections they had to what they were reading. 
Then, at the end of the text, I asked them to write a short paragraph reacting to the text.

After asking my students to do this, I have them sit in small groups and discuss what they have written in their notes. The discussions are rich and interesting as students compare their notes, ask each other questions and disagree with each other’s reactions. I, as the teacher, didn’t have to ask a single question, the students had plenty to talk about all on their own.

2. Cornell Notes

Again, the premise behind this is pretty simple, just take the paper you would have taken notes on and divide it into three sections.
The big main section is for taking notes on important information and points from the text. The smaller section below is for summarizing the text in your own words.
The narrow section on the right is for writing questions you think you might be quizzed on later. These questions will enable students to study more effectively because instead of just rereading their notes, they can quiz themselves on the information. Information you have worked to recall sticks in the brain better than information that is just reread. It also shows the students what they remember and what they don’t so they know where to focus their efforts.

How do your students take notes when they are reading?  Do you usually ask your students to take notes and if you do do you check them?  Please share your experiences and questions with me in the comments below!

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