I spoke recently with a homeschooling mom who was concerned because her daughter was in sixth grade and didn't have a clue how to take notes. She was looking for a product or formula that she might use to teach this skill. I made the following, cost-effective (nothing to buy!) suggestions:
- Start off by explaining the purpose of note-taking: to keep a record of your condensed understanding of what you're reading or hearing. In other words ... don't trust your memory!
- The next step is learning to focus and concentrate while listening. If you are reading a book aloud to your student ... tell them that each time they hear what seems to be an important tidbit of information, they need to write it down. These would be things like an important date, someone's age, or a location where something occurred. This might even include any words or terms they don't understand.
- In between listening for these types of note-worthy "facts" ... suggest that they make notes that will act as "reminders". Perhaps you're reading a chapter about Washington's winter at Valley Forge. Were there things mentioned in the chapter that helped them understand "why" the army was there? Perhaps something that gave a basic explanation of "what" was going on politically at the time? These all make good reminders.
- Compare note-taking to being a newspaper reporter. They always need to be answering ... Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
The ultimate goal? To be able to go back and read over their notes and come away with the same knowledge/understanding they gained when they first read or heard the information. Note-taking acts as a "refresher" of sorts.
Keep in mind ... this takes practice. You may need to prod a bit at first ... or even come alongside and take notes that they might copy. Read a few sentences from a book to your students, and then stop and say ... "If it were me, I would make a note of the following ..."
As your student gains proficiency in knowing what they need to make notes of, then help them to develop their own style of note-taking "shorthand".
- Helpful abbreviations
- Use incomplete sentences
- Use bullet points or asterisks to make points stand out on a page
Church sermons, TV or radio news reports, or even a DVD documentary all provide great opportunities for practicing note-taking. And who knows ... working with your student may help your skills to improve as well!!