EOTP - Teaching Powerful Note-Taking Skills



“The ability to absorb information and make it one’s own by processing, restructuring, and then presenting it in a form that can be understood by others (or by oneself at a later point) is one of those ‘basic skills’ that is useful throughout life” (Cohen, Kim, Tan, & Winkelmes, 2013).


To teach powerful note-taking, we’ll discuss practices you can use to:

  • Provide research supporting the benefits of note-taking
  • Outline your expectations
  • Share pointers
  • Provide skeletal outlines for lectures
  • Speak deliberately and pause to allow processing time
  • Use clear cues to signal important points


Download a skeletal outline to take notes on the key practices included in this module.

Course Demonstration

This video shows instructors effectively demonstrating the evidence-based practices presented in this module. Through this authentic classroom observation, you can begin to consider how you might implement these practices and techniques with your students.

The instructors featured in the video include Chris Wilson, PhD, from Butler University; Tara Lineweaver, PhD, from Butler University; and Katie Jodl, PhD, from the University of Michigan.

Download the transcript for this video.

Expert Insights

In this video, you’ll hear Linda Nilson, a scholar in teaching and learning, discuss the specific nuances of and the research support for the teaching techniques and practices presented in this module.

Download the transcript for this video.

Common Challenges & Misconceptions

In this section, you’ll read about some common challenges and misconceptions associated with techniques designed to teach powerful note-taking skills. Click on each statement to read research-based clarifications and suggestions aligned to each challenge or misconception.

MISCONCEPTION : Note-taking is very personal, and students can identify their best note-taking techniques on their own

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Untutored note-taking is passive. Students attempt to record what the lecturer is saying without thinking about the ideas. Nilson (2010) cites research that “the average student’s notes include only 10 percent of the lecture . . . and 40 percent of its critical ideas (first-year students, just 11 percent)” (p. 122). Few students receive any tutoring on note-taking beyond “write down the important ideas,” but unless the student is immersed in the content, they don’t know what’s important (Rotenberg, 2010).


Talk with students about the organization of your presentation or lecture, offer a skeletal outline, or use prompts to indicate when ideas or concepts are important (Nilson, 2010).

CHALLENGE : Students ask for copies of my notes or PowerPoints ahead of time.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Providing copies of notes prior to class comes with a cost. When students receive handouts or the instructor’s notes before the lecture, it can impede student engagement with the material, making them less likely to generate their own connections and ideas (Peper & Mayer, 1978). Providing a skeletal outline of your notes does not harm performance on exams and can help students more accurately record critical points and examples (Marsh & Sink, 2010).

MISCONCEPTION : Since many instructors use PowerPoint slides to teach, note-taking is not as important in today’s classroom.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Note-taking is important so students learn to judge what is more or less important, translate material into their own words, and/or distill it down to an abbreviated version. If you provide students with the slides of a primarily text-based PowerPoint, they are likely to just follow along with the prepackaged material and are unable to deeply process the content. Reading and hearing words both involve receiving material verbally, so this simultaneous redundancy does little to enhance learning (Nilson, 2010).

MISCONCEPTION : Taking notes on a laptop or another electronic device is just as effective as taking notes by hand.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Research has shown that taking notes on laptops may not be as effective as paper-and-pen note-taking (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Writing by hand helps encode information, offers fewer distractions than a laptop, and enables you to customize your notes. Although students may write more notes with a laptop than by hand, it is more likely that they are directly copying what the professor has stated without thinking fully about what they’re writing. Pen-and-paper note-takers are more selective in what they write down, and they process the information from the lecture more fully (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

CHALLENGE : Students often write down incomplete or incorrect information even when I write it on the board or on a slide.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No

Clarification :

Johnston and Su (1994) and Stefanou, Hoffman, and Vielee (2008) confirm that students frequently record information inaccurately. Furthermore, if the instructor makes corrections or additions to information previously written, those changes are not likely to make it into students’ notes (Nilson, 2010).


If you feel that exact wording or diagrams are necessary, consider providing that material on a handout, perhaps as part of a skeletal outline (Nilson, 2010, p. 124).

MISCONCEPTION : Since the majority of the content students encounter in an online course is typically read on screen and is accessible for the length of the course, note-taking skills are not as important for online students.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Note-taking enhances reading comprehension by requiring students to more deeply engage with the text. The process of recording notes facilitates learning, increases student attention, and encourages the learner to compare new material with previously learned information (Kiewra, 1987).

Suggestion: :

Provide students with skeletal outlines to support organized note-taking of assigned readings and other course resources in the online modules.


In the Observe & Analyze (OA) section, you’ll view the video(s) depicting developing practice, where an instructor implements some of the module techniques effectively while other techniques may need slight adjustments or improvements. As you analyze the video(s), you will gain a deeper understanding of the module techniques and gain insight into some common pitfalls.


Download the transcript for this video.

Download the transcript for this video.


  • Instructional Practices
  • Online Instructional Practices
  • Additional Resources

This section includes resources and handouts to support your implementation of the techniques and practices presented in the module.

Download all of the implementation resources for this module.

Implementation Resources

Download or print the following resources to practice our techniques for teaching powerful note-taking skills:

The module learning objectives and aligned online practices are listed below. Each resource offers step-by-step instructions and examples of effective online teaching in text and/or video.

Support note-taking in your class or online course

Consider how your implicit biases may impact students

Implicit or unconscious biases often lead to microaggressions, which are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults (whether intentional or unintentional) that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based upon their marginalized group membership (Sue, 2010).

Download a resource you can use to take steps to mitigate the impact of implicit bias on your students.

Provide organizational cues and focus questions for online lectures

When creating online lectures, be sure to provide organizational cues and focus questions to help direct students’ attention and structure their note-taking. Verbal cues include signals such as the following:

Forecasting: Today’s lesson will cover…

Highlighting key points: Write this down…

Signaling transitions to a different focus: Now that we’ve covered X, let’s discuss Y…

Repeating main points or difficult information: So, to reiterate…

Download a resource for providing organizational cues and focusing questions to support note-taking during online lectures.

Watch Dr. LaRosa’s microlecture demonstrating practices that support student note-taking for online lectures.

Provide opportunities for students to use their notes

Allow students to create and use a reference card during timed assessments. You may also consider allowing students to pass in their rewritten and organized notes for course points.

Download a resource on providing opportunities to use notes.

Below are additional resources to further explore the module topics.

Resources for Further Reading


Dana Autry, PhD, MCHES
Director of Adjunct Faculty Engagement
Academic Affairs Department
Park University

Tracy Burt, EdM, Instructor
Child Development and Family Studies Department
City College of San Francisco

Darvelle Hutchins, MBA, MA
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Communication
University of Missouri

Kevin Kelly, EdD
Lecturer, Department of Equity, Leadership Studies, & Instructional Technologies
San Francisco State University

Kate Kelley, PhD
Visiting Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Religious Studies
University of Missouri

José Antonio Bowen, PhD
Former President, Goucher College
Former Dean, Miami University and Southern Methodist University
Author, Teaching Naked

Santiba D. Campbell, PhD
Associate Professor, Psychology
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Bennett College

Marlo Goldstein Hode, PhD
Senior Manager, Strategic Diversity Initiatives
University of Missouri—Saint Louis

Jennifer Imazeki, PhD
Associate Chief Diversity Officer for Faculty and Staff
Professor of Economics
San Diego State University

Sharoni Denise Little, PhD, EdD
Vice Dean/Senior Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer
Professor, Business Communication
University of Southern California
Marshall School of Business 
CEO, The Strategist Company, LLC

Suzanne Elise Walsh, JD
Bennett College

Lilisa J. Williams, MBA
Director of Faculty and Staff Development
Hudson County Community College

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