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Erin Stapleton-Corcoran, IDMPS instructional designer
October 30th, 2023


Note-taking support is an essential component of inclusive and equitable teaching practices, aiming to provide equal opportunities for all students in our classrooms. This teaching guide explores proactive strategies for instructors, to enhance students' note-taking skills, structure lectures for effective note-taking, reduce the need for individual note-taking accommodations for students, and employ inclusive techniques such as guided and collaborative note-taking to improve note-taking outcomes for diverse learners.


Note-taking is the process of writing down, typing, or crafting graphical representation of information for later reference. Students take notes while participating in lectures or meetings, reading books or articles, listening to podcasts or audio files, or viewing videos or other visual media. Note-taking produces a written record for later review, while also promoting encoding of information (Kobayashi 2006).

Suritsky and Hughes (1991) identify four steps in note-taking:

  • 1. Listening
  • 2. Cognitive processing, which involves:
  • Understanding each learning concept
  • Connecting one’s understanding of a learning concept with existing knowledge or other learning concepts
  • 3. Recording learning content in written, typed, or graphic form
  • 4. Reviewing recorded learning content
a student takes notes

Note-taking produces a written record for later review, while also promoting encoding of information.

Note-taking Methods

There are many different note-taking methods and styles. While students may find a particular method more appropriate for specific note-taking tasks, each of these methods can be used in a variety of contexts, for recording information from different sources (e.g., lectures, meetings, written text, videos, audio recordings), or in different instructional modalities (e.g., in person, online asynchronous, or online synchronous).

Note: the note-taking methods described below can also be used in a variety of combinations.

WHY? Heading link

Why is note-taking beneficial to students?

Research shows that note-taking leads to:

  • Better academic performance: Students earn higher test scores and demonstrate better comprehension when they take notes versus not taking notes, even if they do not review their notes after recording them. (Fischer & Harris, 1973).
  • Enhanced focus during class: Students who take notes are more attentive and remain engaged throughout class lectures or learning activities (Piolat, Olive, & Kellogg, 2005, Kane et al, 2017).
  • Improved student understanding and recall of information: The process of note-taking improves student’s active listening skills, comprehension of material, encoding of information, and retention (Kiewra 1987). The process of converting information into words or images creates new neural pathways in the brain, which establishes learning concepts more robustly in our long-term memory (Brown et al, 2014, Bohay et al, 2011).
  • Better review and studying skills: Effective notes cultivate efficiency by saving students time while maintaining organization and focus during study sessions. Notes also provide a great resource for creating outlines or other study tools (McPherson 2018).

Why do students struggle with note-taking?


Effective note-taking requires a number of skills. According to Kiewra, Colliot, and Lu (2018), students who struggle with note-taking often demonstrate deficiencies in skills key to successfully note-taking.

  • Fine motor skills (handwriting) and/ or computer skills. Students struggle with note-taking because the speed of lectures often surpasses the speed at which they can take notes. Lectures are typically presented at a rate of 120-180 words per minute, while students average 33 words per minute typing and 22 words per minute writing longhand (Wong 2014).
  • Sustained attentiveness: Several conditions can distract students and lead students to take fewer notes, such as the use of digital devices, visual aids, or audience questions (Maddox & Hoole, 1975, Kuznekoff 2022).
  • Reception and processing of Information. Students often struggle to distinguish essential information from details. Quick presentation leaves little time for cognitive processing, leading to gaps in notes. Synthesizing information is challenging, making concise note translation difficult. Prior knowledge affects a student’s ability to identify key points. Language barriers or unfamiliar terms can hinder information reception.
  • Proficiency in producing well-organized and understandable notes. Students’ notes often lack vital details, which can lead to incomplete understanding. Students are generally good at recording main ideas but tend to neglect more specific details (Kiewra & Benton, 1988). Note-taking completeness declines as ideas grow in detail and into sub-levels. In a study, students recorded 91% of top-level ideas, but this dropped to 60%, 35%, and 11% for increasingly detailed sub-levels. Crucial examples are frequently left out from notes, with a study reporting that only 13% of examples were noted (Austin et al., 2004).
  • Inaccurate note-taking: Students can produce vague or incorrect notes, especially when copying numbers or diagrams ( Maddox & Hoole, 1975; Johnstone & Su, 1994).

HOW? Heading link

How to Provide Note-taking Guidance for Students

As a university instructor, here are some strategies you can employ to help your students become better note-takers:

  • Prompt early note-taking: Guide students to start note-taking as soon as the lecture begins, ensuring they don’t miss any important points.
  • Promote active note-taking: Suggest students choose a seat that optimizes their ability to see and hear and urge them to remain alert during lectures.
  • Promote structured note-taking: Encourage students to take notes in an organized format. This helps them identify main ideas first and then elaborate the details.
  • Teach note-taking strategies: Spend some time at the beginning of the term teaching different note-taking methods and explain the benefits and drawbacks of each.
  • Share examples: Discuss with students the note-taking examples outlined in this teaching guide. If possible, you could suggest a specific method most aligned with the structure of the daily lecture or course readings. You can also share your version of lecture notes after class, so that students can compare  and model their notes to yours.
  • Advocate for concise note-taking: Teach your students to record notes in complete thoughts while abbreviating and simplifying where possible.
  • Discourage verbatim transcription: Stress the importance of understanding and summarizing content rather than attempting to create a word for word record, which can lead to missing important points. You can also suggest students use symbols to identify or emphasize items in their notes.
  • Stress the importance of readability: Remind students to write legibly, making their notes easier to study later.
  • Emphasize specialized vocabulary: Encourage students to highlight new or difficult terms and to write down or look up their definitions.
  • Advocate for differentiating facts from opinions: Teach students to distinguish between factual information and the professor’s opinions, encouraging them to add their own thoughts to their notes.
  • Encourage inclusion of visuals: Prompt students to copy diagrams or other visuals that aid in understanding concepts during later study sessions.
  • Provide feedback: If possible, review student notes occasionally to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Encourage chronological organization of notes: Recommend students keep their notes for each class separate and start a new set each day of class. This enhances study efficiency.
  • Urge consistent attendance: Impress upon students the importance of attending all lectures to ensure a comprehensive set of notes, equating it to having all of the chapters of a book.
  • Stress note-taking during discussions: Advise students to take notes during tutorial discussions, allowing them to link lecture notes with tutor group discussions.

How to Develop Lectures that Promote Effective Note-taking

Implementing the following techniques in your classroom works to improve student note-taking:

  • Provide a preview: At the beginning of the lecture, provide an overview of what you’ll be covering.
  • Structure the presentation: Break your lecture into clear, digestible sections. Introduce each section with its key points or objectives. Conclude each section by summarizing or restating these points. This structured approach not only helps students focus on the most important information, but also gives them cues for when to start and stop taking notes.
  • Incorporate verbal and visual cues into the lecture: Enhance the structure of your lecture through verbal cues like phrases indicating relationships (e.g., “The main arguments are…”, “A major development was…”) or highlighting key points. Visual cues can include using the board or slides to highlight specific concepts, presenting graphs or complex charts, or sharing a running outline of the lecture. These cues help students discern the structure of the lecture and make it easier for students to organize their notes.
  • Pace the lecture: Try to aim for an ideal pace of approximately 135 words per minute. This pace has been documented as the optimal speed for comprehension and note-taking (Peters, 1972). However, the nature of the material should also influence the pace. Complex, unfamiliar, or technical content requires slower delivery to aid student comprehension and recording. A faster paced lecture might be suitable for more familiar or narrative-driven lecture material.
  • Utilize strategic pauses: Build short, regular pauses into your lecture to give students time to write. These pauses can be after you introduce a new concept, finish a section, or make a particularly important point. This helps ensure that students can keep up with the pace of the lecture and accurately record the information.Researchers have found that pausing for just 2-3 minutes during a lecture and giving students time to review their notes can significantly increase short term memory and get that information into students’ long term memory (Prince, 2004).
  • Incorporate note-taking activities into class sessions: If you continue talking at your students for an extended period of time just to cover the material, you’re not offering students the opportunity for reflection and engagement. Instead, try these techniques:
    • Note review: Reviewing notes and discussing them with peers provides students with the opportunity to review and rework their notes, thereby solidifying their understanding of the lecture material
    • Interactive learning: Ask questions and engage in discussions during the lecture. This helps maintain engagement and encourages students to consider the information more deeply. This can also give you an opportunity to clarify or elaborate on points that students find difficult.
    • Prediction activity: Ask students to write three possible answers to a question that will be answered in the next section of the lecture. Share the question, give students time to think and write down their answers, and then proceed with the portion of the lecture pertaining to these questions.
    • Free recall exercise: Conclude your lecture with a few minutes for a “free recall” exercise to improve retention. For example, ask students to write down everything they can remember from the lecture, which promotes memory reinforcement (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Ruhl et al., 1987; Prince, 2004).
  • Session recap: At the end of the lecture, summarize the main points. This helps students prepare for what is to come, structure their notes effectively, and reinforce the material.


NOTE: All of the techniques described above also apply to creating effective videos. To learn more about creating videos, consult CATE’s teaching guide: Micro-lecture Videos

How to Reduce the Need for Accommodation Requests via Active Note-taking Support

Note-taking accommodations are among the most common support services requested by students. Students with a variety of disabilities – including ADHD, dyslexia, auditory processing issues, visual or hearing impairments or other physical disabilities – are eligible for note-taking accommodations. Accommodations are needed when a student’s disability impacts their ability to interpret the lecturer’s audio or visual presentation, maintain focus during in-class instruction, or write or type notes. The Disability Resource Center offers the following support for students in need of note-taking accommodations:

  • Lecture Recording: The student requesting the accommodation may record lectures using a digital recorder or other assistive technology or software.
  • Instructor Lecture Notes: A student requesting this accommodation is provided the instructor’s lecture notes prior to the session.
  • Peer Note Taker: A classmate assigned by DRC shares their class notes with the student requesting the accommodation. To initiate this accommodation, students should submit a peer note taker request form.

While note-taking accommodations are a necessity for some students, there may be some students who seek accommodations because they have not learned successful note-taking strategies or feel insecure about their note-taking abilities. Instructors can implement several strategies to minimize the need for note-taking accommodations, improve all students’ note-taking abilities, and build a more inclusive classroom environment.


Note: The effectiveness of these strategies can depend on the needs of the students in your classroom, and they should be seen as part of a comprehensive approach to support that may also include accommodations.

An approach to reducing the need for individual note-taking accommodations is to proactively provide similar support to all students in your course. This can include:

Sharing lecture materials before or after class: Sharing lecture notes or slide decks prior to a session can be beneficial to students who struggle with taking notes. It can be helpful to refer to these notes during the lecture, and having access to these materials before the session allows students to review the material and come to class prepared to engage more deeply with the content. You may post these materials digitally via Blackboard, or you opt to hand out these materials in class with space for students to add additional notes. If you prefer students to create their own notes before accessing your lecture materials, make sure to post course materials on Blackboard after the session.

Sharing audio or video lecture recordings: Sharing audio or video lecture recordings to your Blackboard course site is an effective method of decreasing the need for note-taking accommodations. Lecture recordings can provide adaptable, highly flexible, and convenient access to learning materials (Nkomo and Daniel 2021). By providing all students with the option to revisit lectures at their own pace, students are better able to absorb complex concepts, catch details they may have initially missed, and take more comprehensive notes.

Using guided note-taking strategies: Guided note-taking offers a consistent, structured outline that aids all students in concentrating on essential information, arranging their ideas, while also encouraging active participation by having students complete key concepts and summaries during lessons to enhance comprehension and retention.

Using collaborative note-taking strategies: Collaborative note-taking shares the note-capturing load among students, easing the demand on those with attention or writing difficulties; this can diminish the need for individual accommodations. Exposure to peers’ varied note-organizing methods boosts comprehension and can lessen reliance on personalized support.


How to Incorporate Inclusive Note-taking Strategies in Your Classroom Heading link

How to Incorporate Inclusive Note-taking Strategies in Your Classroom

Clear, concise notes enable students to prepare for class sessions, optimize their study time, and demonstrate their knowledge in assessments. However, effective note-taking can pose a challenge for students.

To ensure all students have thorough and comprehensive course notes, instructors can implement proactive, inclusive-centered note-taking strategies through guided and collaborative note-taking.

How to Choose between Guided Note-taking and Collaborative Note-taking

Guided notes are handouts that outline the lecture content with blanks for key concepts, facts, or relationships that students fill in during the lecture. Collaborative note-taking is a pedagogical strategy where students take notes on the same material and then share, compare, and consolidate their notes. Guided and collaborative note-taking offer distinct advantages, but choosing between them (or combining them) requires an understanding of the learning objectives and the classroom environment. Here are some factors to consider before implementing these note-taking strategies.

 Learning Objectives and Content Structure:

  • Guided Note-taking: If the objective is to ensure students grasp key concepts and don’t get overwhelmed by the volume of information, guided notes can be beneficial. They are especially useful for complex subjects where the educator wants to highlight specific points.
  • Collaborative Note-taking: If the objective is to foster an environment of collective learning, sharing, and knowledge dissemination, then collaborative note-taking is the best strategy. It is especially beneficial for subjects that encourage group activities, discussions, and peer-to-peer interactions.

Class Size:

  • Guided Note-taking: Larger classes, where individual attention is challenging, can benefit from guided notes as they provide a structured path for all students to follow.
  • Collaborative Note-taking: In smaller classes or discussion groups, collaborative note-taking can be more easily managed and can encourage active participation from all students.

Student’s Prior Knowledge:

  • Guided Note-taking: For beginners or those unfamiliar with a subject, guided notes can provide a roadmap, helping them focus on essential details.
  • Collaborative Note-taking: More advanced students can benefit from the diverse perspectives and insights that emerge from collaborative note-taking.

Combining Guided and Collaborative Note-taking

You may also choose to integrate collaborative and guided note-taking methods in a single lecture and discussion session. Begin the session by distributing guided notes to ensure all students grasp the foundational knowledge. As the lecture or discussion progresses, these notes serve as a structured starting point. Post-lecture/discussion, encourage students to form groups to discuss, compare, and expand upon these notes collaboratively.

This integrated approach ensures that while students benefit from structured guidance, they also engage in peer discussions, benefiting from diverse insights and perspectives, which further enhances their understanding and retention of the material.


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