One of the most common questions I get from students is “How do I know when to take notes in class?”
I get it. Note-taking can seem hard and mysterious and complicated — especially if we’ve never been taught how or when to take notes in class before. Or, maybe we’ve already been taught how to take notes, but it was the wrong method for us.
But THIS post is about teaching WHEN to take notes in class. Sometimes we don’t need to take notes, but we misjudge and do so anyways. Or sometimes we think we don’t need to take notes in class, but then we realize later that we really should have. How do we get this right? And is it really that important to take notes in class? (Um, yes it is. And Harvard agrees.)
Some teachers — especially in middle and early high school — will tell students when it’s time to take out the paper or tablet to take notes on a lecture or presentation. If our teachers do this, we’re lucky.
But other teachers — especially in high school and beyond — expect students to be able to read their cues and determine for themselves when to take notes in class.These teachers won’t instruct us to take out our notebooks, and they won’t tell us when information is particularly important: we just have to figure it out for ourselves. Fun, right?
So once we have a system for how to actually take lecture notes, we need to know when it’s actually the right time to break out the notebook. So the following tips should help us get an idea of when we should be writing stuff down in class.
Tips for knowing when to take notes in class
1. Information written on the board. If our teacher is taking the time to pick up a marker and write something out on a board, it’s obviously important. This is our cue to take out our notebook or tablet and copy down what s/he is writing.
2. Examples. If our teacher is giving examples to explain a concept, write down these examples. The teacher might write these examples out or just verbally list them off. Examples always help us understand and remember information better, so write these down.
3. Definitions. Write down definitions of important words used in class. If we don’t know the definition of a word our teacher is using over and over again, we can look it up and write it down.
4. The opening lesson (mini lesson). Many teachers begin class with a short lesson, and then assign various activities to reinforce the lesson. If our teachers or professors set up their classes this way, we should always take notes on the information presented in the first 10-15 minutes of class.
5. Information given during review sessions. If we have a test coming up and our teacher is dedicating class time to review material, we should write down the material covered during the review class. It will most likely be on your test. Even if you’ve already written the information somewhere else from previous classes, consolidate it all onto one page called “Review.”
6. Information the teacher is enthusiastic about. If our teacher suddenly gets a burst of energy or changes his or her tone when talking about something, it’s a good clue that the information he or she is talking about is important and worth writing down.
7. Information our teacher has said before. If our teachers are repeating information that they’ve already covered, or we find ourselves thinking we’ve already talked about this!, then that’s our clue that the material is important and we should write it down.
Final pep talk about taking notes in class
When we first start to take notes in class, or even if we just decided to change up our annotating methods, it can feel weird. We can feel awkward, like we’re not doing it right. This is normal.
And there will be times when we know we should be taking notes in class but we don’t see anyone else taking notes, so we conform and put away our notebooks. Not cool! Be the person to own it. Be the person to do your own thing because it’s your thing. Do it anyways.
Also — don’t forget that when you’re really not sure when to take notes in class, you can always just ask! Put up your hand and ask should we be writing this down? If you’re not comfortable doing that, then my advice is to write it down just in case.
If you’re struggling with how to annotate while reading text, you need to watch this video here.