Write This Down! Three Note-Taking Strategies to Help Your Students

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

In their 2014 study, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard,” Mueller and Oppenheimer showed that students who actually write out their notes outperformed students who typed their notes into a laptop. Taking pictures with their devices has to be even worse.

An organized note-taking system is even more effective because the brain doesn’t have to think as much about how to organize the information, as it does if one is taking notes haphazardly. Here are some of the most popular note-taking strategies.

Cornell Notes

The note-taking system developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University has become ubiquitous with the idea of organizing notes from lectures and presentations.

In Cornell Notes, students draw a vertical line down their paper, splitting it into a two-and-one-half-inch section on the left and a six-inch section on the right. The right section is for general notes and specific information like dates. When a new point is discussed, students skip a few lines. After the fact, they go back to the left section and write a “cue” for each information group.

When students study, they cover up the right-hand section, leaving the cue. If they can recite the appropriate information for each cue, they’ve mastered the material. Another part of this method is for students to leave a two-inch summary section at the bottom of the sheet so that they can form a more holistic view of the topic.

Mind Mapping

Think of mind mapping as a more graphical representation of the information captured by Cornell Notes. What would be the cue—the main idea—is surrounded by the points of information. Students can either circle the main idea or form a nested diagram below. Some people don’t think of mind mapping as much better than haphazard note taking, but if instructed correctly on how to discern main ideas, students can take notes much faster (which means that teachers can move through their presentations more quickly).


A lot of students may not be acquainted with the idea of a spreadsheet, but charting can serve as a halfway point. If you are presenting a series of related points with common headings, have the students write those headings at the top of the sheet. For example, if you are covering a series of historic events, your headings might be “Date, Location, People Involved, Result.” Students would just have to fill in the information for each point. This might be the fastest strategy of all because the amount of writing is less, but it’s not for every presentation.

We might think that taking notes by hand is an antiquated idea, but practice in note-taking strategies can serve students in the future—even well into the 21st century.

Looking for some additional offline resources to use in your classroom? Check out Edmentum’s free printable worksheet bundles for kindergarten through high school students!