Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

– Nelson Mandela.


     As parents we are always wanting to support and encourage our teens. One way is to teach them or help them learn to take effective notes in class. It is easy for our teen to write down what the teacher is saying or what they are reading in a textbook, but are the notes helping your teen to learn the material? What is the reason for notetaking anyway? Note taking forces your teen to pay attention and helps them to focus in class (or while reading a textbook). It helps them to learn. Studies on learning have shown that actively engaging with the topic by listening and then summarizing what you hear helps you understand and remember the information later. But teens need help, otherwise they are madly writing down everything they hear and not summarizing the material. Here are a few pointers to discuss.

Talk about those “key phrases” teachers often use, that let the student know that “Hey this will be on the test.” What are those key phrases, a few are;

1. On pages (blank to blank) in your textbook is some key information to be familiar with.

2. There are four main…and the teacher goes on to talk about each one.

3. To sum up…. the teacher is going to share the key points for you, write them down.

4. A major reason why…another group of words that indicate testing material being shared.

5. Repeated words or concepts are often important. Take note.

6. Non-verbal cues like pointing, gestures, or a vocal emphasis on certain words, etc. can indicate important points.

This is not an exhaustive list but it is a starting point during lectures. In a textbook the first sentence of a paragraph sums up what is coming next.

     How to take notes. There are numerous methods, from Cornell notes, outlines, charting method, to simply writing down in a sentence what the teacher is talking about. The key is to not to write down every single word that you hear, you listen to the teacher and begin to make connections and form your own understanding of what’s being presented; you write down in your own words what’s being discussed. This level of note taking is ideal for the classroom lecture when you listen for main ideas, make inferences, and identify question areas. All of these methods are easily researched on the internet. Have your teenager look at them all, try out different ones and see what works for them. From a coaching point of view, I have found that students excel at using the outlining method for their textbook reading. Often the textbooks have an outline at the beginning of the chapter that the student can follow, fill in and then highlight if the teacher “highlights” that part in class.

     What is important is what your teen does with all their notes. It is not at all helpful if the notes end up at the bottom of a backpack, or not organized, so organization of notes is so important. But also what will your teen do with those notes? Notes are only as good as what your teen does with them. Have your teen go back into their notes and be sure they’ve gotten all the answers to the questions they had during class or reading or pre-work that they did ahead of class. Can the notes be turned into a study guide? A quizzlet? Can you combine notes from the classroom and textbook to create a map or diagram? All of this rewriting and reworking of notes and turning them into something new, allows for your teen to make new connections with the material and by putting information into their own words they can discover “gaps” in their understanding and get help before an exam.

     One thing I encourage all my teen clients to do, is to share their notes with their teacher. Make an appointment and have the teacher look over their notes, ask if they have missed any key points. The learning opportunity this creates for your teen is invaluable. Your teen learns to ask for help and they get pointers on what to listen for and focus on during the classroom lectures and often what the teacher is focusing on in the textbook. It creates a collaborative learning opportunity and your teen will grow in self-confidence.