Teaching note-taking skills

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Teaching note-taking skills

Author: Emma Mijailovic, EAL Teacher

Many researchers agree that note-taking is an important skill, as it facilitates learning from text (Kobayashi 2006, Rahmani and Sadeghi 2011, Wilson 1999). Siegel (2015) iterates that note-taking benefits second learners, as it provides them with an ‘external record’ which they can use for future tasks and review. Furthermore, Dyer, Riley and Yekovich’s 1997 study confirmed the effectiveness of note-taking in enhancing reading skills.

Pedagogical methods

Studies indicate that native learners are better note-takers (Siegel 2015). Consequently, there is now an abundance of second language material designed to help learners practise this important skill. Textbook publishers tend to develop straightforward exercises that are easy to teach; however, the tasks are often simply to ‘take notes’, with no further instruction. This is because there has been little research into pedagogical methods, which means that resources are often not extensive enough or teaching technique is under-developed.

Taking notes requires a simultaneous sequence of mental and physical actions. Learners must understand the input, identify key information and write it down. The learner’s working memory also plays a significant role (Siegel 2015).

Note-taking as a learning tool

It is important that note-taking is used as a learning tool, with a clear objective in mind. Are the students making notes to revisit later in preparation for an exam? Are the notes going to be collated into a summary or essay? Or will the notes be used to assess the learner’s comprehension? How we teach this skill should be dependent on the learning objective.

For example, I would advocate the use of verbatim notes (copying text word for word) if the objective is to prepare for an exam where notes are prohibited. Verbatim notes have many advantages from both a content and linguistic perspective. By copying short sentences, the learner is able to record key points quickly without having to re-word, which may be time-consuming for a second language learner. With verbatim notes, the learner will also be sure to record accurate information. From a linguistic perspective, by copying good examples of English, they will implicitly add language chunks to their own lexicon.

The resource accompanying this article is designed to help learners write notes in their own words. This form of note-taking could be used in preparation for a summary or essay.


Dyer, J., Riley, J. and Yekovich (1997) An Analysis of Three Study Skills: Notetaking, Summarizing, and Rereading, The Journal of Educational Research, 73:1, 3-7

Kobayashi, K. (2006) Combined effects of note-taking/-reviewing on learning and the enhancement through interventions: A meta-analytic review. Educational Psychology, 26, 459–477

Rahmani, M. and Sadeghi, K. (2011) Effects of note-taking training on reading comprehension and recall. The Reading Matrix, 11, 116–128

Siegel J. (2015) A pedagogic cycle for EFL note-taking, ELT Journal OUP 70 (3): 275-286

Wilson, K. (1999) Note-taking in the Academic Writing Process of Non-native Speaker Students: Is it Important as a Process or a Product?, Journal of College Reading and Learning, 29:2, 166-179

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