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Teach Note Taking While Homeschooling High School

Note taking skills can really help your children become successful in college and career. And, it's a pretty easy class to teach.

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Research shows that physical pencil to paper note taking can increase the comprehension of the material being learned. It can also increase focus for the student, as well as allowing the student to pay attention to detail, organization, and, to some degree, creativity. Of course, it's not the only way to do it, but it is important for your high school student to learn the skill and practice it, especially if they have a plan to go forward into college. 

If your student is planning to go to college, we've already established that note taking will help them in their classes, but it will also help them to be able to study more efficiently. It is easier to study from notes than it is straight from the book, where the information isn't condensed into concise notes. Even if your student doesn't have plans to go to college, many times note taking will be needed in their job. 

Explaining to your high school student that note taking is a skill that is necessary can help them 'buy in' to why they have to learn this. The infographic in this post gives some good pointers when you're helping your student understand the benefits of why this skill is important.

Teach note taking.

I used the Advanced Communication Series by IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing.) It contains three DVDs: note taking, essay writing, and public speaking. It's a video geared to the high school student. My kids watched them twice a year during high school, once when we started school, and once toward then end of our school year as a "reminder." I thought it was very effective! Andrew Pudewa (from IEW) does a great job connecting with students in a humorous and engaging way. Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has other levels of writing classes, too, so you can start teaching this skill even in the younger grades so it becomes more of a review in high school.

Practice note taking. 

Almost more important than how you teach note-taking, is the practice spent actually taking notes. For practice, we used college lectures from The Teaching Company (which are available at the library or on their website, We started with the lecture How to Listen to and Understand Great Music and my kids LOVED it! The boys would listen to the college level lecture and take notes in real-time using the concepts they used from the IEW study. We tried to use college level lectures that my kids were actually interested in, so it wouldn't be over their head and it would be something they enjoyed. While listening, they would hear the fabulous vocabulary of real college professors, which was an added bonus and great practice for the years to come. You can also practice your skill during church services, or attending lectures in your community.

Although I gave you one of mine above, there are many different ways to practice note taking. Sometimes note taking will mean finding a way to practice that's a good fit for your child. Some students will be more organized in their thinking by outlining. Or, maybe your student will think more clearly by doing a free-style note taking. There are question and answer type examples of note taking where your student might write down questions and answers that capture the big picture of what they are learning about. Or, maybe, your child will fit more with a structured note taking system like the Cornell Strategy for note taking. 

In addition to many different styles of note taking, there are as many different ways / charts / mapping exercises to practice. There are webs, sketch noting, mind mapping, vend diagrams, flow-charts, and more that will help your child practice this skill and learn to organize information. (If you aren't familiar with some of the ways listed here, be sure to Google them and do your research! You might learn a new way of taking notes that you enjoy.)

Collect note taking credits. 

In addition to practicing note taking, you'll want to be sure to give feedback to your student on their note taking. This isn't a critical, or graded, necessarily, thing, rather a way to let your student know if they are on the right track for taking notes that will allow them to organize their information in a good way. There's also room in feedback to let your student know if there is room for improvement in how they are taking notes. Maybe you'll be able to realize that the way your student is taking notes is not best for them - you'll be able to point them in a different direction with one of the other note taking styles. You may even want to suggest that the student isn't writing enough or is writing too much. The point isn't giving a grade, rather giving direction.

Even though you won't necessarily be grading the student on note taking, you'll be able to collect credits for their efforts by assigning a credit. You will start by estimating the number of hours your child spends learning how to take notes, plus the hours they spend practicing their note taking skills. A whole school credit means your child spent 120-180 hours on a subject. Spending 60-90 hours on a subject counts as half credit (like a semester course.) You can combine note taking with other study skills if you want to make a bigger class, or turn a 1/2 credit into a full credit. (Use my 'sticky note' method to combine the hours of note taking with other study skills to make a full class credit.) You might combine note-taking with SAT® or ACT® preparation, or add additional videos on study skills, like How to Become a SuperStar Student, 2nd Edition. If you need more help with putting these credits on your homeschool transcript, take my free class, A Homeschool Parent's Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts.

Your teens are certain to use these skills sooner or later, either in college or on the job. Have you included note-taking in your homeschool yet?

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Comments 1

Guest - Chris James on Friday, 04 December 2020 17:51

Great read! Thanks for sharing such a great blog post! Posts like these will surely help each and every homeschooler in homeschooling their children in the best way.

Great read! Thanks for sharing such a great blog post! Posts like these will surely help each and every homeschooler in homeschooling their children in the best way.
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