Tips for Taking Notes

Taking notes is an important part of studying, but how we take notes is equally important.

Many students may have formed their note-taking habits before they even reach your class. However, there are some things you can suggest.

This week I want to write about them.

This is because I have started taking language classes. The last time I took a language class was when I did high-school French and I have to admit I don’t remember much of those classes at all. I’ve studied languages by myself since then, but never with a group, so this class is going to be an interesting experience for me.

It’s been 17 years since I was last in a language class and my learning strategies are completely different now. This is partly because I am a teacher myself and partly because technology has changed so much since then.

Obviously, one of the biggest changes being mobile devices and tablets.

Taking Notes with a Mobile Device

Taking Photographs

Photographing board work is a fantastic time saver. This is something that I would do as both the teacher and the student. Keeping a visual record of what you have done in class can be extremely valuable.

I find that writing notes helps me process the information if I summarize the board work, but if I am writing everything on the board word for word, writing becomes more of a mechanical process rather than a study aid. I end up not really understanding what I was supposed to be learning.

Taking a photo of what is on the board means that I can focus on writing important words, ideas and questions.

It is important to review the photos. If you take a photo and never look at it again, the exercise is pointless.

Video and Sound Recording

I don’t use video or sound recording to take general notes, but I would for something more specific.

If you ever experienced the daunting prospect of having to give a speech in another language, this kind of note taking can be beneficial.

Recording the pronunciation of the more difficult words or videoing yourself giving a mock presentation can be very useful. All smartphones will have video and sound recording apps available for them.

Organizing your Notes

Using note taking software like Evernote or OneNote makes it really easy to organize digital notes.

You can insert pictures, sound and video files, documents and spreadsheets, and take screen clippings. (a screenshot of only a small part of the screen) You can also add links to websites.

I have started to use OneNote more these days because it is easy to copy objects from the other MS Office programs (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) by pressing the Windows Key + N.


OneNote is part of the MS Office package and it is also available as an app for both iOS and Android. 

OneNote Example - Blank Page
Blank Page – OneNote 2013

By default the notebook is cloud based, which means that it will be stored in the documents folder on OneDrive. So, you will need a Microsoft account to use OneNote. The benefit of this is that you can access your notebook from any device and you can share your notebook if you want to collaborate. If you use it as a teacher, I recommend checking with your school’s data protection policy.

If, like me, you prefer to store you notebook on your hard drive, it is possible to change the location of your notebook to your local drive.

Once you have started a notebook you can add your content.

  • You can insert pictures and screenshots
  • You can make annotations by typing text or by writing with a stylus or a digital pen.
  • You can insert shapes to produce diagrams and flow charts
  • You can insert table, spreadsheets and graphs
  • You can insert links to websites and YouTube videos
  • You can insert files and media
  • You can record sound and video

This is an example of OneNote being used.
This is not an example of effective note-taking, but an example of the different content you can add to your notebook.

OneNote Example - Page of Notes
Page of Notes – OneNote 2013

Ideas for using note-taking software


Use OneNote to collaborate between staff or between members in your PLN (Personal Learning Network).
Share ideas and lesson activities or use it to collate materials and media.

Use OneNote as an interactive white board. 
Save all your board work and be able to refer back to previous lessons. Be able to print out board work for reviews or as examples.

Use OneNote in student projects.
Creating one account for class. Students can update notes on their sections. Teachers can keep track of students’ notes and provide feedback throughout a project.


Use OneNote to keep notes for all your subjects.
Make a new section for each subject, and add pages for each lesson. Add multimedia, content and links to websites to supplement your lessons.

Use OneNote to plan out your ideas.
Planning out your writing is easy when you can move your text arrange and re-order it on the page. You can emphasize what is important by using a variety of different colors.
Keep track of your source material by writing in the book references, add links to the relevant websites, and add scanned images from websites and journals with the important points highlighted. Add tags and summarize to make it easy to search your source material.
Proof read and annotate draft copies of your writing before you attempt the final draft.

Paper or Digital?

I don’t think it matters whether you use a pen and paper or a tablet with note-taking software. I think it is important to get the most out of the tools you use.

Note taking by taking photographs has been a successful use of students’ devices in the classroom, but it isn’t enough to just take the photo. It’s a record that needs to be looked at again.

I am still quite new to taking digital notes and using OneNote, but I am enjoying it. I am enjoying how I can bring everything together onto one page. I like how I can search through ideas and how I can link notes together.

I am always going to use pen and paper, but I think I am going to use digital notebooks more. They are an advantage I didn’t have 17 years ago.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Take care!

Further Information

There are several OneNote tutorials available on YouTube. This tutorial by David A. Cox is a good overview.

However, he does mention two things, which need an update.

  1. In OneNote 2013 it is possible to search tags. On the Home tab on the right-hand side there is an icon called search tags, click on it and you’ll be given options to search the whole notebook, sections, pages or within a particular time frame.
  2. Although OneNote is cloud based, it is possible to change the location of the notebook to a local drive in the properties section.

The possibilities of collaborating with OneNote reminded me of this article by Tyson Seburn about collaborating with Google Docs. It’s recently been followed up with a second article. They are well worth the read.

5 thoughts on “Tips for Taking Notes

    1. No problem. I really enjoyed reading your articles about Google Docs. 🙂

      I was surprised to find out that OneNote has been around for quite a long time. I checked the version history and it goes back around 12 years.

      To me, it was just a program on my computer that I never really used. It’s only recently that I have really started to play with it.

      If you do start using it, I’d love to hear what you think about it!


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