Focused Note Taking in Math

Picture this: teacher at the front of the room, lecturing, writing notes on the board and a classroom full of students frantically writing away just for the sake of writing down the information.

I’m sure you know this scene all too well. You go over a topic, give students notes to take, think you have covered everything, but they still don’t apply the knowledge. 

It’s frustrating, right? 

Don’t worry! There is a way to make notes more functional for your students! 

Focused note taking is a process that develops students’ note taking habits and is helpful for long term memory retention. A win-win in the math classroom! 

 Focused Note Taking Process

  • Give your students notes to take on a topic or give them notes to complete.
  • Have students re-organize and edit their notes so that they can see them again in a different way. This helps them begin to process the material and starts the process of retention!
    • One way they can do this is by drawing pictures related to the notes.
  • Then identify points of confusion by putting question marks near or circling the parts they don’t understand.
  • They should highlight the most important parts of their notes.
    • It is helpful if you model for them the process of determining what is most important!
  • Have students reflect by asking questions such as:
    • Did I get enough information?
    • Do I understand what the notes are saying?
  • Pair up students and have them share their notes with a partner. This will help them see if they missed anything or get any more insights.
  • Get them to make a prediction and real life connection based on their notes
  • Finally, ask students to summarize the ideas in complete sentences.
    • Using Exit Tickets is a great way to help facilitate this last piece of the process of focused note taking
      • Exit Ticket Idea: What one thing did you learn today? Write in complete sentences. (reflection)
      • Exit Ticket Idea: What do you still wonder about?

Using Notes: The Most Important Part of Focused Note Taking

Going through the process of focused note taking is important for helping students learn note taking habits, but the most imperative part is that students actually use the notes that they have taken! This is how students can retain more information because they utilize the information multiple times instead of just writing it once and never applying it.

Ideas for Using Notes:

  • Have students use their notes for completing projects. This will help foster more of that in-depth thinking that we want students to be doing!
  • Have them use their notes to create a video, vlog, or blog about the topic. Again, this helps them rethink the information and put it to use which in turn will help retention!

How I Use The Process in My Classroom

I have created an Algebra I curriculum using fill-in-the-blank notes that use the principles of the focused note taking method. These notes align to the practice and homework that I have students complete.

I fill in the blanks with the students as we are going over the topic.If I have students who need modified note taking requirements, I have an answer key that I can provide them. (Note: all answer keys are included in this curriculum in my TPT store so that any teacher can easily use them!).

After going through the notes, I have students put question marks near the things they don’t understand and highlight the most important pieces of information. 

I then have them write the most important piece of information in the margin so it is easily accessible when revisiting the material. They can also add their questions, things they notice, and things they wonder about in this area.

From here, I have students pair up and share the most important piece of information that they identified. If a student finds another student’s summary helpful, they can write in their ideas on the side as well.  

With that same classmate, they also think of a real-life connection. If students can’t think of one, I encourage them to Google it, so that they can write an idea in the margin and learn how to better utilize their resources.

Finally, I ask them to share their real life connections on an exit ticket in full sentences. 

If you want to try these notes out for yourself, check out all of my Algebra curriculum here!

How will you use focused note taking in your classroom? I would love to hear your ideas!

All of the information from this blog and that I use in my classroom is from Avid Focused Note Taking. I highly suggest checking out their site for more information and for focused note taking column templates that you can print and use in your classroom!

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