Student note taking; Guided notes & Cornell notes


For a large part of my lessons, I expect students to take notes. This is from years 7-11. At the start of year 7  we show them a quick powerpoint going through the expectations of note making; what it is and what it isn’t. We show them examples of a good use of notes and then some not so good notes and get them to explain why.

One way I make sure that students see the value of note taking is that at the start of the teaching part of my lesson, if I need to connect to prior learning I ask them to open their books and I ask them questions for which I know they have the answers in their notes. No-one can say ‘I don’t know’ as it’s there in black and white. This teaches students that organisation of notes is important as you should be able to find what you need quickly. It also teaches them that notes can be a good way to keep important information. I see these as important skills to develop early on for students so when they go on to further study they can do this effectively without being told.

The Learning Scientists have blogged on note taking and various ideas about how it can be done here.



Some students become independent in this and create well presented, logical notes. Others stick to pages of bullet points. However, I’m starting to ponder using guided notes at specific stages to support students in their note taking.

Guided notes

We have used a very simple version of guided notes for our some of our topics at core RE. It makes things so much easier for students to see what we’re working on and as we see them once a fortnight it creates the ‘whole picture’ for them, that we add to each lesson.

What are guided notes?

They are a kind of template that students can use to write notes on. They provide a simple framework or structure for the notes but are topic specific, unlike Cornell notes. The teacher needs to create these in advance with headings, key areas and prompts. Students then fill in the content during the lesson. It creates an organised set of notes and the advantage is, you can see if the student has completed each part quickly with a visual check.

Why use them?

Research suggests that using guided notes can help with learning. If we reduce the cognitive load of students having to think about presentation then they only need focus on the content.

They provide a ‘complete picture’ for students. They know that they have notes on everything needed. They can see how things link and combine to create the topic they’re studying.

A huge advantage in my practice is that it is really obvious when a student hasn’t completed them. This may be to lack of work in class or absence. The gaps are very clear. With my class load, much of my ‘marking’ is actually checking completion. This structure makes its very obvious of any gaps.

Another key reason why I am now contemplating using them more is that in our GCSE course there is very specific wording in the specification that I feel could catch our students out. Instead of saying ‘Why is Hajj important to Muslims’ it says ‘the role and significance of the pilgrimage to Makkah including origins’. The words ‘role’, ‘significance’ and ‘origins’ could throw them in a question so if we create the guided notes using this terminology it should help them become used to it. We will also use this in our quizzes/exam questions.

Muhammad summary

Finally, they can be really useful for review/recall/’revision’. You can give them to students and get them to complete them using only what they already know. Some call it a ‘brain dump’ but this is structured. Once they’ve exhausted what they know. They can complete using their original version or their own notes to complete the whole thing.

Possible issues

Firstly, we need to create these. It’s not difficult but it’s another thing to add to the list. The benefit is that once they’re done for the GCSE they’re done for all groups.

My main concern is that my lessons just become a ‘fill in the sheet’ lesson. Students get so focused on completing the sheet that the flexibility of the lesson disappears. If they need to make extra notes it could increase the cognitive load for some students going between resources.

Finally, if we create them for some parts of the course, will they expect them for all. I’m not sure about this. Will we just end up with booklets with them to complete and lose some of the beauty and extension of independent notes?

guided notes

Cornell notes

I’ve not used these but I know people that do. I think that they may require more independent organisation so may be more useful for sixth form/16+ students.

This article shows what they are and how to use them

Examples from teachers on how they use them:


Andy Lewis @AndyLewis_RE