Gordon And Mike's ICT Podcast
Perspectives on Technology and Education from Gordon F. Snyder, Jr. & Mike Qaissaunee
Researched and written by: Michael Qaissaunee
In Death by Powerpoint, we talked about becoming a better presenter, but we (myself included) take for granted that the copious notes students take in class capture the key aspects of our great lectures, are well organized, and will provide what students need to retain for tests and for further courses. Have you ever looked at your students' notes? As an exercise, try collecting and reviewing notes from a cross-section of your classes. Most faculty won't be surprised to learn that good note-taking is a lost art. This got me to thinking ... Where do our students and our kids learn to take notes? What I've concluded is that we don't, at any level, do any formal education on note-taking - it's all ad-hoc; most teachers are rightly focused on the content. But what's really troubling here, is that good note-taking is a critical part of learning and clearly we don't do enough to teach it and to reinforce with students the importance of good note-taking.

What I'd like to introduce to you today is the Cornell Note-taking method. Developed by Cornell's Walter Pauk to help Cornell University students better organize their notes, this system is just one of many different strategies designed to help students take more effective notes. No one method is better than another, the goal is to find a method that works for you. I encourage you to share this method with your students and encourage them to give the method a chance. At the very least, it will get them and you thinking about how they take notes.

The Cornell Note-Taking System

To use this system, separate your page into 3 separate sections (nice illustration here), as follows:

  1. The Notes column (6-6.5 inches wide on right) is the largest and primary section. This is where the notes go, whether they're lecture or textbook notes.  Stress using bulleted lists for easy skimming, as well as economy of language - abbreviations (see resources below), short sentences and fragments and eliminating all unnecessary words. 
  2. The Cues column (2-2.5 inches wide on left) is used to highlight main ideas, clarify meanings, give examples, draw diagrams, or link ideas and examples. If done well, this area is where you do the bulk of your studying from.
  3. The Summary area (1-2 inches high on bottom) is used to reinforce concepts and provide an overview area where you write a sentence or two to summarize the notes on the page. This section is great for skimming your notes and locating information. 

Now for the technology
You didn't think I'd do a blog without including some sort of technology did you? I really don't have the time nor the inclination to sit with pencil, paper and a ruler to layout the Cornell method. So instead, here are a couple useful links:

  • The Cornell Method PDF Generator is a web-based form that creates printable PDF's in the Cornell style with either unlined, ruled, or graphed notes sections.
  • Cornell Word Templates provides instructions for creating your own Microsoft Word Cornell template, as well as down-loadable template that can be customized to suit your needs.

Other Resources

Note Taking - Symbols and Abbreviations

This site provides a great list of common abbreviations that can help students take down their lecture notes as quickly as possible.

Temple University: The Cornell Note-Taking Method

This link shows an example of a page of notes taken using the Cornell method. Using this as a handout is a quick and easy way to illustrate the method to students.

Temple University: General Note-Taking Tips

A site with more general tips and suggestions for better note-taking. A great place to send students as they start to think about their note-taking.

BYU: The Cornell Note-Taking System

A nice overview of the Cornell system. Not the only place to learn about the system, but a good starting point.

Some additional PDF resources on the web can be found at PDF Pad. PDF Pad allows you to generate pdf version of a variety of useful documents, including

Direct download: can_i_see_your_notes_FINAL.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:28pm EDT