Note Taking Skills: A Jamestown Activity

One of the things we’re working on lately in our homeschool is note taking skills.  So this week when we were learning about Jamestown I decided to make it a note taking activity.  This is a method to use when your kids are first beginning to learn note taking. Even though I have several ages of children from 9th grade down to 3rd grade, they are all beginners more or less.  The older ones have done it before, but let’s just say we’re still on fundamentals.

Note taking skills practice with a lesson about Jamestown.
See how happy they look? Yep, when I told them to take notes on the video they absolutely jumped for joy.  (Hopefully you can sense my sarcasm.)

I’m going to lay out the whole lesson and how we proceeded.

  1. Choose a topic and “lecture” to take notes from.
  2. Teacher writes up notes somewhere students can see them.
  3. Teacher pauses the lecture frequently so the kids can catch up and get the notes written.
  4. Talk about the notes after the lecture is finished.
  5. Do something with the notes.

Our Topic

We are learning about the colonial time period in history and we’re to Jamestown.  So I found a video on YouTube about Jamestown.  This one:

Start With Modeling

Nearly always when teaching a new skill, you want to start with modeling so in this lesson I took notes up on our chalkboard and the kids copied what I wrote.  This is modeling. We’ve had several note taking sessions similar to this during this year so that the kids can practice.

Note taking skills practice with a lesson about Jamestown. These are the notes I wrote up on the board for the kids to copy.

On the board I am using the Cornell note taking method. I have chosen other note taking methods too on other assignments.  I want my kids to see and try several methods and then allow them to chose the method that works best for them.

Also, a note about my chalkboard.  I love my chalkboard, use it all the time, and like how it looks on my wall.  But I know most people don’t have big ol’ chalkboards on their walls.  You can model for your kids on your own piece of paper or on a whiteboard as well.  It doesn’t have to be on a chalkboard.

What should be in the notes?

The notes should contain the most important or interesting information.  You don’t need to write every word the speaker utters, but you need to write enough that you’ve got the facts.  Again, knowing what to write takes practice.  Here are some basics:

  • Names of important people and why they are important.
  • Names of important places, why they are important, where they are.
  • Significant events and why the event was important.  Often causes and effects would be included here too.
  • Numbers like dates or population or months it took to cross the sea, and so on.
  • Formulas if the topic is math or science.
  • Definitions.

Pause Often

The tablet on the table in the picture below is our screen during school.  You can use a lap top, a smart TV, whatever works for you.

Note taking skills practice with a lesson about Jamestown colony.

I paused the 11 minute Jamestown video four or five times during this note taking exercise so the kids could catch up and not get frustrated.  They aren’t used to thinking or copying quickly yet. The act of putting information succinctly in a few notes is a skill that has to be practiced.  Also, writing while someone is talking and still being able to focus on their words is a skill.

Obviously note taking skills are useful in college. But my husband used note taking skills all the time in the Army.  He uses it now as a service writer for an auto mechanic shop. And I use it when I talk to people on the phone and during meetings.

Copy Work

The kids copied all of the notes I wrote. Again, copying is the first step when learning something new or difficult.

Note taking skills practice with a lesson about Jamestown colony.

If I don’t give them this extra help, they tend to throw their hands up in the air in frustration (yes, this literally happens at my house) and I get nothing out of them.

Not All Kids Learn the Same

Not all kids will need quite this much help.  Some children need to be shown once and they’re off. But three of the kids in these photos have dyslexia and other learning disabilities.  (The youngest isn’t writing independently at all yet, and I didn’t make him take all of the notes. He did write some.) That’s why we’re still working on fundamentals. Everything in the writing and reading departments is years slower than kids without these struggles. But they can do it.  We just have to practice the modeling step over and over for years.

In this lesson though, triumph of triumph, one of my boys added his own notes; something I hadn’t written up on the board.  Incredible.  If you happen to have kids with learning disabilities you know this kind of thing means a real achievement.

Both the quick note taker and the struggling child are normal.  Being able to readily digest and then regurgitate information is a talent.  But if it’s not your child’s talent do not despair.  He or she has other talents that, I’m sure, more than make up.  I still struggle to split a log with an ax (after more than a decade of practice) but my dyslexic son had that mastered by age ten.  Just one little example.

However, I can split wood with an ax and my son can write and take notes.  He will probably not choose a career as a writer or academic any more than I will chose to become a lumberjack, but both of us will have the skills to make it in the world come what may. That’s my goal, to make sure my children have the basic skills to succeed in the world, not to make them into something they are not.

Discussing the Notes

During the pauses in the video I tried to be quiet (it’s not easy for me, I always want to interject my 2 cents) so they could have time to focus on the copying. But after we were done we talked about the video and with the notes there in front of us it was easier to remember what was in it. It’s also a good idea to talk about the kind of information that you recorded in your notes.  Did you write people’s names?  Why?  Did you write down a date? Why?  Don’t assume that your kids will pick out these details and understand what information needs to be in notes intuitively.

We also colored these maps of Jamestown from Layers of Learning Unit 3-12 as a follow up activity. The maps reinforced the video and were a lighter and more fun end to the lesson than just copying notes off the board.

Note taking skills and a Jamestown colony lesson.

Doing Something With the Notes

Remember that the notes need to have a “point”.  In real life no one takes notes without a purpose. In school you may have to manufacture a purpose, but purpose there should be.  This could range from using the notes to study for a test, writing a paper on the information in the notes, doing a project, giving a speech from note cards, or putting together a poster board display.

Next week (my kids don’t know about it yet) they will be asked to write a short three paragraph report from their notes.  I’m absolutely positive they will once again jump for joy. (sarcasm)  I chose the report for two reasons.

  1. I’m not into crafts or poster boards, etc and neither are my kids (except Harrison and I will probably let him do a project instead since he’s the young non-writing one.)
  2. The kids desperately need to work on putting together good paragraphs and short reports.

Note Taking Skills Summarized

To teach your children note taking skills you start by modeling.  Find a lecture or give a lecture about a school topic you are learning about anyway.  Write the notes up where your children can see them as the lecture proceeds.  Pause often to allow your children to catch up. When you are finished, talk about the lecture, using the notes.  Talk about what information you wrote in the notes and why.  Finally, do something with the notes such as writing a report or doing a hands-on project.

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