A Note Worthy Strategy for Student Success:

Becoming Effective Listeners and Note-Takers

By Tina Spencer, M.S.
Updated September/October 2013


The Standards of Learning (SOL) outline the learning and achievement expectations for students as approved by the Virginia Board of Education in 1995 (Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], n.d.).  “Building on the success of the SOL program and to better prepare students to compete in today’s global economy, more rigorous English, mathematics and science standards and expectations are being implemented that meet national and international benchmarks for college-and-career readiness” (VDOE, Standards of Learning & Testing, 2012).  

As teachers across Virginia follow curriculum frameworks and division pacing guides designed to prepare learners for more rigorous content and assessments, effective listening and note-taking skills are must-haves for students. According reports by the U.S. Department of Education, nearly three fourths of students with disabilities are spending most of their school day in general education class settings (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  At-risk students and students with disabilities often take notes too slowly, have difficulty deciding what to write, struggle with organizing important information, and do not know how to use notes as study guides (Mastropieri & Scruggs).

Teachers must use effective, research-based strategies to help students overcome these difficulties. Specifically, through explicit instruction, students can be taught to make good eye contact and to pay attention to the speaker’s body language (Nash, 2009). Further, effective note-taking can help struggling learners overcome common issues, such as difficulties related to teachers talking too quickly or giving large amounts of information during lectures (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  

The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KUCRL) has historically focused on dramatically improving the literacy performance of struggling adolescents.  The Institute for Effective Instruction, one of the Center’s six divisions, is responsible for developing the Strategic Instruction Model®  (SIM®), including the Learning Strategies Curriculum. Comprised of several research-validated strategies, learning strategy instruction is designed to make students more active learners by teaching them how to learn and how to use what they have learned to solve problems and be successful (KUCRL, 2012). 

The latest strategy added to the Learning Strategies Curriculum is Listening and Note-Taking (Berry, Deshler, & Schumaker, 2011), which is designed to help students master the art of listening and note-taking in order to meet the rigorous demands of educational settings (Berry et al.).  Specifically, Berry and colleagues provide tips to help students quickly capture the important information from lectures while sorting main ideas from details.  The notes are subsequently gathered in an organized way to better help students study them as they prepare to be assessed on information from textbooks and lectures.  The Listening and Note-Taking strategy provides specialized instruction through a research-validated process that teachers can use to help all students master the content. To see video clips of Gwen Berry, the principal author, teaching parts of lessons from this strategy to a group of students in a heterogeneous class, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/gwenberry?feature=results_main.

“If students don’t develop a good strategy for listening, organizing, and recording critical information, they may struggle to capture the essence of a lecture, videotape, or reading assignment throughout their school career” (Vernon, Schumaker, & Deshler, 2002, p. 1).  Some NOTE worthy hints to help students develop good strategies for listening and note-taking include:

  • Be on time to class, listening to the entire lecture,
  • Focus your attention on the speaker,
  • Write quickly by abbreviating words as if “texting” friends,
  • Ask questions when information is confusing and hard to understand,
  • Have teachers read over notes to see if important information has been missed,
  • Create graphic organizers for quick note-taking. Use one side for capturing the main ideas and the other side for listing details, and
  • Use positive self-talk to promote academic success (Berry, Deshler, & Schumaker, 2011). 


Berry, G. C., Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (2011). Listening and note-taking. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2010). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective differentiated instruction. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Nash, R. (2009). The active classroom: Practical strategies for involving students in the learning process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KUCRL). (2012). SIM: Strategic instruction model. Retrieved from http://www.kucrl.org/sim/index.shtml

Vernon, D. S., Schumacher, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (2002). Taking notes together. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises.

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). (2011). Standards of learning (SOL) & testing. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). (n.d.). Virginia standards of learning assessments: Technical Report 2008-2009 administration cycle. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/test_administration/technical_reports/sol_technical_report_2008-09_administration_cycle.pdf