INTRODUCTION: One of the topics for my “Psychology of College Success” class is note taking. I wanted my students to have an experience that would help them become more aware of both the importance of note-taking and their own style and habits (good and bad) for taking notes.  I also wanted them to experience the benefits of learning together. In the On Course text, note-taking and “Employing Interdependence” occur in different chapters, so I got creative and put these two topics together in one class activity that received rave reviews from my students.  This activity would be appropriate for any course in which the instructor expects students to take effective notes and work together to improve learning. I was able to complete this activity in a 75-minute class meeting, though it could be done in two shorter segments if necessary.


  • to clarify the importance of note taking.
  • to help students learn and implement new methods taking notes.
  • to help students discover the benefits of interdependence.


  • Give a short lecture some time before doing this activity. (I gave a 20-minute lecture on procrastination exactly one week prior. Even if you don’t typically use a didactic style, in order for this activity to work well, you need to have given a brief lecture on some topic to simulate the lecture format students will have in a future class.)
  • A “pop quiz” based on your short lecture.  (For my “pop quiz,” I wrote up 6 very simple questions directly from my lecture on procrastination.)  On the back of the quiz, present the following two statements with plenty of room for written responses:  “New Strategies and Ideas for Writing Effective Notes” and “Which new strategies will I commit to?”


1. Give a short lecture without giving any hint that there will be a quiz on it.

2. Some days later, announce, “Clear your desks for a pop-quiz on (fill in with your topic). All of the questions are on the front of the page. Don’t turn the quiz over. You’ll have 3 minutes to answer all the questions.  Stop your work on the quiz when I call time.  Keep your quiz until I collect it.” Give the quiz based on your earlier lecture.

3. Call time on the quiz and instruct students to keep their quizzes.  Lead a discussion with questions like, “Who answered all the questions?  Who answered three or fewer?” You are likely to find, as I did, that most students have answered some of the questions, but most were unprepared for this quiz.

4. Continue the discussion with, “What could you have done to increase your chances of success with this quiz?”  Look for answers suggesting that taking good notes during the lecture would likely have improved their quiz results.

5. “Ok, now take out whatever notes you took during my lecture about (fill in with your topic), and complete the quiz using these notes.”  Allow about 5 minutes.

6. Review how many more questions they were able to answer based on their notes. 

7. Next instruct students to “Take the quiz and your notes and circulate around the room.  It’s now time to learn from, and help, each other.  You have 4 tasks to complete:1) Answer the questions remaining on the quiz by talking with other students and looking at their notes. 2) Help other students answer the questions on the quiz by sharing your notes and information. 3) Compare your style of note taking with at least 3 other students, sharing how you take notes with others and getting some new ideas from them. 4) On the back of the quiz under the heading “New strategies and ideas for taking notes, record at least 3 new strategies for taking notes.”  I gave these instructions verbally to the students and they did fine.  However, you could write them on the board if you prefer.

8. [Large-Group Debrief] Start the discussion with, “What have you learned about note-taking?”  In my class, a lively discussion ensued, and I found I didn’t have to prompt students with additional questions. Students commented on what they liked about their own notes and new ideas they got from other students.  Students who had come to class that day without their notes from the procrastination lecture commented that they wanted to go home and review their own notes.  We also talked about how this class activity was like a mini-study group. Thus the value of study groups and working together was reinforced.

9. [Small-Group Work] Next, divide students into small groups of 3-4 members.  “Make a list of note-taking tips. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can.  You’ll be sharing these with the rest of the class.” Allow about 10 minutes.  While students are in their groups, write the following headings on the board: “Before class,” “During class,” and “After class” as headings on the board (just as in the On Course text).

10. [Small-Group Reports] Ask all groups to report their best note-taking tips to the rest of class.  Record their ideas on the board under the appropriate heading.

11 [Individual writing] End by having the students write about which note-taking strategies they will commit to using or at least trying in the future.


Some students in my class grumbled at the prospect of a pop-quiz, and I responded by saying that sometimes instructors will give pop-quizzes and I want my students to have some practice and understanding of what a pop-quiz is like. 

To the question, “What could you have done with your lecture notes to increase your chances of success with this quiz?” I got great responses!  One student said, “I could have reviewed the notes I took last week.” Another said, “I didn’t take notes on that lecture because I forgot my notebook.”  The best response was, “I should have come to class that day so I could take the notes.”  Talk about a critical moment!  This student experienced the connection of how an absence directly affects later test performance.  Others piped in with comments that they remembered some of the material because of the notes they did take. 

When we reviewed how many more questions they were able to answer based on their notes, more students had correct answers and this reinforced their good habit of taking notes.  Through a brief group discussion, I reinforced the fact that reviewing notes is a key strategy to learning new information in college. If students didn’t have notes to refer to, then they had an opportunity for an “aha!” experience regarding the value of coming to class and taking notes!

During Step 7 when students circulated around the room sharing ideas, everyone stayed on task and took this opportunity to work seriously with their fellow classmates.  One student who used a mind-map for her notes was quite popular; at one point she had about 5 students gathered around her as she explained this note-taking style.

When I asked, “What have you learned about note-taking?” students commented on what they liked about their own notes and on new ideas they got from other students.  Students who had come into class that day without their notes from the procrastination lecture commented that they wanted to go home and really review their own notes.  We also talked about how this class activity demonstrated the advantages to studying together and sharing information.  Thus my students got an experiential lesson on the topic of interdependence.

I noticed that after this lesson students came to class with their notebooks in hand every time.  The final exam I give includes a brief reflection essay on what new study skills they learned.  Many students wrote about their improved note-taking habits.


For me personally this was a great teaching experience.  I feel very confident about my ability to facilitate lesson plans and group interactions.  However, I don’t feel confident in my ability to CREATE interesting activities/curriculum.  (In other words, I’m happy to facilitate YOUR activity, but more nervous when asked to create MY OWN!)  I gave myself a personal challenge to come up with a new activity.  My goal was to create an activity that would accomplish two things; teach note-taking skills and provide an experiential lesson in interdependence. I met this goal with this lesson plan and was very happy with the results.  This experience has given me more confidence in my ability to create effective experiential learning activities for my students.

–Sally Sharbaugh, Counselor, South Puget Sound Community College, WA

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