Devices rule. Students nowadays shuffle down crowded hallways, eyes glued to mobiles as they make their way to class and pile in, thumbs still tapping away. Settling in, they reach into bookbags, but, instead of a textbook and notebook, Chromebooks land on their desks.

Oh, yes, and instead of a blackboard, a Smart Board sits front and center along with the teacher, part and parcel of how information is shared nowadays.

The only thing that hasn’t changed: the need to take note of it all, some sort of test always sure to follow. It’s just that now most kids do it on those Chromebooks instead of relying on paper and pencil.

A big mistake…

It’s long been known that going longhand helps imprint information on the neurons of the brain. In other words, it promotes recall. Writing does that, not keyboarding. New research from Princeton University’s Pam A. Mueller and the University of California, Los Angeles’s Daniel M. Oppenheimer underscores that fact.

Says Mueller, “When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective—because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefitted them. “

That means they were sifting through the information, pulling out the important and unfamiliar, “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping.” And she adds, “The processing that occurs will improve learning and retention.”

Moreover, handwritten notes allow kids to review their lecture notes, so help your son or daughter do it right, the 2-column way, telling them…

STEP 1: Be sure to…

  • Add the date at the top of the page; number each page, too.
  • Leave a 2” wide left-hand margin for later Who, What, Where, When, Why & How questions.
  • Notes/answers go to the right of the fold.
  • Take notes on one side of the paper only.
  • Listen first, then jot down only main ideas, along with new-to-him/her important facts and details.
  • Don’t write in complete sentences.

STEP 2: Be on the alert for signals of importance, such as:

  • “An important reason for…”
  • “The chief cause of…”
  • “First of all…”
  • “The main reasons for…”

Also, watch for:

  • Slowed pacing
  • A raised and/or lowered voice
  • Dramatic hand gestures Information placed on the board.
  • Information written on the board or Smart Board and mark it with “OB.”
  • Write “R” beside any information that’s been repeated.

STEP 3: Abbreviate! Abbreviate! Abbreviate! (Kids already do this a lot!)

  • Eliminate most periods at the ends of sentences. They slow things down and are unnecessary, since the next sentence will begin with a capital letter.
  • At the top of the page, create a code for longer, often repeated words, such as R = Roosevelt.
  • Don’t include such unnecessary words as a, an, the.
  • Insert an equal sign to replace such linking verbs as is, was, am, and were. For instance: McKinley = (Better yet: McK = shot.)
  • Leave out vowels whenever possible. For instance: Rd nwspapr evry day.


  1. Take special note of introductions and summaries.
  2. Leave blanks for missed information and ask a friend/teacher later.
  3. Keep taking notes during discussions
  4. Don’t stop writing until class really ends.
  5. That afternoon/evening “repair” notes, making sure they’re complete and legible.

And then do the learning:

  • During the first go-through, highlight important dates, facts, events, etc.
  • In the left-hand margin, write accompanying questions using those 5 W’s & and H.
  • Review the notes several times a week by folding the paper so only the questions are visible.
  • Out loud, ask each question and try to answer it, checking each along the way.

For textbook notes, follow the same steps but add:

  1. Skim through an assigned chapter to get the gist of what it’s about.
  2. In the left-hand margin, note headings and main ideas which are usually found in the first sentence of a paragraph, occasionally in the last.
  3. Add review and end-of-chapter questions, if provided, to the left of the fold, too.

And there you have it: Longhand, 2-column notes coupled with out loud reviews that do the trick for remembering and better grades. Plus, they provide everything needed to study for final exams. No more rereading texts or scrolling about trying to find keyboarded notes.

P.S. Need to convince your kid it’s worth the trouble? Quickly run through an assigned chapter yourself, writing abbreviated questions in the left-hand margin for him/her to answer. As grades improve, they’ll take over.

It works; trust me. ~ Carol