5 Ways to Take Notes Without a Worksheet

In my job as a teacher, each day is about a new thing to learn and a new skill to practice. It’s good to keep students busy, but I don’t like to feel like I’m giving busy work. Multiple worksheets in one class period can feel disorganized, and overwhelming. Also I need to create these worksheets, or do research, or find one on Teachers Pay Teachers or something. And that’s a lot of work! It costs me valuable personal time, and sometimes my own money.

What’s always nice is when we can just take out our notebooks, a pencil, and that’s all we need. All of these ideas can go right into a Science Notebook, which is awesome and convenient. And something else I love? I’m teaching my students note-taking strategies they can use in their own learning. I could even see applying these strategies in college. At the end of the day, I am exposing my students to different styles and options for how to process information. Often, my students have their favorite note-taking styles. They are happy when their favorite way comes up again, or they get to choose which style they want to take notes in. In this blog post I’m happy to share 5 different ways to take notes without a worksheet.

1. 10 Facts

This is a great way to take notes during a movie if I don’t have a movie viewing guide worksheet. Students just list 10 different facts as they hear them. And yes, Please write in complete sentences! It’s important to pause the media every 10 minutes or so to recap and allow students time to collect their thoughts. I don’t want them to wait until the end of the video to not recall any facts or scramble to write down their notes. I give them a little time and reminders here and there. One old teacher colleague of mine told me she never goes more than 8 minutes without pausing a video to do these things!

10 Facts Notes for the film: How the Universe Works: Extreme Stars. It was a great film when I taught High School Earth and Space.

2. Fill the Page Notes

Fill the Page Notes is another strategy of mine when watching a movie without a worksheet. With Fill the Page Notes, students use a combination of words and images to fill the entire notebook page. Vocabulary, key phrases, definitions, and facts are the writing portion. Diagrams and drawings make up the visual components. Some students prefer to number their notes and just list as many facts as they can until they fill up the page, and they can totally do that! As a final touch and challenge, I might ask students to use 4 or more colors, and have no white paper should be showing! I am a creative person and I I love these notes. Creative and artistic students enjoy them too! I love this individualistic approach to note-taking, and I love how unique they all turn out.

My Fill the Page notes for the Netflix film: Cosmos; Deeper, Deeper, Deeper Still.

3. Notes Outline

Notes Outlines also use a combination of words and drawings. I create an outline to go along with whatever reading or video we are exploring. Students copy my outline in their notebook to essentially create a worksheet for themselves. When they do the reading or watch the video or whatever, they fill in the missing information into the template they created and add to their notes. I used this strategy a lot towards the end of the 2019-2020 school year and during remote learning of the pandemic. I knew students had their notebooks at home, and a pencil, so they could use this strategy without any excuses! Just kidding, it was all so much back then. I do love using a Notes Outline a lot, it takes more time and brain power than some of the other ideas in this blog post.

4. I Know, I Notice, I Wonder

I have used this “notetaking” strategy for many different learning activities. It works great for when we read articles, do demonstrations, observe phenomena, watch a video, or analyze a diagram. It is very versatile! It can also be a warm-up prompt. It is a lot like a KWL chart, or Know, Wonder, and Learn, but I see this one circulating in the education field more for science and exploring science phenomenon. It’s great for activating prior learning and stimulating inquiry.

  • What do you Know? Before the video/article/demonstration, write 1-2 sentences of what you already know about _______ (cells, volcanoes, DNA, digestion, measurement, etc).
  • What did you Notice?  (Observe)
  • What do you Wonder about? (What questions do you have? What are you curious about?)

Want to do a little extra and turn it into a mini summary journal entry?

  • What does it Remind you of? 
  • What are the 3 most important things you learned? Include details!!

5. Vocabulary Log

This is a great way to keep students engaged and organized, as well as reinforce vocabulary. I mix it up between presenting the words and definitions to students in a slideshow and mini-lecture, versus assigning students to do the work themselves and look up the definitions, draw a picture, and create a keyword. I wrote more about how I use Vocabulary Logs in my blog post, Vocabulary Logs.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite ways to take notes in class without a worksheet! Do you have other ideas for taking notes without a worksheet? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment! I would love to hear from you! To read more about me and my classroom, check out the blog posts below!

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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