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The act of writing down what you hear in class shouldn’t seem revolutionary, but for many students, handwritten note-taking is no longer a normal activity during class.

While students generally still take notes at least some of the time, often on a laptop, more students have started simply listening to lectures and following along in their books or online.

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Is taking Notes Important for Students?

Yet writing down what they hear, instead of just reading along in the book, can help students retain more information from the lecture. Handwriting notes can be even more effective than typing the same notes on a laptop. With that in mind, teachers should help students develop healthy note-taking habits.

That starts with an explanation of why they should be handwriting notes.

Muscle memory

Part of the success of note-taking comes from the muscle memory that develops during writing. Hands and arms continually make motions, and the memory created in the writing process can help your students to recall key facts. If they have trouble remembering something, they must try to remember what they were writing at the time.

Picking and choosing

But even more important is picking and choosing what information should be noted. People eventually learn to type quickly, even if they haven’t had formal typing lessons. In class, someone taking notes on a laptop might try to type as fast as possible so they can record as much as possible about the lecture.

Those who handwrite, however, have to be more careful about what they write. They have to listen for key points they want to remember and then try to craft a summary of the information they can write quickly. So, in handwriting a note, the brain has to analyze and interpret the information in ways that it doesn’t matter when typing notes on a laptop. That extra analysis helps your students cement the information written down in their brains. When notes are handwritten during a lecture, students might not have everything written down, but what they have written down will be more successfully retained.

Instilling the habit

So how do you get your students to switch back to taking notes by hand? You could force them to stop using laptops with disciplinary actions, such as banning the devices or penalizing the student for using one (this is assuming the use of the laptop is out of preference; for those students who need to type due to a health or physical issue, you would want to leave them alone). But that strategy would create rebellion.

Another way might be to have in-class exercises for writing notes by hand, such as announcing that people have to write by hand for the next hour. You could also have people take handwritten notes while reading a chapter at home.

One more step

Another step in teaching your students to handwrite notes is to look at color coding. This is not highlighting, but it is instead a way to organize the notes that are taken. For example, a yellow highlighter can highlight the main topic of the notes, a pink highlighter can call out subtopics, and a green highlighter can be used to call out additional facts that may be useful.

Training students to take handwritten notes takes time. You may not see an immediate switch to handwriting outside of times when you require it in class or for homework. But persistence pays off. Eventually, the students will take more handwritten notes during each class.