How to Teach Note Taking Skills in fifth and Sixth Grades

Fifth and Sixth graders are students in transition. Their work load is growing as well as their responsibilities for their own education. They are beginning to have more writing projects, including essays, research reports, and creative pieces. On top of this, they have a tremendous amount of reading for other classes. Note taking skills are paramount for these students’ success in the coming years. But how can you go about teaching this new skill without overburdening your fifth or sixth grade student?

The first tip I’d like to share with you is don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Use what the students already know, and work from there. If they have used graphic organizers, these are great tools for organizing notes. If they have good summarization skills, start there. It really isn’t that difficult to learn how to take notes, the most difficult thing will be figuring out how to squeeze one more thing into these students’ day.

Next, help your students become comfortable using sticky notes. Most schools wouldn’t like the students marking up their textbooks with highlighters, or writing in the margins. Sticky notes come all sorts of sizes, colors, and shapes; so they are a great substitute for highlighting. Have the students place the sticky note in the margin of the page and write one key word that will help them remember what concept they want to retrieve later from that page. For example, say the student is reading their science textbook and wants to come back to a section dealing with precipitation, condensation, and transpiration. The student would write “water cycle” on the sticky note, with only the word showing after the book is closed.

The student can the right the main ideas on the rest of the note, along with paragraph numbers, definitions, or page numbers where more information is located. This will help your student when they are studying for a test, retrieving information for a written assignment, and connecting this information with older information. Try to help the students refrain from writing too much on the sticky notes. Too much just makes the note messy and hard to read. Keep it as simple as possible.

Another tip would be to used note cards or a small note book. Each card or page would be used for a new topic. Let’s continue using the idea of the water cycle for science class. The student would write “water cycle” at the top of the note card or notebook page, and then include the page number where the information begins. As the student reads through the section, have him or her write each new vocabulary word or subject heading and coordinating page number. If the student wants help remembering definitions or related concept, have them use the back of the note card or notebook page; that way the front is kept clean, clear, and concise.  

Now, to help your student wrap up all of this information to prepare for a writing project is a little more in depth. The simplest way to organize notes is with graphic organizers. You can find several types online, or make your own. Notes are easily taken from the graphic organizer to form a basic outline. From there, the students will have an easier time turning their notes into sentences and paragraphs that are already organized to flow.

Again, remember that fifth and sixth grade students are already in the middle of a great transition. Their workload is larger than they are used to and time is moving relatively fast for them. Try not to overburden them with new concepts, but build on their available skills and knowledge. Keep each step as simple as possible, and assist your students as much as you are able to. Following these simple tips should make teaching your fifth and sixth grade students note taking skills successful.