Effective Note-Taking in English Class

Effective Note-Taking in English Class

By Saige Brown


Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why should I take notes in my English classes? Do notes even matter? How would I even begin writing notes on writing?”

The truth is, taking notes is an effective and important strategy for all subjects, including English. Though it can seem somewhat intimidating at first, note-taking in writing-heavy classes can not only improve your understanding but also give you an advantage when taking tests and completing assignments later down the line.

Where to start?

Before beginning the note-taking process for your English classes, there are a few things worth considering.

  • What is the lesson about?

Is your teacher talking about a book the class has been reading? A strategy for English test taking? Writing an upcoming essay? The content of the lesson affects how you’ll take notes that day. If you have prior knowledge of the subject being talked about then your notes may be more fluid. If the lesson is entirely new, there may need to be more rigidity in how you write.

  • Shorthand
Whether your teacher is using slides, a whiteboard, or simply lecturing, writing everything they say word-for-word is time-consuming and clunky. Oftentimes, instead of listening to what they are saying, you’ll be more concerned with getting every sentence down. This takes away from your original understanding of the material which can then reflect badly on the future when you sit down to read what you’ve written. Who wants to re-learn an entire lesson spent copying what the teacher said instead of simply recalling what you’ve already learned? This direct-copy concept can seem beneficial at first, but in practice it becomes discouraging.
So, if writing everything your teacher says down isn’t the best option, what is? This is where shorthand comes in. Shorthand is an abbreviated method of writing that each person can develop on their own to shorten words or phrases, thus increasing speed and efficiency in note-taking. Creating your own shorthand can help with keeping up with your teacher as they move through their lessons. It can look a bit different from person to person but here are some common forms of shorthand you can try for yourself!
  1. Using common symbols that represent words, ex: @ for at, & for and, etc.
  2. Taking the vowels out of words to shorten them, ex: learned = lrnd, developed = dvlpd, etc.
  3. Using abbreviations for repeated concepts/titles, ex: The Great Gatsby = TGG, Romeo and Juliet = R&J, etc.

Putting Pen to Paper

Sometimes the hardest part of note-taking is even starting at all. A good way to get past this is to start simple with the classic things like the title and the date. Then, when getting into actually beginning your notes, ask yourself: what do I want to take away from this lesson? What do I need to know? If writing everything out word for word isn’t the best option, then what are the main takeaways I have to gain? Oftentimes, answering these questions can help with the level of effectiveness in your notes.

  • Structure

Instead of writing down a list of all of the points your teacher made during the lesson with no rhyme or reason, try structuring your notes with headers, sub-headers, bullet points, and color coding. If your teacher is talking about a book the class is analyzing, then your headers might be the main topics they are talking about within the book, your sub-headers might be the specific concepts the topics touch on, and the bullet points might be the examples of those concepts! Topping it off with color coding according to the importance of the points being made or integral vocabulary words allows for a much more organized and easy-to-understand note-sheet.

  • Prioritize New Information

Wasting time writing down things you already know just for the sake of doing so takes away from retaining any new information your teacher may be discussing. Instead, just make note of the new concepts being taught to you, as those old concepts will either be mentioned in your previous notes or you will be comfortable enough in remembering them that they will be easy for you to recall when you need to.

  • Summarize and Optimize

Summarizing key points is integral to English note-taking. By covering the important points in each lesson without writing everything out completely, you gain the same knowledge with much less hassle. Writing a summary of the concepts achieves the same effect as copying what your teacher says word for word without being time-consuming and detrimental in the long run.

  • Leave Space

It is important to leave space between each point you make and the next. Not only for organization’s sake but also, because oftentimes your teacher will reference back to a previous concept you took notes on earlier in the lesson. Instead of having to draw arrows to connect the same ideas, or squeezing the point in next to the one you wrote earlier, you will simply have space to add the concept with no hassle.


It is important to remember that every student’s note-taking strategy will be unique to them. If you find a certain system that works best for you, use it! These are just some of the most useful and prominent tips compiled to help you take the best and most effective notes you can. If you want more information on specific classes and their strategies, check out the rest of Pivot’s blog!

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