For many years, educators have known that students tend to retain more information when they take notes while reading.  Now, new research using advanced MRI technology reveals why.  When children practiced printing by hand, they had far more enhanced and “adult-like” neural activity than in those who had simply looked at letters.  These children were able to learn letters and new words faster when they printed the information instead of just looking at it.

The same holds true for older students who jot notes as they read.  Students who systematically take notes as they read retain more and, of course, do better on tests.   Read on for ways your student can improve retention and sharpen learning.

Take Notes While You Read

There are a number of methods for taking notes while reading.  The most basic involves margin notes and “self-talk,” a technique in which the reader ques­tions himself about what he’s reading.  You can coach your child to use this strategy by saying, “After you read a page in your novel (or a section in your textbook), ask yourself, ‘What did I just read?’ or ‘What is the main idea here?’ ” His answers should be briefly recorded in the page margin. If writing in the textbook is not an op­tion, your child can use Post-it notes.

Use Selective Highlighting

Another effective way to improve comprehension is selective highlighting.  Highlighting is a great strategy, but it can often go wrong.  There are many kids out there who could get the official di­agnosis of “highlighter happy.” These students take a great strategy and use it incorrectly by highlighting AS they read. By the end of the page, practically every sentence is marked.

Instead, teach your child to read first and then go back to selectively highlight only the essential terms, phrases, or dates AFTER he or she has read the section or passage. Interestingly, studies have shown that students are better able to retain information that is color coded. But the color of the highlighter is not important (although most favor yellow or pink); it comes down to personal preference.

Try Out Two-Column Notes

To set up columned notes the student divides or folds the paper into two sections, labeling the left one-third “key words” and the right two-thirds “notes.” On the left the student records the main idea, and on the right he jots down an explanation using short phrases.

This note taking method helps kids to be more independent learn­ers. Your child can fold his paper vertically on the line between the key­ words and notes so that he can quiz himself and not rely on someone else to assist with studying. With only the left column visible, he asks himself, “Who was Paris?” and then says the answer. He checks his reply by flipping over the page. He continues to review in this manner, repeating and retesting himself on the terms he cannot automatically recall.

To get an added bang, studies show that if students summarize their notes within 24 hours of initially recording them, they’re more likely to remember the information for a test.

Consider Three-Column Notes

Three-column notes are highly effective for younger students and vi­sual or tactile learners. In addition to the first two-columns, a third section for a drawing is added. By drawing a picture of the concept or term, children are hooking a concrete visual image to the information they need to remember.  This is one powerful strategy!

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed. is the author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework.  This easy-to-use book contains practical proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework.