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Honestly, note-taking (or note-booking) can be as structured or as unstructured as you want it to be.  We DO encourage it to be slightly more structured as the student gets older.  For now, we will share a couple examples to help answer, “What is note-taking?” with explanations, pictures, and helpful tips, for those looking to get their feet wet.

  • First, let’s go over the definition.  Note-taking means recording valuable information.  That is all.  It forces you to pay attention and focus.  It’s one of the simplest (and best) approaches to many aspects of education. 
  • It’s like a grocery list… when you think of something you need from the store, you jot it down so you don’t forget it, and you can reference it again in the future.  Merely by the act of writing it down, you are going to better-remember it… even if you lose the slip of paper.  You might even ask your child, “What was it that I said we needed from the store?” Or better yet, “Hey, can you write down the following two items on a paper for when we go grocery shopping, so I don’t forget them?”  Guaranteed your child will better-remember those two items merely because you had them WRITE IT DOWN. At its most basic form, you are looking for simple answers and understanding in note-taking.  Memory retention.  This is all it is.  You are using the “writing” style of learning to help your mind recall information.  You can also include photos, drawings, or cut outs (for fun, and for added visual learning).
  • Note-taking is also an excellent way to factor in hand writing practice, grammar, and spelling to your day!

  • Our  newer units frequently guide you at the end of the paragraph or page and ask something like, “In the text we just read, who was it that did XYZ? Write it down in your notebook, or dictate it!”  OR “Draw this diagram of the water cycle in your notebook, and label the precipitation just as in the image above.”  This is an example of very guided note taking, to help focus the student’s mind and to help give them something to write down.  It teaches them to listen up and pick out the valuable pieces of information.  It’s like a maze, and Campfire is taking their hand and guiding them through.
    • At this point, the student will simply open a blank notebook (or even use a sheet of paper) and write or draw the answer. It truly is that simple!
    • If, at any point, you notice that something else stands out to you within the lesson (whether during the reading or during an activity, etc) and you want your child to take notice as well, pause and ask the student to write down, draw, or dictate what they just heard.  Or, you can even ask them a question about it and have them give you the answer.  If you struggle and think you write “too much” or “too little” see our “SIDE NOTE” below in red font.
    • Many also enjoy cutting out different paragraphs or pictures and diagrams from the unit.  Let them do it!  Let them print off pictures and glue it in, like they are creating a scrap book.  This is WONDERFUL for crafty kids who enjoy visual learning, and it is a fun way to get in the information without having to write it all down [after all, they have to read the paragraph to determine if it’s the one they want to cut out or not].
    • Many students will “scribble” as they listen to the lesson as their form of note taking.  They might doodle irrelevant scribbles, write down things they thought were fascinating or exciting (tell them to think of it like a journal!), or draw a diagram… or even include things like hearts or stars.  All of these are okay if it helps them to focus! 
    • Our older units do not contain “guided” note-taking prompts as much as our newer units, but it is just as easy to pause after a paragraph of important information and have your child write down one thing about it.  It’s really that simple!
    • Here is a very simple example of what it might look like for some young children:

SIDE NOTE: We have a step-by-step tutorial of amazing note-taking directions in our Zoologist unit (Core Connections) that we encourage you to learn and utilize.  You do not want to skip it, especially if you have high school students preparing to enter college, universities, or the career field.  We also highly encourage it if you are an adult and want to learn how to take better notes in your own life.  If you have younger students, you can consider using a simplified version, so their transition into higher levels will become that much easier and more natural!  Great note taking can change a person’s entire trajectory in school and in life.



For homeschool record keeping, you may want to save these notebook pages, and also save the original unit.  If ever asked, you can submit them together to your state, along with photos of any activities your child does, the Scope and Sequence or unit overview, and/or a spreadsheet which keeps track of lessons completed.  Some parents also record their children dictating or “teaching a lesson back” on an audio device.  These are only suggestions, as we know each state and country varies greatly.  We also HIGHLY encourage you to begin implementing some of the tools from the note taking lessons (Zoology, Core Connections), even for your young students.  You can continue to build on it as they grow, but this is teaching the style of note taking expected in Ivy League schools and is VERY easy to learn with a little practice.



  • This is often due to anxiety and the workings of the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.  When students are asked a direct question such as, “What was important in 1962 that we just read?” they may often freeze, and their mind will “blank.”  In their embarrassment, they slough it off as, “I don’t care.  I wasn’t paying attention.”  In reality, it is often, “I knew the answer a moment ago, but now I don’t, and I feel embarrassed, so I’m not going to do anything but stare at you or give you a ridiculous answer as a form of distraction.
  • This is an actual physiological response of the brain (the “blank”), so try not to get upset with your child if this happens to them.  It is important to teach your child to work through this, to help prepare them for later in life.  If this relates to you or anyone in your family, here are some tips:
    • SUGGESTION #1: Don’t ask them the questions when prompted within the lesson.  Wait until an hour or more later when they’re helping you do the dishes or you are driving down the road, etc.  Bring it up as if in conversation.  “Wasn’t that interesting that we learned today about the ummm…. the ummm…. what’s their name, again?” [Child usually ‘helps you out’; if not, you can continue on after a moment]… “Yes!  Wow, I can’t believe you remembered that!  Can you write that word down for me on this sheet of paper, so we can remember?  It was so fascinating to me to learn about those people and how they did XYZ.” 
      • Leave it at that.
      • As this becomes a practiced habit, future conversation will lead to more answers from your children. 
      • This method removes “putting them on the spot,” and allows their brain to physiologically respond and better recall information.
    • SUGGESTION #2: For the first month or so, give the answers for them.  First, ask the question.  Allow the blank stare.  Then say, “Okay, we’ll figure this out together.  I’ll re-read the information in the paragraph, and then I’ll write it down/dictate the answer.  After that, you can copy me.”  You are modeling the behavior and taking the spotlight off of them.  When this happens, their mind can relax and better process. When the anxiety leaves, they are better able to recall and process the information themselves.
    • SUGGESTION #3: The more upset you get with them, the chances of their anxiety going up are higher, which means you are looking at a cycle of “blank stares” if emotions take center stage.  Try to avoid that by remaining calm and loving.
    • SUGGESTION #4: Allow the child to answer yes-or-no OR A-or-B questions at first, before moving onto open-ended questions.  For example, if the guided note taking in the unit said, “What was important in 1962?” you can change that to say: “In 1962, was XYZ important?” [Yes/No].  Or, “In 1962, what was important: ABC or XYZ?” 
    • SUGGESTION #5:  Some children prefer drawing and can actually focus better if they doodle during the lesson. You might consider trying this in your family.  Have the student draw one thing that they learned from the story (that makes sense per the lesson and can be explained by them to you).  Then allow them to doodle anything else they would like.



  • Again, the answer varies by family, but here are some suggestions of ways different families do it:
    • SUGGESTION #1: The child dictates, and the parent writes it down for them.
    • SUGGESTION #2: The child dictates, and the parent writes it down for them.  The child then highlights the important words from the sentence the parent wrote.
    • SUGGESTION #3: The child dictates, and the parent writes it down for them, but then the child has to copy what the parent wrote
    • SUGGESTION #4: The child can draw a picture of their favorite part (or most important/exciting part) in what they just learned.  It can be anything they want–as long as they can explain to you how it connected to the lesson.  Even if they drew a “truck” to explain a “rain cloud,” (which doesn’t make logical sense to you), be ready to hear them out.  If they can justify their drawing, then their drawing is good enough.  Do not change it.  That is how their mind will connect the dots in the future.
      • If they cannot properly explain how a “truck” represents a “rain cloud” then have them try again because they were just being silly.
    • SUGGESTION #5: As mentioned above, have them go through the unit (if printed) and cut and paste different images, paragraphs, or diagrams into their notebook.  Or you can even use photos or images from online.  In other words, make it like a scrap book!



  • This will vary, family to family, so the following are merely SUGGESTIONS.  Please keep that in mind.
    • ELEMENTARY: When you ask an elementary student a question from the guidebook (or if you ask them your own question), you should expect one- or two-word written answers. They may give you a sentence or two, at most.  Therefore, their notebook will be filled with bulleted one- or two-word answers.   Sometimes they incorporate a picture that expresses what the lesson taught them (this varies depending on if the students likes to doodle or draw).  See the image at the beginning of this post for an example.
    • HIGH SCHOOL:Note taking should never be FULL paragraphs (that defeats the purpose and isn’t realistic, as “note-taking” doesn’t allow time for “paragraph writing” in the real world).  A high school student’s note taking should look very similar to the elementary student (except with more fully formed thoughts, dates, or facts).  HOWEVER, at the end of the lesson, we encourage you to have your high school student read over his or her notes and then write ____ number of paragraphs to explain the lesson in detail.  This is where their writing practice, spelling practice, grammar, and ability to relay information comes into play.  They can also draw, but their drawings should be more of diagrams, labels, and whatnot (as opposed to the elementary student’s free reign). We highly recommend high school students complete the Zoologist Core Connections for Note-Taking.
    • MIDDLE SCHOOL: A mix of the two, depending on skill and readiness of child. 
    • ANYONE JUST BEGINNING THE SKILL OF NOTE TAKING should always start at the “elementary” phase (even if the student is in high school).  Depending on your student, you can then level up the required skill each day, week, or month until you reach the appropriate goal.
    • Some parents require structured note taking.  “It needs to have 1 picture per lesson; ____ lines filled in; ____ paragraphs of information….”  Others are more lax and let their child treat it like a journal.  They write what they want, as they want.  It doesn’t matter if it’s sideways or crooked, one word, or a full paragraph.  Some parents have their child land somewhere in between.  This will be up to you, your family, and your state requirements. 



Don’t just “note take” during the reading portion of the lesson.  When you are doing some of the activities, pause your student and ask them, “What is this activity teaching us? Go write it down in one sentence!”  Or, “What formula did you just use, again?  Jot that down, here in the corner….” Or, “What was your hypothesis?  Let’s write it down!” If you do an experiment and it doesn’t work (think: baking, the thermometer in the Christmas unit, etc)… write down what you did!  This way, if you try it again, you’ll know what to change or what you did the time before.  You will see the hypotheses and results… all of it!  And it will be so much fun!

When you are out grocery shopping or traveling, get your student in the habit of carrying a notebook (like a journal) with them.  Randomly have them copy things for memory.  IE: “Hey, can you copy the next three exit signs that we pass?  I think it will help you to remember the exit names/numbers better, for when you start driving.” [This is always an exciting one for younger kids]  If the road sign has a lot of writing, ask them to condense it into just a few words so that it still makes sense. 

Or, “Will you write down the cost of this milk gallon, so I can compare it with the other store when I get home?”  The child is merely doing you a “favor” but YOU are actually the one doing them the “favor” or making note-taking a life skill.


Want to share examples of your students’ note-taking work?  Post it below or on our Facebook page!

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