Note-Taking Tips for Virtual School Students

7 min to read
A teenage girl with pink hair is taking notes during her online lesson

Note-taking skills are invaluable in the classroom, whether at a traditional or virtual school. Taking notes effectively helps students sift through a large amount of information, determine what is important, and organize it into clear and easy-to-review chunks.  

By mastering effective note taking methods, students can focus on what they are trying to learn, remember what they have read, and successfully study for exams

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Why Taking Notes Is Important

A student who takes notes becomes actively involved in his or her learning, rather than passively reading or listening and hoping that somehow he or she will absorb and retain the information. 

Taking notes is important because it teaches students to identify main ideas and summarize information. It also: 

  • Gives students the opportunity to practice their listening skills during LiveLesson® sessions or while watching educational videos. 
  • Teaches students how to multitask as they listen, think, and write. 
  • Boosts comprehension because students are absorbing information through multiple methods. 
  • Develops students’ organizational abilities. 
  • Helps students learn faster. 


How to Take Notes in Virtual School in 5 Easy Steps

Whether your student is enrolled in a virtual school like Connections Academy, is homeschooled, or is enrolled in distance learning, here are five steps to help your K-12 student in developing effective note-taking skills for online learning. 


1. Write down key facts

If their teacher repeats certain information or tells them flat-out that something is important, have them write it down. If the teacher writes key points of their lectures on the screen or a board of some kind, these should be copied down as well. Examples of things to write down are: 

  • Mathematical and scientific formulas 
  • Sample problems 
  • Key names, places, and dates 
  • Vocabulary words and definitions 
  • Theories or opinions 
  • Literary symbols, themes, characters, and plot points 


2. Paraphrase information

There is something about writing ideas down in your own words that helps reinforce meaning. It can increase the adoption of new vocabulary and can help your student with subject comprehension. When it comes to paraphrasing, make sure they: 

  • Don’t worry about writing in complete sentences 
  • Know that fragments and abbreviations are okay—as long as they can recall what they stand for 


3. Find Effective Note Taking Methods

Note taking methods vary widely. They can also vary on the strategy (paper or digital) in which the notes are being taking down on. Here is a quick breakdown of note taking strategies based on your student’s grade level.  

Once they’ve picked a strategy for taking notes, they can decide if they would like to implement a note taking method as well. 


Handwritten note taking strategy

(Best for: Elementary, Middle, and High School Students) 

Typically for elementary students, who are still mastering how to write, handwritten note taking is ideal. But middle and high school-aged students can benefit as well. Here are some benefits of handwritten note taking(opens in a new tab)

  • Easier to create diagrams and illustrations 
  • Sometimes better for visual learners 
  • Easier for students prone to digital distraction to stay focused 
  • Can be better for comprehension and retention of conceptual information 


Digital note taking strategy

(Best for: Middle and High School Students) 

Geared toward middle and high school students, or the prodigy elementary student who has mastered typing, digital note taking offers lots of benefits. The trick to digital note taking is knowing when technology helps and when it doesn’t.  

For example, typing notes on your computer is probably faster than writing them by hand. On the other hand, copying and pasting information into your notes skips the rewriting and summarizing process—a key factor in helping your student absorb key concepts. Some benefits of taking notes digitally include: 

  • Faster note taking 
  • Easier to take a higher volume of notes 
  • Easier to edit and reorganize for studying 
  • Digital notes can be backed up, shared, searched, etc. 
  • Can be better for comprehension and retention of factual information 


Hybrid note taking strategy

(Best for: Middle and High School Students) 

The hybrid method of note taking in theory combines the best of both handwritten and digital note taking for the digitally savvy student. With a stylus of some sort and a tablet of some sort, technology has come a long way in the world of taking notes. From iPads(opens in a new tab)Samsung Galaxy tablets(opens in a new tab), and Microsoft Surface tablets(opens in a new tab), to the Lenovo tablets(opens in a new tab), and ReMarkable tablet(opens in a new tab), there are lots of options to choose from.  

While potentially on the pricier side, some families might see the investment of hybrid note taking for their middle and high schooler worth it.   


Copy Another Note Taking Method

(Best for: Middle and High School Students) 

For middle and high school students, effective note-taking methods can depend on their personal style and how they like to stay organized. Check out these additional top 5 note-taking methods(opens in a new tab) for older students, such as the Cornell Method or the Outlining Method, and your student can adopt the one that works best for them.  


4. Keep your notes organized—your way

For all K-12 students, a key component of note taking is staying organized. Here are some organizational tips for students on how to find those pesky notes at the right time.  


Use a separate notebook for each class

(Best for: Elementary, Middle, and High School Students) 

Some students find success by keeping a separate notebook for each class. Especially for elementary students, note taking becomes fun when they pull out a uniquely decorated notebook for each class. From there, all they need to do to stay organized is to write the date and topic at the top of each page so that they can find specific notes later. 


Use one notebook for all classes

(Best for: Elementary, Middle, and High School Students) 

Other students enjoy taking notes for all their classes in one notebook. This helps them to not lose the “right” notebook for each class, especially if they have “A” and “B” block days, or if they lean towards minimalism in their habits and lifestyle.  

They later have the option of copying their notes into separate notebooks for each subject, helping to reinforce what they learned while getting organized. 


Use physical note taking tools 

(Best for: Middle and High School Students) 

Multicolored pens, highlighters, Post-it® Flags, or Post-it® Page Markers are all great note taking tools that help your student easily markup physical textbooks or handwritten notes. Fun tools help them find key ideas fast, especially in larger books.  

If using digital textbooks, there is usually a built-in highlighter, bookmark, and note-taking feature as well. 


Use an online, digital note taking app

(Best for: Middle and High School Students) 

A text-based, digital note taking tool. Microsoft’s OneNote(opens in a new tab) lets your student search and find their notes quickly, add images or tables, and create to-do lists all on the same page. For organization purposes, they can add tags and folders, and it syncs across multiple devices and platforms.  

Your student can integrate these organization tips into a note-taking strategy mentioned above, or they can create their own. 


5. Ensure Notes are Correct and Clear

Once your student has finished taking notes after reading, attending an online class, or from an online class discussion, have them go back and make sure their notes are accurate and understandable.  

  • As they read assignments, have them compare their class notes to their reading materials. They can add to their notes as they read to expand on certain topics. 
  • Remind them to pay attention to headers, bold, or italicized words. 
  • Help them focus on studying illustrations and photos. 
  • Make sure they focus on the first and last sentences of paragraphs. Typically a mini-“thesis” (main point) is placed in those areas of a paragraph. 
  • If they have any questions on the reading material, have your student write them in the margins of their notes.  
  • Then they can go look for the answers within their school materials 
  • Or they can ask their teacher, Learning Coach, or virtual school classmates for help in filling any holes in their notes. 

Learning to take good notes and studying them will help your virtual school student be successful. Now that they are armed with these note taking strategies, check out our other study tips for distance learning, including how to study for hard classes

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