Engaging Students with Guided Notes

Using guided notes can help students stay focused and organized, develop important note-taking and study skills, and achieve the learning objectives of the lesson.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

As students, we have all had that experience of attending a lecture, only to find ourselves struggling to keep up with the instructor’s pace, or losing focus due to a lack of organization and structure. This can be frustrating, especially if the content is challenging or unfamiliar. To help students improve their note-taking skills and overall engagement in class, guided notes can be a useful tool.

What are Guided Notes?

Guided notes are a form of note-taking that provide students with a predetermined outline or structure to follow during class. They may include headings, subheadings, prompts, questions, or space for students to fill in their own notes. By providing students with a framework to follow, guided notes help them to organize their thoughts and pay closer attention to the material being presented.

Benefits of using Guided Notes

  1. Encourages Engagement
    Guided notes require students to actively engage with the material as they listen to the lecture. Instead of simply copying down what the teacher is saying, students must actively think about how the material fits into the structure of the notes. Students must pay attention to fill in the notes. If they are off task, they will miss the information, and their guided notes will be blank.

  2. Reduces Cognitive Overload
    When students are trying to take notes during a lecture without any guidance, they may become overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to process. This can lead to cognitive overload, which can hinder their ability to retain the material. Guided notes provide a structured framework that can help reduce cognitive overload and make it easier for students to organize their thoughts.

  3. Increases Participation
    Guided notes can also increase participation in the classroom. When students are provided with a structure for note-taking, they are more likely to be engaged, ask questions, and participate during a class discussion or group activity.. This can create a more active learning environment.  

  4. Improves Study Skills
    Guided notes can help students develop important note-taking and study skills. By following a predetermined structure, students can learn how to organize and summarize information, as well as how to identify key concepts and themes. At the end of the term, students can use their guided notes as the ultimate study guide to prepare for exams and assessments.

  5. Provides Transparency
    By providing a clear template, you can ensure that all students are on the same page and focusing on the same key points. When creating your assessments, you can simply review all of your guided notes.  This will provide peace of mind for you and your students that the concepts were covered in class and eliminate any surprises on the exam. 

Creating Guided Notes 

Creating guided notes is a fairly straightforward process, but it does require some planning and preparation. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Identify the key concepts and themes you want to cover during class. These should be the main points that you want students to take away from the lesson.

  • Make sure the notes are aligned with the course learning objectives. The notes should help students achieve the learning outcomes, not just serve as a summary of the lecture.

  • Create a structure or outline for the notes, using headings and subheadings to organize the information. You may also want to include prompts or questions to encourage students to actively engage with the material.

  • Keep the notes simple and easy to follow. Avoid including too much detail or overwhelming students with too much information.

Ways to Use Guided Notes

Now that you know why guided notes are beneficial and how to create them, let’s explore different ways to use them in class. 

  1. Include visual aids in the guided notes. Incorporating visual aids, such as maps, diagrams, charts, and graphs, into your teaching is a great way to help students understand complex concepts and can be especially useful for visual learners. However, it can be difficult and time consuming for students to draw these in their notebook or recreate them in their digital note taking tool. One way to include visual aids in your guided notes is to provide the basic graphic while leaving blank space for students to fill in the details.  For example, you might provide a diagram and have students label parts by drawing arrows.  Another example might be a graph where students have to label the x and y axis or draw the curve.    

  2. Use guided notes to help students make connections. Concept maps are another type of guided notes that can help students organize information and make connections between different concepts. Provide a pre-made concept map or ask students to create their own during lectures. Concept maps can be especially useful for students who struggle with linear note-taking and prefer a more visual approach.

  3. Combine guided notes with a pair/share activity. Create scheduled breaks throughout the class and ask students to turn to a partner to share their guided notes.  Students can use this time to help one another fill in any gaps, address areas of concern, or chat further about a topic.  You could also allow time for a few questions before proceeding. 

  4. Provide guided notes for a reading, podcast, or video assignment. Pairing a multi-modal assignment with guided notes can help students focus on the key concepts and ideas.  It can also help them stay focused or chuck the information if it is a lengthy assignment.  

  5. Assign groups to create guided notes for a chunk of content. This strategy gets your students involved in the process of creating guided notes.  Assign each group to a chuck, section, or chapter to outline for their peers.  You could even take it a step further by asking each group to teach or present their assigned chunk of content. 

Using guided notes can help students stay focused and organized, develop important note-taking and study skills, and achieve the learning objectives of the lesson. However, it is important to know that you don’t need to provide guided notes for every class.  Instead, focus on areas where students need more support and structure.  Create guided notes for the most difficult concepts or use guided notes at the beginning of the term to help students learn how to take effective notes.  If you would like to further discuss ways to incorporate guided notes into your courses, reach out to the Learning and Teaching Consultants. We are always happy to help.



Honeycutt, B. (retrieved 2022, August 1) Break Up Your Lecture with Guided Notes: 5 Ways to Help Students Stay Focused, Engages, and On Task. https://barbihoneycutt.com/blogs/barbis-blog/break-up-your-lecture-with-guided-notes-5-ways-to-help-students-stay-focused-engaged-and-on-task

Konrad, Moira & Joseph, Laurice & Itoi, Madoka. (2011). Using Guided Notes to Enhance Instruction for All Students. Intervention in School and Clinic - INTERVENTION SCHOOL CLINIC. 46. 131-140. 10.1177/1053451210378163.


Release Date: 03/09/2023
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services
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