Encouraging International Students to Take Notes in the Classroom

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Dr. Nasreen Sultana, Consultant, Teaching & Learning

Notetaking has been one of the traditional and effective ways for post-secondary students to learn. However, as technology becomes more prevalent, students’ approaches to notetaking may have evolved. Nevertheless, Witherby and Tauber’s (2019) study with current and former post-secondary students found that the reason why students take notes has not changed much except for current students receiving PowerPoint slides. Badger et al. (2001) interviewed L2 (people who use English as a second language) notetakers who mentioned product-oriented reasons for notetaking, that is, how the notetaking would be helpful for learning or exams. So, international students may want to know how notetaking would be beneficial to be successful in the course.

In the context of international students, many international students may have yet to learn to take notes. Siegel and Kusumoto (2022) offered an example of the Japanese education system where students are told by the teacher what to write in their notebooks and sometimes dictate the ideas. So, in that collectivist environment, students learn conformity and do not develop individual ways to take notes. Many international students use English as their second/foreign language that create additional stress on them. We also need to consider how people learn. For example, for some students, notetaking can be helpful, while others may feel distracted because they may lose focus on the speaker (Badger et al.2001).

In high school, I vividly recall my science teacher giving me a failing grade on an exam because I hadn’t reproduced the exact content from the textbook. He pointed to the book and instructed me to commit it to memory. The next time, I succeeded by meticulously memorizing the science textbook word-for-word. However, this approach didn’t teach me the art of taking notes during classes. Interestingly, many of my undergraduate classmates followed a similar path—they memorized notes crafted by others and rarely took class notes.

Nasreen’s personal experience

You can help international students see the value of notetaking and create some support for them to develop their skills for notetaking. This article shares some ideas to guide international students to take notes in the classroom.

  • In the class, you can show the students how they can use PowerPoint slides to take notes. Since many students bring their devices to the class, allow them to use the slides intentionally in the class. Many international students may not be tech-savvy or have used slides to have the class materials. Students may think that they do not need to take the notes because they already have the slides. In the class, show them where they can take notes on the PowerPoint slides while you teach.
  • Tell them that many of the examples shared in the class by you or other students are not included in the slides. Preparing for the assignments and exams will be easy if they take notes. You also can show how class discussions are essential to do well in exams and assignments.
  • Some students may not want to write longer sentences. You can encourage them to take notes only of some phrases and words that will help them remember the discussion. They can use the note section in the slides to write those phrases. In the in-person classes, you can give them sticky notes and ask them to use one for each topic you teach. Tell them to use those notes to prep for the exams.
  • When students do group work/pair work, make notetaking an expectation; one student can take notes of the discussion. If you teach online, ask students to take notes on the shared documents or Zoom whiteboards. They can take a screenshot of the whiteboard, and each participant can have copies.
  • You can show how students can use OneDrive to store their notes online. In this way, they will not lose them. Give them a basic template in the course shell. One sample template can be helpful. Encourage students to use the template to take notes.
  • If you play a video, give specific prompts to the students before playing it and ask them to jot down the ideas in their notebook or in a Word document on the laptop. Make it an expectation that everyone will take notes and you will take comments from them.

You can use the ideas mentioned above in your classroom. If we guide the students to take notes, it may create less stress for them to take helpful notes from your sessions.


Badger, R., White, G., Sutherland, P., & Haggis, T. (2001). Note perfect: an investigation of how students view taking notes in lectures. System (Linköping), 29(3), 405–417. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0346-251X(01)00028-8

Siegel, J., & Kusumoto, Y. (2022). A cross-cultural investigation of L2 notetaking: student habits and perspectives. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2022.2036168

Witherby, A. E., & Tauber, S. K. (2019). The Current Status of Students’ Note-Taking: Why and How Do Students Take Notes? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 8(2), 139–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2019.04.002

Dr. Nasreen Sultana

​Nasreen Sultana, PhD, has been working in the post-secondary education for more than 14 years. Prior to joining Conestoga College, she taught in the teacher education program at Queen's University from where she completed her PhD in Education with a concentration on curriculum and assessment. In addition to her doctorate, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and language teaching, a Master of Arts in language teaching, and a Master of Philosophy in Education. In addition, Nasreen is a qualified administrator of IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), a certified ISW facilitator and also earned a certificate in intercultural studies from UBC. Nasreen brings international experience and exposure to the role of the Teaching and Learning Consultant and invites discussions and learning regarding various aspects of diversity in faculty and in students. Her areas of research include intercultural communication, assessment and classroom instruction. Recently Nasreen has started learning about anti racism pedagogy and its implication in the classrooms. Please visit her profile to know more about her: https://tlconestoga.ca/about-us/nasreen-sultana/

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