Collaborative Note Taking

I know that I’ve discussed the possibility of students taking and working on notes in a collaborative effort before, but after a quick search I realized that I hadn’t yet blogged about the possibilities of students using technology to help one another focus on key points and note taking skills.

The idea has been floating around my head for some time and was brought to my attention last Friday when I decided to let my students share the notes they had taken on our recent reading of ancient Rome. Using simple categories such as Religion, Technology, Government, Literature, etc. I had them place any notes that they had taken up on the white board.  I then pointed out the key points that would be on the chapter test and let them decide which of the notes they would “take” for their own, or possibly edit their own notes to reflect some piece they had missed. Some even removed points from their own notes that they realized weren’t the focus of the lesson that day.

While they weren’t overly excited about taking notes (they’re 6th graders just getting the hang of making notations) they really enjoyed coming up to the board to share, which is what got me thinking. What if you used a shared file or internet site for the students to share, compare, and edit notes electronically? They could see examples of both good and poor note taking, helping lower students build on higher students’ work and allowing higher students to see why and how their peers might be misconceiving a concept in order to better help them during a group review session. On the relatively simple end of implementation you could have the students work in pairs on a word document, adding, deleting, and editing any notes that they felt were warranted as important. During the course of the unit students would have assigned times to go back and share their notes or make corrections to previously entered notes.

While collaborative, the problem of having important notes deleted exists as the teacher would have to carefully monitor the file after each edit to ensure the key points were covered and accurately noted. That takes us to the more technologically enhanced end of collaborative note-taking. Get yourself a wiki, one of the fabulous sites that allows users to login in, change the content on a page, add new content, or delete current content. The beauty of the wiki is that all revisions are saved as versions so that students in the future could go back and see just what was changed and possibly why. Older information that might have been important, but was lost in an edit could easily be restored. Many sites such as PB Wiki or Seed Wiki will allow you to get a free wiki with multiple accounts so each student can have their own personal login to edit, share, and discuss notes.

This is still very much just an idea for now, but one I’d like to bring to fruition next year. A quick search reveals that Mrs. Looney’s class is already using Seedwiki to allow students to interact with her online by posting questions and provide outlines for class projects.


  1. This is an interesting idea. I love the idea of collaborative note-taking. It really fits with the schema for writing, too — revisiting a piece of writing and revising!!

    As I read your entry, I kept thinking about Writely — a way to collaborate on a piece of writing via the Internet. Like you described with wikis, Writely also saves the previous versions so the older info is not lost. I suggest you taking a look at it. Here’s the link:

  2. Good concept. It reminds of the Cliff’s Notes I used in High school (against my teacher’s wishes, of course). Only, this version is actually written by your peers, and is more focused on what the class is learning.
    I definitely think kids are capable of note taking and wiki-ing.
    Plus, you (the teacher) will be able to check on whether your kids are actually “getting it” or if they are way off their mark with their notes. Better to check for understanding before the test, so you can fix your teaching strategy before you realize that all the kids bombed the test because they didn’t catch on to the concepts you wanted.

    i think i just went horribly off topic.

    great idea! yay wiki!

  3. JeTech3: Writely is actually one of those nifty sites I have seen before and explored a bit, but have yet to come up with an idea to use it. Todd Seal mentioned it, and I thought it was fantastic, but I hadn’t thought about using it for the collaborative notes idea, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Since I don’t teach Language Arts, I sometimes forget about the overall writing process even though I do have my kids practice some simple revision. I’ll give it a second look based on your recommendation though.

    Nicole: I thought the wiki would be a good idea for exactly what you said. Rather than do a notebook check for every student in every section of the classes you check, you can do a single class-wide notebook check. You could even go so far as to edit the notes yourself as a member of the wiki and help point out to the students where you might make alterations.

  4. Ben, I thought your idea on collaborative note taking was fantastic! I am currently in the education program at my college, preparing to be an elementary school teacher. We learned about wikis in my technology class, and this is such a great application of wikis. Additionally, I think it’s so important to teach effective note taking as early as possible! Thanks for sharing your ideas, I mentioned you in my blog, check it out!

  5. I also think this is a great idea. It could be a great learning tool for the students. I have just created a unit/lesson plan having students compare the migration of Europe and South America with the migration of the Okies to California (combining social studies and language arts). It would be a good way to see if the students could relate the migration patterns to one another in a cross curricular activity. As well as literature genres they would read to go a long with the unit in language arts.

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