March 1, 2018

Today’s learners might be digital natives, but as our English teacher realised, the majority had no idea where to start, when she asked them to take digital notes. And those who tried it used very ineffective methods, like emailing notes to themselves or just typing a quick note with no order or structure. This is a common and often overlooked problem with effective technology integration. In the same way, you had to show your learners how to take and organise notes on paper, you have to show them how to do this digitally. And you have to give them (and yourself) the opportunity to try different methods and styles until they find something that works for them and you.

When the English department came to me to ask to create some sort of structure for their notes on Lord of the Flies, I played around with a number of ideas and decided that a Google sheet will be the most effective way to achieve what they had in mind. On the sheet, I created separate tabs for all the characters and themes. Each tab consisted of only 2 columns, one to write in and one to put page references. This spreadsheet was shared with the learners through Google Classroom with each learner having their own copy of the file. As they worked through the book they could easily add notes about the different characters and in the end, they had a good summary of each character and theme.

Advantages of Digital Notes

  1.    Their notes are all together and always in class.
    2.    In the past, we would spend at least one lesson creating a notebook with pages for all the characters and themes. Now I created the file beforehand and it took maybe 5 minutes for everybody to familiarise themselves with it. Giving me 40 minutes of teaching time back.
    3.    By sharing it through Classroom, I can access their notes and give them feedback without having to take home a whole pack of books.

One of the things I like about this activity is that it requires very little input from the teacher. To be honest the teacher who came up with it is definitely not one of our technological trailblazers. And she didn’t need to be. Once the spreadsheet was created, all she had to do was post it on Classroom and the rest was left to the girls.

Download these templates for digital notes:

Lord of the Flies

To Kill a Mockingbird

But you can also do a lot more with it. Here are some ideas.

  •  Randomly choose 5 learners every week and check up on their notes. Make sure you give them a constructive comment so that they know that you were looking at there work. You can even give a price for the person who came up with the most insightful notes for that week.
  • Once you have covered the physical attributes of the characters ask the learners to search for a picture of how they imagine the characters will look and add it to the notes.
  • Learners can also add links to websites like SparkNotes.
  • Put one learner’s spreadsheet on the board and discuss the points she made.

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