As adults we all take notes unconsciously every day. We read and listen, we capture the essence of the information we take in. We act upon that information by making decisions. Sometimes we jot things down but often we don't.
The Academy Awards are coming up and we will have conversations in staff rooms and with friends about the various offerings for this year. We won’t remember every word we hear, only the important bits. We'll make decisions on which movies we'd like to see because someone said movie x made them laugh or movie y was extremely violent. We take mental notes.
The ability to sift through information and identify the gist or central theme or important details is a skill worth teaching. I have some links to useful note-taking tools in my wiki which includes graphic organizers and quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing ideas. Look under Gathering Information.
Teaching students to take notes effectively is a good way to combat plagiarism. One of my favourite methods is to use the highlighting feature in Word. Ask the kids to cut and paste a passage into a Word document. Then show them how to use the highlighting tool to select only those words essential to the meaning of the passage.
The Highlighting Tool
Make sure they use a light shade if they are going to print their work.
When some of my students used the dark highlighting colours it inspired an idea for another useful technique. Have the students use the darker colours to highlight the information they don't need. When they print out their page it's much easier for them to write in their own voice because they can no longer see everything the original author wrote.
Black Out Highlighting
Photo used under the Creative Commons Licence by A Schwerin Moses http://www.flickr.com/photos/aschwerinmoses/2039613715/