Triplicate Note Making

In Memory for Learning, Teaching & Learning, Teaching English by Alex Quigley13 Comments


Looking to improve the organisation of note making?

In English lessons I often find myself getting students to make notes on literary texts they are studying: noting the key information, such as contextual factors etc. Such an activity is one of those core aspects of learning across the curriculum. The end-goal for many of our students is to embed their notes deep into their long-term memory – for exams and for life. If university is their endgame then undertaking such note making strategies successfully is paramount and we should therefore teach it explicitly. With that in mind, I have have been trying to develop the most effective strategy for high quality note making for my students.

Most recently, with my year 8 SEN group we were making notes on our second, and most recent novel, ‘Shadow of the Minotaur‘. At the end of each chapter students made bullet point notes of the key information. At the end of a novel I typically encourage students to synthesise chapter notes by ‘story mapping’ the novel – think of the style of a treasure map, with chronological steps for key information, complete with memorable images. At the same time I had my A level English Literature students studying ‘Dr Faustus‘. Students were free to devise their notes as they preferred, but at the end of the play we did create a timeline for the play – with added extras, like critical opinions etc. All variants of the same activity: successfully recording and synthesising key information. I didn’t consider which model was most effective.

Reflecting upon the learning of both classes has drawn me towards new conclusions. I want to combine the concise written notes with images and other memorisation strategies, but the ‘story map’ or timeline method just didn’t quite fit ongoing note making. I have therefore devised my own ‘Triplicate Note Making‘ method. More than ever, I want to foreground the crucial metacognitive strategies students need to develop. By metacognition I mean the act of thinking about thinking – taking information and being able to evaluate what is important etc. By getting students to ask questions about the knowledge as they are noting, as well as devising memorisation strategies for the self-same knowledge, students can deepen their degree of understanding.

It is quite a simple method so I will keep it brief:

Column 1: Core information. The key facts, information and quotes relevant to the topic or text at hand.

Column 2: Key questions sparked by the information. Conceptual ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions can help deepen their understanding, helping them connect their knowledge and understanding.

Column 3: Memorable images and mnemonics to help students consciously embed the core information and the conceptual ideas arising from such knowledge into their memory.


Good notes should be revisited and revised. Students need to practise the basic note taking skills of abbreviation, syntactical shortening and paraphrasing on a regular basis to make them able to take notes with automatic efficiency. Repetition is key. Many of our students, which I have seen in both my year 8 group and my A level group, have difficulty recalling key knowledge from their working memory (see the crucial implications of an effective working memory for successful learning here). They therefore need training and modelling how to abbreviate; how to simplify complex sentences; how to paraphrase. Once mastered, these skills are invaluable in all contexts and subject areas. Like a journalist applying shorthand, they allow students to apply their mental focus on the content of what is being said or what they are reading.

By adding questions and symbols you can add layers of meaning that can strengthen understanding. A subsequent benefit of including questions arising from the content of the topic/text is that students can then revisit the questions and they can ideally answer them with a greater degree of understanding having gathered more information on the given topic or text. Such information retrieval can ensure students are repeatedly thinking about their thinking. The students can also connect the sequence of memorisation images.

It is a small detail to reorganise note taking slightly and to foreground questions that arise and memory strategies and symbols students could apply, but it just might work. In the term ahead I aim to trail the strategy and monitor if it is more effective than my current mixed approaches.

After releasing this post, multiple people highlighted the Cornell Note taking method. Give a look at Jon Tait’s really useful YouTube video summary:

Further reading:

This article is a fascination cognitive psychology analysis of note making: see here.

Ten useful memory tips to aid note making: see here.



  1. Loved the cartoon, loved the idea of a note taking frame, has potential for other subjects with a little tweaking. Thanks.

  2. I love this idea, Alex, and I love how it intentionally teaches the skill of note-taking in a beautifully scaffolded way. I’ve been trying to work this out for myself recently, especially with my lower-level Year 8 students, and so I’m definitely going to factor something like this into my planning for next term. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Hello Lee,

      Someone shared this method with me only earlier. I intend on adding a YouTube video to the post later.

      Thanks for the heads up though,


  3. I have subscribed to your blog because as a designer I find this to be one of the most elegant blog/website designs I’ve ever seen. What a joy to look at such a sophisticated, minimalistic, monochromatic layout.
    I have fun with my personal design project,, which “features the ampersand as fun & fabulous art.” As an English subject leader (proper English, not the crap we speak in the US!) you might enjoy some of these. The gallery page shows them all:
    Most of the phrases are American, but I’ll be doing one on “bangers & mash” later on.

  4. I wanted to “Like” this but couldn’t find the button. This approach appliies to all subjects and teachers will find it really useful. Developing transferable metacognitve skills should be an element of all children’s curriculum experience. Great post.

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  6. Hi Alex!
    Thanks for posting your note making technique. I have adapted it to use with my year 10 class tomorrow as we look at why some countries are poorer than others. Let me know if you’d like to see a copy to see what a geographer has done with it! I can photo the outcomes tomorrow as well.

    A surprisingly large number of my lessons are planned through Twitter nowadays!

  7. Note-making is actually an art, learning which may help students fare much better than they usually do in their texts and exams. Thanks for sharing this information in such clear and comprehensive detail.

  8. This is an excellent note-taking method that I will be using with my students. I particularly like the section where they have to put the notes into a visual format. Usually, if students have an image to associate something with, then they are able to recall the information. I discovered this truth when I was reviewing vocabulary words through animated PowerPoint presentations; students remembered the definitions of words that had a picture beside it, while words that were only presented with a definition and a sentence were not memorized. However, I never thought about doing this with note-taking! I tend to provide notes for my students and then they just copy them down, BORING. But this version of note-taking is much more engaging and will increase their reading comprehension skills. Thanks for the great idea!

    1. Hi Alex this is a very useful post, thank you for sharing! I’ve tried to open the link at the end of the post to the cognitive psychology analysis of note making but it no longer works. By any chance could you tell me the name of this analysis so I can search for it? Many thanks, Cormac

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