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Tradition is a guide
and not a jailer.
W. Somerset Maugham
1874 - 1965, English novelist

Preparing guided notes

A guided system of learning within lecture

Guided Notes are teacher-prepared hand-outs that outline or map lectures, but leave "blank" space for key concepts, facts, definitions, etc.
As the lecture progresses, the learner then fills in the spaces with content.

Guided notes help learners

  • follow a lecture
  • identify its important points
  • distinguish between main and secondary points, examples and digressions
  • develop a foundation of content to study and to apply

Here are several strategies in developing and using
Guided Notes in your lectures and classrooms

What are Guided Notes?

  • Examine existing lecture outlines
    (or create them as necessary) to identify the most important course content that students must learn and retain via lecture. Remember: less can be more.
    Student learning is enhanced by lectures with fewer points supported by additional examples and opportunities for students to respond to questions or scenarios
    (Russell et al., 1984)
  • Delete the key facts, concepts, and relationships
    from the lecture outline, leaving the remaining information to provide structure and context for students' note taking
  • Enhance the lecture with supporting information and resources.
    Insert and present outlines and concept maps; diagrams and charts; images, illustrations and photos; highlighted statements or concepts that are particularly important (e.g., Big Ideas), and resources such as bibliographies and websites into Guided Notes
  • Insert (a consistent, standard set of) formatting cues
    such as highlighting, sequences, images, asterisks, lines, and bullets to show students where, when, and how many facts or concepts to write
  • Use PowerPoint slides or overhead transparencies
    to project key content. Visually projecting the key facts, definitions, concepts, relationships, etc. that students must write in their Guided Notes helps ensure that all students access the most critical content and improves the pace of the lecture
  • Leave ample space for students to write.
    Providing about three to four times the space needed to type the content will generally leave enough room for students' handwriting
  • Do not require students to write too much.
    Using Guided Notes should not unduly slow down the pace of the lecture. Two studies found that students' exam scores for lectures taught with Guided Notes that could be completed with single words and short phrases were as high as their test scores over lectures taught with Guided Notes that required more extensive writing to complete (Austin & Sasson, 2001; Courson, 1989)


  • Introducing guided notes:
    When first using guided notes, develop simpler versions at first, and gradually introduce more complex versions
    At the outset, review each student's guided notes to develop good habits
  • Make the blank Guided Notes available to students
    via course website and/or photocopied course packets before the lecture. Distributing Guided Notes before class may give students an incentive to attend class in order to complete the notes, as well as prepare for the material
  • Model/checklist:
    Develop a model or checklist to follow
    (How much do I write? Have I completed all the blanks? Where can I find missing items?)
  • Questions/discussion
    Give students the opportunity to discuss both the content and the guided notes, either during or after the lecture
  • Practice problems/examples:
    In addition to completing guided notes, give students additional opportunities to apply content, as well as respond and receive instructor feedback during the lecture
  • Peer helpers:
    Pair stronger students with those who have diverse learning styles or abilities, or may have learning disabilities, to review completed work
  • References:
    Include these for future reference, comparison and application, and study
  • Class review:
    Review the guided notes for comparison and/or feedback.
    Use a good example from the class for discussion, both on technique and content
  • Examples/applications:
    Develop an exercise where students apply completed content to examples or applications
    • in class immediately following the lecture or as homework
    • as individuals or small groups
  • Models:
    Develop and distribute your own completed copy for your students to compare their work
  • Peer review/small group:
    Develop a system of peer review for your students, pairing/assembling
    • stronger with weaker students
    • diverse learning styles
    • randomly
    • self-selection
  • Tests/exams:
    Develop test items from completed guided notes information
  • Student-developed guided notes
    Can these be used for an evaluation? as a class project?

Based upon: Fast Facts for Faculty: Guided Notes
Includes: Definitions; Pros and Cons of the Lecture Method; Rationale; Documentation and Research; Guidelines for Constructing and Using Guided Notes; Explanation of Symbols; References & Resources

Curricular guides and resources:

Using feedback in the classroom | Teaching critical thinking | Bloom's taxonomy |
Teaching with questioning | Preparing guided notes |
A curricular idea! | Curricular resources and guides |
Learning Exercises & Games | Exploring learning styles |
Constructing true/false tests | Constructing multiple choice tests |
Constructing essay exams | Cross language resources including digital translators |
Online Learning/eLearning books and resources for teachers