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10 ways to use student note books in class and elsewhere

Notebooks are used by most students to record language in class and maybe elsewhere too. Teachers seldom look at students’ notebooks and students don’t usually show their notebooks to each other.

The 10 ideas outlined below are based on the principle that notebooks are a very useful, portable and flexible tool for language learning and that their use can be developed further both as individual and as more interactive resources that can be shared with the teacher and fellow students in class. Most of these activities can be done with loose paper, photocopied handouts or presentations on screen.

The aim of using the notebook is to encourage personal ownership (the student creates the content) and the recording and storing of information in a portable and accessible place. The note book, rather than the course book or the photocopy becomes the core reference point for the course and the student’s language life beyond it.

These are examples. You will easily think of more ways to use notebooks

  1. Show and tell.

Ask students to look at each others’ note books. They can explain their notes, test each other on some of the items, and compare how they take notes. This could lead to students learning from each other more effective ways to store language and use their notebooks effectively.

  1. Dear teacher.

Ask your students to write a message to you in their notebooks. Collect the notebooks in and write something back. This can be particularly useful at the start of a course when you are getting to know each other. Some students might like to write a journal in their notebook. You could offer to look at it from time to time.

  1. Consequences.

Students write the first sentence of a story in their note book. Then pass the notebook to the student on their right to continue the story. And so on , until each student has their own notebook again with a complete story in it. You and the students can work on correcting the stories. The benefit of using notebooks rather than paper is that the story stays with the student and is more likely to be looked at again.

  1. Vocab notes.

When you set a reading text for homework tell students to write in their notebook 3 words or expressions they had to look up when reading. In class they can show a partner what they wrote.

  1. Describe and draw.

Students draw a diagram or picture in their notebook (a family tree, a person, a room in their house, a map etc. They then show it to their partner and talk through it/answer questions. A variation is to describe the drawing, without showing it, for their partner to reproduce.

  1. Error correction.

During a pair or group speaking activity take one student notebook per group and make notes of the errors you hear in each of the books. At the end of the activity return the book to the student and let the students in that group work on correcting the errors together. Finally the class shares the errors they have made and corrected.

  1. Dictation.

Instead of you writing on the board or having students reading in a textbook, dictate questions and short texts for students to write in their notebooks.  Apart from creating a motivating challenge for students, this leaves the texts in their notebooks for further work and easy future reference.

  1. Train on the train.

Set your students a task for homework like the following.  Next time you are on the train or bus write down what you see in your notebook. If you don’t know the word in English write it in Spanish. Bring your notes to class and recount the experience to your partner.

  1. Notebook plus course book.

There is often not enough room for students to write comfortably in a course book. Have them record sample sentences and similar language exercises in their notebooks instead.

  1. Speaking activity prompts.

Have students write/copy prompts and grids for speaking activities in their notebooks.  A typical milling activity for example works better if the students can make notes in notebooks as they talk to different partners around the room. They will also have a record of the activity to refer back to.

From English Teacher to Learner Coach. Dan Barber and Duncan Foord (The Round Publications, 2014)

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