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Color-Coded Notes

I use color-coded notes with my students almost daily. I love them! Over the years, I have observed how they help students organize and study information. Research indicates that color coding can help the brain retain information. I especially like to use color-coded notes in math. Here’s why: as I work with kids on learning the steps to solve a mathematical problem, they seem to understand. They can follow along with me, they can answer the questions I am asking throughout the mathematical processes, and they can even solve these problems independently...until they get home to do homework, or they are left to work independently when I am not around, or until the next day.  

Teaching our kids to use the resources they have to solve problems is important. That’s why when my students struggle, I tell them to look back at their notes. So, they go back, look at their notes, and have no clue what they have written or how to follow the notes! There is a reason for that. When they copied down their math notes, they copied down my thinking. 

During class or a lecture, written notes are just a part of the information being delivered. Verbal information is being delivered but our young students fail to note much of the verbal information because they are busy writing down the notes.

I encourage my students to write down not only the notes but what the instructor is saying as well. We then go back and color code the steps in the notes. Let’s use a math equation that requires students to use the order of operations as an example. We know that the process for solving an equation using the order of operations requires us to solve what is in the parentheses first. I’ll color code this step using red. In my notes, I would write, “Solve inside the parenthesis first” in red (or underline it in red). Then, I would write down the example equation and solve what is inside the parenthesis in red.

The next step in the order of operations is to eliminate the exponents. I might use green for this. So, in green, I would write the words, “Get rid of the exponents” and then I would eliminate the exponents in the problem in green. Again, the word notes’ color matches the number notes’ color. 

We continue in this manner, changing colors each time we advance to a different step in the process. That way, when my students go back to look at their notes and work independently, they are better able to follow the process because the information is organized by color.  

As with all strategies, I take the time to teach this skill before I release the students to color code on their own. I provide lots of opportunities to practice and lots of guidance in the beginning. It takes time. It may take an entire school year to teach how to take effective color-coded notes but the time invested in teaching this skill is well worth the payoff.  

Here are some tips to consider when color-coding your notes:

Use colored pencils to color code. Some colored pencils are even erasable. Markers can bleed through the paper and crayons are just messy at times. Highlighters can work as well.  

Be consistent in your color-coding. If you start off using blue to signify the important dates in the American Revolution, you should use blue throughout your notes for all of the important American Revolution dates.  

Students should take notes in pencil first. Color code notes after class. This gives the learner a second opportunity to go over the day’s notes. Plus, a regular pencil is much easier to erase than colored pencils.  

Don’t forget to create a key to your color coding!

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