Unit 5: Listening and Note-Taking

Chapter 19: Preparation for Note-Taking

Phyllis Nissila and Norma Cárdenas

Intercultural Communication

To identify what is the most important or less clear information in the lecture or reading, you will need to identify strategies to improve listening and learning. We bring assumptions and judgments into the classroom that can interfere with communication. While there are commonalities and differences in dialogue and interaction, focusing on content can help to overcome barriers. In other words, how does your identity influence your learning?

Dominant U.S. Cultural Norms

Culture impacts instructor-student communication. Communication modes include emotion, cultural practices, and cultural differences, to name a few. Instructors use rhetorical practices that carry values, beliefs, knowledge, and behaviors. For example, in some cultures, people wait until others have spoken before they share. In the U.S., the style of speaking is instrumental meaning it is the responsibility of the instructor to communicate the material. Eye contact is a sign of respect in the U.S. while it’s the exact opposite in others. Listening widely and deeply, for neurodivergent thinkers, peripheral vision is preferred to direct contact. As students, you will need to observe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate, or apply critical thinking skills.

Verbal Communication

Imperative statements-Instructors tell students what to do when they need to understand ideas. The instructor may use signposts such as “Here is the important point” or use a visual aid such as color changes or highlighting.

Appeals-Instructors appeal to student awareness and reflection, problem-solving, cultural sensitivity, and putting knowledge into action.

Narratives-Instructors use explanations that may not have the same understanding or shared knowledge. You can ask for different examples that relate to your prior knowledge or common experience to seek clarity.

Metaphors-Instructors may use metaphors to further understanding of a concept or idea. If you are not aware of the metaphor, the meaning may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. You can ask the instructor to explain the reference and be aware to make learning possible.

Non-Verbal Communication

When we think about listening we think about, well, hearing sounds via the ears. However, when it comes to listening in order to pick up key points for note-taking, it takes more than just hearing. In this case, it takes a “critical ear,” that is, absorbing key points by noticing not only the words spoken, but also by noting tones, volume, and even the body language that goes along. Additionally, being an active listener increases a note-taker’s chances of getting the information needed. Exercise 1 illustrates common non-verbal communication.



List as  many non-verbal, emotional cues as you can by studying the faces in the pictures below.

Seven photos of the same person with different expressions:. Clockwise from top left: smile, sad, half-smile, surprised, pouting, disgusted, horrified.
“Universal Emotions” by Icerko Lýdia is licensed under CC BY 3.0



The image below illustrates non-verbal body language. Describe a few poses or body movements one or more of your teachers now, or from the past, takes or has taken that communicates: pay closer attention. It might be from these examples, or something quite different. For example, an instructor might move close to the front row and fold his/her arms to indicate that what he or she will be saying is of a more serious nature. For another example, if he or she moves toward the white board to write something, it’s probably key information.

People silhouetted in different poses: thinking, explaining, questioning.
“Men Silhouette” by geralt is in the Public Domain, CC0


Active Listening

In previous units, we covered ways that students can actively engage in the learning process in order to get the most out of their education. There are ways to actively listen as well, in order to get the most out of lectures and, more importantly, take all of the notes that might be required. The video in the next exercise covers several active listening strategies along with why we sometimes have difficulty listening.



Watch the TED talk below and answer the following questions:

Video: 5 Ways to Listen Better, Julian Treasure at TED Global 2011

  1. What 3 types of listening does the speaker discuss?
  2. How and why have we been “losing our ability to listen,” as the speaker suggests? He cites 5 ways.
  3. What are the 5 tools we can use to listen better?


Taking into consideration all of the activities in the exercises above, write a one-page (250-300 words) reflection on how you can use the information on non-verbal and listening skills to enhance both your ability to pay attention to lectures and to take better notes on them.

Perhaps the most useful learning tools of all are notes taken from both lectures and course materials. By annotating for key information, then condensing it, students create personalized summaries helpful for studying.

Often, students are unsure about what constitutes “key information.” Here is a list of items to highlight or annotate for in textbooks and a list of items to listen for in lectures.

Key Information in Textbooks

The following elements of a textbook chapter are especially important in helping you discern key information:

  • Introductions
  • Summaries
  • Study questions
  • Topic sentences (as the speaker in the video on “Skim Reading,” exercise 3.2, also in Lesson 3.2 notes: sometimes the reader has to read the first two or even three sentences of a paragraph or section to get the entire main topic).
  • Anything that is bolded, or in some other way set off from the default print size and style. Sub-topic titles are good examples of this.
  • “Side bars” are boxes of related information. These might include statistics, brief biographies of authors or persons of note related to the chapter content, price points on brochures for businesses, charts, graphs, photographs, and/or illustrations. They are typically a different color or in some other way set off for attention but not as the focal point of the text. Pay attention to the captions or legends that might accompany graphics. In this e-text, the exercises are set apart in side bars.
  • Glossary terms that may be incorporated in the margins or otherwise set apart.
  • Some textbooks include outlines of each chapter’s main points in the introductory section.

Key Information in Lectures

As the lecturer, live or video, presents the material, there are two types of key information cues to be aware of.


A speaker will often have unique facial and body nonverbal cues that alert you to several things, as you learn to “read” your professor:

  • Stances or movements that alert you to when he/she will shift to a different topic or subtopic.
  • Other cues that alert you to when the information is of special significance (including verbal cues, below).


  • Pay attention to when the speaker uses any of the transition cues used in reading comprehension.
  • Many speakers also announce when they are adding information or changing topics in various other ways.

Plain Language for Cognitive Accessibility

Plain language is explaining facts and ideas in ways people can quickly, easily, and completely understand. Instructions and ideas written in shorter sentences with most commonly used words ensures effective communication. Making the text more accessible can require more writing, not less. Academic concepts are not simplified, only the expression of it. Paragraphs with clear topic sentences, technical terms are defined at first use, then used sparingly. and easy-to-read fonts are a few suggestions. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is known for communicating objective truths in clear, exciting, and engaging ways. The Plain Language Act, which is a law requiring clear and concise writing in federal governmental documents, has resources on its website.

Hearing Impairment and Assistive Technology

Assistive technology increases communication and active participation of deaf and hard of hearing students. It may involve interpreters, captioning, assistive listening devices, and other classroom and curriculum modifications.

Watch the video below and answer the following questions:

Video: The Cost of Code Switching, Chandra Arthur | TEDxOrlando

  1. How does codeswitching relate to doing or being different from the norm?
  2. What is the cost of codeswitching?
  3. What cultural capital do students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds bring to intercultural communication?
  4. How can universities promote and foster linguistic and cultural diversity?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegereading/chapter/lesson-1/ and https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegereading/chapter/lesson-4-2-note-taking-part-2-key-information-and-formats/  License: CC-BY Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting, removed emoticon image, embedded Ted Talk video, slight edits for consistency, combined Lessons 4.1 and 4.2, retitled chapter.

Treasure, Julian. “5 Ways to Listen Better.” TEDTalks, July 29, 2011. Located at: https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better?language=en#t-440931
License: CC-BY–NC–ND 4.0 International.

Chandra Arthur: The Cost of Code Switching. August 22, 2017. Located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo3hRq2RnNI&t=641s.

“Universal Emotions” image by Icerko Lýdia is licensed under CC BY 3.0

“Men Silhouette” image by geralt is in the Public Domain, CC0


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Phyllis Nissila and Norma Cárdenas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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