How much you are expected to participate in a class might be signaled by the layout of the room.  If you walk into a classroom, and all the student seats are in rows facing a professor, that is likely a lecture class.  You’ve all taken notes in a lecture class before.  Most of the information you need to know will come from the professor herself.

What if you walk into a room where the chairs are in a circle, or in small groups?  That might be a seminar where students and instructors work together to create knowledge.  These classes usually have more discussion and less lecture.  How do you take notes on a discussion?

First, let me explain that you DO need to take notes in discussion.  If you think the only person you have to listen to is the professor because only what they say will be on the exam, you’re not likely to do very well in that class.  The point of discussion is to jointly create knowledge, to explore ideas, to test out ideas, and to challenge ideas.  If you zone out during a discussion, you will not be taking full advantage of your education; it is likely that you will not learn how to articulate and support your ideas with evidence.

So what do you take notes on?  First write down the questions that are posed, and then write down some of the answers and examples your classmates/professor provide.  This is not wasted effort.  To be bluntly practical, sometimes professors take discussion questions and turn them into essay questions on the exam.  Writing down the questions and some of the answers will help you think about what you would put in a short answer or essay answer on an exam.

Created by Dr. Sandi Nenga, Professor of Sociology