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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
Page 46

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Note-Taking: The Link between Oral and Written Production
by Marianela Najul and Giancarla Marchi

When a learner is confronted with a lecture or speech, active involvement is necessary if this activity is to be a meaningful learning experience. This is especially important for second-language learners in academic situations where they are required to cope with both the foreign language and the content. In our English classes, students are taught to deliver effective speeches or oral reports. These oral activities, in turn, lend themselves to practicing some written assignments such as note-taking and written summaries that originate from the notes. Based on this experience, this article presents some ideas related to the technique of note-taking as a means for practicing writing summaries in English.

Our students undergo a process that can be described from a systemic point of view. The input is represented by the source of information (a lecture or speech), the process is represented by the learner's ability to understand the message (his personal purpose, background knowledge, study skills, learning and processing strategies), and the output is represented by the degree of achievement of his final goal (written and oral responses to specific academic requirements). In this sense, we have used note-taking as the technique that represents part of the process of comprehending and articulating the information that the learner confronts both visually and aurally, and we have selected the written summary as an example of the final output.

Note-taking guidelines

We consider it important to teach note-taking guidelines if we wish to have an organized written summary as the end product. So, in order to reinforce note-taking skills, we have selected a technique that takes into account: ( a ) note-taking guidelines (Ferguson and O'Reilly 1978), ( b ) the outline form (Nwokoreze 1990), and ( c ) recognized criteria for successful note-taking (Stahl et al. 1991). When students use this technique, they have to draw two lines on a sheet of letter-sized paper, the first six centimeters and the other eight centimeters from the left-hand side of the page. This gives two lines two centimeters apart, providing an indented space that acts as a visual format where notes are written. This indentation is intended to show the level of importance of the ideas. Main ideas would be written to the right of the first line, and secondary ideas and/or supporting information to the right of the second line. The indentation used for the two lines supplies a space, at the left-hand side of the paper, where the recorded information will be reorganized through further elaboration and clarification. The purpose of this format is to present a visual organizer to help students organize notes while writing them.

When students reorganize the notes, labels are used to identify and relate the material. They are usually indicated by abbreviations. For example, if a piece of information is considered to be a main idea, it is labeled MI; if it is a secondary idea, it is labeled SI; if it is a detail, D; and so on. When labeling the information, important points are emphasized and irrelevant ones discarded (see Figure 1). The purpose of labeling is twofold. We see it as a means for students to develop an awareness of the structure of the oral report and as a guide to organizing main ideas and details for the final summary.

Students are allowed to use key words and phrases, notations such as symbols, and standard or personal abbreviations. They can combine verbatim and paraphrased information and copy diagrams and charts when these visual aids help them understand important information. Notes are taken during the delivery of the oral report and are complemented with the give-and-take of class discussion.

Discriminating relevant from irrelevant information

Students take and make notes because they are not passively recording words verbatim; rather, they are required to process information while they write, and this requires their full attention. They have to be alert to the speaker's pattern of thought, his direction and development, and they must distinguish between what is important and what is not (Yorkey 1982).

While listening to the oral report, the process of discriminating relevant from irrelevant information is facilitated when attention is centered around verbal and nonverbal signals that speakers use to convey information. On the one hand, students should be aware of verbal signals such as discourse indicators (rhetorical patterns and cue words) and visual elements (charts, graphs, diagrams, concept maps, or flow charts). On the other hand, they should also be aware of nonverbal signals such as physical gestures and what Yorkey (1982) describes as "vocal underlining": holding up a finger, spreading the palms, and varying the pace, pitch, and volume of the speech. These signals are used to emphasize particular ideas. Therefore, it is important to teach students, especially second-language learners, to identify and use these signals to jot down coherent notes, which, in turn, help them better achieve their goal - in our case, a written summary.

Writing a summary

When students finish taking the notes, they should concentrate on the previously labeled information to write a coherent summary of one or more paragraphs according to the number of main ideas and supporting details gathered from the notes (see Figure 2). They have to transform their notes into written discourse, using cohesive and transitive discourse elements. We see this summary as a complementary step to note-taking, and as an "all inclusive" type of written activity that marks the end of a meaningful learning experience. The summary not only shows the amount of content information assimilated by the student, but also condenses and reflects the gist of discourse. In addition, it helps students to practice rhetorical patterns of written discourse that have been considered highly abstract and difficult to tack

Form and Space Different objects define space. These objects can be made of wood, stone, or other substances. Space depends totally on its boundaries, which are defined by elements of forms. The organization of the elements within a visual field consists of two different opposing groups: negative and positive elements, thus forming a unity of opposites. The definition of space is given by two types of elements: horizontal and vertical elements. The horizontal elements are: the base plane, the base plane elevated (that is, above the ground), and the base plane depressed (plane depressed into the ground). On the other hand, the vertical elements are: linear elements such as columns, L-shape configuration of planes, and parallel vertical planes, for example, a set of parallel wall planes. Vertical elements are more active than horizontal elements. Marianela Najul is assistant professor at Universidad Sim"n Bol!var in Caracas. She teaches ESP in architecture and urbanism.


Giancarla Marchi teaches ESP courses at the Sim"n Bol!var University in Caracas. She has designed and taught ESP courses in architecture, urban planning, computer science, mathematics, and music.


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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
Page 46
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