Greater Denver Metro NHD



Note taking is one of the most important skills that students participating in National History Day will learn or improve. The goal of this lesson is to help students establish a system of recording information that will allow them to process and evaluate ideas, organize information, and present an accurate and complete annotated bibliography. It is highly recommended that you show students an annotated bibliography before they begin taking notes so they can see what is expected in the end. (Two student sample annotated bibliographies--one junior division and one senior division--are found below.)  Reiterate to student how much time they will save themselves in the end by collecting publication information as they research.

Because students learn differently, one style of note taking might not fit all of your students. It is best to expose them to several types of note taking and let them choose the way that will allow them to process information most efficiently. Forcing all students to use one particular type of note taking (note cards, for instance) may cause some students to struggle. Try introducing three methods and allowing them to choose which will work best for them.



Yes, they may be old-fashioned, but note cards do have a place in research, especially for students who are visual learners.



·        Note cards can be color coded to help students integrate ideas from different sources.

·        Note cards can be physically manipulated to help students organize their information.

·        Students who think spatially will easily create a “system” for coding and organizing information.

·        Note cards help students internalize information as they hand-write their notes.


·        Students may see this method as out-dated.

·        Note cards can be cumbersome, and disorganized students may easily loose parts of their research.

·        Students who are not visual or spatial learners might struggle with the systematic nature of note cards.

·        Students with poor handwriting might struggle with this method of note taking.


This handout about note cards may help your students understand their use.




Having a three ring binder dedicated to NHD research is another method students might employ. The research log allows students to have a separate page (or pages) for each source. It also allows students to keep photocopies of newspaper or magazine articles, print-outs of materials from the internet, etc. in one convenient location.



·        Keeping a research log helps students internalize ideas because they are hand writing their notes.

·        Using a research log can help students who easily lose things stay more organized.

·        A research log can help students focus on note taking without worrying about organizing information…yet.


·        The information recorded in a research log format cannot be physically manipulated to organize the project.

·        Students who have difficulty with mental organization might find this method difficult.


A sample of the research log note taking sheet can be found here.



Many students will be most comfortable keeping their notes on a computer. While students might find this to be “the easy way out”, there still must be a level of organization and accountability.



·        Many students will be comfortable with this method of note taking.

·        Students can manipulate information to organize the project.

·        Students will find it quicker to keep notes in this fashion than to hand write them.


·        Students tend to mingle sources when they keep notes digitally. There is a tendency to keep all of their notes together rather than dividing them according to each source.

·        There is a higher chance of plagiarism with this method of note taking because students will wish to cut-and-paste information into their notes.

·        Students using digital note taking tend to limit their sources to just internet resources. Encourage (or require) them to branch out to hard copy sources.

·        If students are using a classroom computer, they may not have access to their notes to research outside of class. Consider requiring Google Docs as a note taking platform.


The research log can also be used as a digital template.



1.     Show students a sample Annotated Bibliography (samples are linked below). This will help them understand why it is important to record source information and keep orderly notes.

2.     Using material of your choosing, demonstrate for students where to find publication information for several different sources. You might wish to project a copyright page from a book in the classroom, and help them identify what information is generally needed in a bibliography.

3.     Demonstrate for student how to record this information on each of the types of note-taking devises.

4.     Together as a class, take some notes about your chosen topic on each of the three note-taking devises. You don’t need to go too deeply at this point…you are simply demonstrating how each type works.

5.     Point out some of the pros and cons that are relevant to your class.


Work Time:

If students have access to classroom computers, help them set up a folder for NHD research on Google docs. In addition, give then a few note cards and a research log sheet. Then, instruct them to return to the three Wikipedia articles they used in their initial investigation last week, and take notes. One article should be explored using each of the three note-taking devises. This will help students discover which method is most comfortable for them. Make sure they understand that this is just note taking practice. They will not be including the Wikipedia research on their bibliographies because Wikipedia is a tertiary source. While the notes they take are only for practice, they will be gaining information that will help them when they begin researching primary and secondary sources.


A note about online Bibliography services:

Many of your students will want to use an online bibliography organizer like BibMe or EasyBib. While bibliography tools found on the internet can be helpful, they should be used with caution, and they are never a replacement for recording what sources were explored during the research process. While there are no rules against using one of these tools, many have flaws that are apparent in the completed bibliography. For instance, BibMe does not capitalize the words in the title of sources. Many of these tools leave random symbols within the citation. We will revisit this subject later in the curriculum as students prepare their bibliographies. For now, insist that they keep source information on their notes.


 Other documents:

Senior level annotated bibliography 

Junior level annotated bibliography



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