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Setting up your notebook as a learning tool

Do you use your language notebook outside class?
Or is it like a jungle in which you get lost?

This post shows you how to turn your notebook into a useful, relevant learning tool.

In order to create this tool, you will need to invest some time in the setup – and some money in a new notebook.

Step 1: Go through your old notebook

Sit down with your current notebook and a highlighter and go through your notebook. Mark the words and expressions that you definitely want to remember because they are useful to you. Discard anything you know you won’t use.

Don’t get rid of the old notebook! Continue using it in class, and afterwards transfer the relevant items into your new notebook.

Step 2: Get a new notebook

Choose one that you are comfortable with and that appeals to you. It should motivate you to take it into your hand, to review the entries and to write in it.

In terms of size, it will depend on what is important to you as well as on your lifestyle. I have used and enjoyed working with all of them.

  • A4 offers a great overview as you see a large number of entries at a glance. It is less practical to carry around with you though.
  • A5 is spacious enough for writing sentences, and has good portability.
  • A6 is the easiest to handle as it is barely larger than a mobile phone. However, its smaller size implies having to turn pages more often, and it will obviously fill up faster.
Step 3: Add a tracker

For this purpose, find or print out a one-page yearly calendar in A4 size and stick it on the inside of your notebook’s front cover. Should you be using an A6 size notebook, it will be best to cut the calendar in half.

Monitor your language learning activity by marking a day for each time you have

  • done some reviewing
  • completed a learning task
  • achieved a learning goal

Use different colours if you want to track more than one item. In that case, you may want to make a key for your colours.

Step 4: Set up your new notebook with two key features
  • The index
    It will enable to navigate your notebook when you use it.
    For this purpose, leave the first four pages of your notebook blank.
  • Page numbers
    This post explains why they are essential.

If numbering every page seems too much work, try numbering only every other page (1, 3, 5…), or give a number to each double page.

Step 5: Organize your vocabulary
  • Decide what collections you want to include.
  • To separate them, use adhesive page markers or sticky notes, which can be moved around as your sections grow.
  • Allow for enough space for each section so it can grow.
  • Don’t forget to note them down in your index.

Here are some suggestions for sections and collections in your notebook:

  • Divide your notebook into a vocabulary and a grammar part.
  • Definitely have a section about your frequent mistakes. An essential part of your notebook!
    Record those persistent vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation mistakes – and review the life out of them!
  • Don’t forget to dedicate a collection to connectors (also called linking words).
  • Set up collections for topics that are relevant to you, depending on what you do, your interests, etc.
  • You will love the pages you dedicate to situations.
    These could include greetings, travelling, emailing, banking, telephoning…
  • Record phrases you come across in films, series, songs or texts.
    Add a note on where you heard or read them.
  • Have a section for colloquial English and slang.
Step 6: Use your notebook!
  • Start by carrying over the entries that you marked in your old notebook.
  • Do this after each class: From your class notebook, filter the vocabulary you want to learn and write it into your new notebook.
  • Keep it with you during the day and review in spare moments.
  • Keep it growing by adding new items outside class.
    And make sure you share your findings with your teacher and classmates!

Here is a post on taking your language notebook to the next level.
And this post gives you 9 guidelines on how to record new vocabulary.

What are the most important features in your language notebook? What collections does it contain?


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