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How I Use OneNote for English: A Quick Overview

As teachers across the country move to online learning, I wanted to pop down some thoughts as to how I personally use OneNote when teaching English. This is something I have been doing for a while now and this system works very well for me, whether remote learning or not. In essence, I use OneNote as a central hub through which to collate and share resources.

This is not designed to be a guide as to how to set up OneNote as there are masses of materials on how to do that, whether YouTube tutorials, Microsoft guides, or other online guides. This is more about how I personally use it. It is also worth saying OneNote is most effectively used in conjunction with Teams, where you can create a class notebook (see below) which then automatically adds to the Notebook all students in the Teams, but you can use it on its own and without Teams.

This is the view from Teams. Clicking on the highlighted section will begin the process of setting up a OneNote Notebook

I’ve found OneNote to be massively helpful both during online learning, but beyond it too. It takes 10 minutes to set up and is well worth investigating. Anyway, here’s how I use it.

Organising the Content Library

During set up, you’ll be asked to specify the different sections to be included in your Content Library, which is the central hub of your Notebook. You could think of this as the equivalent to a traditional file or binder, with different sections and pages. For my own Content Library, I divide it between texts that I teach, like this:

Within each section, I would then upload any resources, worksheets, PPTs, booklets that I want students to access. You could also use this space to link to various relevant media, whether images, YouTube videos, or podcast episodes. You might, for example, include a link to a relevant Oak National lesson or perhaps an audio recording (which can be done natively in OneNote using the audio function) of you discussing something. If you have recorded a lesson you could link to it here too for students to access, both now and in the future.

Here’s an example from the Macbeth section of what might be included:

The ‘All’ section is where I place things that are not text specific, such as analysis bookmarks or course overviews. When uploading these resources, you can attach as a file or, as I do, use the ‘printout’ function (found in the Insert tab) that effectively uploads it as a PDF. You can see what this looks like in the way my Macbeth booklet has been displayed above: the entire booklet is a visible PDF.

Reverse Engineering

This is just the name I give to thinking about and using model answers. Given how crucial this is more generally, I have a specific section for storing and sharing all my model responses, whether ones I have written or ones I have collected from students.

As with the content library, I divide this section into the texts I teach, as below:

I also include a section for Whole Class Feedback where I store all WCF sheets as a future point of reference for students. As with the below example from Macbeth, I will list all model responses by essay title:

The way I upload these is via Office Lens which takes a document photograph of the essay and I can then save as PDF and send straight to OneNote. If it’s a word document I’d just copy/paste into the relevant bit. I also use this space to store all past paper questions, or ones I’ve created, so that students have easy access to these.

It is also possible to live model or live mark in OneNote, either by typing or digitally inking. You can easily share your screen so that students can see you doing this in live time. Here, for example, is a short analysis of an image from Dr J and Mr H that I did live and with my screen being shared, which I have then stored in the Reverse Engineering section:

Organising the Student Space

When setting up, you’ll also be prompted to create a set of sections for students. Each student has their own personal workspace that you can see as a teacher, but students only have access to their own. This is where students can upload work you have set, download and then edit anything in the content library, or make notes.

Here’s how I organise the student space, again by text I teach with a couple of additions just for students (such as iteracy which is what I call retrieval practice):

So, let’s say I set my students an essay on Macbeth I might ask them to upload their essay to the Macbeth section where I can then access and review it. Or, they might download from the content library my Macbeth booklet and then make notes directly onto it if they don’t have a paper copy easy available.

Sharing Material and Reviewing Work

A really useful feature of OneNote is the Class Notebook tab, which is what allows you to distribute a resource to all or selected students. For example, this is how I might distribute all in one go (taking just a couple of minutes) my Macbeth booklet to all students in their above personal section so they now have a personal copy they can use. You can do this by using the ‘distribute page’ feature, since you’re effectively distributing the page in the content library on which the booklet is uploaded rather than the booklet itself. The one in the Content Library then becomes the ‘master’ version students can’t edit or delete.

Here’s what the tab looks like where you can access these functions:

Of particular use is the ‘review student work’ feature that allows you to quickly glance at a certain page of your class’s work one after the other. If I’ve asked all of my class to complete work in the Macbeth section of their personal section I can select ‘review student work’ and then select that page and it will, one student after the other, allow me to check who has completed what. It’s the digital equivalent of students handing in books with their pages open at the appropriate page. This is really useful for seeing who is completing work and also offering comments as you go through, should you wish to do that.

Offering Feedback

If a significant amount of work is being created and reviewed within OneNote, then you can also offer feedback through OneNote too. You can do this by simply typing next to the work, if you’d like to leave personalised comments, by uploading a WCF sheet and making it accessible to students, or even by leaving a voice message next to the work that can then be played by the student, as below:

The Lesson Itself

Up until now we’ve mostly considered how to use OneNote to support your teaching by sharing and collating resources or reviewing student work. But it can be put to use for the lesson itself. It is really easy, for instance, to share your OneNote via screen share so students, in live time, can see your OneNote pages.

You could, for instance, and rather than using a PPT, organise the content of your lesson directly into OneNote, whether the lesson instructions, Do Now, recall questions, or a worksheet you want to complete with your students. Indeed, a single page could become the worksheet/lesson where you write instructions or include relevant images/text, zooming in and out as necessary during the lesson. This can all be manipulated in real time and your screen shared.

Here, for example, is part of a lesson created within OneNote in which I introduced WHW to students. I would just move over the relevant material and zoom in and out as required:

You could also upload a PDF copy of a text and annotate along with students via OneNote (if you have the capacity to digitally ink) rather than use a visualiser, like this:

Another possible use of OneNote during a lesson itself might be to utilise the Collaboration Space, which is automatically created during initial set up. This is a space in which all student typing is updated and visible to all others in real time, as opposed to work completed in their own personal section which remains hidden to all but the individual student and their teacher. You could use this space to collectively annotate a text or as part of a ‘we do’ sequence, for instance.

Personally, when the teaching online live I tend not to use OneNote in the ways described above (for the most part). Instead, I hook my visualiser up to the computer as usual and share my screen and then annotate my book/booklet as I usually would. For me, OneNote remains a hub to share and store material and not the medium through which that material is created.

Looking Ahead…

This post was created very much in response to various people on my timeline asking about OneNote and Teams, but I do think OneNote has a place in our classrooms beyond remote learning. That is perhaps, though, for another post. For me, I still use exercise books, a visualiser, and paper booklets, for various reasons, but I do use OneNote as a way to upload and store resources. I also upload PDFs (using Office Lens) of my personal annotated copy of a text or booklet so students can access this, as with Macbeth below:

To my mind, this hybrid model offers the best of both worlds: the benefits of using booklets and visualisers in the classroom, but the ease of storage and collation for long term reference via OneNote.

As I say, though, that’s for another post. Let’s focus for the moment on getting through this immediate period of remote learning and hopefully OneNote can help!


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