How to Use OneNote at School: 10 Tips for Students & Teachers
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Stephanie is just one of the 950 students at Sammamish High School in Seattle who have taken wholeheartedly to Microsoft OneNote along with their teachers.

It makes it easier to think during class—and I’m doing less busy work.

Across the country in Ohio, teachers gave their students “blizzard bags” when schools got closed for bad weather. These teaching “bags” use OneNote Class Notebook to share interactive lessons. The “school closed” notice is no longer an excuse for celebration.

Lugging around a satchel full of books pales a bit in comparison, doesn’t it?

The notetaking member in Microsoft’s suite is a cross-platform productivity application 5 Ways to Get Productive With Microsoft OneNote 5 Ways to Get Productive With Microsoft OneNote Do you feel the need for an offline organization tool that also exists on the web? Surprisingly, Microsoft has come up with the perfect solution - OneNote. Read More . There are many unique ways to use OneNote 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote OneNote is one of Microsoft's most underrated apps. It's available on almost every platform and can do many tricks you wouldn't expect from a note keeping app. Read More , and using it to change the way you teach or study could be the best one. Come aboard. OneNote has loads of tips for the teacher and the student. And before you forget — OneNote is free OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before Evernote no longer rules the roost of note taking apps. Microsoft recently announced OneNote would be more free than ever before. Let us show you what this means in terms of features and functionality. Read More !

Outline Class Lectures

Verbatim learning is the shortcut to mind numbness. The best teachers outline their lectures. The best students take them down. An outlined note is the first point of entry into a topic. This birds eye-view is easily done with one of the most underrated features on OneNote.

OneNote: Create Note Outlines


Here, each outline is more than a simple list of bullet points. You can:

  • Move the outline using the grab handle of the container.
  • Create multi-level outlines (up to 5 levels). Hide levels of the outline with a double click on the grab box.
  • Overlay different outlines. Bring the important one to the front with the option in the right-click menu.
  • Use the grab handle to re-arrange the order of the elements.

Doodle or Sketch Away

Are you a visual learner who learns better with drawings and pictures? As I had mentioned in my own previous list of awesome OneNote tips 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All the Time 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All the Time Microsoft OneNote is just as good as Evernote. OneNote is the digital equivalent of a binder, giving you more organizational control. We show you effective note-taking tweaks you'll love. Read More , you can doodle and sketch away on OneNote. And make it feel like paper (Tip #4 on that list).

A graph, the formation of a chemical bond, or an ecological cycle are best understood with a diagram. The Draw tab gives you all the drawing tools you need to sketch your notes.

Don’t want to mess up the neat class notes with random doodles? Use a Quick Note (View > Window > Send to OneNote Tool > New Quick Note | Ctrl + Shift + M).

OneNote: Quick Note

Resize and position the quick note to fit your doodling needs and click the pin icon in the Ribbon to make it stay on top of your main note.

OneNote: Doodle

Doodling is better with a stylus.  Microsoft also brought handwriting to the iPad version this year. Select Palm Rejection to help tablets recognize the way you hold a pen. Any touchscreen device can take advantage of OneNote’s inking feature. Hand write notes, draw diagrams, or annotate notes and images with the freehand drawing tools.

Save more time. If a phone is allowed after class, take a snapshot of the whiteboard and annotate the image with extra notes. Microsoft even has a neat app called Office Lens that comes with a special whiteboard mode to make shadows and glare disappear. The OneNote app camera also has a whiteboard mode.

Capture Your Web Research with a Click

While researching online, send a whole page or part of a page directly to OneNote. Click Ctrl +P on your keyboard (or choose File > Print), select Send to OneNote 2013 from your list of printers, and your page is sent to an unfiled quick note in OneNote, which can be moved to any section or page. The “Unfiled Notes” tab can be found at the bottom of your OneNote 2013 screen. You can always use the powerful search to find any note across the application.

For easier note organization while saving, leave the default setting at “Always ask where to send“. You can choose the specific notebook for the note. Change the save locations from File > Options.

Choose location to save notes

The OneNote Clipper debuted last year. Save any page directly to OneNote without the clutter. All of your clips are saved to the Quick Notes section of your default notebook. The extension is available for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Mac Safari.

Watch this video on how to do web research:

Napkin Math in OneNote

OneNote developers call it “napkin math”. And it’s better than the real thing. Save your brainpower performing tricky calculations by typing in your mathematical expression anywhere on a OneNote page and clicking Enter or the spacebar. The built-in calculator spits out the result.

OneNote -- Napkin Math

The MSDN blog page takes you through a few tips and the supported arithmetic and trigonometric functions. And yes, math-phobes – OneNote can do calculus.

For plotting 2D and 3D graphs in OneNote, download the Microsoft Mathematics Add-In 2013 for OneNote.

Ink Math

OneNote has a full-fledged equation editor to help you enter math equations on any page. Go to Insert > (Symbols group) Equation. The dropdown has pre-defined equations. You can go with any or click on the upper part of the Equation button to open the Design toolbar. You can construct your own equations from scratch with the symbols and operators here.

Insert Equations in OneNoteFor tablet owners, the neat Ink Equation button (in the Tools group) makes solving algebra easier. You can write an equation with a stylus or fingers. OneNote interprets the handwriting and types it in.

This feature should find favor with STEM students 10 Best Channels for STEM Education on YouTube 10 Best Channels for STEM Education on YouTube STEM is not just an acronym but an idea that could help transform how our children are taught. These ten YouTube channels not only teach but also inspire to study STEM subjects better. Read More .

Save Time with Templates

OneNote has a few templates which can help both teachers and students create better class notes. Check out the Academic Templates from Insert > Page Templates > Academic.

OneNote Templates

But the collection here falls short of class requirements especially for students. Maybe, as a teacher you want to create a monthly schedule for a class? This could also be helpful for any substitute teacher. Teachers can collaborate on lesson plans.

As a student, you might want to set up an yearly revision schedule or want to create your own note-taking system instead of the Cornell Note Taking template available at Office Online.

Creating your own OneNote template is easy as custom designing a note and saving it as a template. You can use tables to quickly structure your template.

  1. Design your template on a blank page. Select the Insert tab.
  2. Click the Page Templates button. The Templates pane appears on the right side.
  3. Select Save Current Page as Template on the Templates pane. Name the template in the dialog box.
  4. Click Save. A new category called My Templates holds all your templates.

Microsoft in Education has nine excellent tips to make your lesson planning easier.

Use Voice Notes

“You can use One Note to record audio notes, so when my students are working on a project or essay, I can record my conversation with them as I give them feedback on their essay. I can then send the recording to the student. Since they usually forget half of what I tell them, it helps immensely to avoid repeat questions or the infamous ‘what did you say I should do?’, especially since I usually forget.”


Just one of the ways to use OneNote to record audio. It can be a lifesaver for students with short attention spans.

Record audio or video notes

Record a presentation while taking your notes in OneNote. OneNote automatically syncs your typed notes to the exact point in the audio recording. The audio notes support your text notes and the latter acts like a bookmark that helps with instant recall of what anyone said in class.

Search for words inside audio and video recordings. This little setting can help save a lot of time with large audio-video note collections. Enable it from File > Options > Audio & Video.

Search audio-video notes in OneNote

Create Your Own Updated Digital Text Book

Audio and video create a more engaging learning experience. It makes the job of teachers far easier as flipped classroom sessions can hold student attention longer than dull lectures. The OneNote blog dug up the example of Cary Academy in North Carolina which uses OneNote to create custom digital textbooks. Teachers collate Office documents, pictures, audio, video, and web clips.

For instance, students in a Mandarin Chinese class use audio clips to hear a native speaker’s pronunciation.

Teachers can reduce their own burden by turning it into a collaborative class project. A customized digital text book is just one example that shows the power of the next feature on this list. But students can create their own individual textbooks without the reach of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator.

21st Century Teaching: The OneNote Class Notebook Creator

At its simplest, the OneNote Class Notebook Creator is a shared workspace for teachers and students. It has three distinct parts –

Collaboration space for classroom projects.

Classroom Library for distributing handouts and assignments to students.

Student Spaces for each student that is a tutoring platform for teacher-pupil interaction.

The virtual environment brings all the goodness of OneNote in one place. OneNote Class Notebook Creator [No Longer Available] is an online SharePoint app. It is free for educators with Office 365.

A technology push from the school could help to empower teachers and students with this collaborative workspace. It helps to eliminate the bottlenecks of traditional teaching through real-time one-to-one coaching on a shared notebook while running the collaborative creativity of a group project. Teachers can manage their administrative duties better through the tools available here.

Learn more about it with this interactive guide.

A Feature to Always Remember

OneNote saves everything for 60 days after you edit or delete it. Trigger happy students can recover anything from the trash. OneNote has version management which helps to go back to an earlier version of a note. An invaluable aid — teachers can use the Find by Author (Ribbon > History) option to see who did what in a collaborative class assignment.

OneNote -- Follow Revisions

Give Your Best Tips or Ask What Else!

Still feeling limited? Try the Onetastic Add-on for OneNote. The free add-on brings in some extra functionality to your notes. You just might like the calendar view of your class notes.

Also, look into the wide ecosystem of apps supported on OneNote. For instance: Students can save homework answers from to OneNote.

Chromebooks for education Four Awesome Ways to Use a Chromebook in the Classroom Four Awesome Ways to Use a Chromebook in the Classroom Chromebooks now account for twenty percent of all United States school purchases of mobile computers. What role can Chromebooks play in the education sector? Read More might have helped it cross the 5 million mark, but Microsoft is doing its own little bit for education with its software services. Its own “notebook” of educational products is expanding. Your school might not have invested in Microsoft’s technologies yet, but you can bring your own productivity to class.

Starting out with OneNote as a teacher or student? Browse through the tips on OneNote for Teachers. Stay updated with the Microsoft OneNote education blog. Because we just scratched the surface. There are more tips in there.

And for more, check out the best office templates for teachers The Best Microsoft Office Templates for Teachers Going Back to School The Best Microsoft Office Templates for Teachers Going Back to School If you're heading back to school, these Microsoft Office templates for teachers can make your classes run smoother. Read More .

Do you use OneNote for learning or teaching? Do you think it is one of the best back to school tools available for free? If you are an old hand, the space below is for your best tips and ideas. C’mon – class is in session!

Image Credits: student using a tablet Via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Education Technology, Microsoft Office 2013, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps.

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  1. Erik
    August 31, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    This should be removed from the article!
    "Are you a visual learner who learns better with drawings and pictures?"

    Please see the WIKI-page on Learning styles for example.

  2. Daniel
    March 28, 2016 at 7:43 am

    My favorite thing to do with OneNote in the classroom is to import the professors PowerPoint or PDF lecture into OneNote before hand. That way I can follow along and annotate on the slides with anything extra that is useful with my stylus. It's super useful.

    • Saikat Basu
      March 29, 2016 at 10:42 am

      That's a pretty good way to use it, Daniel. I bet it saves a lot of time too.

  3. Random
    April 23, 2015 at 10:36 am

    To be Fairly Honest.
    Take Notes by Hands & scan their pics to could or One Note seems to be a better ideas as when your teacher is saying you to calculate three times square of a differential eq. you'd better not be looking for symbols on Ink Math.
    Though it can help in various aspects.

  4. Ttech
    April 22, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    I used to use One Note in my classroom for years and loved it! Now I moved to a district that is not PC based but Mac, and oN version is AWFUL! I have tried contacting Microsoft, but that was a disaster they dont know Mac..It is especially wonderful if you have an interactive whiteboard.
    Get it together Microsoft!

  5. John Williams
    April 20, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    "One Note" always reminds me of the spoof white iPiano which only had one white note to parody Apple's single button mouse ....

    Nice to see MS has a program that is genuinely useful in education - and it works globally because the local teachers drive the content. It also moves smoothly into university work and that's how kids are hooked on MS for life.
    Same with Google's Classroom that works on Chromebooks and can be cheaper than equipping a whole class with Surface, but of course both will work on older PC's
    Sadly, much of Apple Education software rarely leaves the States.
    The content is very US - centric and three quarters of the world can't afford the hardware that runs the iOS that runs the software ....

    • Saikat
      April 21, 2015 at 4:08 am

      Yes. That's where I think Google got it just right. They have the hardware and the software. Microsoft is pushing hard. I think it will take another generation to truly bring tech into the classrooms worldwide. Hopefully, it won't be technology for technology's sake...but a trigger for a paradigm shift in how kids would be taught.

  6. Stevie J Wright
    April 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    (This thread could go the way of a famous Python sketch)

    You were lucky! The closest I had to a computer when I went to school was a slide rule. It wasn't until a couple of years after that the first electronic calculators appeared.

    • Saikat
      April 18, 2015 at 6:20 am

      Still, I think we had it better -- who knows. There's the nostalgia bit of course. But I wouldn't trade the freedom of playing in the backyard after school for anything else :)

      I studied topics like History and Literature entirely with the help of my imagination. No Internet and no apps on the iPad!

      But yes, technology does a lot of wonderful things for education. And we are still sifting the shallow earth. I just hope teachers and schools use it to stimulate cognitive/creative skills rather than use it just as a mere aid. The way we are taught hasn't changed much in the last two centuries.

    • Andy Roberts
      April 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      You were lucky! They had invented plastic in my day, we had wooden slide rules. Tell that to the kids these days and they won't believe you!

  7. Phil
    April 17, 2015 at 5:39 am

    I'm always fascinated to see how computers are used in school these days since we didn't really have them when I was in school. i mean we did, but you had to go to a special room to use it and there was no internet or anything.

    • Saikat
      April 17, 2015 at 6:40 am

      Same here. Plus we had to share that lone computer with six others!

    • Andy Roberts
      April 22, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      We didn't even have electronic calculators!