How to Use OneNote for School: 10 Tips for Students and Teachers

Saikat Basu Updated 29-08-2019

Microsoft OneNote weighs just a few megabytes. Lugging around a satchel full of books pales a bit in comparison, doesn’t it? So, as you head back to school, let’s learn a bit more about the power-packed note-taking tool.


Microsoft OneNote is part of Microsoft’s suite and is a cross-platform productivity application.

OneNote is free. For enhanced collaboration features like Class Notebook and Staff Notebook, students and teachers can also get Office 365 Education for free with a valid school email address.

There are many unique ways to use OneNote and change the way you teach or study. Come aboard. OneNote has loads of tips for teachers and students alike.

OneNote 2016 vs. OneNote for Windows 10

Choosing between OneNote for Windows 10 and OneNote 2016

The different versions of OneNote can cause you some confusion. There are two main versions of OneNote and you can use both on the same computer:

  • OneNote for Windows 10 (the Microsoft Store app)
  • OneNote 2016 (the Microsoft Office desktop app)

Then, you have the ecosystem of OneNote apps for iOS and Android. And, OneNote Online too which can be accessed with any modern browser.

OneNote for Windows 10 gives you a seamless experience across all devices with either keyboard or touch input. Importantly, OneNote for Windows 10 is continuously updated with new features inspired from OneNote 2016.

The elderly OneNote 2016 will cease to be supported after October 2025 (with extended support).

“In fact, over the last year and a half, we’ve added more than 100 of your favorite OneNote 2016 features based on your feedback (thank you!), with more improvements on the way including tags and better integration with Office documents.”

Looking to the future and how your note-taking can build up over time, we can recommend that you opt for OneNote for Windows 10 Why You Should Switch From OneNote 2016 to OneNote for Windows 10 OneNote 2016 is being phased out. We'll explain what's happening to OneNote 2016 and show you the great benefits of switching to OneNote for Windows 10. Read More . And follow the tips below to use OneNote at school and at home for your class projects.


1. Send Documents to OneNote With a Click

The first step of notetaking starts with capturing information. Students and teachers can send any document or webpage snippet to OneNote with several methods. These two below are native for OneNote.

Select OneNote as the default printer in Windows 10 Settings. Go to Windows Settings and choose OneNote as the default printer (or Send to OneNote 2016 if you are using it). You can then send any documents to any notebook or page via the Print dialog of the app.

Choose OneNote as the default printer in Windows 10

Thanks to this, the old Send to OneNote tool from Microsoft Store becomes redundant.


Use the OneNote Clipper extension on Chrome. Browsers are research tools and the OneNote Web Clipper can save, annotate, and organize anything you grab from the web.

Web Clipper for OneNote

And there are more ways to add anything to OneNote from anywhere How to Save Anything to OneNote from Anywhere Microsoft OneNote is a powerful tool for freeform note-taking. The unique structure of OneNote helps you collect, organize, and share your notes. Here are the best ways to gather information from anywhere. Read More . The tips work for both OneNote for Windows 10 and OneNote 2016.

2. Embed Your Files as Cloud Attachments

Cloud Attachments in OneNote


OneNote for Windows 10 also has a flexible way to handle your attachments. They can be located on your desktop or on OneDrive.

Cloud attachments is a valuable addition for portability and teamwork as your file always stays updated. The embedded document will show up in your notebook as a live preview.

You can open and edit the files. Changes will show up in real time. and it will automatically update via OneDrive. Any changes you make will be saved to the original file and you don’t have to save and re-attach the files again.

It’s a pretty neat feature for students when they do group assignments and even teachers for collaborative learning.

3. Draw on Your Notes With Ink

Teachers can create richer instructions with the inking features on OneNote for Windows 10. Microsoft calls it “Think with Ink“. As the video above demonstrates, you can handwrite notes and draw or sketch things in your notebook.

Of course, it works best on a touch-enabled device like Microsoft Surface or an iPad, but the mouse too can handle some impromptu annotations.

4. Personalize Your Pages

Personalize your OneNote pages with rules and colors

OneNote pages can be scrolled horizontally and vertically. There are no limits. And there’s a way to make them at least appear like real paper.

Personalize your OneNote pages with different colors, rule lines, and grids for the type of content in them.

  • Go to View > Page Color.
  • Go to View > Rule Lines.

You can also give each Notebook and Section its own color to separate the type of notes more visually. Just right-click a Page or a Section name in your OneNote notebook, and then select a color.

5. Use Linked Audio Recordings as Notes

Create audio notes in OneNote for Windows 10

Typing speed cannot keep up with a teacher’s lecture. A better way is to just jot down the key point while you record the entire lecture.

The Audio feature in OneNote for Windows 10 lets you type the lecture notes while you record. The recording is linked to what you were typing when you started to record. This ensures you don’t miss out on any important information.

To begin an audio recording in your notes, do the following:

  1. Click a location on the current page where you want to start the audio recording.
  2. On the Insert tab, click Audio.
  3. OneNote begins recording immediately.
  4. To end an audio recording, do the following:
  5. On the Recording tab, click Stop. OneNote ends the recording. If you want to continue recording later, click Record again.

6. Make Information Easier to Find With Color Coding

Highlight Notes in OneNote for Windows 10

Before the birth of digital tools, there was the humble highlighter pen. OneNote gives you multiple highlighter colors to choose from. And in different thicknesses. You can choose a different color to annotate or color code the learning material.

For instance, choose “Yellow” for key terms or definitions. Use “Orange” or “Red” to follow up on something. A consistent color code across your notes can help you scan and gather feedback on what you need to do next.

You can use highlighters with a right-click on the selected text, use the Home tab, or annotate with the choices on the Draw tab.

  • Use the right-click menu. Select the words and then right-click for the highlighter tool with a choice of colors.
  • From the Home tab. Select the words you want to highlight, and then click the Text Highlight Color button. 
  • From the Draw tab. The highlighter here is freeform and doesn’t let you annotate in a neat straight line. It is more natural to use with a stylus.

7. Learn Math With OneNote

OneNote for Windows 10 Math Assistant

The Ink Math Assistant is one of OneNote’s best features. It’s a digital tutor that takes a handwritten math equation and solves it step by step. Use it to learn or teach everything from basic math to advanced Calculus.

The Math Assistant can even draw interactive graphs of your equations, thus helping you understand difficult math concepts. For instance, you can go to the interactive graph and change a few variables to see how they affect the final solution.

You can save a screenshot of the graph to your notebook and revise them later. This Microsoft Support article walks you through this fantastic feature.

Note: The Math Assistant is only available with the Office 365 subscription.

8. Use Immersive Reader for Reading Comprehension

Immerssive Reader in OneNote for Windows 10

The Immersive Reader is a part of OneNote Learning Tools. The full screen reader makes it easy for students of all abilities to read and comprehend any document.

For OneNote for Windows 10, Mac, or iPad, open OneNote. Select View > Immersive Reader.

On the Immersive Reader, you can change text properties, line spacing, fonts, and background color. A feature called Parts of Speech helps readers understand complex sentences by highlighting nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. in a sentence.

Voice options read aloud sentences and improve accessibility. This includes a Picture Dictionary that explains a word with an image and its audio pronunciation.

It can even read out the step by step solutions from a math problem solved by the Math Assistant.

The Immersive Reader is available on OneNote for Windows 10 OneNote 2016, OneNote for the web, and OneNote for iOS.

9. Find Credible Sources With Researcher

Researcher in OneNote

The Researcher uses Bing to find relevant information for your homework or academic paper. But it is more than a simple search engine.

It is a serious time saver as you don’t have to jump back and forth between the browser and OneNote. You can use the research tool to search for material with keywords, create outlines, and add sources without leaving the OneNote page you are working on.

  1. Go to Insert > Researcher and type in the keywords for your topic.
  2. The Results pane shows a list of sources from books, journals, and the web.
  3. Choose a topic in the Results pane to explore in detail. You can add the text or images to your notes by clicking the “+” sign in the upper-right corner.

The Researcher is part of the Office 365 subscription plan.

10. Teach With the Class Notebook in OneNote

The Class Notebook Tools for OneNote for Windows 10

The OneNote Class Notebook is the perfect collaboration space for teachers who know how to teach interactively online. It is available to them with a Teacher license with the Office 365 subscription. The OneNote Class Notebook is a part of OneNote for Windows 10. And it is available as an add-in for OneNote 2016.

You have to enable the Class Notebook from the Settings. Go to Settings > Options, and set Class Notebook tools to On.

Now, Class Notebook is visible with all its controls in a separate OneNote tab.

The Class Notebook can become the core digital folder for teachers that contains all their resources like lesson plans, class assignments, grading templates, etc. The Notebook also integrates with over 40 third-party services like LMS services.

Best of all, it is a space for collaboration when teachers want to interact with one student or the entire class.

Get the Most Out of OneNote at School

We have scratched the surface. There are loads of OneNote tips and tricks you can unravel once you start using it in class. For instance, we haven’t spoken about the OneNote Staff Notebook which is another collaborative workspace for teachers. We also haven’t seen how you can use polls to gauge feedback in OneNote.

Microsoft is adding features with every update and most of them are something you can’t get with old-school paper and pen. Time to ditch the satchel of books? If you need more convincing, then the power of OneNote templates can do their bit too.

Looking for mobile apps to help with school The 7 Best Apps for Teachers to Use in the Classroom Teachers can integrate technology into their classroom to enhance the learning experience. Here are the best apps for teachers. Read More ? Take a look at these study planning apps The 7 Best Study Planning Apps for All Students These study planner apps help you get organized in school by tracking your assignments, tests, and other coursework. Read More .

Related topics: Education Technology, Microsoft Office 2016, Microsoft Office 2019, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Office Tips, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, Students, Study Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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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!