Photo of mama and baby polar bears with text

Note Taking: Polar Bear Video

Can your students take notes from an educational video?

Effective note taking helps students to remember information and aids in his/her understanding of that information. Once created, notes act as a record of the student’s thinking; for many students, the practice of taking notes helps solidify the information in the student’s memory. Listening is passive; when a student is taking notes, he/she is actively engaged.

When students are first introduced to note taking, the student learns to jot a list of key things. In the Monster Note Taking activity, that list was a description of Lulu the Monster. In this Polar Bear activity, the list is key characteristics and facts about polar bears. As the student advances in note taking and in content knowledge, the notes will transition to rewriting concepts in the student’s own words (not copying verbatim). 

Students Who Use Screen Readers

These note taking activities can be done with any device, with or without a screen reader. The activity can be done with an individual student or with the whole class. Students who are using a screen reader will need to know how to efficiently navigate a document when using his/her notes to answer the questions. Students using a screen reader should use one ear bud (or use the audio splitter feature in JAWS) so that he/she can hear the video and hear what he/she is typing. Try different typing feedback options: is the student more efficient with “word” feedback or each letter feedback while multi-tasking?

Teacher Hint: Embed note taking into weekly activities; daily would be even better!

Note Taking Information

Students tend to start note taking by copying the teacher’s notes from the board or by listening to the teacher talking or reading. The content is usually simple, as the goal is to learn how to take notes. Initially, the teacher may talk slower, provide pauses so that students can write, and/or emphasize key words.

The next step is to take notes with the goal of learning the new content as well as learning to take notes. The content should always be age-appropriate; this content is also educational. In this activity, students will take notes from a video. The video will not wait for the student to write so anticipate that the student will need to watch the video more than once!

Set your student up for success by reviewing note taking strategies and by discussing the types of things to listen for.

Note Taking Strategies

Notes are all about speed and efficiency!

Listen for Specifc Things

Hint: In the Polar Bear video, you will have all of these things, including one definition.

Polar Bear Note Taking Activity

After reviewing note taking strategies and discussing the types of things to listen for, and before the video begins, prompt the student that he/she will be “taking notes on the Polar Bear video”. The student should independently know to take out his/her device and open a new document. Hopefully, the student will have titled the note “Polar Bear Video”; if not, prompt the student to name the document.

Play the Polar Bear video and have the student take notes.

All About Polar Bears for Children by Free School:


If necessary, watch the video a second time and allow the student to add to his/her notes. (If this is the first time the student has taken notes from a video, anticipate that he/she will need to watch the video at least twice to capture all of the key content.)

Note: If the student struggled to write notes quickly the first time watching the video, be sure to watch the video a second time before asking the questions. If absolutely necessary, pause the video and give the student extra time to list key notes. Avoid giving the student specific words to write down or specific prompts while the student watches the video. If necessary, discuss/prompt after the video, and have the student watch the video a third time. If the student struggled, repeat this activity while expecting more independence in another lesson using another Free School Animal Video (or choose a topic that is of interest to your student). Be sure to make it fun! Ask the student how many notes he thinks he/she thinks he can write down while watching the 4 minute video – raise the number and  “bet” the student! Can he/she write down 5, 10, 15 notes in that 4 minutes?

Answer Questions From Notes

On the same document, below his/her notes, the student should answer the following questions using his/her notes. He/She can only answer the questions with answers that were in his/her notes meaning that if the notes did not include the mammal definition, he/she can not answer question #2, even if the student knows the answer. Answer each question using a complete sentence – the student can expand a word or phrase in his/her notes to make a full sentence. Provide detailed answers for extra points!

  1. Why is the polar bear considered to be the largest bear?
  2. Define the word Mammal.
  3. How does the polar bear’s feet help him on ice and snow?
  4. How does a polar bear stay warm?
  5. How does a polar bear find a seal to eat?
  6. How far can a polar bear swim?
  7. How fast can a polar bear run?

Review with the student his/her notes and his/her answers to the seven questions. Have the student share how she/he created abbreviations, selected what to list while listening, and what was missed. Provide examples of additional ways to streamline note taking and/or share YOUR (teacher’s) notes from this video as an example.

Possible answers:

  1. The polar bear male weighs 1,500 pounds and is up to 10 feet in length. (An individual brown bear may outweigh the average polar bear.)
  2. A mammal is warm-blooded, has fur and feeds their babies milk.
  3. Large feet help spread his weight out on the thin ice and snow. (To provide better grip on thin ice and snow, the polar bear’s skin on his paws are bumpy and claws are short and thick.)
  4. A polar bear has 4″ of fat and 2 layers of fur which helps him stay warm.
  5. A polar bear has a strong sense of smell which he uses to find seals to eat. (He can find a seal buried under 3′ of snow and over a mile away.)
  6. A polar bear can swim 220 miles. (A polar bear can swim for 10 days straight!)
  7. A polar bear can run 25 miles per hour.


The video is not audio described. In this case, the audio descriptions would distract from the note taking information. After watching the video, you can describe what the polar bears were doing in the video. It is important that students who are visually impaired understand what a polar bear looks like through verbal descriptions and tactile graphics. In this video, the polar bear’s paws are described and are important to the note taking, so be sure to include a description and tactile graphic of the bear’s paws.



By Diane Brauner

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