Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2018
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Microsoft OneNote

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Note-taking giant built for flexible, collaborative work

Subjects & skills
Subjects
N/A

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
6–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (17 Reviews)

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Pros: Attractive colors and tabbed browsing make navigation easy. Class Notebook gives teachers valuable classroom management tools.

Cons: The update time between devices can be uneven, and menus aren't especially intuitive.

Bottom Line: A powerful (and free) tool for thinking and organization that's making smart strides in the education space.

Consider making OneNote your go-to tool for students taking notes in class. Students might use the tool for day-to-day note-taking or for a research project where they're gathering information from a variety of sources and need to keep it organized. Encourage students to use the tool to clip and compile information for an upcoming project or excursion. This might also be a great tool for keeping track of notes and resources for project-based learning. Use the tagging features to tag related notes or content clipped from the web, and use the audio features to record interviews, conversations, or narrative feedback from teachers and group members. Shared notebooks, the web-based version of OneNote, and the Class Notebook add-on (for non-mobile) also allow OneNote to serve as a classroom management and collaboration tool. With Class Notebook in particular, teachers can set up a classroom and get a window into students' thinking processes and work progression. (Note: While teachers can view students' notebooks, students can't view each other's.) With Class Notebook, teachers can also offer feedback on students' work in a variety of forms, from text to audio.

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Microsoft OneNote is a note-taking and organization tool that works with other familiar Microsoft apps like Word and Excel. Over the years, it's become a major player among note-taking options: free, full-featured, and available on just about any platform. In the past there wasn't a lot of parity between the mobile and web/desktop versions of OneNote, but that's changed. Mobile versions include most of the desktop versions's best features, including importing web content, drawing, and exporting notes as PDFs to share via email or through other apps on the device. Some elements of OneNote do feel a bit more geared toward the business users of Microsoft's other products rather than K-12 students (like a tag for "Discuss with manager" and the general business of the interface), but overall OneNote's features, including nice compatibility with the Apple Pencil and some stellar handwriting recognition features, rival other top tools like Evernote and Notability. With the help of OneNote's Class Notebook feature, however, which allows teachers to view and manage student notebooks, create assignments, and more, OneNote pulls ahead of competitors with something truly teacher-focused and unique. 

For its note-taking powers alone, OneNote could be a great tool for review and further study in preparation for quizzes and tests, especially since it syncs across devices. It's terrific to be able to switch from taking notes on a laptop or desktop computer to reviewing what you've created on your phone or your tablet. Plus, the mobile versions of this app increasingly feature the long-established strengths of the desktop original. The robust handwriting tools and the integrations with Paper by FiftyThree and the Apple Pencil emphasize how much these developers thought about making the most of the devices people might use to fill their OneNote notebooks. Additionally, its robust handwriting tools and audio recording features make OneNote an increasingly viable alternative to other competitors like Notability and Evernote. For teachers specifically, OneNote has made some updates that thoughtfully carve out a niche in the education space. The updated Immersive Reader accessibility feature is a particularly welcome addition; it's great that you can adjust reading speed, text size, and other visual features and use OneNote as an e-reader. The Class Notebook app helps teachers manage a full classroom of student notebooks, and turns OneNote into a classroom management and feedback tool. Overall, this flexible, user-friendly tool could be a great choice for middle school and high school students -- especially if your school uses Office 365 Education.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

It's not quite as streamlined as competitors, so it'll take some time to see what makes OneNote great. After the initial onboarding, however, it's appealing to create, search, organize, and review notes.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Powerful features alone won't get students organized, but tools for creation, sharing, collaboration, and teacher feedback make this a great way to support good habits. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

While this is a challenging tool to wrap your mind around, there are online videos and instructions and some well-placed help text. The Immersive Reader add-on increases accessibility for those with learning challenges.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

(See all 17 reviews) (17 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Brian B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Dumbarton Middle School
Baltimore, United States
Save a Tree, Go Paper Free with OneNote's Class Notebook
Overall, I think OneNote's Class Notebook is a great organizational tool that streamlines the distribution of materials and facilitates collaboration between students. I like being able to exert some control over students' organization and having access to notebooks from previous years to reuse materials. I never have to lug home a class set of composition books again and can largely avoid unreliable copy machines, not only saving me time, but reducing my use of paper. ...
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