Taking notes is a great way of helping you identify important concepts in class. Even if you have a great memory, you won't be able to remember everything that the teacher says, unless you have a permanent written record for your reference.
The purpose of a literature lecture is often to offer important background information about the literature you're studying, including: biography, literary history, period and movement details, discussion of relevant literary terms, details about the author's style, thematic relationships between works, critical perspective on the works, important quotations, or other relevant material related to the work, time period, etc. The content from literature lectures usually has a way of appearing in mysterious ways in quizzes, in-class writing assignments, essay assignments, and other testing situations. Even if the lecture material doesn't reappear in a testing situation, you may be asked to draw from the knowledge you gained from the lecture for a future in-class discussion, and it's just a good idea to have a record of what you've covered so far in the class. So, here are a few tips about what to think about as you take notes in your literature class...
To prepare for your next class, read the assigned reading material, which is often listed on the course outline. It's usually a good idea to read the material at least a few days before the reading assignment is due. If possible, you'll want to read the selection several times, and make sure you understand what you're reading. If you have any questions, your textbook may offer a list of suggested readings to help with your understanding. A visit to your library may also offer additional reference resources to answer your questions, and further prepare you for class. Your notes from previous class periods may also help to answer your questions.
Also, be sure to take a look at the "Questions for Consideration," whether they are from your professor or in your textbook. The questions often help you to re-evaluate the text, and they may help you to understand how the material relates to other works you've read in the course.
During the Literature Class Be prepared to take notes when you attend your class; and be on time. That means... bring plenty of paper and pens with you.
Write down the relevant date, time, and topic details on your note paper before the teacher is ready to start. If homework is due, hand it in before the class starts, and then be ready to take notes.
Listen carefully to what the teacher says. Particularly note any discussion about future homework assignments and/or tests. The teacher may also give you an outline of what he or she will be discussing for that day. Remember that you don't have to get down every word that your teacher says. Get enough written down so that you can understand what was said. If there's something that you don't understand, be sure to mark those sections so you can come back to them later.
As you take notes, pay special attention to signal words: "First, Second, Next, Then, Thus, Another important..." Your teacher will often let you know where he or she is at in the lecture, and more importantly, what material you should take special note of.
Since you've read the reading material before class, you should recognize new material: details about the text, the author, the time period, or the genre that wasn't covered in your textbook. You'll want to get as much of this material down as possible, because it's material that the teacher probably considers important to your understanding of the texts.
Even if the lecture seems disorganized, or hard to understand, get down as many notes as possible through the lecture. Where there are gaps, or parts of the lecture you don't understand, you want to clarify your understanding of the material by: asking questions in class or in the teacher's office hour, asking a classmate for clarification on a point, or finding outside reading materials that may further explicate the issue. Sometimes, when you hear the material in a different way, you may understand the concept much more clearly than when the first time you heard it. Also, remember, every student learns in a different way. Sometimes, it's better to get a more broad perspective--from various sources, both in and out of class.
Don't be in a rush. You're probably scheduled to sit in the class for at least an hour, and the teacher will probably take full advantage of the time. Listen carefully. Take careful note of what the teacher says. Don't let yourself zone out. You may be missing out on information that you're going to need for a future test or literature paper.
If you know you have a hard time paying attention, try some preventative measures. Some students find that chewing on gum or a pen helps them to pay attention. Of course, if you're not allowed to chew gum in the class, then that option is out... but find a way to pay attention. It's important!