When approaching something new my first instinct is to stick the new material in a preexisting category that is familiar to the new topic. I think I definitely use schema theory automatically. If the material is completely new and unfamiliar with anything else that I know, I will read it a couple times to make sure and grasp the concept. I then generally take notes in a bullet form and make sure my thoughts are clear and organized. I also do better when the bullets are short and to the point. My thinking will consist of key statements or words and once asked to elaborate, it is as if the material flows out of me. Meaning, I know more than I think about specific topics if I went through the process of actually writing down the material. I am a visual learner so my thoughts make much more sense to me if I put them on paper. Another helpful thing I do to organize my thinking is to write things down in a brief outline form that go along with the material if it is based on a reading. My strategies are generally consistent to the listing and outlining form.
I have found this is what works best for me but I know that I can not force students to organize their thoughts this way so I am open to others ideas of how they organize their thinking. I am in the pattern and habit of writing down everything but I know some students are not visual learners and will keep the concepts organized in their mind.