Have You Ever Used Cornell Notes With Your Students?
Getting my students to take notes … GOOD notes … was a struggle sometimes. Cornell notes were a huge help for them in terms of reading comprehension. In fact, they made such an impact that I made a template that I could use whenever I needed it. I’m giving it away in this article!
For Powerpoint presentations or other lectures, I always provided notesheets for my students. They were basically Cloze notes, but I added lots of diagrams, small coloring activities and writing prompts to them. So they were pretty interactive and I didn’t usually have issues with my kids taking notes during class.
However, when it came to trying to take notes from informational text sources, it was a different story. The students had a hugely difficult time picking out important information and knowing what to record.
Or, if I asked them to highlight important information they’d end up highlighting the whole page! Very pretty, but not real useful for studying.
An Accidental Discovery
I discovered how helpful Cornell notes could be one day totally by accident. I had to leave school early unexpectedly one day and needed an easy lesson plan for my last class of the day. Freshmen … with a sub … last period of the day. I knew I needed something engaging but yet I still wanted to make good use of my class time.
I found an article about our current topic online, and xeroxed enough copies for my class. Then I quickly took a piece of looseleaf paper and drew a Cornell notes template on it. I wrote 3 questions in the left sidebar that they would be able to answer from the reading.
When I got back the next day I looked over the Cornell notes that the sub had collected. I was really pleased to see how well the students had done with answering the questions. They were able to pick out the pertinent information from the article.
The sub had left me a note saying that the class went well and the kids had no trouble completing the assignment. I was really astonished because this class was full of IEPs and 504s … one student had a second grade reading level!
I couldn’t help wondering if I’d accidentally stumbled on a way to help my kids read a science information article and pick out what I wanted them to know.
The Benefits of Cornell Notes
For those who might not be familiar with Cornell notes, they are a specific note-taking system designed by a Cornell University professor back in the 1950s. He wanted a way for students to take concise notes that they could then go back and add memory joggers, diagrams or questions to help them review.
Divide a piece of notebook paper into two columns, one narrow one and then the main, wide column. Students take notes in the wide column. Then, immediately afterwards or later on, students go back and write questions that are answered by the notes, adding drawings, vocabulary … anything that will help them understand and remember the notes.
When I made my notes for my sub plan, I modified the idea. In the narrow left-hand column I wrote questions that I wanted students to answer or explanations that I wanted them to write down.
Normally in an assignment like this, I would insist on complete sentences. But in this case, since these were supposed to be NOTES, I left directions that students could use bullets, numbers, or check marks where appropriate to jot down their answers.
I think that simple change helped the students to write more complete answers. They were able to look at the question and find keywords and context clues to help them find the information in the text. Then they could write down the answers in NOTE form.
When these are used in the traditional way, Cornell notes are a way to take notes quickly. Students have been shown to retain the information better when taking notes this way.
Once I discovered this happy accident, I started using these notes more and more.
I wanted to get my lower level kids to the point where they could actually use these the “right” way. I chose some lower reading level articles and filled in the notes in the main column myself … just enough to get them started. But I left the question area blank.
Then the kids read the article and fleshed out the main notes.
The students then worked in pairs to go back and read the notes to see if they could figure out what the questions would be. They may not have been worded the way I would have worded them, but the kids did a pretty darn good job at figuring out what they were taking notes on!
I modeled how to read a text and then use this method of note-taking too … one of the many uses of my document camera!
Cornell notes were so successful for my students that I started using them a lot. They really seemed to help with reading comprehension and the kids got better at note-taking. I didn’t abandon my interactive Cloze notes, but I used the Cornell notes a lot for informational texts. The kids even started using them on their own!
And it was a great motivator for students to take good notes when I would occasionally allow them to use the notes on a quiz!
Grab My Free Template!
So here’s the free template I mentioned earlier. It’s totally editable so that you can type whatever you want into it. Or you can always print it out and write in it by hand. I hope you find it as useful as my students and I have!
If you try it out I’d LOVE to hear what you think of it! How did you use it? Please let us all know in the comments below!