Teaching Note-taking with Early Learners

Do you struggle with teaching your students how to take notes?  I have struggled with it for years. To be honest, I have had a love/hate relationship with research for a long time, but I've been trying new things... In this and future posts, I aim to record and reflect on what we're doing in our grade 1 class in hopes of helping students to develop their note-taking skills a meaningful way.

Why do students copy when they KNOW they shouldn't? Of course, they know. We TELL them. But they still copy.

I believe that students copy because they don't understand. Either they don't understand the material, or the don't understand the process, the WHY. They may also copy for fear of "doing it wrong" or making mistakes, especially in spelling.

So... I was thinking if I could better scaffold the process, a sort of "guided note-taking", then it would be fair to assume that they would improve their skills and grow into independent note-takers, right? 

I've also been thinking about how to simplify things. Am I making the process too hard? Am I forcing things, or complicating it?

Moving Forward

Let me back up a bit........ During our tuning in lesson for our Sharing the Planet unit, we created this chart to document the lesson. 

We discussed our observations. Students made and recorded theirs in their journals. I encouraged them to draw what they saw, and to add labels.

I have become a HUGE fan of visual note-taking (or sketchnoting.) Check out this excellent, brief video by Math Giraffe that explains the theory behind visual note taking. While she is a secondary teacher, the theory certainly still applies to learners of all ages.


So with Dual Coding Theory and visual note-taking on my mind, here's the process I've thought out in my head, and plan to try out in my classroom:
  1. Shared reading with strategy instruction
  2. Modeled visual note-taking
  3. Guided/collaborative reading and guided visual note-taking
  4. Independent reading and visual note-taking
(I've only gone through the first 2 steps so far.)

 Shared Reading with Strategy Instruction

For the past few weeks, we have been exploring nonfiction in both reading and writing workshop so students have been becoming familiar with text features.

We have a great series by Heineman in our school library. I used Animal Life Cycles (Nature's Patterns) by Anita Ganeri for shared reading.

For the strategy lesson, I introduced Check for Understanding for nonfiction text. I adapted the Two Sisters' strategy for fiction in the following way:

Here's a snapshot of my lesson for this strategy:

Check for Understanding (NONFICTION)
Students should be familiar with the differences between fiction and nonfiction. They are probably not reading much nonfiction independently yet, but they will encounter it in science/social studies. Content blocks are a great time to reinforce this reading strategy. I use the same hand cues to help students remember this strategy, but obviously the questions are different. Throughout the year, I alternate modeling this strategy with both fiction and nonfiction texts.
“You have learned that strong readers stop every now and then to think and check that they’re understanding the story they’re reading; that’s called “Check for Understanding”. You can also use this strategy when you read nonfiction. Here’s what I do: I still use my hands to remember the 2 questions I need to ask myself, but the questions are different: What TOPIC am I reading about? (Make a W by holding up 3 fingers with one hand) and What FACTS am I learning? (Make a W with your other hand). These questions help me focus on what the author is trying to communicate to me through this nonfiction book.” Model “Check for Understanding” with a read aloud, stopping every couple of pages to think aloud. After a few times, ask students to answer the “”topic” and “facts”. They will notice the topic doesn’t really change much, but the facts do- this sets the foundation for main idea and details.

Here is the link to my Reading Strategy Cards for the CAFE model of Reader's Workshop if you are interested in finding out more about how I teach other reading strategies.

Modeled Visual Note-Taking

As we read and checked for understanding, I modeled by drawing my visual notes. I explained which shapes I was drawing to enable the "I can't draw" students. I thought aloud and explained the labels I was writing. Many students copied a lot of what I drew. I expected that and feel that it's totally ok- they are learning and I'm intentionally providing a lot of support right now.

Notice the author's name (and portrait!) in the upper left. I like to refer to the author by name when I talk about the text because it personalizes the experience and helps students relate to the author who's a REAL person.

So, the NEXT day we practiced (guided instruction) again. This time we watched the Animal Classification video on BrainPOP Jr. It was great- I paused the video often to ask, "What topic/idea are we reading about?" and "What facts are we learning?"

Students began to record their own drawings and labels. I still modeled, but I could see that students were beginning to draw more of what resonated with them, than what I was putting on the white board.

Next Steps

Now I'd like to try to have students pair up as we continue our research and record their visual notes together while I confer with pairs. I'm really excited to see if what they are "finding out" through their research really stays with them!

Have you tried visual note-taking in your classroom? 

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