MORE Note-taking with Early Learners

Have you tried visual note-taking with your students yet?

We've been using visual notes to record our research for our current unit. This post is a follow-up to share how things are going; if you didn't read part 1, you can click HERE.

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom


To review, I shared that I planned the following steps to use in teaching visual note-taking with my students:
  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
In this post, I'll share step 3.

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

At first, I envisioned working on visual notes with a small guided reading group, but I changed my plans due to time constraints. (I still want to try this. All year, students have been taking visual notes, but it's always been during whole group/discussion-based lessons.)

Instead, I read aloud to the students, which made for a really interesting process because they didn't have their own copy of the text! This was good for two reasons:
  1. they had to concentrate on listening and understanding the information
  2. they couldn't just copy what the author had written, they had to synthesize it!
I chose to read Nature's Patterns, Food Chains, written by Anita Ganeri, which is a book in a series from Heinemann; I really like them as nonfiction texts for Grade 1.


I started off by activating students' schema for food chains and/or food webs. Only a handful of students thought they might have an idea of what they could be... but then really struggled to explain it.

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

I asked those students to draw a picture of what they guessed it meant, and the other studenst to draw a picture of "food" and a "chain" to get them going (and hopefully ready to make connections).

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Before I began to read, I explained that we would use our nonfiction check for understanding strategy, stopping to ask ourselves, "What topic am I reading about? What facts am I learning?"

I prompted my students to
1) listen
2) think
3) check for understanding by discussing
4) draw and note our thinking

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

I partnered them up with a turn and talk buddy, but they didn't really discuss much with one another. They would either pause and listen or just start drawing, which is fine, of course. I think that this just shows that I don't give them enough opportunities to use turn and talk- I need to work on that because I believe that the partner talk may give them a chance to process information and deepen their understandings, so I want to give that another try at some point.

So, I read a page and then stopped and checked for understanding by discussing with students, who we spread out around the room sitting where they felt comfortable. I walk around the room and looked at their notes and asked them to share their thinking with me.

I love this student's page! Look at his thinking! WOW! He's drawing conclusions and asking questions. Great stuff!
Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom


Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

After reading just a couple of pages (a bit of a slow process), I stopped to for a mid-point check in. I wanted to encourage my struggling spellers as well as summarize the main ideas we had read about, mostly dealing with the vocabulary related to an animal's diet.

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Guiding grade 1 students to take visual notes, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

We continued on for about 5-10 minutes. Students had been taking notes for about 20- 30 minutes so it was time to wrap it up! We read about 5 to 6 pages of the book, so if we needed to do more research I could plan for more note-taking sessions using the same text.

To close, we circled up and I invited students to share their notes if they wanted to; about half of them did. We talked about the similarities and differences in the notes they took. Here is a short video of all my friends who shared.


As you can see, I wanted to honor their thinking, promote a growth mindset and encourage open-mindedness. I try to reinforce with my students that their thinking is valuable simply because its theirs. I also want them to respect others' ideas.

I plan to keep scaffolding my students as they learn to take visual notes that help them to explore new ideas and information. My goal is to help them take more ownership of the process and get a better sense of works for them as individuals, so next steps involve taking visual notes independently. Stay tuned...

What do you think of visual note-taking?


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