Whether you are in the throes of “test prep season” or not, it’s important to teach students how to take effective notes (i.e., brief and suited to the question at hand) and turn those notes into sentences (then paragraphs and essays). Following is a two-day lesson sequence I originally designed to support PARCC Research Simulation Task prep. It’s helpful for that, and it’s helpful IN GENERAL. Too many students think of taking notes as “an extra, unnecessary step” instead of what it truly is: a crucial driver of effective writing.
Day 1: NOTE-TAKING AND MULTIPLE-CHOICE LESSON
Step 1: Students turn prompt into a question (2 minutes). (+2 minutes to discuss)
Step 2: 15 minutes to read article, take T-chart notes based on question, and answer 4 MC questions.
Step 3: “Turn and talk to compare notes with your neighbor.” (1 minute)
Step 4: Call on several students to discuss notes and differences.
Step 5: Show teacher’s notes on projector (30 seconds). Ask scholars: “What differences do you notice?” (Key takeaway: my notes are much shorter and include paragraph numbers)
PITCH: We’re going to work on improving our note-taking skills so that we can take notes that set us up to write effectively. If you take BRIEF notes that ANSWER THE QUESTION, you can turn those notes into sentences, which become your strong paragraph/essay! Today we will focus on WHAT EFFECTIVE NOTES LOOK LIKE.
Step 6: Open Word document on projector. Toggle between the text and this document. Ideally students should also have a copy of the text on their desks.
- Go through each paragraph one by one and ask students: “Does anyone have a note for this paragraph? If so, what is it?” (Type it up on the screen for all to see.) “How does this note answer the focus question?” Solicit 1-2 more notes (which will be similar, probably, not identical).
- NOW, let’s look at these example notes and discuss how to SHORTEN THEM. “Notes do not have to be whole sentences!!!” Engage class in helping to shorten the given notes (from 10 words to 3-4, say). Remind them: “We include the paragraph number—Why? How does it help to include that number?” (Students should explain that it enables us to go back into the text and find details we did not write in our notes.)
- Continue going through this process PARAGRAPH BY PARAGRAPH. In cases where the teacher has a note that the students lack, tell them you have a note and ask: “How does my note answer the question?”
Step 7: Last 10 minutes: Go over the multiple-choice questions. Be sure to ask students why certain answers are NOT correct. Ask what strategies they used to figure out the answer (e.g., POE, looking back at the text to find context for the answer, etc.).
Day 2 : FROM NOTES-TO-SENTENCES LESSON
HAND BACK DAY 1 WORK.
Step 1: PITCH: We ended up with great notes for the text we were working on. Today we’re going to see how HAVING GOOD NOTES CAN MAKE WRITING EASY!
Step 2: Because this is a body paragraph for an RST essay, we need to start the paragraph with the title and our “is about” sentence. E.g., “Mindset” is about….” ***Make sure to create Google Classroom document for students to type paragraphs into.*** “Skim over the text (Don’t forget to reread the blurb, which often gives helpful summary info!) and decide what you think this text IS MAINLY ABOUT. Then tell your neighbor.” (Cold-call and record a useful response).
Step 3: Next, we need to look at our first note and turn it into a sentence. (Model this and/or ask for help, then record the sentence). Second note: “Can we write a note right away from the second note or do we need a transition (e.g., “Also” or “In addition”) in order to turn it into a sentence?” (Again, model this and/or ask for help, then record the sentence.) “Try the next note on your own!” (Actively monitor and help students who are stuck. Some will be done instantly. Tell them to move on to the next note. Keep supporting and exhorting them to continue until all of the notes are done. [After the first few sentences, you should not type anything; you should be circulating.]
Step 4: Students’ sentences will be similar but not identical. Ask students: “What was challenging about turning notes into sentences? What will you take away from this lesson?” Hopefully, they will say, “Wow, this was easier than I thought,” and “Now I know how notes can help me write!”
TIMING: If time permits, you should launch students into the next text—note-taking. Lather, rinse, repeat. Gradually release until they can do this on their own. With the 3rd text, they should be able to move from notes to text without any input.
***For more ideas about how to prepare for PARCC or whatever your state assessment is called, please check out the TLC “PARCC Prep” page. As a reader of this blog, you’re entitled to a 50%-off discount membership to the TLC Website. Click here and use this code: TLCBOOK50. NOTE: The code must be entered in ALL caps in order to work.)