Earlier this month, I was discussion with our 3rd grade team how they wanted to tackle their annual Christmas around the world unit when one of them expressed concern with their students’ abilities to digest information and take notes. That particular teacher asked if we could try teaming up to do an intensive unit on note taking before we got to the December research project and I said, “Of course! Let’s do it!”.
However, when I went back to my office and began pulling resources and lesson ideas, I realized I really didn’t have a note taking lesson that I was thrilled with-and certainly not enough pieces of lessons I liked to do a true deep dive like the teacher was requesting. And the more I thought about it, the more I also realized that even the pieces of lessons I did like and had used over the years weren’t really getting the job done. When I reflected on research projects I’d assisted with over the years I kept seeing the same scene playing out: students do great during the guided note taking practices but quickly fall back into simple copying when left to research more independently. Students shift back when prompted but eventually, slide back into copying. They just didn’t seem to understand the core of note taking.
I won’t lie. This was incredibly disheartening to realize. I mean, shouldn’t I, the librarian, already know how to teach this skill? Had I been failing my students this whole time?!?! What was I even doing with my life? Minor panic attack aside, I began looking into how other people teach note taking skills in elementary school. Many of the lesson plans and ideas I found were great but were also clearly aimed at older students. This made me feel a little better about my shortcomings but didn’t help with the obvious need we had for note taking skills with much younger students. I was starting to give up hope when I finally found something on Teachers Pay Teachers I thought might work.
It was called Taking Notes without Copying: A K-3 Note Taking Strategy by The Core Coaches. What I loved about this lesson was that it was simple but seemed like it could also be effective. Students immediately are being trained to to identify important words after they read. Then, you teach them how to take those important words and try to remember what they read and learned about that important word. What they say, they then write down, teaching them to put things in their own words. I also liked that it included step by step teaching directions as well as guided practice, independent with partner and fully independent practice lessons. Finally, I appreciated the reasonable price and that the lesson could be used with any text of your choice. But, if you’re so inclined, they also sell booklets on a variety of topics, each topic includes multiple reading levels as well. I ended up purchasing the booklets on continents since I knew 3rd grade had recently finished learning about maps and continents I thought it would be nice to apply a new strategy while learning about a topic they already had background knowledge on. That way, they could focus more on the strategy and less on the new knowledge gathering.
For the actual lessons, the teacher broke the class into 4 groups, based on reading levels and the teacher, my clerk, his TA and myself each took a group for the duration of each 30 minute lesson. Then, we just worked through the lesson as scripted, pacing the lessons based on our individual groups. When all of the groups had gotten the gist of it and experienced success with the continents booklets we moved on to the booklets on American Symbols I had also purchased and tried the strategy out with completely new materials. We meet at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes throughout the month of November.
So how did it go? Overall, I was very impressed with the lesson and the results the students experienced. I think it offers a wonderful jumping off point and if we stick with this strategy throughout the year, year after year, I think we’ll see some marked improvement in our students abilities to understand how to take notes. It’s even changed the way I do little things like KWL charts with my Kindergarteners. When we did one recently after reading a book about crocodiles, I reminded myself to model my thinking and point out that I wasn’t writing down the whole sentence they said, I was only writing the important words. By the end of the class, I was even able to ask them to help me find the important words in the sentences they said. But perhaps the biggest endorsement comes from that 3rd grade teacher himself who told me, as we were wrapping up the last lesson before break, “I’m a really big fan of this note-taking schema of yours”. Better performing students and a happy teacher?!? That’s a winning lesson in my book.