Sunday, January 5, 2014

Basic Note Taking Skills

Do you ever take notes that look like this?  I was reading an article on 19 Tricks Everyone Should Know for the IPad this morning.  If I write things down it helps me remember!  Adults are continually taking notes, or not:
So funny and so true!!  
One App that has changed the way that I take notes is Evernote!  I always have my notes, and I can easily share them with others.  (Useful Tutorial on Evernote!)

With the demands of the CCSS, students will be engaged in reading complex texts closely, writing, reflecting, speaking, and producing finished products. In order to do this, students will need to know how to take meaningful notes! 
I believe that students in kindergarten need to know how to take simple notes by drawing or writing.  

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.2 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

So, how do we teach this skill?

Dash Notes/Facts
Deconstructing and Reconstructing Information
We use a variety of tools and techniques to generate and organize information and ideas. One way of taking notes or note-making is Dash Notes.   These are also called Dash Facts when reading nonfiction. (Ralph Fletcher).  
"Just as we must make meaning, so we must make notes---in our head, on the page, and in our notebooks" (Jim Burke).  Looking at note-taking as note-making really changes our perspective. 

We teach students that note-taking involves jotting down a Dash of important information, not copying an entire paragraph.  Just like a dash of salt or a dash of pepper makes food tasty; an entire bottle ruins the dish! 
  • It is best to write Dash Notes in your own words, but without changing the meaning.  
  • Keep your notes short and to the point. Condense your material so you can grasp it rapidly.
  • Leave space and try to pick up the material you miss at a later date, either through reading, questioning, or common sense.

Shortly after making your notes, go back and rework (not recopy!) your notes by adding extra points, spelling out unclear items, etc. Remember, we forget quickly. We should be able to look at our notes two weeks from now and remember what we meant!

I think that Tony Stead has some great ideas for taking notes when reading nonfiction:
Reality Checks,Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction, K-5

Make sure you read the text at least twice so that you really understand what the author has said.
  Write down key words or phrases that you think are important on a retelling web.
  Put the text away.
Using only the retelling web, try to retell the information.
  If you have problems retelling, look at the text again and see what extra words you need to include to help you remember

I suggest modeling note-taking skills with your students several times!  Use the following lesson as a guide!

                     Sample Lesson for Teaching Dash Notes             
Ralph Fletcher, Nonfiction Craft

In your research notebook, write the topic you are researching.
Ex. Life in the American Colonies
Each time you read in a new book , write the title and author.
Ex. Daily Life in Colonial America by Don Nardo
When you find an interesting fact as you are reading, one that will add to your research, look away from the book.
Write just a few words to hold the facts.  Put a dash in front of your “dash notes.”
Ex. –Colonial America
Add the page number.
Ex. –few cities 6
Ex. –populations in rural areas 6
Ex. settlers vs. Native Americans 7
Ex. settlers  7
saw land as desolate wilderness
needing to be put into production
    Ex.  Indians
    saw relationship between man and natural regions
    part of natural order

When you are done reading the section or when you are ready to begin drafting that part, turn each dash note into a complete sentence. You may want to combine dash notes into a longer sentence.

Ex. Colonial America had few cities. Most of the population was in the rural areas, surrounded by wilderness. Although the Indians and settlers both lived in this land, the Indians and the settlers saw the land of America in very different ways. The settlers saw the land as unproductive, needing to be tamed. The Indians thought  of themselves as part of the land. They looked at the land as beautiful, to be loved and kept in its natural state.

Some students like to do this in a four part grid in their notebook:

Book (or Article) and Author
Dash facts with page number
Synthesis paragraph

Thanks to my colleagues at the SCDE for the above lesson!

Good luck!  I would love to hear from you!  How do you teach note-taking skills?



  1. I love the Craft Lesson books! Thank you for the suggestion of Reality Checks. I haven't read that one. I like that analogy of note taking and a dash of salt!
    Conversations in Literacy

  2. Great ideas and resources. I would also suggest Energizing Research Reading and Writing by Chris Lehman. New ways to think about notetaking and research.

    1. Thanks Jenny! You are so right! It is a great resource! I heard him at Furman University!