Note Taking: Enhancing the Ability to Comprehend Nonfiction Text

Note taking is a strategy that helps students to identify important information, increase vocabulary, and organize information in a systematic manner. More important, note taking provides the opportunity for students to link prior knowledge with new concepts, thus fostering students’ ability to comprehend difficult text.

Education journals and current research support the claim that note taking is one of the top strategies students can cultivate to increase academic achievement. As students encounter unfamiliar text, they are equipped with the means to extract the most important information while staying engaged with the text.

For their note taking, students draw three columns on their paper. The first column represents the main ideas of a selection, which could consist of facts or terms. The second column is used to record details that further help students understand the main ideas or facts. The information in this column should be discussed before the students record any details. All information should be written in “short and to the point” notes. This means that students should limit the information in this column to less than four words per bullet. The third column is used for a graphic representation of the item listed in the first column.

When we first teach this strategy to K-5 students, we give them a template with the main idea or the new vocabulary word already listed in the first column. We tell the students that in note taking they are like an archaeologist; their job is to extract, or dig out, the details the author has left behind, based on each item listed in the first column. By having to narrow their thoughts to under four words, students begin to readily develop the skills needed to determine which details would best support the listed main idea or vocabulary word.

Even though developing note-taking skills takes time, it will dramatically increase the comprehension ability of all learners in your classroom. To help students build their skill and confidence in this strategy, we provide explicit instruction and ample opportunities for guided practice. This systematic instruction gives students many opportunities to practice before they are required to use the strategy independently.

The following note-taking template will provide students with the opportunity to practice this strategy with this month’s Feature Story “Getting Warmer” (grades K-1 and 2-3) and “The Shiniest Moon” (grades 4-5).

Note It 3 Ways
This template provides students an opportunity to practice note taking in conjunction with this month’s Feature Story or other nonfiction text.

Note Taking Literacy Set
This Content Clips set includes all of the materials you need to teach the strategy of note taking: this article (pdf document), printable and electronic book versions of “Getting Warmer” for grades K-1, 2-3, “The Shiniest Moon” for grades 4-5, and the student templates.


This article was written by Tracey Allen and Clarissa Reeson. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email the authors at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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