Elements of Literature Review: Using Cornell Notes

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Students will learn and apply the Cornell Note-taking structure while reviewing the elements of literature.

Big Idea

Note-Taking That Improves Study? I'm In!

Anticipatory Set

5 minutes

I like to start this lesson by asking the students to share with me their experiences with taking notes and studying. I first ask the students to show me with their fingers, on a scale of one to five, how effective they feel their note-taking and studying is, with one meaning "not at all effective" and five meaning "incredibly effective, I couldn't be happier."

I then ask them to take turns sharing what is and is not effective about their study habits and note-taking process. They tend to state things to the effect of "writing everything down, word-for-word" is what they consider effective. They also tend to share that their notes become ineffective when they miss information from a lecture or from a text. I can remember a time when I felt similarly as a student. I share with the students that, yes, noting as much information from a presentation, lecture, or text as possible is great. I then share with them that, equally important is taking notes in a way that are easily studied. 

Instructional Input/Guided Practice

40 minutes

I then ask my students to take out their Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) and we add "Elements of Lit Cornell Notes" to our table of contents. The students then turn to the appropriate page as I begin the Powerpoint Presentation that teaches how to set up and utilize the Cornell method of taking notes. Within the presentation, there are slides that define each of the sections that are created on the page using this format, which I do NOT have the students label, yet. I ask the students to take a mental note about what each section includes. I then give the students a "for instance" situation that I could be taking notes about. I usually use a historical situation, such as Abraham Lincoln and his role in the Civil War, to talk through the process. I state some specific details that may be considered pertinent, and that the students have a reasonable familiarity with. I establish that this information would be entered in the "notes" section. I then explain that, after I have finished my notes, I would go back and enter questions in the "question" section, to which the information in the notes section immediately to the right would be the answer. I then explain my expectations about the "summary" section. 

I ask them, by show of hands, how many of them study each and every word on the page of notes in order to prepare. Usually, a vast majority of the students raise their hands. I then tell them why I like this method of taking notes so much. I explain that I work backwards when I study. I start by reading the summary I wrote. An effective, high-quality summary brings most of what I wrote back to mind. I then move on to reading the questions I created. I share that this process helps me to see exactly what specific information I remember, and what information I need to focus more of my attention on. I then spend my time studying the information I don't remember fully, rather than using all my study time and brain capacity reviewing each and every word on the page. This method has really helped me in my time as a student. Then, I ask the students to explain to me why they think this process could be more efficient and effective than their current and previous process. 

Once I have really created the buy-in for the process, I ask the students to take notes on the elements of fiction presentation, using this page and format, about the elements of literature we have been studying. I do it this way because I can trust, with reasonable certainty, the students are able to determine accurately which information to take note of, and which information they can simply hear as review. I take just a moment to switch between the Powerpoints. At this point I simply go through and review the elements we have been studying. I ask the students to do most of the talking here, since that is more helpful to them as learners while reviewing. 

I find it very important to model new ideas and processes for the students in order to help them establish clear understanding of each concept. The clearer the concept, the more accurately and effectively they will be able to utilize the process to meet their own needs as we move forward. I really like this note taking style as it helps to make studying more manageable and effective, so I work to help the students reach this conclusion as well.

Independent Practice

5 minutes

Once we have completed the Powerpoint, I ask the students to summarize the notes they took in 3-7 sentences. The second task is to create the questions for each piece of the notes they took. Since my class uses ISNs, I ask them also to include a color image on the left page, next to the notes they took, that connects to the day's notes as well prior to coming to class the next day.