Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
Students have had experience taking notes for a few years by the time the get to eighth grade. That is nothing new. They have not had experience taking notes independently using a full-length text. This is a skill they need to master as the prepare for high school and eventually college. It it with that in mind, along with the Common Core standards of determining main ideas and key details, that this lesson was designed. They will use this skill as part of the research paper they will be working on.
I begin the lesson by diving right in. I have the NoteTaking Of Biographies Smart Notebook Presentation on the Smartboard. (Here is the NoteTaking of Biographies PDF Version). Students follow along as I read the first slide. The first slide let's them know what the objective for the lesson is, which is learning how to take notes on main ideas and key details. This forces them to focus their thinking, which will hopefully lead to greater engagement.
The next slide is the directions for the first part of the lesson. I will read an excerpt from a biography on L. Frank Baum. Students will have a photocopy of this. I will read this section out loud and students will look at my underlined notes. When the reading is complete, students will try and put my notes in categories based on topics they will come up. There is room on the handout to do this. This may prove to be difficult. They may be able to see what is important but it can be tough for them to determine why it's important and what category they can come up. If needed, I will offer them a category to start, which will be early life influence. Students will then share their notes with each other. During this time, I will circulate around the room to see what students are thinking about the categories. This will also help me determine where I need to go with the lesson, if I need to focus on defining categories or explaining the importance of my notes. The ideas behind this is that students can start thinking of criteria to use when they start reading their own biographies.
We will briefly review these categories as a class. This is a brief review as the next part of the lesson will list categories.
Once students see what note-taking looks like, the next step is review a list of criteria so students have a focus as they read their biographies. This can be a very daunting task for them as some of their biographies can lengthy. It's important to give them clear criteria to make the task manageable, which will lead to greater engagement.
On the Smartboard I keep up the NoteTaking Of Biographies Notes Smart Notebook File (and here is the Notetaking of Biographes PDF version). The fourth slide lists the various criteria that students can refer to as they are reading their biographies. I read each criteria out loud and students write it down in their notebooks. When I get to each criteria, I ask they class why this will be important. It's great when students can explain why. This helps them to become part of the learning instead of the teacher telling them why. I will also refer to certain topics that students are researching so they can see some of it in context as well.
After we have reviewed the criteria for taking notes, I then show them another version of what note-taking can look like. My earlier version showed what it can look like when taking notes in the book, not many students will have this luxury as their biographies are from the library. I show them the last slide which includes a simple chart. This chart has the notes/passage on the left and the why of it's importance on the right. They can see, based on my notes from excerpt we read earlier what this looks like. I explain to them the importance of thinking why those notes are important. This helps to begin to avoid plagiarism but also helps them to start making the decision of what's important. They can begin to put into writing why the main ideas and key details they noticed are important. This type of chart is great for students who may need help with organization. Their notes are in one place.
We also discuss the use of post-its. Some students have difficulty if they have to take stop what they are reading to take notes. If a student is in a good flow with reading, stopping to take notes can interrupt the reading process. We have a brief discussion of how we can also use post-its as we are reading. Students can jot down a quick note and continue on with the book.
Ultimately it us to the student to determine what note-taking strategy is best for them. They can either take notes in the book itself, create the chart we discussed earlier, or use post-its. The rest of class time is dedicated to students practicing these different strategies to see what works best for them. When students start can take control of their learning, they will be much more engaged and active.
The rest of class time is dedicated to students trying out the different strategies as they read their biographies. I tell students to begin to read their biographies. As they are reading them, try these different strategies and see what works best.
Here are examples of student work:
I circulate around the classroom to offer assistance when needed. The biggest struggle students have is getting started with figuring out what's important. When student struggle with this, I ask them to read a page or two then summarize it, in their own words, in a sentence or two. I then ask them to find a sentence or two that best relates to what they just told me. That is a good way for students to get into the reading of the biography. Some students have the opposite problem and take notes on everything. For those students, I ask them what the purpose of the paper is. Hopefully they remember that it is analyze the influence their topic has had. I then have them go through their notes to see what parts are necessary and what are needed. If needed I guide them through this.