Write before Writing: Learning to Take Notes from Research

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SWBAT compose notes in the form of quotes, paraphrases, summaries, and thoughts based on their research.

Big Idea

"Words without experience are useless." --Vladimir Nabokov

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

As presented here, this is the 6th lesson in the research unit. This lesson specifically focuses on taking notes. Simply, proper note-taking is a form of prewriting and essential to students actually having something to say in their papers. 

By now students have a topic and most have some idea where they're headed--or so they think. The key is to get them to understand that research should guide them by helping them formulate ideas. Too often students want to pigeonhole the research, to make it say something it does not say. Thus, it's important to help students see that they need to take many notes before planning and writing their papers. 

In this lesson, I show students two platforms for taking notes: evernote (an online note-taking platform) and note cards, the traditional, old-school way of taking notes and still the one I prefer. 

Additionally, students learn about the following types of notes and how to label and keep track of their notes:

  • quote cards
  • paraphrase cards
  • summary cards
  • personal thought cards

Getting students to take copious notes is key to a well-researched paper. 

Why Take Notes and How to Take Them

15 minutes

Getting students to buy into the idea of note-taking as an important step to successful research is difficult. To assist them, I give them some reasons to take notes:

  • Notes help you understand your topic.
  • Notes help you see what is missing from your research.
  • Notes remind you to use a variety of sources. 
  • Notes help you organize your information when you are ready to write the paper.
  • Notes help you manage large amounts of information.
  • Notes help you avoid plagiarism. 

Next, I tell students that I want them to learn to take four different types of notes:

  • Quote cards/notes: These notes are complete quotes w/ quotation marks.
  • Paraphrase cards/notes: The idea from a source in your own words and writing style.
  • Summary cards/notes: An original annotation of a complete source, such as an article. 
  • Thought cards/notes: Your original ideas and musings on your research. These can then be transferred to the paper when you're ready to write. 

I show students examples of each type of note card (see the handout Note Taking Techniques.docx). I remind students to do the following:

  • Use quotation marks when writing a quote card.
  • Put the topic on the note card; I recommend the upper-right corner.
  • Put the source (author's name) on the card; I suggest the upper left corner.
  • Put a parenthetical citation at the end of the note. This will help you remember to do this when you write the paper. 

Because students need to practice taking notes, I spend only a little time on this information. They'll catch on w/ practice as I assist them with the work. 


Notable Choices: Evernote Online Note-Taking or Note Cards and Traditional Notes

15 minutes

After I review the basics of note-taking, I tell students about their options for taking notes. 

First, I show students note cards and actually demonstrate taking notes on the cards by using the document camera. Traditional Note Cards image shows some of the student notes using the traditional cards. 

In discussing the use of traditional notes, some students tell me they prefer this method because the notes are more portable and easy to shuffle around. One student says she prefers the old method because she feels more comfortable with it. I tell students about a student who was skeptical about writing out notes on note cards but who later told me that she loves the method and found it assisted her in writing the paper because all she had to do was organize the cards and write her paper from them. 

Next I tell students they have the option of using Evernote. Evernote.mp4 provides a short tutorial about the site. I go into more detail with my students by demonstrating each type of note card for them using Evernote. I also tell students that I can use my tags to label notes w/ topics that will later help me organize the notes for writing the paper. Hunter w/ Evernote Notes shows a very enthusiastic student who loved using the site for her research. The novelty of the site worked well for students. One reason is because Evernote offers a secure way for tracking one's online resources. Evernote, Evernote and Creativity Notes Notes show two students' use of Evernote. The students really took to the idea that with Evernote their notes are available at home as well as at school, and knowing that there is an Evernote app offers a portable note-taking option. 

Note to Note: Individualized Note-Taking

45 minutes

Finally, I give students a chance to take notes as I circulate around the room and remind them to tag their notes, keep track of the sites for the notes, and add proper punctuation to quotes. 

We have a student on homebound who regularly joined the class via Google Hangouts when we had direct instruction. Students Taking Notes, and Jay Cee Joining the Class shows our homebound student working with another student in the class.