Biography: Taking Brief Notes

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SWBAT gather information from print sources, take brief notes, and sort evidence into provided categories in a step book.

Big Idea

Students apply what they have learned in the previous three lessons to begin researching their famous person for the Biography Tea.

Modeling and Guided Practice

20 minutes

Students began gathering information to learn about their chosen famous person and write an informational essay. They read a biography and took notes in the step book they had created the day before.

I started the lesson by telling student we were going to begin our research by reading and taking brief notes. When taking notes, it is important to group similar information together to make it easier to write paragraphs for the essay. This is done so that the writing makes sense to the reader. Next, I displayed our science book using the document camera. I used it as a mentor text to demonstrate how writers group information to explain things to readers. I opened to a chapter about plants.  I pointed out how the passage explained what plants need. That is what the author was trying to tell us. It did not include information about where plants lived or what ate them. That would be confusing to the reader because the heading said the text is about what plants need. Finally, I displayed one of our old completed reading journals about informational text as a reminder of how we had used headings to make and confirm predictions about what a passage was going to be about.

Next, I asked students what they remembered about plagiarism. They told me it is copying someone else’s words from a book and pretending that you did all the work; it is like cheating. Their responses let me know they understood the concept because they were able summarize it in their own words. I explained you can gather information from a book without copying sentences word-for-word. This is done by taking brief notes. The notes can be turned into sentences in your own words later. I modeled reading a page from a biography about Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and writing brief notes on the corresponding section of the step book. For example, I found information about his family and date of birth on the first page. Instead of writing complete sentences, I wrote the family member’s name and their relation to him, i.e. father-Don Cristóbal Hidalgo y Costilla on the family step. I wrote only the date of birth on the childhood step. I read a few more pages and students helped me identify information that could be included on the step book. They also helped convert sentences into brief phrases.

Independent Practice

20 minutes

For independent practice, students read their biographies and took brief notes on their step book. I assigned either the first chapter or 5-6 pages (if it was a long chapter) for this first day. That meant students focused only on the first two steps, which were family and childhood, information most likely to be found at the beginning of the book.  They asked to use their transparencies and dry erase makers to underline the information. I allowed this because students are learning how they learn best. It helps both visual and tactile learners. In a sea of text, it is easier to extract just the information you need. It gave my kinesthetic learners something to do with their hands during these longer sessions of reading.


10 minutes

I used a rubric to assess students' ability to take brief notes. Notes should be short phrases and legible. I focused on legibility because if students are not able to read their notes later, they will have difficulty writing the final essay. The rubric also included the ability to sort evidence in provided categories. However, I did not assess that for this lesson since the focus was on the first two categories.