Cornell Notes

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This is a super effective note-taking strategy developed by one of my favorite universities of all time! (I grew up on a dairy farm, and Cornell–home of the top ag program in the nation–is just over an hour from our farm. My grandfather, parents, many uncles, and two of my brothers have all graduated from the program, so even though it is not my Alma Mater, I grew up listening to my relatives croon painful renditions of “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” and making weekend trips with my family to “GORGES” Ithaca NY. Love that place.) Research and personal experience has proven it so effective at my school that it has become part of our Level 5 Plan, and all teachers in all subject areas are expected to use it throughout the year so that it will become the go-to tool for our students in future classes and on standardized assessments.

In a nutshell, Cornell notes are a two-column system that have topics or questions on the left and details and/or answers on the right. Simple enough, right? Here is an example:

In this example, the types of matter are listed on the left, and their characteristics are listed on the right. At the bottom, there is a space for students to write a summarizing statement.

This works as an excellent study guide (fold on the line and quiz yourself!) and a pre-writing tool, in addition to normal note-taking, thought-organizing purposes.

I like to use it when we are reading a novel. You can list characters or places on the left, and descriptions of those characters or what happens at those places on the right. Often, I will give students the left-hand categories before we begin reading and have them fill in the details as they listen. That way, they have specific cues that they are listening for, and it gives them greater direction than just taking notes blindly. I find that it is helpful to give them the categories several times before letting them develop them on their own, so that they begin seeing how to separate big topics from supporting information.

You could also use this to study vocabulary in-depth, by listing terms on the left and having students write down a description of the term in the right hand column. Another way would be to have one student write down questions (based on a reading, cultural study, video, etc.) on the left and have other students write down the answers on the right. The possibilities are endless!

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