Two-column note-taking encourages students to identify important information in a lecture, film or reading and to respond to this material. These notes prepare students to participate in a discussion or begin a writing activity. They can also be used to recognize students’ misconceptions and questions, and to evaluate students’ understanding of material.
Step one: Preparation
Make sure that students have a journal, notebook or graphic organizer upon which to record their notes. The page they record notes on should be divided in half with a line or fold. The left side should be labeled “key ideas” and the right side should be labeled “response.”
- “Key ideas” often refers to the main points of the text, but can also include supporting details. Inform students about the depth and breadth of note-taking you expect. Prompts you can use for the left column include: What ideas are most important to remember? What new terms or concepts have been introduced?
- “Response” refers to questions, interpretations, and connections. Prompts you can use for the right column include: What questions does this information raise for you? What other ideas, events or texts does this information remind you of? Why do you think this information is important and/or relevant to your unit of study? How does this information connect to your own lives? What do you think of these ideas?
If this is the first time students have engaged in this kind of note-taking, you should discuss what is meant by “key ideas” and “response” and then model this technique with them
Step two: Taking notes
While listening to a lecture, watching a film or reading a text, have students record information in both the left and right columns of their charts. It may be difficult for some students to record information in both columns at the same time, especially during a lecture or film. You might recommend that students first record information on the left column. Then, once they have finished hearing, reading or watching the text, they record their responses in the right column. When possible, encourage students to review a text to check the accuracy of the information they recorded and to pick up ideas they may have missed.
Step three: Sharing
Sharing notes with a partner or small group can help students retain information, give them feedback on their note-taking skills, and provide them with an opportunity to add to their notes with information they may have missed.
Step four: Reflection and self-assessment
Many teachers assume students know how to take notes. But, often, students are never explicitly taught how to take thorough notes in an efficient way. To help students recognize their strengths and needs as note-takers, give them the opportunity to reflect on how this process is working and not working for them. What is easy about note-taking? What is difficult? Then, you might have a class discussion where students present their own note-taking strategies and questions. You can include tips such as:
- Underline new vocabulary.
- Skip lines between new ideas.
- Draw lines between ideas or facts that connect to each other.
- Take notes using symbols and drawings, not just words.
- Don’t worry about spelling as you take notes. You can check for proper spelling later.
- Use bullet points to list sub-points.
- Place a star by main ideas.
- Place a question-mark by anything you do not understand.
Anything can be used as headings for the two-columns. Other heading titles include:
- Important quotations / meaning of that quotation
- Pro argument / Con argument
- Facts / opinions
- Argument / supporting evidence
Click here for an example of a graphic organizer for two-column note taking.