Two-Column Note-Taking

Rationale

The Two-Column Note-Taking strategy encourages students to identify important information in a lecture, film, or reading and to then respond to this material. You can use this strategy to prepare students to participate in a discussion or begin a writing activity. Having students take two-column notes is also an effective way to help you identify students’ misconceptions and questions about a topic and to evaluate students’ understanding of material.

Procedure

  1. Prepare
    Make sure that students have a journal, notebook, or graphic organizer to use 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.”
    • The “Key Ideas” category often refers to the main points of the text, but it 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?
    • The “Response” category refers to questions, interpretations, and connections. Prompts you can use for the right-hand 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 life? 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.
  2. Students Take 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 in the left column. Then, once they have finished hearing, reading, or watching the text, they can record their responses in the right-hand 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.
  3. Students Share Their Notes
    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.
  4. Give Students the Opportunity for 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 in which students present their own note-taking strategies and questions. You can include the following tips:
    • Abbreviate.
    • 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.

Variations

Alternative Headings: You can choose any headings for the two columns that meet the needs of your activity or lesson. Other possibilities include:

  • Important Quotation / Meaning of Quotation
  • Pro Argument / Con Argument
  • Facts / Opinions
  • Argument / Supporting Evidence

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