Two-Column Note-Taking Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves
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Teaching Strategy

Two-Column Note-Taking

Use this teaching strategy to help students learn how to take notes by identifying "key ideas" in one column and their "responses" in another column.


At a Glance

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Teaching Strategy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies




Why Two-Column Note-Taking?

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.


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Lesson Plans

How to Use Two-Column Note-Taking

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.

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.

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.

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.


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


[SPEAKER 1] Let's set up for doing two-column notetaking. So a blank page in your notebook with a line down the middle, that's your setup. In eighth grade, I'm spending a lot of time with our students getting better at taking notes, because I want them to have a soft landing in high school. They're not attending a school where lecture and notetaking is a common occurrence. It's necessary for them to get that skill. Two-column notetaking students are capturing big ideas on one side of the page. And the right-hand column is I don't want to say reflection, again, but in a way, it's an opportunity for them to question, to make connections, maybe to draw out further question and next idea from the main idea. I also use video of testimonies of people who are survivors in my course. I would give them the experience first of just listening and watching, and then I would go back and show it again. And doing that, I would allow them to then capture the information. I also don't want the students to feel that they're in this alone when they're notetaking. Some students are very particular about how they take notes. Others are very lacking confidence in how they do it. I know our students do very well collaborating. So they'll have opportunities to compare their notes, talk about the notes with each other, and that in itself is a setup for understanding that everybody's experience is different. What you take out of watching video, listening to video, and put down your paper is your experience of what you get out of it. What's your neighbor's notetaking like? What's your peers like? It's not a secret. I'm not evaluating their notes taking, per se, here, just one person alone. I want them to work together. So collaboration is a big part of what we will be doing today. I'm suggesting you set up the left column with a label of big ideas. I call it big ideas. You can call it main point. You can call it facts. It's the place you're going to just take down the information that you think is important during the testimony, what ideas are most important, and remember what new terms or concepts have been introduced. On the right side, I'm saying you can call it responsive, but you could also call it opinions. That column is where I want you to capture questions, interpretations, any connections you might make. It might be a place where you just write down a quick word. What questions does the information raise for you? What other ideas, events, or texts does this information remind you of? Does it connect with something we've covered in this class? How does the information connect to your own life, outside of this class, your own experiences? What I want to be sure you do is concentrate on filling in the left column during testimony, getting down that information, because you can always go back and write the right column afterwards, too. We're also going to take time after each bit of testimony that we watch to work with our table partners and comparing our notes, and making sure that seeing how each other's experiences of listening to the testimony might enhance your own. We can learn from each other. OK? OK. I want you to please take some time right now, talk with someone, either next to you or at your whole table if you need to, the back table kind of split. And review your notes together. What I'm hoping you'll do is look for similarities. Look for differences. Share your ideas. And don't just share them talking. Fill out your notes based on the ideas and the things that you talk about. The two-column notetaking that the students do is theirs, but just like all their other notes, I collect their notebooks from time to time. I look at how each student is taking notes. I give them some feedback. I also review them in the moment while they're doing it and try to give them feedback. We do strategies over how to abbreviate. Or if a student is having more trouble just getting the thought down because it has to be so perfect, just working on that. Like it's OK. Get a word down for now. I heard some students talking about their notes and comparing whose notes were messier than whose, and we all tend to do that. The reason I'm calling that out is because your notes are your notes. I'm not looking for perfect penmanship. We can practice different abbreviations, different ways of taking notes, but most importantly, you're the one that needs to be able to understand them. I'm not even going to say read them, I'm going to say understand them. So I'm not worried about the look of them. I want them to work for you. So keep that in mind as you're doing your next set of notes, two-column notetaking, for our next testimony. I was surprised by how intense their notetaking was. And I stopped the video at one point because I wanted to be sure to capture that and to call that out for them. I love that they wanted to follow the instructions of how to take notes, but I did not want them to lose the experience of taking in the testimony.

In this classroom video, the teacher uses the Two-Column Note-Taking strategy with his students to help them organize their thoughts and emotional responses as they listen to recorded survivor testimony.

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