Jun 24, 2020 - 4 min read - 1,017 views 

Why I use Cornell-ish Notes

If you are familiar with AVID you are familiar with Cornell notes. There are tons of resources out there to show you what they are and how they work, but here is my take on them and why I refuse to move on from them despite no longer teaching at an AVID school.

In my Interactive Notebooks (INB's) I make ALL of my right-hand pages direct instruction pages set up in Cornell-ish notes style. This consistency throughout my INB helps my students know what to expect for direct instruction, nurtures review and reflection of content, and ultimately makes grading easier too. When I explain how to do this AND the reasoning behind why I am making them take Cornell-ish notes they buy into the work more.


As you can see along the top bar I have my students write in the unit we are in to help with organization. They must also write the learning intention of the lesson. A lot of teachers/ schools use learning targets or essential questions here. The main goal of that is to have a clear "I will" or "I can" statement that explains what your expectation of learning is for this 1 page of instruction. I used to roll my eyes about these being required for evaluation purposes because it seemed like busy work, but I have embraced them and their importance now.


The bulk of the page is dedicated to the direct instruction notes. Now I have evolved this section in many different ways over the years so you do what works for you and your students best. If you have older students that know how to take good notes here, you can just leave it blank for them to complete on their own. My lower-middle schoolers are still developing these skills so I started by making these printed guided notes. Remember to print on 1/2 pages and for them to fit in the space. To allow for the summary, you will have to teach them to fold up the bottom 1 1/2 inches of the paper before gluing. You can see that my notes now have evolved to the more visual "doodle" style notes. If you like my Nature of Science Notes check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have my 6th-grade "doodle" style notes available and am working on adding more for other science topics in the future.

Questions Column

The side question column is a very important space and where I changed the traditional Cornell notes rules a bit. When designing my lesson, I purposely think about how I can break my direct instruction time into 3 chunked sections. After I finish teaching each section I take a brain break. If you have read the research you know that young students (and a lot of adults) have limited attention spans where they can stay focused and engaged in an activity. If you can tell by my writing style, I like to talk, so it is VERY easy for me to get carried away and teach for a full 50-minute class.

Well, we all know that 50 minutes of lecture is not a very effective style of teaching and most of what you say will go in one ear and out the other. So to combat monologue instruction, after I finish each identified chunk I have students take a few seconds to think and write out a study or test style question for that 1 section of material. When they make these questions they are being forced to go back through the material I just taught them to decide which question to write. Then in writing the question, they will subconsciously answer it. Think about it, can you read "What is the 1st month of the year?" without thinking of January! It is difficult to do. I normally say okay you have 55 seconds to write your 1st study question (do not say 1 minute because students often think a minute equals an eon and they don't have to get to work quickly. Using the seconds unit in your timer reduces that. At the end of the 55 seconds, I will ask for 3 students to share their questions. Again, that simple request has students reviewing the material again and again and they LOVE sharing their questions. If I have a shorter content lesson or more time I will make this whole question sharing process Think-Pair-Share style.


At the bottom of the page, I ask students to write a 2-3 sentence summary of their learning. This is built-in and required reflection time. I have students refer back to the learning intention at the top of the page when writing their summaries. This is the last activity of the lesson but a lot of time it becomes their "homework". The beauty of summaries is that students will scan through their notes again to write it. So by the end of the Cornell-ish notes page, my students have heard me teach the instruction material directly and reread their notes several times. We all know that to retain the information you have to see/hear it several times to retain it. Most middle schoolers have not quite figured out how or why it is important to study, I have a system that forces them to review every page of instruction and they don't even realize it!