Grades 6-8: Activities to Teach Note-Taking

Underline the importance of taking great notes with thoughtful activities for reading class.

  • Grades: 6–8

Noteworthy Apps

Here are three, great note-taking apps sure to click with tech-savvy students.

Kids can annotate documents and PDFs, sketch ideas, complete worksheets, and more. For easy searching, organize notes by subject or class and sync multiple-devices via iCloud. Plus, link audio recordings to your notes for an added review tool.

Make group research projects a breeze with this all-in-one e-reader and note-sharing app, Teachers can designate groups for monitored sharing, so students can annotate e-books, PDFs or web articles and share text-specific insights with logged-in classmates.

Tweet-happy students are sure to love the social media friendly search format of Fetchnotes. Kids can label notes using hashtags (#photosynthesis, #grammar). Search for a hashtag during review time and find all of your notes on a subject in one place. #Easy.

Try on a T-Chart

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2

What you need: Download copies of “Environ­mental Adaptations of the Desert Tortoise” with T-chart reproducible here:

"Environmental Adaptations of the Desert Tortoise"

T-Chart Reproducible PDF

What to do: Teach middle schoolers good note-taking practices by modeling a T-chart. Start by identifying the title of the article and adding it to the chart after the “T =” symbol. Then, read the next two sentences and zero in on a specific idea from the passage (in this case, one idea would be climate extremes). Demonstrate writing the specific idea (climate extremes) in the T-chart, next to the key symbol.

Once you’ve filled in the first key concept, explain that more specific ideas can be written in the right-hand column as bullet points. Read the next sentence of the passage and point out an idea that you will need to remember (look for information about extreme temperatures). Then, model putting a dot in the right-hand column and writing down the specific information (for example, 14° F, below freezing). As a class, read the remaining two paragraphs to search for specific ideas (key ideas) and even more specific ideas (right-hand column points) as you go.

(Key)Word Search

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.4

What you need: A display copy of the following sentence cut into words or phrases where hyphens occur: All - living things - are - part of a - food cycle - that includes - producers - consumers and - decomposers

What to do: Familiarize students with informational and connector words by deconstructing a model sentence. Start by explaining that sentences are made up of two different types of words: ones that provide information and ones that connect these information words to create a complete thought. Display the following words: All, are, part of a, that includes, and. Challenge students to guess what the sentence is about, then explain that guessing is hard because these are words that help us connect information words to create a complete sentence.

Display the remaining words on the board (living things, food cycle, producers, consumers, decomposers) and introduce them as informational words. Have students guess what the sentence is about now. Explain to students that when they take notes the words they choose should be information words, not complete sentences. To extend the activity, practice identifying the information words in a variety of sentences.

Go Bold

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.5

What you need: A section of a textbook that uses different fonts, type sizes, and styles

What to do: Ask students to scan the excerpt, looking at the different sizes and styles of print, and then ask them what they notice (Are some words larger than others? Italicized? Underlined?). Once students have shared their observations, ask what they think is the purpose of the different sizes and styles of print. Explain that the type size of boldface or italicized headings is usually an indication of the movement from the general idea to specific or key ideas and, at times, to even more specific ideas. The “big idea” is that as the information becomes more specific, the type size decreases. Understanding the formatting will help them take better notes.

Idea Sort

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.4

What you need: Download Idea Sort #1 reproducible here:

Idea Sort #1 Reproducible PDF

What to do: Introduce students to the concept of general, specific, and more specific with a twist on the classic word sort. Before class, make one copy of Idea Sort #1 for each group of two to four students. The sheet features 10 word groups, each containing a set of ideas moving from general to more specific (e.g., transportation, two-wheeled vehicle, motorcycle). Cut sheet apart so that each word or phrase is separated and place the pieces in an envelope.

Ask students to display the contents of the envelope on a desk. Have them locate two-wheeled vehicle, transportation, and motorcycle. Then, demonstrate how to arrange the set into the general–­specific–more specific pattern of informative and explanatory texts. (Ask key questions like Which is the largest category? or Which idea has the most examples?) Once you have ordered the ideas as a class, explain how students can check for accuracy by working backward. (Are motorcycles two-wheeled vehicles? Are two-wheeled vehicles used for transportation?) When they are ready to attempt it on their own, list the words or phrases of a new set and ask students to arrange the ideas in the correct order.

Go Your Own Way

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.7

What you need: T-chart Reproducibles from first activity, highlighters, markers, or colored pencils

What to do: Personalizing notes (emphasizing important words, adding pictures) helps students learn and remember information more easily. Have kids read the title written on their T-charts aloud, then choose one or two words to highlight or circle. Next, have students read the specific ideas aloud and emphasize one important word for each. In the right-hand column, students can emphasize three to five words, depending on the density of the information. Giving students specific guidelines for the number of words they should be emphasizing will help reinforce the concept of keywords. For visual learners, model adding pictures to your notes, adding one picture for every specific idea. 

Deana Hippie taught language arts in the Corona–Norco (CA) USD for more than 25 years and served as a member of the U.S. Department of Education Teacher-to-Teacher Corps for three years. She now teaches workshops in writing instruction.

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  • Subjects:
    Social Studies, Content Area Reading, Guided Reading, Cause and Effect, Reading Comprehension, Compare and Contrast, Drawing Conclusions and Making Inferences, Summarizing, Reading Response, Educational Standards, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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