Class Notes EDIS 771: Reading in Content Areas
Spring 1999
Thomas H. Estes, Instructor
University of Virginia

Strategies for Reading to Learn

Two-column note taking (Cornell notes)



This technique requires the student to draw a line lengthwise down the middle of a piece of note paper. (Some loose-leaf notebook paper comes already prepared in this format.) As the student reads or listens, major headings or concepts are recorded in the space to the left, supporting details in the space to the right. Only one side of the paper is used. When it comes time to study, the paper is folded down the center line so that either the main ideas or the details are visible, but not both at once. In studying for an essay exam, the student tries to recall the details while looking at the main ideas; in studying for a multiple choice test, the student tries to recall main ideas while looking only at the details. In this form, the studentās notes are a mnemonic device (a tool for memory) thatās much more efficient than rereading or trying to recall strictly from memory.


It will be best to model the 2-column procedure with students. Assign a short selection to be read, one with an organization that transparently lends itself to easy note taking (that is, has clearly stated main ideas and supporting details.) Using an overhead transparency projector, construct your own notes on the selection and share them with your students. Discuss the decisions you made, thinking aloud about how you did what you did in constructing the notes.

A variation on this procedure is to make notes on a selection in a group setting, again using a transparency. This allows the students to see an outline take shape as they participate in its construction. Activities such as this can be repeated numerous times with the double benefit of teaching something about note taking and providing a springboard for discussion of reading assignments.


Pauk, W. (1974) How to Study in College. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Return to ReadingQuest.