Strategies for Reading Comprehension
Column Notes
[based on Cornell note-taking system]


What Are Column Notes?
Some of you will think, Gosh - this sounds like the old Cornell note-taking system. Column notes share characteristics in common with the Cornell system: information is grouped according to its type, and then arranged in columns. We'll begin with 2-column notes, but you should quickly see that the number of columns one uses is dependent upon the type of information you are dealing with and what your purpose for engaging in it is.

How Does It Work?
The column notes format lends itself to many variations. It may be that students would use it as a note-taking guide for their textbook reading; if so, then main ideas or headings would be listed in the left column, and details or explanations for each would be written in the right column. Alternatively, you might have students reading for cause and effect; if so, then causes can be listed in the left column and the effects in the right column. Students might list key vocabulary in the left column and definitions, examples, or sentences in the right. It may be as simple as reworking your typical question worksheets so that questions are on the left and answers are put on the right.

The Cornell system recommended that the left column be one-third of the page, and the right column two-thirds. It really doesn't matter much; students may find it much easier simply to fold their notebook paper down the middle to create the two columns neatly. Using the folded sheet can be a great study aide: students can quiz themselves or each other with the answers safely hidden on the other side of the folded sheet, but they can also check back and forth between questions and answers. This format becomes a very handy tool, but it also shows the organization of information more clearly, more dramatically, and certainly in a more visually-useful manner.

Download and Print:

Can You Give Me Any Examples?
Sure! Let's look first at what it looks like when we combine Power Thinking with Column Notes.

Power 1: Main Idea, Chapter Title, Etc.

Power 2s Power 3s




Questions, Section Headings, Vocabulary, Subtopics, etc.




Answers, Details, Definitions, Elaboration, etc.


What about when you need three columns?

Early Native American Regions
Region/Group Primary Housing Environmental Interaction
Eastern Woodland
  • wigwam
  • made of branches and bark
  • lived near water and wooded areas
  • carved canoes from trunks
  • diet of clams, fish, oyster
  • teepees made of animal hides
  • holes in top for smoke to escape
  • followed herds of buffalo
  • food and clothing from buffalo
  • wood scarce on the Plains
  • lived in pueblos
  • houses made of adobe
  • clothing made from cotton
  • lived in the desert
  • extended droughts forced relocation


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