Summarizing Content Using Cornell Notes

To successfully master today’s core content, English language learners require additional literacy and fluency support. One of the challenges of English language development (ELD) is grasping the skill of summarization. This abstract activity not only requires a good understanding of written and spoken English, but also calls for adequate comprehension of ideas.

One simple yet powerful tool for English language learners to learn to summarize content is called Cornell Notes. It enables them to synthesize content knowledge and organize their understanding into complete sentences. The technique incorporates six simple steps that help students to take notes, prioritize information, and restate key points with supporting details.

Using Cornell Notes in Six Steps

Use these steps to teach your students how to prepare and take Cornell Notes.

  1. Divide the paper into three sections.
  • Draw a dark horizontal line about 5 or 6 lines from the bottom. Use a heavy magic marker so that it is clear.
  • Draw a dark vertical line, about 2 inches from the left side of the paper, from the top to the horizontal line.
  1. Document
  • Write course name, date, and topic at the top of each page.
  1. Write Notes
  • The large box to the right is for writing notes.
  • Skip a line between ideas and topics.
  • Don’t use complete sentences. Use abbreviations, whenever possible. Develop a shorthand of your own, such as using “&” for the word, “and.”
  1. Review and clarify
  • Review the notes as soon as possible after class.
  • Pull out main ideas, key points, dates, and people, and write them in the left column.
  1. Summarize
  • Write a summary of the main ideas in the bottom section.
  1. Study your notes
  • Reread your notes in the right column.
  • Spend most of your time studying the ideas in the left column and the summary at the bottom. These are the most important ideas and will probably include most of the information that will be tested.

Source: Learning Toolbox. Steppingstone Technology Grant, James Madison University

Here’s an example of what Cornell Notes would look like when complete.Cornell Notes Example of Writing Summeries

Source: James Madison University

Watch third graders use Cornell Notes to summarize content

One particular classroom is a great example of using Cornell Notes in ELD instruction. At Agua Caliente Elementary School in Cathedral City, California, Mr. Chuck Murfitt’s 3rd grade students take notes about the geological effects of running water, identify the key ideas, and summarize the content using supporting details. This particular classroom is a great example of using Cornell Notes in ELD instruction.

Watch the video above to see the lesson. This video also comes with a downloadable study guide that summarizes these principles and provides links to additional related resources.

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