Cornell Notes


Cornell Notes is a flexible note-taking system that helps students to create organized and useful class notes, and to review and learn from these notes later. It is simple to learn and widely adaptable to multiple contexts.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
  • Questioning
Listening Comprehension, Main Idea vs Details, Note Taking

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Listening
  • Numeracy
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Academic Vocabulary
  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Metacognition


Prepare models of Cornell Notes at various stages of completion. See: Decide on a lecture or text for which students will use Cornell Notes. A lecture should be well-organized to facilitate note-taking.

Activity Steps 
  1. Students set up their notebook pages. The left-hand “cue column” should be approximately 2.5” wide; the right hand “note-taking column” should be approximately 6” wide. A 2”-high horizontal space should be left at the bottom of the page for summarizing. S

    You will need to model the multiple steps of Cornell Note-taking repeatedly for students, and allow them time to practice with easier texts before expecting them to apply this system effectively to a longer lecture.

  2. Record: During the lecture, students use the note-taking column to record the lecture using telegraphic sentences.

    Students will need a mini-lesson, modeling, and explicit practice in writing telegraphic sentences. Telegraphic sentences include only words critical to comprehension, and are usually not “grammatically correct.” Generally, auxiliary verbs and articles are omitted.

  3. Students should know that dense and quickly delivered lectures will not be completely recorded, and students will have to use strategies of determining importance to decide what to include. They will require explicit instruction and practice in this skill.

  4. Students look through their notes, and decide how to group them, or what ideas they fit under. Students write categories, headings, and unifying ideas in the cue column.

    This column should include the larger, unifying concepts or ideas under which the other details fit. Students working from a text with many subheadings may be able to use the subheadings (or a variation of them) as the cues.

  5. Summary: At the end of class or shortly after, students write a summary of the notes on each page.

    Summarizing is an important and complex skill in itself. Many students will require explicit instruction and practice in distinguishing main ideas from details, paraphrasing, and writing clearly and concisely.

  6. Questions: As soon after class as possible, students formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. These questions go in the cue column.

    Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Also, the writing of questions sets up a perfect stage for exam preparation later.

  7. Recite: Students cover the note-taking column with another piece of paper so that they cannot read the text and, speaking aloud, try orally to answer and respond to the questions and cues in the cue column.

    Students can practice this step at school, but should also be taught it as a study strategy to use at home and in study halls. This can also be a good activity to complete in pairs.

  8. Reflect: Students reflect on the material, and on their learning process. They ask questions such as “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyon

    Students can use this strategy in their individual study, but you can also facilitate and deepen it by leading class discussion of these questions, and engaging students in writing assignments reflecting on these questions.

  9. Review: For at least 10 minutes a week, students read over all their previous notes, in order to encourage long-term retention, and an evolving and deepening understanding.

    It is challenging for students to develop the discipline to do this step, so you may want to work it into your weekly schedule, and/or make students accountable for it by asking them to mark or comment on earlier notes.

Adaptation for the Math Classroom 

Cornell Notes are well suited for students to develop strong note-taking skills while reading a math textbook and can also be applied when listening to a traditional math lecture.  In both cases, the cue, summary, and questions elements of Cornell encourage the math student to be an active reader or listener and connect the typical definitions and worked examples of a math text or lecture to each other and to the larger ideas related to the skill or concept.

Downloadable Resources 
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