Research in fifth grade can be mind-numbing. Add note taking into that equation and you are in for an exhausting unit. Note taking in the world of fifth graders is always tricky. What I’ve noticed over the years is that the students will sit with the book, article, or website and read a sentence. They believe that sentence is important, so they decide to copy it into their notes. They know that copying is wrong, so they take one word out of the original sentence and now believe they have created their own sentence. No matter what strategies I’ve used in the past, I have not been able to get them to realize that they are essentially stealing someone else’s work.
What I loved about Energize Research Reading and Writing is that Chris Lehman recommends short units on research with more frequency rather than longer research units. This made a lot of sense to me. If you asked me, I’d say I abhor research, yet in reality I do it every day. When buying a new blender, planning a vacation, or picking out a new book, I’m researching. Short research projects have the added benefit of being completed quickly and keeping the students’ interest.
Chris Lehman suggests the following strategy for note taking. Read a passage. Cover it up. Reflect on what you read and why it was important. Write a quick summary in your notes without looking back at the original text. This is important. Kids often want to write a summary sentence for each sentence that was in the original text, and they have a horrible time summarizing. I asked them, as Chris suggested, to think like they were the teachers for this subject. What did they read that we needed to know? They needed to record that information. Chris’s final step is to uncover the original text and reread it. Is there any academic vocabulary used that we could include? Are there any specific facts? Your students can now scan for that to include in their summary.
New Ways to Take Notes
We practiced note taking with several picture book biographies. For my example during minilessons, I used Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman. This tells the story of Bill Finger. Bob Kane is credited with the creation of Batman, but did he work alone? The students were mesmerized by this tale, learning that Bill had much more to do with the creation of one of their beloved superheroes than Bob Kane would have wanted us to believe.
By sharing this text with my students, we were able to find a shorthand reminder for summarizing our own notes. When walking around the room as students read their own picture book biographies and took notes, I would glance at them and ask, “Are you being a Bill or a Bob?” meaning “Are you doing your own work or stealing someone else’s?” Students used Chris’s suggestions to read, stop, cover, summarize, and review while they read their picture books.
Once we had our notes, we used them to write our own summaries for small-group presentations on our biography subjects. Many students found that once they reached the point of writing up their presentation notes, they almost didn’t need their summary notes. By reading, stopping, and summarizing throughout the story, they felt they knew their subject matter backward and forward. Many ended up writing summaries and then scanning their notes for specific facts and vocabulary to add.
On the day of their presentations, students split into groups, presented on the subject of their picture book biography, and shared with their groups what they had learned about note taking over the course of the week. Reading over their reflections on their rubrics, I was impressed with the thinking they had put into their work. There was a lot of discussion in the notes on plagiarism and how they now knew to avoid it.
Short research projects have many benefits in our classroom. In the span of a week we were able to read a picture book, learn tips on taking notes, and create presentations. Some students even then turned to the Internet to gather additional data on their subjects. This is an easy way to add more research into your classroom, teach skills on note taking, and have fun doing it. Rather than being grateful that we were finished on the last day, my students asked what we were researching next. That’s a teaching win in my book.