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Incredible Shrinking Notes



  • Language Arts (Study Skills)
    Note: This activity can be used with a selection from literature or nonfiction reading materials related to science, history, and many other subjects.


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced

Brief Description

A fun 3-step process helps students "boil down" note taking.


Students will

  • Listen to or read a brief biography of Amelia Earhart or another grade-appropriate reading selection.
  • Fill a 3- x 5-inch sticky note or index card with important facts from the reading selection.
  • Narrow down those notes to the important notes that fit on a medium-size (approximately 3- x 3-inch) sticky note or card.
  • Narrow down those notes to the most important notes that will fit on a small (approximately 1- x 2-inch) sticky note or card.


note taking, notes, listening, Earhart, study skills, research

Materials Needed

  • three "sticky notes" or index cards in three different sizes -- approximately 3- x 5 inches, 3 x 3 inches, and 1 x 2 inches - for each student
  • a brief biography of Amelia Earhart or another grade-appropriate reading selection

Lesson Plan

About the Lesson
This lesson uses a brief biography of Amelia Earhart as the starting point for note-taking exercises. The Earhart biography is only a suggested starting point for this lesson, however. You might substitute any piece of literature for the selection, or provide additional note-taking practice by repeating this lesson with a variety of content-rich, subject-related reading material.

The Lesson
This activity can be used as a listening activity; or you can provide each student with a copy of a brief biography of Amelia Earhart or another grade-appropriate reading selection.

To begin, give each student a sticky note or index card roughly 3- x 5-inches in size.

Display a sample of the largest sticky note or card. Share with students that this activity is going to include three brief writing assignments; each successive assignment will require them to write less. Emphasize that for the purpose of this assignment, it is important that students' write in the same size for all three assignments. The reason for that rule will become clear as the activity proceeds. You might demonstrate the "ideal" size writing on the largest sticky note or card. See the sample text box below.

Read aloud or have students read to themselves the Earhart biography or another reading selection. During the first reading, students should not take notes. Instruct them to listen carefully, consider all the details in the selection, and think about the details they think are most important or significant.

Then tell students you are going to read the passage again. This time, students should jot down notes on a 3- x 5-inch sticky note or index card. They should fill the card with their notes. (Remind them that they should pay close attention to the size of their writing.)

If the students have individual copies of the reading selection, they can do the above steps on their own. If you are reading aloud to them, you might need to read the selection one more time to be sure each student's card is filled up with notes.

Next, provide students with a sticky note or card of medium size. (See Materials Needed above.) Tell them their job is to study the notes on their large card and eliminate some of the less important information. They then should fill up the medium-size card with notes from the large card that they think are most important. (Remind them to pay close attention to the size of their writing.)

Finally, provide students with the smallest sticky note or index card. Now, students really have to make careful judgments about the most important information to transfer from the medium-size card to the small card.

In the end, students should have notes that express the most important facts or themes found in the reading selection.

Emphasize to students that this lesson in note taking is intended to help them see that note taking is about scaling down information to the most important details. Students can also employ this strategy as they study for unit tests. They can read through their notes; "boil down" those notes to key facts, ideas, and themes; and write those key ideas in the margins of their notebooks. The key ideas are the ideas that represent the themes worth reviewing for the upcoming unit test. To study for that test, students might simply review their margin notes and practice supplying supporting information for each key idea.


Read aloud a news story from today's newspaper and have students write the key idea(s) on a small sticky note or index card. Students also might employ the three-card strategy used in this lesson to "boil down" the news story to its main idea/ideas.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins


Return to the Note Taking lesson plan page.

Find more ideas for teaching study skills in an Education World article Teaching Study Skills: Ideas That Work!.