Cornell Notes

Cornell Notes Support Conceptual Understanding

Cornell Notes: An Introduction

  • A simple way to get students to take notes interactively.

  • A simple way to get students to review notes systematically.

  • A simple way for students to practice higher level thinking skills.

  • A simple way for students to think actively as they learn.

The Cornell method of taking notes was developed by Dr. Walter Pauk of Cornell University. It is a widely used system for noting and organizing material from a lesson or a reading, and for reviewing and retaining that material. Using the Cornell system helps students to organize notes, actively involve themselves in the creation of knowledge (agency), improve their study skills, and lead to academic success.

Source: How Cornell Notes Can Help You: A Guide for Students and Teachers
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Source: Website

Why Should Students Use Cornell Note Taking Method?

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Improves Academic Performance

Recent research has shown that implementing the Cornell Note Taking method in the classroom helps students obtain higher grades. More specifically, class averages for courses in which this strategy had been implemented were 10-12% higher than they had been the previous term. Perhaps more strikingly, in a class in which the Cornell Note Taking method had been employed, all students passed the midterm, whereas the success rate of a class in which it had not been implemented was only 70%.

Active Rather Than Passive Learning

In one particular study, researchers looked to compare the effectiveness of three different note taking methods: Cornell Note Taking, outline note taking (the main ideas and sub-points are identified and written down) and verbatim note taking (writing down what the teachers says word for word).

The researchers found Cornell Note Taking to be the most effective strategy, whilst verbatim note taking was the poorest. The difference in the success of the Cornell and verbatim note taking methods can be attributed to the former being an active method of learning, whereas the latter is passive. When students write down word for word what a teacher says, they become fixated with this and do not pay adequate attention to the main points of the lesson, impairing encoding, whereas the Cornell Note Taking method forces students to consider taught information.

Gives Students a Structure

Encouraging students to use the Cornell Note Taking method gives them a structure which they can use to organize their notes. This means that when they come to revise, they don’t have to spend valuable time searching for or re-writing information.

Furthermore, getting students to write relevant questions at the end of each lesson gives them a set of ready-made questions that they can use to test themselves when revising, a strategy that strengthens memory traces and increases the likelihood that information will be cemented in their long-term memory.

Source: Why Should Students Use Cornell Note Taking Method?

A Student Guide: How to Take and Use Cornell Notes

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To use the Cornell Note Taking method, students need to first divide their page into four sections.

Top Section: Heading

  • The top left corner is where you should ALWAYS put your Title/Topic. This makes it easy to locate information when reviewing later.

  • The top right should always include the Your Full Name, Date, Class (in case your notes ever become lost, fall out of your notebook, or you loan them to someone and THEY lose them!).

  • At the bottom of the Top Section write the Essential Question(s): The essential question is what you are trying to find out and it will help you stay focussed. You will answer the essential question in the bottom section - Summary.

EVERY DAY you should turn to a new page (the back of a page is fine!) and create a new heading.

PURPOSE: By doing this, you can easily locate specific notes by date, by topic or even by course.

Right Section: Taking Notes

  • Skip one line (you'll fill it in later). Now you actually start taking notes. You should ensure that your notes are concise and that they are not simply writing down exactly what your teacher says but instead summarizing the most important concepts in your own words. This helps ensure that you are deeply thinking about the topic.

  • Take notes while listening to a lesson from the teacher, reading a textbook or novel, watching a video, solving a math problem, participating in a science lab, etc.

  • Listen and take notes in own words—paraphrase what you hear.

  • When you notice that there's a new topic developing, skip at least two lines and take notes using bullet points again.

  • Abbreviate words and use symbols, when appropriate.

  • Write in phrases (not complete sentences).

  • Use bullets or lists, when possible.

  • Change pen colours to indicate change in concept.

  • Use indentation to show relationships between ideas.

  • Know what to write = important information vs. trivial information.

PURPOSE: By taking notes, you are writing down important information. This helps you better remember something than if all you did was listen to it. This will help you remember it and locate it when you need it.

Add Titles and Some Visuals

  • Go through each set of notes on the page and highlight or colour code important information that connects to the essential question.

  • You left a blank line at the beginning of each set and skipped two lines when you started a new topic. Now, go back to each set and put a heading at the beginning of each set. Read those notes again and give it a title that tells you the main idea, or what all of the notes in that section, have in common and how they connect to the essential question.

  • Add visuals (diagrams, sketches, etc.) that represent ideas, concepts, etc. These will aid you in remembering key ideas/concepts.

  • Delete unimportant information by drawing a line through it or not highlighting.

  • Add your own thinking/fill in details to clarify, complete, or create greater meaning and understanding.

  • Identify information that needs clarification using a question mark to indicate the need to check with a partner or teacher.

  • Add references from/to other materials as they come to mind or make connections to other concepts/content.

  • Use symbols (star, checkmark, etc.) to indicate what is significant.

PURPOSE: By rereading your notes, you are forced to think about why the information was grouped that way. You are reading it again, thinking about the material, and determining the main idea. Again, thinking about the information a THIRD TIME is making it more concrete in your mind.

Left Section: Ask Questions and Highlight

  • Use inquiry on the left side that connects to the key ideas.

  • At the end of the period, during a pause in the lesson, or even later that day or night, read aloud the highlighted main ideas that connect the essential question on the page, and create a question that is answered with this main idea.

  • Write these understandings as a QUESTION in the LEFT column across from the notes. Writing questions is an important part of this strategy, as it forces you to really consider the information you have learnt.

  • You should also use this column to record any important keywords or equations.

  • Do you have a question about something? Confused? Write the question in the left column. When you find the answer, or ask it in class, write the answer across from it in the right column.

  • Highlight, underline or put an asterisk next to things you think might be important. You can also use visuals.

  • Some students have found it helpful to develop their own symbols and methods. For example, new vocabulary is highlighted in yellow; literary elements highlighted in pink; important plot elements have an asterisk.

PURPOSE: By rereading your notes, you are forced to think about the material again. Now you are ACTIVELY reading your notes and trying to determine the most important parts, or how things are starting to fit together. Writing your understandings as a question in the left section, will help you when reviewing your notes at a later time. (the answers to the questions will be in the Right Section - Notes.

Bottom Section: Summarize

  • Review your notes taken, questions developed on the left, and prior knowledge to identify the main ideas to be used in the summary.

  • Consider collaborating with a peer(s), a small group, whole class, etc., to compare, enhance, and revise your notes.

  • Using a different colour pen, fill in any gaps, and clarify any points of confusion in writing to complete your notes.

  • Address the essential question of the lesson in the summary.

  • Use the notes of the right side as support to write the summary.

  • Synthesize, combine main ideas together, to internalize learning from the questions/notes.

  • Brainstorm a list of key vocabulary from the lesson to be included in the summary

  • Write your summary in the bottom section of the page. As you read through your notebook chronologically (in date order), each page has a summary of what can be found in the detailed notes of that page.

  • The summary shouldn't be too long; it should be about two or three sentences and answer the essential question.

PURPOSE: By taking a break from the material and going back to it about a day later, you are storing this information yet again, increasing the likelihood that you will better understand it and remember it.

Using Your Notes


When revising, you can then cover the right-hand column and try to formulate answers to the questions and recall the subject matter related to the keywords/equations written in the left-hand column.

For maximum effect, your answers should be given aloud, rather than in your head, as this forces you to organize the information and make quick connections. Both of these things increase the likelihood of the material being successfully transferred to the long-term memory.


You should take some time to reflect on the taught/researched material using a technique known as self-questioning. Self-questioning is an important part of this process, as it helps you to focus on and interact with the material, leading to the formation of stronger connections, hence making the information more easily retrievable at a later date.

Examples of good questions you can ask yourself include: “Why does it make sense that…?” and “Why would this fact be true for X and not for Y?”.


Finally, you are encouraged to take time each week to review your notes, as this helps to refresh and consolidate learnt information. Research has proven that if you want to really learn information, reviewing your notes a little but often is much more effective than reviewing a lot of information all at once.

Sources: Ms. Faust's Classroom; Four Parts of the Cornell Way

How to Take Cornell Notes

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Source: Website - How to Take Notes with the Cornell Note System

Taking Cornel Notes

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Source: Sources: Website - Ms. Faust's Classroom

Cornell Notes Videos

Using Cornell Notes in Elementary School

Run Time: 1:22 - Apr 13, 2020

Note-Taking: Using the Cornell Method

Run Time: 2:18 - Sep 11, 2015

How To Format a Cornell Notes Template

Run Time: 5:56 - Feb 1, 2017

A User Guide: How to Take Cornell Notes

Run Time: 3:24 - July 20, 2015

Example: Cornell Notes Explained by a Student

Run Time: 5:12 - Feb 25, 2013

Cornell Notes with Sketch Noting Techniques

Run Time: 10:26 - Dec 20, 2016

Cornell Notes Visuals

How To Take Cornell Noes

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Source: How to Use The Cornell Note Taking Method Effectively

How to Take Cornell Notes

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Source: Pintrest

How to Use Cornell Notes

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Source: Pintrest

How to Use Cornell Notes

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Source: Twitter - @_Renee_Larkin

How to Use Cornell Notes

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Source: How I Use Cornell Notes Effectively In My Language Arts Classroom

Cornell Notes on Steroids

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Source: Crush School

Visual Note Taking

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Source: Tumblr

Visual Note Taking is a method of taking notes that encourages the writer to stray away from traditional text-heavy form and easily integrates into Cornell Notes. With visual note taking, the note-taker uses sections, structures, images and organizers to make the words and concepts at the center of traditional note taking easier to understand.

By translating new concepts into their ‘own language,’ the visual note-taker can record information in a way that makes sense to their thought process. Proponents of visual note taking claim that the process improves and enhances memory and understanding.

Source: A Guide to Visual Note-Taking

The Basics of Visual Note Taking

Run Time: 3:02 - Jan 7, 2012
Run Time: 1:32 - Mar 21, 2017

A Few Visual Note Taking Resources

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The Verbal to Visual Notebook - A set of activities to help teachers/students build their visual note taking skills

Learn Visual Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide - Think you can’t draw? That’s not what visual note-taking is about. Above anything else, visual note-taking is about listening to content and capturing key points. Beginners who want to learn visual notes can start with these basic steps.

A Guide to Visual Note Taking - Visual note taking is a new method of taking notes that encourages the writer to stray away from traditional text-heavy form. With visual note taking, the note-taker uses sections, structures, images and organizers to make the words and concepts at the centre of traditional note taking easier to understand.

How-and Why-to Introduce Visual Note-taking to Your Students - Alternative note-taking practices like mind-mapping and sketchnoting prompt students to organize their thoughts visually, boosting comprehension and retention.

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