Note-taking Box-a-Roos

Ever wander around your room while students are working, trying to feverishly scribbling notes on a post-it for what Jimmy is doing, only to then move to Bobby and notice he is doing something note-worthy as well and try to squish it on the same post-it, but then it just gets messy so you draw arrows and boxes around things to try to separate it and it only adds to the mess and then of course you misplace that silly post-it with your chicken scratch notes and you are back to having nothing??

Ya, me too.

As much as I love post-its, I like to be able to easily take a few notes while I'm observing all my kiddos. I came up with these note-taking squares that one of my teammates introduced to me and I've tweaked it to work for me. I use it most often during reading, especially when I'm observing students during independent reading time. It's fascinating to do engagement studies every now and then to watch the behaviors my students do during their independent reading.

Now, what I'm about to show you may shock some of you, but trust me, there's a lot of valuable information and for some reason, it totally works for me!

I number my students... it helps in so many ways. I can easily figure out who is absent by doing a running number count in my head; finding out who the no name is just as easy- I don't even have students put their numbers on their papers... I just remember their numbers and can put students in number order to find who's I'm missing. It really does work amazing! Anywho, each box is for 1 student. On this particular day, I was observing engagement during independent reading. Here are my steps:

1. I move around the room and I look at each student in number order.
2. Using my very sophisticated key, I just mark what they were doing at the time I look at them.
3. I move to each student, and then repeat... it usually takes me about 90 seconds to go through the class, so I am looking at each student at a consistent pace.

I did this two days in a row for a little under 20 minutes. I used a different color for each day. Here's what my "key" was for that day:

Note-taking Key
Tally marks= they were in their book when I was watching them
O= they were out of their book when I was watching them
J= they were jotting/writing while I was watching them
arrow= out of their seat

After I was done, I looked at each student's data to see what engagement strategy I could work with them on. I did this in black pen.

Teaching Point Key
J= Work on jotting while reading
I= Book selection/ interest- usually for students who seemed to be out of their book often
*=seemed engaged throughout the reading time

Here's a closer look:

I was looking for students to have a balance between stopping and jotting occasionally (not too much, not too little) and staying in their book. I also took some other notes that didn't fit my key. Oh, I also put a "f" for fiction and a "nf" for non-fiction of the type of book they were reading as well. I created strategy groups for students based on theses patterns in their engagement.

Now, I don't do this too often, because it does take a lot of precious small group time. Here's another way I use them that requires much less time, but provides equally telling information.

Today, I had students read for 20 minutes. I then stopped them, and had them write down on the corner of their desk their start page and their current page they were on. I then walked around quickly, while they resumed reading and took note of their page range in that 20 minutes.

Some students wrote a quick note to clear up any confusion on my part. For example, one student looks to be reading too fast, but she was reading a Bad Kitty book which has a lot of pictures, so she told me. :). As I was walking around, I also looked at their 4 square response sheets they were doing (I talked about them here). Even though book clubs are done, I found this to be very successful and plan to carry it over as much as possible to other units.

I wrote a quick note on how many of the 4 boxes they had completed during that time. Some had all 4, some had 3, a couple only had 2. I noted using the same symbols the students use as to which ones they had completed.

This also shows me how engaged students are with their books. It also shows me what type of thinking my student is doing, as each symbol stands for a different reading skill.

Both examples of how I use the note-taking sheets help me determine what I can do to help students stay engaged during independent reading when I'm meeting with my small groups. Essentially, some students have 40 minutes of reading where they do not meet with me (obviously not every day, but some days). I want to make sure that they are still engaged in their reading and I can keep track of ways to help support them, while still getting insight on their reading lives here at school.

What do you use to take anecdotal  notes? How do you use them to help your students? I'd love to hear- leave me your ideas in the comments!

P.s. Sorry for the poor quality photos... most were taken on my phone. :)



  1. How interesting!!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love the note-taking box-a-roos and having the kids write their page numbers on their desks! Thanks so much for sharing! I'm going to try this out.
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'


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