Are you looking for examples of ways to use Cornell notes in English class? Already taught your middle or high school students how to take Cornell notes?

They know what Cornell notes look like and put appropriate responses into their notes in the correct layout. They seem to get it and you’re wondering where to from here.

Have you hit a roadblock? Your students know this amazing skill but you aren’t sure how else to get them to apply it in English classes to help them achieve note-taking mastery. And frankly, you want them to receive the Cornell notes benefits of quicker study time, more efficient note-taking, and better academic performance.

And as we all know, mastery of a skill requires practice, and lots of it.

Well, you’re in luck, because today we’re going to look at five examples of how to use the Cornell note-taking method in English classes so that your students can practice this valuable skill.

Cornell notes during lecture-style instruction

Now, the first example of using Cornell notes in English is going to be the obvious one, but get your students to take independent notes during a lecture-style instructional lesson. And then give them feedback once they have completed the cue/summary section.

As mentioned in other blog posts, note-taking is a difficult skill to learn. It takes time and lots of practice to learn. And then it takes more time and practice to master.

So give them practice! While the temptation is there for you to create guided notes to help your students get the information you want them to have, this doesn’t teach your students the skills to independently identify important information, vocabulary terms, and examples.

But practice does. Plus it has the added bonus of saving you time creating notes. (Hello weekend! It’s lovely to meet you again!). Even if you then use some of that time to give students feedback, you will be creating “independent and autonomous learners” with the skills necessary to thrive outside the school gates (Boyle, Rosen & Forchelli).


Now, the important part of this is to give your students some feedback on the notes they take. Until they have mastered note-taking, feedback is essential for students to learn more about their own metacognition, or their “ability to think about how one thinks and learns”.

Spending time helping your students develop this valuable skill “should lead to improved notetaking skills and, in the process, improved learning of lecture content.”

So, what could this look like in the classroom? A few ideas are listed below:

Give an in-class lecture and take papers home and mark

Give students a short lecture of 10-15 minutes on a topic and then give students 10-15 minutes to write the ‘cue’ and ‘summary’ section of the notes, finally ask students to hand in the notes and then take them home to give individual feedback.

This option has the advantage of allowing you to give individual feedback to each student. But, it does take up lots of time unless you use a feedback rubric that you can highlight or check the boxes.

Assign a short video for homework and then conference feedback

In this option, assign students a 10-15 minute video to watch at home as homework, and if you prefer you can give them a blank Cornell Notes template in a word doc or google doc. Or you can ask them to set up their notebooks in the Cornell notes style you’ve shown in class.

Then, during class time, conference the feedback while students have other assigned work in class.

This option has the advantage of allowing you to still give individual feedback, but it places the onus on the students to do the work before you conference with them, and it means you are spending time teaching a process rather than content.

Student conferences for feedback

A final option is to again, assign a video or give a short in-class lecture, then to ask students to conference with each other. Working with partners has been demonstrated to increase note-taking in some cases.

Working with a partner could be “simple note sharing”, or asking students to compare notes (specifically for teacher/video cues, main ideas, and vocabulary) and jot down notes their partner had that they didn’t (Luo, Kiewra & Samuelson).

But, some research shows that collaborative learning is more effective for learning when there is “meaningful collaboration”, or joint meaning-making.

A more meaningful way to use partners during note-taking practice and feedback may be to have “collaborative retrieval”, so instead of students just swapping notes, students are trying to build on their notes together. For example, both students may have a definition written, but then they work together to try and remember an example from the lecture.

Cornell notes when reading textbooks

Now, again, this is kind of a ‘duh’ example of using Cornell notes in an English class, but one of the benefits of this method of note-taking is that helps to focus attention.

This example works well because textbooks often list what students are supposed to learn from each chapter at the start of the chapter. And for many students, it can be difficult to work out what’s important and needs to be written down.

This type of task gives students practice at identifying important information. But it guides that process by asking them to first identify the chapter goals.

If students know the goal, their notes are likely to be more focused and they are going to have an easier time skimming the textbook for the relevant information. This will also help them set the study habit of checking the goals of a chapter before doing assigned reading.

Cornell Notes to review for exams and tests

So, you know that the whole point of taking notes in class is to firstly encode information into memory. And then to use those notes later on when studying to try and keep that information in your brain.

But your students may not know how to do this with their Cornell notes, as research shows that many students are not explicitly taught study skills or organizational skills (Gambill, Moss & Vescogni). So our third example of how to use Cornell notes in an English class is to show students how to use them.

To prepare, ensure students have at least three lessons of notes in the Cornell note-taking style. Then, at the start of the lesson, tell students you’re going to have an end-of-class quiz and that you’re going to review the last three lessons’ worth of work.

Before giving them in-class study time, model how to use your Cornell notes to ask and answer questions with yourself. You may also wish to model how to identify (and fill) knowledge gaps, how to clarify information, and how to ask for help. Then at the end of the lesson, give a pop quiz.

By showing students how quick and easy a study session can be when using Cornell notes, you will show your students some of the main benefits of the Cornell method of note-taking.

  • The notes are quick to write and review.
  • It’s easy to use the question/answer format of studying.
  • Misunderstandings, problems, and questions are easy to spot and fix.

Cornell notes to spur deeper thought, analysis, or questioning

The fourth example of using Cornell notes in an English class is to spur deeper thought, analysis, or questioning. Especially later in high school, Cornell notes can be a very effective way for students to probe their own thoughts and feelings on a topic of study.

For example, if your senior students were studying Shakespeare’s Macbeth and they got to Lady Macbeth’s monologue about unsexing herself in Act I Scene 5. Using the Cornell notes set up, their notes might look something like this:

Cornell notes image of analyzing Lady Macbeth soliloquy

And importantly, while they are learning the vocabulary and comprehending the text, they are also:

  • doing some deeper thinking on how masculinity and femininity are represented in the play
  • making personal connections with the material that will help it stick in their minds
  • analyzing how Lady Macbeth is represented as a mother compared to other mother figures
  • taking a deeper look at quotes they could use in a paper or essay

Cornell notes to annotate texts

The final example of how to use Cornell notes in an English class is to annotate texts. This works particularly well for short texts such as newspaper snippets, poems, or quotes that can be glued straight into the notes.

Like the above, using the Cornell method of notes in conjunction with annotation enables deeper thinking, as well as acquiring vocabulary and comprehending meaning.

Cornell notes in action analyzing poetry

A particularly interesting activity would be to use the Cornell notes set up in the beginning stages of a paper that pits two opposing ideas against each other. This example would be useful in a few ways:

  • during whole-class instruction, you could model how to use the Cornell notes style of note-taking to brainstorm ideas for a paper
  • students can practice brainstorming in a more outcome-based way with the ‘summary’ of the notes becoming a topic for a paper they write or a paragraph response
  • this style of written response (where students respond to a topic by taking a stance on opposing quotes) is common in written aptitude tests

Example of using Cornell notes in high school to create paragraph responses to writing prompts – the summary becomes the paragraph response

Want to learn more?

If you are interested in learning more about note-taking with your middle or high school students, check out these blog posts:

We also have posts about other note-taking styles, such as:

Looking for study skills products?

  • Our study skills bundle has visual note-taking worksheets for the free Crash Course Study Skills YouTube videos
  • Our navigating digital information bundle has visual note-taking worksheets for the free video series of the same name
  • We have a free digital Cornell Notes blank template that can be used as an editable PDF, used as a PDF in Word, or a google slides version of the template. It’s perfect to take Cornell notes for middle school or high school students.
  • Follow on TPT for updates


Research cited:

Boyle, J. Rosen, S.M., and Forchelli, G., 2016. “Exploring metacognitive strategy use during notetaking for students with learning disabilities.” International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 44 (2): 161-180.

Gambill, Jill M.; Moss, Lauralee A.; Vescogni, Christie D. 2008. “The Impact of Study Skills and Organizational Methods on Student Achievement.” Action Research Project., Saint Xavier University.

Lou, L., Kiewra, K., and Samuelson, L. 2016. “Revising lecture notes: how revision, pauses, and partners affect note taking and achievement.” Instructional Science, 44 (1): 45-67.