You’ve might have taught your students to use Cornell Notes to take notes during history classes. (If your students are still wondering, what do Cornell notes look like, see here for an easy Cornell notes how-to).

You might have gotten them to use the skill a few times. But you’re now wondering, what else can you do with Cornell note-taking in history class.

Today I’m going to show you five easy examples of how to use the Cornell notes in your history class.

Cornell notes how-to: use during lecture-style instruction

Cornell notes began as a systematic way for students to take more effective notes during lectures. So it should come as no surprise that the first example of using Cornell notes in history is to get students to take independent notes during a lecture-style instructional activity.

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

So make them practice! While creating guided notes for your students ensures that they get all of the important information from a lesson, it doesn’t teach them the skills to become independent learners. But giving students opportunities to take notes independently will.

I’m not saying lecture at the front of the class (or in front of your laptop) for an entire lesson. A more effective way to get students to practice this skill is to do a mini-lecture of 10-15 minutes. And then give students a further 5-10 minutes to review their notes. Finally, in some way, provide your students with feedback on their note-taking.

Now, in a previous post, I outlined three ways to give feedback on student note-taking after a mini-lecture. So I’m going to paraphrase that post below.

A Cornell notes rubric I use to give note-taking feedback to students

One way to give feedback to your students on their notes is to mark the notes using a rubric/checklist. This method is specific to each student but very time-consuming.

If you don’t have time for that, another way to give feedback is to assign a video for homework for the lecture component. And then conference students’ notes in class while students are working on other assigned work.

This method still allows you to give individual feedback, but it puts the onus on students to do the work. It also means you can give verbal feedback, which is quicker than giving written feedback. Finally, it makes use of your in-class time instead of being work you lug home.

A final way to provide students with feedback is to get them to give feedback to each other. This method means students are working collaboratively to check they both got the relevant information. But you also want to encourage students to deepen those notes, not just add to the notes.

Cornell notes how-to: use when reading a textbook

The second example of using Cornell notes in history is to get students to use the Cornell set-up while reading the textbook.

One skill that students often struggle with when taking independent notes is identifying what needs to be written down.

Using a textbook is a great way to build this skill, as textbooks often outline what students are expected to know in each section.

Firstly, prime your students by reviewing the Cornell notes set up. Then instruct them to read the chapter objectives/learning goals/whatever your textbook calls it.


As a class, discuss what words and concepts they should keep an eye out for. If your class requires more guidance, instruct them to write those words in the ‘cue’ column of their notes.

Then give students time to read and write notes. You then have a few choices about how to proceed.

If your students are still struggling taking independent notes, you could discuss the notes as a class, and write them on the board using the Cornell format. Students could then review their own notes to identify gaps or misunderstandings.

If your students have fared well with independent notes, you could give them time to review those notes for errors, gaps, or misunderstandings. A study ‘pause’ during a lesson has been shown to increase both the quality of students’ notes and students’ recall (Luo, Kiewra, and Samuelson).

Either way, giving students in-class time to identify learning goals, read information, and then take notes is a great way to build in the habit of checking what you need to learn before reading or research.

Cornell notes how-to: use during source analysis

A third example of using Cornell notes in history class is during source analysis. This is particularly useful when trying to teach students the skill of answering source analysis questions for assessment.

Students can struggle in history. This may be because assessment often requires students to demonstrate knowledge of a topic while also showing the skill of using appropriate evidence and vocabulary.

Using the Cornell notes layout is a useful way to show students how to brainstorm before writing a response. In doing this, you show how to create a response that uses relevant information, vocabulary, and textual evidence.

An effective way to do this is to use the Cornell layout with brief sources, such as quotes, images, or text excerpts. Students glue the source in the middle of the ‘notes’ column on their page.

After this, students use the write the question they are answering as the title’ of the notes. The answer to the question goes in the ‘summary’ section. And important vocabulary and concepts go in the ‘cue’ section.

Students then annotate the source and brainstorm ideas in the ‘notes’ section around the source document.


Basically, the note-taking layout is being used as a graphic organizer to format a response to a source analysis question. This is a great way to model paragraph responses for source analysis questions to younger students.

And it’s a great way to show older students how to improve their responses by increasing appropriate vocabulary and incorporating more effective quotes.

Cornell notes how-to: use during research assignments

The fourth example of using Cornell notes during history class is to show students how to use the layout while researching for assignments.

To do this, you could model using the Cornell notes set-up with research questions at the top as a ‘title’. Then you would take notes underneath from a variety of sources.

This example of using Cornell notes in history is particularly useful to middle school and lower high school students. This is because it helps them understand the connection between their research questions and what will become paragraphs.

You could also model keeping track of sources in a variety of ways

  • using different colors for notes from different sources
  • using numbers at the end of notes for different sources
  • or, using the Cornell layout on a new page for each source and each research question.

By modeling the steps for researching a topic, you are teaching students the skills students need to become independent learners. And you are teaching a skill that they can take into the real world beyond the school gates.

Cornell notes how-to: use as an end-of-lesson summary activity

The final example of how to use Cornell notes in history class is to use them as an end-of-lesson summary.

A great way to do this in history class is to have stations/tasks that students rotate through during the lesson. Students would have 5-10 minutes to do the task and take notes at each station.

For example, if you were studying the Vikings in middle school history, you could assign a map of the Viking homelands as one task. A second task could be a document study of a Viking attack. And the third task could be a video introducing the Vikings as a third task. (And if you want a good video for this, see the Crash Course History video).

You could also have images of the Viking homelands and information on their climate as a fourth task. Finally, for another two stations you could have explanations of men’s and women’s roles and responsibilities in Viking society.

Students would write important vocabulary words and study questions in the ‘cue’ section. They would take notes in the notes section. Then students would write a summary of their learning in the Cornell notes style summary section.


In doing this type of activity you are achieving multiple goals:

  • providing a variety of activities in multiple formats
  • keeping the lesson moving through multiple activities
  • enabling physical movement
  • freeing yourself up to move through the classroom to manage behavior and assist individual students
  • giving students ownership over their own learning
  • helping students work collaboratively on each of the small stations. (If you arrange the activities to be completed in pairs or small groups)
  • providing learning or study pauses which helps consolidate learning (Luo, Kiewra and Samuelson)

As you can see . . .

There are many ways to use Cornell notes in the classroom beyond giving a long lecture and taking notes.

The five examples using Cornell notes style in a history class show how flexible the note-taking style is. And that is one of the Cornell notes benefits – flexibility. Other benefits include:

  • easy to use
  • make finding information quick
  • can use to study for tests
  • prompts independent analysis of learning materials
  • promotes recall of information

Want more?

Want to learn more about using the Cornell method of note-taking in class? Check out these other blogposts.

If you are looking for a Cornell notes blank template, see here for a free template students can use either printed or digitally. This Cornell notes middle school template can also be used in high school. This template enables Cornell notes in word, or it can be used in google slides.

Research mentioned

Revising lecture notes: how revision, pauses, and partners affect note taking and achievement Linlin Luo1 • Kenneth A. Kiewra1 • Lydia Samuelson1 Received: 29 June 2015 / Accepted: 19 January 2016 / Published online: 25 January 2016 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016