Grade: Senior

#2784. The Cornell Learning Strategy System

Reading/Writing, level: Senior
Posted Mon Jan 6 09:49:15 PST 2003 by Richard Bloom (
Central HS of Prince George's County Public Schools, Capitol Heights, Maryland
Materials Required: information-laden text, paper, handout
Activity Time: varies
Concepts Taught: prereading, summarizing, postreading


The Cornell Learning Strategy integrates pre-reading, reading, and post-reading procedures into a comprehensive, four-step approach that encourages both mastery of detail and understanding of a passage's main ideas. Although some call it a "note-taking strategy", it should be thought of as multifaceted approach to learning that integrates reading, writing, and speaking and utilizes notetaking, based on the premise that most people learn best by doing rather than merely by passively reading or listening.

The four steps of the Cornell Learning Strategy are as follows:

1. Preview what you will read. Ask yourself, "Why am I reading this? What do I need to find out from this reading?" If you are looking at a textbook for the first time, look first at its Table of Contents. Then, quickly flip through the reading as a whole, paying close attention to its title and subheadings. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph and look for and read every topic sentence. Determine what the author's main purpose is--what is (s)he trying to tell you, the reader? Jot down some questions about the reading--what interests you? What do you want or need to learn more about from the reading to achieve your purpose as its reader?

2. Read the passage and then take notes on it. First, divide the paper on which you will take notes into two sections--the narrower, left side for "captions" of the Main Points of the reading. These are key words or phrases that summarize the contents of the notes you will take down on the right side of your paper in the broader Evidence/Details section. Leave space between the Main Points in the left column so you will have enough room for the evidence in the right column. In this right section, list details that explain each of the reading's Main Points. You needn't write in complete sentences, as your notes are for your use only. Your paper should be divided like this:

Main Points1.2. 3. Details1. 2.3.

3. Summarize what you have read. First, ask yourself whether you found the answers to your questions in the reading. If you didn't, go back to the article and read it again. Once you think you have all of the important material in the reading that you need, review your notes and underline important words or phrases in them. Then, write a summary of the article, including all of its main points and the evidence that backs them up. [Generally, a summary of an article should be not more than one-third the length of the article.]

4. Review what you have learned. Do this by testing yourself, as follows: fold the paper so that only the left side shows. Now, see if you can remember the supporting details for each main point. If you can't, you probably need to reread and restudy the article.