Why KWO and Cornell Notes

Why KWO and Cornell Notes

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

–Anne Frank

One of the hardest parts of writing is actually getting started. Staring at that blank piece of paper can seem like the most difficult of tasks. Writing is often a skill that challenges many students, because even if they have a strong command of grammar, it can be challenging to put words together in a way that is persuasive, interesting, and impactful. Even worse – many students struggle to summarize from sources when they are doing research, without plagiarizing the original source, which has become even easier in the digital age. Simply understanding source documents can also be daunting for many children, when they are introduced to research writing. South Hills Academy is taking steps to take the fear and anxiety out of writing for our students by implementing a new writing program in our classrooms. Two techniques we are emphasizing are the Key Word Outline (KWO) and Cornell Notes.

Whether a student is just beginning to write, or has been writing for years, the Key Word Outline will help their writing improve. So what exactly is a Key Word Outline? The Key Word Outline (KWO) involves taking a paragraph and deconstructing it sentence by sentence to extract the words that make up the main idea. You are only allowed three words per sentence, although pictures and symbols are “freebies” (they don’t count as one of the three key words and our artistic students have a school-sanctioned excuse to doodle in class). Once the sentences are broken down into three-word phrases, the student then puts away the original paragraph. They then rewrite each sentence in their own words, using only the Key Word Outline as a guide. The student will then go back through their writing for a final polishing and add verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to make the paragraph more dynamic and interesting to read. 

An example of this would be:

South Hills Academy’s school mascot is Baldwin the eagle. 

Breaking this down into a KWO might look like this:

Eagle, school, mascot

The student would then look at their KWO and create their own original sentence:

Our school mascot is an eagle.

The final step would be to go in and add verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to polish the sentence:

Our school mascot is the majestic and powerful eagle. 

This same technique would be done for each sentence in the paragraph, and then for multiple paragraphs in a story or body of text. 

The Key Word Outline helps children focus on the main idea of each sentence they are reading. Understanding and being able to articulate the main idea of a text is a critical skill all students need to become well-educated, capable adults.

A misconception about a Key Word Outline is that it can sometimes be mistaken for a note taking method, when in reality, it’s really a graphic organizer. There have been a myriad of graphic organizers used in education for decades, the most popular and long-lasting of which is the Venn Diagram which is used to compare and contrast subject matter and details. Graphic organizers are a tool used to help students organize their thoughts, and the KWO is another tool to use in this regard. 

In addition to the writing of KWOs, another academic skill SHA is implementing in our classrooms is the usage of Cornell Notes. 

Cornell Notes date back to the 1950’s and some of our parent Eagles might remember taking this style of notes in their high school and college years. They were created by a Cornell University professor (hence the name), Professor Walter Pauk. 

The student divides the paper into two columns: the note-taking column (usually on the right) is twice the size of the questions/keyword column (on the left). The student should leave five to seven lines, or about two inches (5 cm), at the bottom of the page.

Notes from a lecture or teaching are written in the note-taking column; notes usually consist of the main ideas of the text or lecture, and long ideas are paraphrased. Long sentences are avoided; symbols or abbreviations are used instead. To assist with future reviews, relevant questions (which should be recorded as soon as possible so that the lecture and questions will be fresh in the student’s mind) or keywords are written in the keyword column. These notes can be taken from any source of information, such as fiction books, DVDs, lectures, textbooks, etc.

It’s important to recite the information by covering the note-taking column (with a paper or folder, for example) and then looking at the questions or cue-words column, and saying the answers to the questions, ideas, or facts in your own words. Ask yourself questions while studying: “Why is this material significant?” “How can I apply this to the real-world?” Take the time to study your Cornell Notes, take at least 10 minutes each week and go over your notes. By studying a little bit each day or each week, you will have a greater success rate by retaining more information.

When reviewing the material, the student can cover the note-taking (right) column while attempting to answer the questions/keywords in the keyword or cue (left) column. The student is encouraged to reflect on the material and review the notes regularly.

Through the use of Cornell Notes and Key Word Outlines, our goal at South Hills Academy is for our students to better understand and retain the information they read and write, and for them to ultimately become stronger readers and writers. 

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