Tools for Teachers

(Note: As I transfer content from to, I cannot promise it will remain available in the future. Content on this page, for example, will change in the future, replaced by a new, more select set of tools.)

The various tools on this page offer examples and ideas for how to use such tools in the classroom. These have all been improved upon and discussed in much more detail in 50 Essential Lessons and Tools for Thought. You can find additional tools I have created for use in my current classes in the curriculum packets on the Materials page.


Bookmarks for Critical Reading

These bookmarks are designed to keep the questions you need as close to the page as possible. There are two different bookmarks, one more directed to fiction (though useful for certain types of nonfiction) than the other.
Bookmark: Character Card (pdf)
Bookmark: Reading: Think About It 2.0

character directory spreadsheet

Character Directory (pdf)

A very helpful one-page spreadsheet to help students determine the importance, role, and name of each character in a story. Could be easily adapted for social studies readings which require kids to keep track of many different names.

semantic map

Cluster Notes

Used for just short of one million ideas. Used to generate and organize ideas in early stages of reading or writing or thinking process. For a wonderful program that does this, visit
Click here to download a pdf version of Cluster Notes

continuum notes

Continuum Notes (pdf)

A one-page tool created to help students evaluate and organize information along a continuum. This page uses a blank continuum I created and a series of questions to help you and your students evaluate and organize what they read, hear, watch, or write

Conversational Roundtable

I use the Conversational Roundtable more than any other tool. It is appropriate for any class, any level; it works for groups or individuals. The principle behind it is to have four (ideas, authors, books, characters, eras, etc.) sit around the table and see what they have to say to each other, how they relate to each other. Several different types of examples are included below.

Cornell Notes

Traditional notetaking format. To teach them how to take Cornell Notes, download and use the Cornell Notes Intro.

Episodic Notes

Students use this notemaking method for a variety of text types and purposes. It asks them to identify distinct scenes or moments in the text they are reading (or subject they are studying) and then explain what is happening and why it is important.

  1. Example: (Good) Student summarizes but does not make inferences. (Workshop class)
  2. Example: (Better) Student summarizes and makes inferences (Workshop class)

Hierarchical Notes

A useful, familiar tool for organizing ideas into a hierarchy. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and Kohlberg’s moral stages come to mind as examples that conform to this format. The tool is, in short, a means of organizing information or ideas into a hierarchy.
Click here to download a pdf version of the Pyramid

idea cards

Idea Cards

Use these cut-out cards for many different purposes. They work well to help students manipulate ideas and test out different relationships. For example, write all the names of important characters and places on them; then cut them up, and arrange them in clusters to show who is related to whom.

Inference Notes

This tool is specifically designed to help students analyze a fictional character by finding and interpreting quotes by or about the character; then a space at the bottom of the page asks students to make inferences about the character, incorporating examples from the graphic organizer.
Click here to download a pdf version of the Inference Notes
Click here to download a pdf version of the Inference Notes Intro

Interactive Notes (pdf)

A new version of what I have called at different times BDA (Before/During/After) Notes and Interactive Notes. A notemaking tool that guides students through close reading and develops their academic language through a series of prompts. 
Click here to download a pdf sample of Interactive Notes

Judge’s Notes

In one column, write down the questions you think will help you make the right decision and understand the issues in the case. In another column jot down personal observations and responses about the defendants. In a third column note evidence or other details that would support your final decision/opinion. Use this graphic organizer in the same way; these notes will prepare you to write a subsequent paper in which your state your opinion and support your argument with evidence from your notes. Appropriate for any persuasive assignment.
Click here to download a pdf version of the Judge’s Notes

linear array

Linear Array

Works very well for the study of words, discussion of probability. Example: I will have my students generate words along the continuum like: Impossible, Unlikely, Possible, Probable, Certain. This continuum of probability allows us to discuss how a character might act, which of all the possible events might be on an exam, etc. Very useful tool that helps them develop an important way of thinking.

Lit Circle Notes

This method, which is laid out like a standard Cornell Notes page, incorporates the questions and roles outlined in Harvey Daniels’s Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom.
Click here to download a pdf version of the Lit Circle Notes Intro
Click here to download a pdf version of the Lit Circle Notes
Exemplar: Click here to download a pdf version of the Lit Circle Notes exemplars.

make your own test

Make Your Own Test (pdf)

Created for students in my ACCESS program, this document teaches them how tests work by having them create their own using the texts/textbooks from their content area classes.

outline notes

Outline Notes

A blank generic outline page that I use to help student organize info, take notes, and generally think in an orderly fashion before or while writing, reading, or thinking.

plot notes

Plot Notes

Graphic organizer designed to be used with fiction.

prereading notes

Prereading Notes

This page prepares students to read their textbook or an article. It also reinforces their notemaking skills by guiding them through a series of questions and activities.

process notes

Process Notes (pdf)

This tool is helpful if for no other reason than to reinforce the importance of what we and our students must do before, during, and after.

Q Notes

This tool combines the best of SQ3R and Cornell Notes to offer an excellent way to take notes and prepare for exams on your reading. 
Click here to download a pdf version of Q Notes (pdf)

reciprocal notes

Reciprocal Notes (pdf)

This notemaking tool trains kids to use the reciprocal teaching strategy, but provides them a tool to be able to use the technique on their own. In short, it teaches students to read above and below the surface using questions.

Reporter’s Notes

Reporters always ask the questions their readers will ask. Readers using this notemaking method while reading will be sure to get more than “just the facts, ma’am” and arrive at a deeper understanding of what they read. Appropriate to all subject areas.

Sensory Notes

Good readers use all their senses to help them fully grasp what they are reading. They use their imagination to help them see what the author is writing, to hear what the language sounds like. This notemaking method asks readers to pay specific attention to the sensory details of what they read to help them better understand what the text is saying. Appropriate for any subject area, but especially useful for reading literary and narrative texts.

Spreadsheet Notes

Endless uses for this generic spreadsheet in all subject areas. One quick example: using it in an English class to take notes of common features/themes across five different novels or stories. Can also be used to organize a project.

story notes

Story Notes

I use this before we begin books and during to study the narrative design of the stories.

Summary Notes

This tool is designed to be used while reading a book or article which must then be summarized. It prepares students to write a précis by providing sample prompts, questions, and tips on what a good summary/précis must include.
Click here to download a pdf version of the Summary Notes *Revised with Student Example)

syntax notes

Syntax Notes

Organizing ideas according categories based on syntax might seem odd, but as the example shows, it can be very easy and most useful. Typically the notes fall into three columns: What You Do (Subject), How You Do It (Verb), and Why You Do It (Object). Especially helpful and appropriate for taking notes on a process or sequence.
Example: Syntax Notes I took while reading state standards

Synthesis Notes

This sheet is specifically designed to take notes while reading fiction. It is a useful one-page tool that directs students’ attention to the crucial aspects of a fictional text and then has them evaluate these details in preparation for writing or discussing the text.

T-Notes (a.k.a. T-Chart)

I use this organizer for a million different assignments. It allows readers to compare and contrast (books, characters, past and present, etc.); it also works as a useful notemaking tool when, for example watching a video that is connected to a book readers are studying. It also allows students to list causes and effects; I do, however, suggest your students use a think-in-three column organizer so you can include consequences or implications in a third column.

Target Notes

By far one of my most commonly used tools. I use it for all sorts of different ideas. It is useful to generate/expand as well as narrow/refine depending on the needs of the assignment or task.
Click here to see a sample of a student’s Inference Notes
Click here to get the “What Matters Most: How to Tell What’s Most Important” Target

teaching by design notes

Teaching by Design

These tools will help you plan and implement a curriculum that meets your needs, the state’s, the district’s, and, most importantly, your students’.
Lesson Plan Template (pdf)
Planning Page (with example) (pdf)
Designing Standards-Based Instruction (pdf)
Process Planner (pdf)
Irvine USD Standards-Based Curriculum Planner (pdf)
Annotated Seating Chart (pdf)

textbook analysis

Textbook Feature Analysis

Created for my ACCESS classes, this document teaches students what their textbook is made of and how it works. It also addresses testing and notemaking strategies, while developing their overall textual intelligence.

think aloud

Think Aloud

Students need to develop the academic language needed to discuss and write about different topics and texts. This handout provides examples of what that might look like, including sentence stems to help students develop that language.
Annotated exemplars from my class.

Think in Threes (Columns)

I sometimes use this tool as an alternative format to the think-in-threes diagram. I also use it sometimes as a variation on the two-column chart by putting a word in the middle—e.g., “friendship”—and then listing examples from two different books on the different sides. This helps provide structure to your notes. Science classes might, for example, put a compound in the middle and then write “before” and “after” atop the left and right columns, then describe the attributes of that compound before and after a particular process.

  1. Example: 3-Column Thinking for All Quiet and personal reading (College Prep Sophomores)
  2. Example: 3-Column Thinking for All Quiet and personal reading (College Prep)

Think in Threes (Graphic)

The principle behind this tool is that we need to consider ideas, characters, events from more than one (i.e., an either/or) perspective to better understand not only what happened but what could have happened. Either/or thinking simplifies; thinking in threes about, for example, a historical event invites us to consider not only how we see it today, but how people (from our and other countries) saw it back then. (Note: see 3-column organizer for additional examples in different format)

  1. Example: (Excellent) Junior reading Beloved (Honors)
  2. Example: (Excellent) Junior reading Beloved (Honors)

Timeline Notes

Timelines, which can be used for a variety of purposes, including experiments in science and the study of historical events, not to mention novels, help readers identify important events in the story or process. At least as important, however, they invite readers to make inferences about how one event relates to another, how one event inspired or lead to another. This insight about cause-effect dramatically improves students’ reading (and thinking, and writing) abilities.

Venn Diagram

The Venn Diagram asks readers to compare and contrast different ideas, texts, authors, characters, eras—and to identify the ways in which they are similar and different. A variation on the Venn Diagram, the 3-circle Venn offers a different way to look at a subject and make connections with what the different domains have in common as well as what is unique. Also referred to elsewhere in my books as the Dense Question strategy.

visual explanation

Visual Explanations

As notemakers get more independent and their tasks become more complex, their notemaking strategies must adapt. The examples included here show students explaining movement, processes, and stages.
Example 1: Othello visual explanation of the first three acts (football diagram)

vocabulary square

Vocabulary Squares

This page, which holds six vocab squares, is the one I give my students each week for their vocabulary. I discuss the value of this approach at greater length in Reading Reminders, but the four squares help readers process the word in different ways, all of them proven useful through different research studies.

webpage notes

Webpage Notes

A blank generic web page template. It works very well as a visual organizing device, espeically with kids who are getting more and more familiar with the web. Example: Give it to groups or an individual and tell them to draft up a home page for American History or Evolution. Same principle as an outline, just different format.


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