blog stats

A Notetaking/Summarizing Strategy from WritingFix
an on-line write-up from one of the NNWP's Print Publications

Navigating WritingFix:

Return to the WritingFix Homepage

Return to WritingFix's Summarization Homepage

Return to WritingFix's Notetaking Homepage


About the Author:

Abby Olde teaches middle school language arts in Reno, Nevada. Abby became a Consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project in 2006, and has been involved in a number of their annual projects. In 2009, Abby launched her own page of resources here at WritingFix, and that page can be accessed by clicking here.

Abby gives credit for this on-line idea: "This is not a new strategy, and has and is being used by many classroom teachers. This is my adaptation of how we use the strategy in our classroom."

This Strategy's Title:

Snowball Note-Making and Summarizing

This idea was shared with us by NNWP Teacher Consultant Abby Olde.

In January of 2010, the Northern Nevada Writing Project will publish its eighth print publication for educators: The Note-making & Summarizing Across the Curriculum Guide. These guides are created during projects sponsored by the NNWP.

What you see on this page is just one of the write-ups that will be featured in this new guide. The guide will feature over 30 ideas like this one, and on-line we will share a dozen of these ideas from the guide.

We hope you'll support the NNWP by purchasing the new guide when it becomes available in 2010.

Overview of this Lesson/Strategy:

This strategy will help your students recall information learned in nonfiction and/or fiction reading assignments. It can be an extension of Four Square Notes or be used on its own in a variety of ways. Following a reading selection, students will reflect on reading content by note making or summarizing in the following categories: something they already knew, something they found interesting from the reading, something they found surprising, and questions that were raised during the reading. The key to snowball notes is that students build on one another’s knowledge, adding to the collective understanding of the concept being taught.

This Strategy's Connections to Literacy:

The Reading Connection: This can be a post reading strategy where students are asked to reflect on information learned from previous reading assignments or lecture notes. This can also be a during reading strategy where students are asked to make notes using this template during a reading or lecture activity.

The Writing Connection: Students are asked to reflect and create a personal response to a reading assignment. In their writing they must summarize, give examples, and ask questions (trait of organization). Students are also asked to create their own notes to share with other students. They will continue to build on to their classmates’ notes by adding additional facts, ideas, reflections, etc.

Steps in Implementation:

I use snowball notes/summaries in a variety of ways in my classroom. This strategy helps students summarize, synthesize, and sequence information that I have asked students to read, watch, or listen to. Students can create their own snowball note/summary organizers by folding a piece of notebook paper into fourths, or you can use the attached graphic organizer. The headings in each of the boxes can be changed and adjusted to match your lesson or topic.

  1. Begin by giving students material to read, watch or listen to.
  2. Hand out a graphic organizer or have students fold a piece of notebook paper into fourths.
  3. The following four headings are suggestions that can be at the top of each of the four squares:
    • Something You Knew (What did you already know that was discussed in the reading?)
    • The 5 Most Important Ideas Presented
    • Something Surprising or Interesting You (What did you read that was surprising, interesting, shocking, etc.)
    • Questions You Have (Was there something unclear? Do you want to know more about something that was discussed? Are there questions that you still have?)
  4. Have students begin completing the four squares as they read, listen to, or watch the given content (or for summarizing, this could be done following a note making activity). Encourage students to fill in as much as they can. Encourage them to paraphrase and use examples from their reading and/or notes.
  5. When students have completed the note making four square organizer, ask them to crumple their paper into a ball (a snowball!). Many students will stare in disbelief, or they will feel not okay about “defacing” their work, but encourage them it has a purpose!
  6. Divide classroom into two sides. Have students throw their snowballs to the other side of the room (not aiming at other students’ heads!). Each student must grab a snowball and sit quietly in their seat.
  7. Ask students to open their snowball and read what their classmate has written down in each square. Have students add at least one thing to each square – either a note they may have made that is not on this paper, or a comment about something written on this paper, etc.
  8. Repeat step 7 as many times as you would like. I usually do at least three rounds.
  9. After the last “snowball fight,” have students return their snowballs to the original owners. Allow students to read over the additions and comments to their notes. Note: you can have students fill in one box at a time and have a snowball fight in between completing each box (then each box is filled in by another student).

Strategy in Action:
(Abby shares how she uses this tecnqiue with her curriculum)

During a poetry unit, I have my 7th grade students read, analyze, and discuss different aspects of a selection of poems. I use snowball notes to engage students in a deeper note making process where they are thinking about a poem and building on their classmates’ understandings and analyses.

After handing out and reading aloud one of these poems, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, I ask students to create a four square organizer for snowball notes. On the very top of the paper students write the title and author of the poem and their name (or heading). In the first box, I ask them to draw a picture of what comes into their heads when they read this poem. In the second box, I ask them to write down what actions and emotions they think are occurring in the poem. I then have students take their papers and crumple them into snowballs. They get very excited about this step!

After the classroom is divided into two sides, the snowball fight ensues with snowballs flying through the air. Each student must catch or pick up only one other snowball, and I have to ask students to help other students find stray snowballs. Now each student has a package they get to open. As they are opening their snowballs, I ask students to read over what their classmate wrote in the first two boxes. I ask them to add to what is already written in their boxes. Add to the drawing, put in their own opinions and comments, etc. I then ask them to complete tasks in the next two empty boxes. In the third box, I ask them identify what poetic/literary elements they can recognize occurring in this poem (we have been studying and practicing these terms throughout the unit). They are allowed to consult their notebooks for this if they need to. In the fourth box I ask students to write a summary of what they think the poem is about in their own words.

When they complete these two boxes, I ask students to engage in another snowball fight. For this last round, students should have a paper that two other classmates have completed. I ask student to read all four boxes, and add their own ideas, notes, opinions, comments, etc. When this final task is completed, students return the original paper to their classmates. Students can read over their notes and comments, and save this in their binders. I am often surprised to see these crumpled notes being neatly smoothed out and filed in notebooks and then reproduced as study guides throughout the unit. Students seem to really treasure these!


Our Connection to Research:

"Effective notes and summaries require that students analyze information at a deeper level and that they reflect and analyze the information studied."

(From A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert Marzano, Jennifer Norford, Diane Paynter, Debra Pickering, and Barbara Gaddy)

Cross-Curricular Connections:

This strategy can be used in any class at any grade level. It helps students classify, make a personal connection to, and reflect on expository or fictional text they are required to read, listen to, or watch.


WritingFix Homepage Writing Across the Curriculum Homepage   Summarization Homepage
 Additional Teacher and Student Samples for this Writing Assignment

© WritingFix. All rights reserved.