Give Notes a Power Reading
By Doug Buehl,
Madison East High School teacher
Member, Wisconsin State Reading Association
Power notes help prioritize information
Let’s say you are in the market for a new car. Notice how your mind
immediately begins to sort and categorize the information that is relevant
to your decision. As you consider vehicles you would like to own, perhaps
the first mental sorting, sadly, divides your choices into “cars
you can afford” and “cars you cannot.” Next you might group
the affordable cars into important subcategories, perhaps based on vehicle
size or fuel efficiency. Finally, within these clusters, you might list
the makes of vehicles that are possible purchases.
Classifying and subdividing information is a natural mental activity,
and it is an essential process in classroom learning. But many of our
students struggle with perceiving integral relationships in material,
and as a result have difficulty distinguishing attributes, examples, and
other details from main ideas. Power Notes (described in Santa, et. al.,
1996) provides a systematic way to help students organize information
for their reading, writing, and studying.
Power Notes are a streamlined form of outlining, and are easy to introduce
to students. Main ideas or categories are assigned a power 1 rating. Details,
examples, or attributes are assigned power 2s, 3s, or 4s.
Step 1: Start by modeling Power Notes with categories familiar
to the students. Point out how the powers relate to each other: power
2s offer examples or elaboration of power 1s, power 3s provide examples
or elaboration of power 2s, and so on.
For example, a power 1 could be “fruit.” Power 2s could be
bananas, grapes, pears, and apples. Power 3s for apples could be Macintosh,
Yellow Delicious, and Cortland. Power 4s could list characteristics for
each apple variety, such as “red-skinned,” “great for pies,”
and “keeps a long time” for the Macintosh category.
As you model Power Notes, show how indenting helps you recognize how
the powers relate to each other, as demonstrated in this football example:
1. Penalties in Football
----- 2. On Offense
---------- 3. Holding
---------- 3. Clipping
----- 2. On Defense
---------- 3. Off Sides
---------- 3. Pass Interference
-----------3. Grabbing Face Mask
----- 2. On Special Teams
Step 2: Provide students with opportunities to practice using
Power Notes to categorize information and explore relationships among
the material. For example, select a number of power 1, 2, and 3 terms
from a unit of study and write them on separate index cards. Distribute
sets of cards to students working in cooperative groups and give them
the task of arranging the cards according to powers and corresponding
Cards in a U.S. history unit on the “Age of Reform” could include
a power 1 (“reformers”), power 2s (“populists,” “unions,”
“progressives”), and power 3s (“NAACP,” “Farmer’s
Alliance,” and others). Students might arrange these cards the following
----- 2. Populists
---------- 3. National Grange
---------- 3. Farmer’s Alliance
---------- 3. Populist Party
----- 2. Unions
---------- 3. The Knights of Labor
---------- 3. American Fed. of Labor
---------- 3. IWW
----- 2. Progressives
---------- 3. Muckrakers
---------- 3. NAACP
---------- 3. Progressive Party
This activity can serve as a review exercise, and students could be given
blank cards to add power 4 information to power 3 cards, or add other
items to the outline.
Step 3: As students become adept at perceiving “power”
relationships, Power Notes can be used in a variety of ways to enhance
learning. To improve comprehension of textbook material, photocopy a paragraph(s)
and cut the sentences apart. Have students work in groups to arrange the
sentences according to power relationships. Sentences which do not adhere
to power relationships, such as transition sentences, can be set aside
as students fit together the information in the passage.
Power Notes can also be an effective way to help students organize their
writing. A simple 1-2-2-2 outline can start students with constructing
a well-organized paragraph:
1. Healthy Methods To Lose Weight
----- 2. Set Realistic Goals
----- 2. Eat Fewer Calories
----- 2. Develop Regular Exercise Program
You should follow healthy methods if you want to lose weight. First,
you should set realistic weight loss goals. Next, you should plan a diet
that involves eating fewer calories. Finally, you should develop a regular
program of exercise in addition to your diet.
Students can further elaborate each point by adding power 3 and 4 details
to flesh out their writing. Power Notes gives students a means to analyze
their writing in terms of structure and development of ideas.
Power Notes offer an easy-to-understand strategy for classifying information.
- Students are given a system that helps them prioritize main ideas
from supportive details.
- Students are prompted to look for relationships within material they
are studying. • Power relationships can guide students in taking
coherent notes from textbooks or classroom presentations.
Further Resources: Santa, C., Havens, L. & Macumber, E. (1996)
Creating Independence Through Student-owned Strategies. Kendall/Hunt Publishing
Company: Dubuque, IA.
Posted December 5, 1997