Cornell Notes Update! What I've Learned & What I'm Changing

by - May 28, 2019

[this post contains affiliate links]

If you are familiar with my Cornell Notes series, then you understand how much I love using Cornell Notes in my classroom. If you are not familiar with my Cornell Notes series, then have a look! It is by far the most popular content on my blog. 


It is the last week of school, and while I endlessly stare at students taking final exams, I reflect on the year and decide what worked and what didn't. For the most part, this year was very productive - but there is always room for improvement! I like to be succinct and efficient in my classroom, I hate wasting time, I hate disorganization, and I love routines. There were some things this year that ended up being more chaotic than I expected, and routines were not as tight as they could have been.

Let's start with the problems that I noticed this year:

1. Binders are a mess. I have discussed how I am SO over Interactive Notebooks, and when I ditched them I started having students use 3-ring binders. Well this year, that was a disaster. I spent far too much time having students reorganize binders, papers got lost and jammed in the bottom of cubby boxes and backpacks - wow. It was a disaster. I don't have time for this! 

2. Keeping track of start-ups was difficult for my students. This year, I used a PowerPoint and Response sheet start-up, and though the process was easy enough on me to implement, my students struggled with keeping track of their start-up sheets because of the aforementioned binder situation. I also felt that these start-ups did not offer as much routine as I need for my students who need a huge amount of structure. I recently wrote about start ups in another post, and you can find more information there on the different start-ups that I use and have used in my classroom (plus, I made some resources available!).

3. I did not like students having to thumb through other papers and assignments to find their Cornell Notes pages. These notes are the bread and butter of the classroom, an in order for students to work independently on assignments, I need them to have easy access to their Cornell Notes at all times. This is inefficient if students have to riffle through binders and inevitably shout out, "miss I can't find it!" when it is, in fact, there somewhere

These problems are surely minimal and mostly stem from my own weird OCD, so they can be easily fixed!

So in order to ensure that I do not run into these problems next year (though I'm sure that I will run into others!), I came up with a plan. 

Next year, I am going to use notebooks that include the entire year of bell ringers, Cornell Notes pages, and student data sheets. This ensures that students have every resource that they need in my class at their fingertips. Because our students will be 1:1 next year (meaning every student will have their own laptop), I will use less paper assignments so having binders full of messy papers will be a thing of the past! 

I created these books myself using a binding tool that I bought on Amazon, some cheap binding spirals (about $10 for a box of 100), and my laminater (that I used to make the front and back cover). Binding these notebooks was a real time investment, but I think that it will be well worth it. 

What I learned this year was that, if given the resources, students are more than capable of practicing skills independently. Because I teach students who are still learning English and students with severe learning disabilities, it can be so easy to hold their hands every single step of the way, but it is important for students to be able to take control of their learning, regardless of where they fall on any bell curve. 

Using the Cornell Notes student pages has been an incredible resource for my students. I see them consistently referring to them when they are completing assignments, so I know that this is a practice that I want to continue. By better organizing these resources into a singular notebook, students will have an easier time locating them when they need them!

Below are some photos with an explanation of what is in my notebooks:

As you can see, the binding on these is very professional looking, but I totally did them myself! The covers are just laminated cardstock, so they are thick and durable. 

The first page of the notebook is a copy of my class syllabus (I have redacted personal information). This ensures that students have a copy at all times.

This page is intended for students to keep track of their schedules and any digital resource passwords that we use. Students never remember their passwords for the website resources that we use in my classroom, so I think that adding this will alleviate the stress of me having to look up usernames and passwords every single day!

This is a progress monitoring/data sheet for students to keep track of their grades and scores on different assessments that we use in Reading class throughout the year. Students should always be able to see their progress in real-time.

This data sheet pertains to our Florida FSA standardized exam, and we always give students a copy of their scores from the previous year so that they know what "growth" they are expected to achieve in the current year.

This is a goal setting sheet that I do at the beginning of the school year with my students. By adding it to their notebooks, they have direct and easy access to it all year for reflection and a reminder of the high goals that they set for themselves at the beginning of the year.

The next pages are bell ringer pages, and in a notebook this is what they look like! The entire week is on one spread so students can see the week in one glance. You can get a copy of this bell ringer document here.

Next, are my Cornell Notes pages. I printed these so that the front side of each page was a Cornell Notes page, and the back side of the page was lined so that we could take extra notes, keep track of other information, stick in a foldable or use post-its, or whatever else we ended up adding.

I also included 5 blank Cornell Notes pages at the end just in case something gets added throughout the year, we need clarification on something, a new skill needs to be introduced for whatever reason, etc. It is always good to have a backup!

Overall, I am pleased with how these notebooks turned out, and I am looking forward to using them with my students next year. I think that tightening up the routines and helping students be more organized will result in less wasted time and far less frustration for me! Also the data sheets provide for more accountability and allows for students to see when they are successful.

These resources are available on this website if you are interested in exploring a similar option in your own classroom. You do not have to use a binder to make notebooks, as a 3-prong folder will likely work just as effectively (especially the plastic-ish ones). I am a little nutty about things being the same and organized... if you do not have that insanity in your brain, then I envy you :)

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below or shoot me an email at 

You May Also Like


  1. I am interested in using these notebooks with my 6th graders this year. Do you keep them in your classroom, as opposed to having the students bring them everyday?

  2. I recently purchased the cornell notes and I love them! I was curious as to what resources you use to teach the information on the Cornell notes?

  3. This is so great! Thank you for sharing so much.
    How do you typically grade these? Do you grade the notes daily? Would students be able to keep track of each bell ringer page and notes page with a binder clip or paper clip?
    Additionally, I noticed the image you shared seemed to be fill-in-the-blanks pages. I know you have another post about differentiation. Would you create some notebooks with heavy scaffolding or differentiation up front and other notebooks that aren't differentiated?

  4. I purchased the cornell notes before the update, is there a way to get the updated ones?

  5. Do you glue everything into each notebook before the school year starts?

  6. I have all of your Cornell notes, but I don't see one for the informational text structure for Description. Great work by the way!