Cornell notes are a simple but flexible note-taking strategy. Basically, you divide your paper into three sections; each section will have a different purpose. To create the notes, simply draw a line vertically (or fold the left side of your paper in), so that your left side is smaller than the right side. These will be the first two sections of your notes. You can play around with the size, but a good starting place is to make the left side of the paper 1/3 of the entire paper, so that the right side (the 2/3 section) can be for more extensive notes. For the third section, simply draw a horizontal line across the page about 1–2 inches from the bottom of the page.
That’s it. You can then use these spaces in any way you want. You can write questions on the left side and then answers on the right side. Or you could write key vocabulary on the left side and definitions on the right. For a history or science class, you could use the left side for important dates and people. For King’s speech, you could write key quotes on the left, with your analysis on the right. Or you could identify literary and rhetorical techniques that King uses on the left and give examples on the right. For example, for his “I have a dream speech,” you could write literary devices such as allusion, metaphor, repetition/ anaphora, and imagery on the left side. And then on the right side, you could write examples of each of these, such as his allusion to the Emancipation Proclamation, his use of extended metaphor in discussing the promissory note, his use of anaphora in repeating the phrase “I have a dream,” his image of the “little black boys and black girls . . . join[ing] hands with the little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Because this speech has such strong visual language, you could also use the left side to draw brief sketches of some of the images or metaphors. When determining how to use the left side, decide WHY you are taking notes. What is your goal for the lecture or reading? Creating a purpose for your notes will help you be a more effective note-taker.
Another way to use Cornell notes is to focus on the right side only at first. Write your notes from a lecture or a reading on the right side. Then, after the lecture or reading, go back through your notes a second time, filling in the left side with the key words that capture the meaning of each chunk of notes. Or use the left side to come up with review questions. The main point is that by reviewing and adding to your notes, you are clarifying information and creating connections, thus building your recall and comprehension.
The bottom third section can also be adapted however you want, but it’s most often used as a way to summarize the information. For example, for the “I have a dream speech,” you could summarize by saying that, in the speech, King uses a variety of persuasive techniques in order to exhort his listeners to keep fighting for the dream of a country where all people have equal rights.
This style of note-taking is great for test review. You can simply cover up the right side and then use the left side as a way to test yourself on the material. For example, if you came up with review questions for King’s speech on the left side, you could cover up the right side and then test yourself with these questions. Your questions might be something like this: What is King persuading the public to do? What persuasive techniques does he use? How does King feel about the country’s founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? What were the issues black people faced in 1963? What is King’s tone in various sections of the speech? Why does King say that we must reject “gradualism”?
Cornell notes are helpful in creating space and organization on your page, so you don’t end up cramming information on your paper or end up with illegible notes. Using these notes will allow you to see and create connections between your ideas. It also helps you to identify gaps in your notes that can be addressed as you review. As you practice using Cornell notes, you will develop your own style of adapting these notes to your needs. Be creative and find out what works for you!
The Cornell Note Taking system requires you to divide the paper into three parts. There will be a vertical division on the left side, where one larger box to the right will be where you will take notes on essential concepts from the speech. Key terms and points will be on the left. Leaving about five to six lines from the bottom, these two areas will be where the bulk of the notes from the speech will be. The horizontal space at the bottom will be where you will summarize the speech about a day after you compose the notes.
In the right section of your notes is where you will start your notetaking. Progressing through each part of the speech, note important ideas that Dr. King makes in the speech. Keep them short and abbreviated, if possible. This will force you to remember key points and synthesize the information in your own mind, as opposed to blindly copying. For example, you would probably bypass the opening paragraph as it is Dr. King expressing his gratitude for his appearance. As you read the second paragraph, you might note in the large section, "Emancipation Proclamation= hope to slaves." Notice how this is a fragment, using symbols or abbreviations and isn't a complete sentence. The Cornell Note Taking System asks you to do this often.
As you come across terms and vocabulary that you deem important or critical, note these in the left column. For example, "injustice" in the second paragraph might be noted in this section. This can also be where you note questions that you might have as you read the speech and take your notes. Once you have finished taking your notes in this manner, a day later, summarize in your own words the bulk of your notes in the bottom portion of your notes.