Using Two-Column Notes for Researching & Writing from Sources
By: Callie Graham
When it comes to analytical research papers, students often struggle with dissecting complex secondary sources. Solid research-based writing, though, necessitates not only that students comprehend critical articles, but also that they can synthesize the ideas from them with their own analysis of the primary source. Two-column notes provide students with an entry point into secondary texts by focusing their reading. Such notes are also a quick and effective way to evaluate students’ comprehension and to identify students’ misconceptions.
Mrs. Shalkoski’s junior English class, for instance, used secondary source information to enhance their examination of “John Proctor as the Tragic Hero in The Crucible.” In their two-column notes, they recorded key tragic hero traits, which could later be turned into topic sentences, on the left. We then modeled a think aloud for the first two paragraphs of a critical article, having students identify text-features and select quotes that could fit the right-hand-side of the chart. Students then collaborated in groups, annotating their texts, discussing “big ideas” and key points, and recording salient details. Doing so allowed them to draw connections, synthesize ideas, and substantiate their arguments. Ultimately, they used their two-column notes as a starting point for their analytical essays.
Recording research in two-column notes also helps students to clearly organize their points to develop summary writing. In Ms. Duhamel’s Spanish I class, students used two-column notes to research and record the characteristic of animals, which they then turned into cohesive summaries written in Spanish. Similarly, her class relied on two-column notes in investigating a famous Spanish speaking individual of their choice. They then presented a biography of their individual to their class in Spanish using Google slide presentations. Selected individuals included Paco de Lucia, Julia de Burgos, Octavio Paz, Pablo Picasso, and Roberto Clemente, among others. Duhamel noted how these projects pushed students to learn and utilize vocabulary and grammar structures in their writing and speaking that they typically might not encounter until Spanish II or III.