For focused reading notes, think about what you would like students to take away from a reading assignment.  Then, identify 3-5 themes or concepts you would like students to watch for in the reading.  Choose a short phrase or keyword related to each theme/concept, and have students write these down as column headers on a sheet of paper.  Students then enter reading notes in the appropriate column.


Students will have a plan for focusing their reading to help them extract important concepts or themes.  It provides them with an organizational framework capturing notes about new knowledge they are engaging.  Completing the worksheet as they are reading helps engage them in the process of learning.

When to use:
  • As a preparatory activity for class discussion or forum
  • To prepare students for an essay assignment
  • As a piece of a more detailed project

Face to face:

  1. Determine important concepts from the text and assign keywords or phrases.  For example, if the reading is about a high engagement teaching practice, the headings/keywords might be “benefits”, “suitability for online courses”, “variations”, and so forth.
  2. Give the headings to the students along with directions for the assignment, or create a handout/worksheet for them
  3. Students complete the sheet as they are reading, using the headings/columns to organize their notes
  4. Students may be instructed to turn in the worksheet as an assignment, or they could use them as notes when they are preparing for another assessment (quiz, essay, etc.).


  1. Prepare as for face to face.  Provide students with the list of headings.  Students complete their worksheet as an assignment that can be turned in through Canvas.


Bean, J.C. (1996). Engaging ideas:  The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom.  San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, p. 144.