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2. Journal - Lesson on Taking Notes

Often we are asked, "Do I have to read the book to utilize Blackbird & Company Integrated Literature and Writing Guides?" Our response is a resounding, "No, you don't have to, you get to read the book."

During their weekly reading assignment, the first task Blackbird & Company students encounter is to record notes on main characters, setting, and plot. In our Discovery Guides, this is called the Journal section.

Teach your students how to take notes using bullet points to communicate their observations of character development. Challenge your students develop a lexicon to describe characteristics. We’ve generated a handout to get them started.

Here are some basic guidelines for note taking:

Character Notes should be about who a character is, not what he does. Other important information would be: physical appearance, personality traits, family background, habits, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Students take note of anything that distinguishes the character’s personality. Characters do things. They feel things. They hear things. They say things. They think things. They go places. They can walk, run, leap, and jump. They may sit and rock in a rocking chair. They may just lie in bed, sleep, and dream. But the important thing is that characters act. And these actions show us what kind of people these characters are: friendly, sad, nosey, happy, confused, angry, or inventive.

When we talk about a character in a story, we often describe that character with descriptive adjectives like “happy” or “sad” that describe the specific qualities of the character. These descriptions are the character’s traits. These are the same kinds of words that we might use to describe the traits of real people, but we're using them to describe fictional characters in something we've read.

The author may tell us these traits directly, but more often the author will show us these traits in action. Our job as readers is to get to know the characters in a book and to learn something valuable from the traits that the author crafts for us. We can learn much about the real world by examining what a character says, thinks, and feels. The actions of a character in a book can help us become aware of how real people act. We might infer a character trait from something a character does only once, or we might draw our conclusions from a series of things the character says and does.

Always describe a character trait with a general adjective then support your description with an example phrase from your reading. As you read here are some ideas to get you thinking about character traits:

»Notice the physical attributes that you discover about a character as you read. Use descriptive adjectives

»Jot down actions that the character takes then use a descriptive adjective

»Try to imagine how a character might feel in certain situations; describe those feelings with descriptive adjectives and an example

Setting Notes should note the broad, general aspects of the setting, including time period and geographic location. Details of the setting such as the description of a house or a room, the weather, season, or time of day, even the mood are important.

Plot Notes should be simple reminders of the major events in each chapter and of the overall direction of the story. Do not retell the entire story.

Like all learning, your students will require more direction and oversight from you in the beginning stages, but with consistent practice this skill will quickly be mastered. Oftentimes a student’s reading level does not coincide with his grade level, keeping this in mind will allow quicker mastery of skills with less frustration on the part of the teacher and the student. Remember to set attainable goals. For example, an Earlybird reader may only write two or three words to describe a character, whereas a high Level 2 reader will be moving toward writing descriptive phrases and observing more subtle and complex details in a story.

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