The Sticky Note Approach: Developing Active Readers

By
Amy Groesbeck

Editor's note: We discovered third grade teacher Amy Groesbeck of Texas while we were field-testing our sample issue of Storyworks Jr. We skyped with Amy and her teaching colleagues who had been given our sample issue to demo in their third-grade classrooms. We were delighted by a sticky-note activity she used with Storyworks Jr. content to encourage active reading. We begged Amy to share this more developed Genius Teaching Idea with our Ideabook readers. Try her strategy in your classroom and let us know how it works for you!

 

Critical thinking is an integral component of the learning process, so I wanted to implement a system into my classroom reading routine that would encourage my students to activate their higher-order thinking skills during each of their reading experiences. I also wanted to further improve my students’ comprehension by teaching them how to monitor their reading more efficiently and consistently. I wanted my students to always consider the following:

  • “Does the text make sense?”
  • “I understand what I’m reading because…”

To accomplish this and promote the idea that reading is thinking, I developed a system that incorporated six essential comprehension strategies into our daily reading practice: 1) make connections, 2) ask questions, 3) form inferences, 4) make predictions, 5) monitor comprehension, and 6) form evaluations. I selected six colored sticky notes and assigned each color to a strategy. We refer to this process as “color coding our thinking.” Students associate each of the following comprehension strategies to a particular color: 

  • Make connections = pink
  • Ask questions = orange
  • Make inferences = yellow
  • Make predictions = green
  • Monitor comprehension = blue
  • Make evaluations = purple

During the beginning of the year, I introduced each sticky note as I taught each comprehension strategy. I designed opportunities for my students to practice the skills in isolation since we were focusing on one skill at a time. As my little readers progressed through a text, I taught them to periodically pause and think about what they had read thus far. Depending on the focus skill, we demonstrated our thinking through quick note-taking responses we call “stop-n-jots.” I provided thinking stems for each of the strategies, which students used to form their stop-n-jots. For example, if a student made a connection while reading, he or she used a pink sticky note to record their thought. A student might have written, “This reminds me of my dog. The character in the text has a dog that misbehaves and my dog never listens either.”  

Active Reading Thinking Stems:

1. Make connections

  • This reminds me of…
  • I can relate this to…
  • This makes me think of…

2. Ask questions

  • I’m wondering…
  • Why did…
  • What does…

3. Make inferences

  • From the text, I can infer…
  • My schema helps me know…
  • I’m guessing…because…

4. Make predictions

  • I predict…
  • I think...will happen because…

5. Monitor comprehension

  • I’m thinking…
  • I’m noticing…
  • In this section…

6. Make evaluations

  • In my opinion…
  • I do/do not like…
  • I do/do not agree with…because…

Though I taught students how to form their stop-n-jots in isolation, I’m a firm believer that thoughtful readers combine comprehension strategies. We eventually began incorporating several colored sticky notes while reading a single text. My goal was to allow my students time to achieve a level of confidence so they could begin using these strategies during independent reading, which they did very quickly.

To assist students in becoming active readers, I created anchor charts to reinforce expectations and provide examples. I also created bookmarks students could use during independent reading or small group instruction. Eventually, they were pausing and writing stop-n-jots without being prompted. By the time we received our first issue of Storyworks Jr., we were prepared to dive in!

The sticky-note approach pairs perfectly with Storyworks Jr.’s passages because it can be used with any genre or text. My students and I especially love using Storyworks Jr. because there is always a variety of engaging fiction and nonfiction texts. This week in small group, I selected the paired texts "The History of Minecraft" and "The LEGO Story." We began by previewing the first text and then making predictions. Students recorded a stop-n-jot and shared out. As we read, we stopped after each paragraph to monitor our comprehension. To model their understanding, students wrote a note or paraphrased the main idea of the paragraph. This communicated to me that my little readers comprehended accurately. If students were unable to do so, we reread together or applied other fix-up strategies. As we worked through the text, students continued to pause and record stop-n-jots and placed each sticky note directly onto the text. The collections of sticky notes that eventually emerged served as a visual and reminder of just how much thinking had occurred. Each sticky note equaled one thought!

Another great component of Storyworks Jr. that aligns well with the sticky-note approach are the “Pause and Think” questions provided in the nonfiction and fiction articles. These questions often help my students monitor their comprehension and allow me to check for understanding. Recording sheets can be downloaded online, (click here for an example from a recent article) which is a great way to collect completed sticky notes. When we complete the text, my students transfer their sticky notes from their magazines onto the recording sheet. It’s an effective and efficient way for me to collect their stop-n-jots and provide feedback!

To Sum It Up:

When should you implement this approach into your classroom?

Any time students are reading - small group, cooperative groups, whole group, or independently!

How much prep time should you expect?

There’s very little preparation required! I typically have questions prepared so I can scaffold if necessary. In addition, I organize all of our sticky notes in bins so students are able to retrieve the color they need. Since we use several sticky notes throughout the year, we are able to replenish our bins through parent donations.

What if you can’t get enough sticky notes?

As an alternative, your students could use colored pencils to write stop-n-jots or highlight their notes in the different colors.

Why use the sticky-note approach?

My kids enjoy the self-regulation this approach allows. As they are reading, they have become more engaged with a text, while gaining deeper understandings. For me, it’s an effective formative assessment. At a quick glance, I am able to read students’ notes and provide feedback immediately.

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