Just Try-It Tuesdays: Episodic Notes

TRY IT OUT Tuesday!


Reading comprehension is a MUST in every content area, yet many secondary teachers have not been trained to help kids actually understand some of the complex text they encounter.

Fortunately, there are some easy to implement strategies designed to do just that.  The strategy I am going to discuss today, Episodic Notes, is a tool teachers can use to help kids pull out and summarize important information.

Just like any other strategy, episodic notes is only effective when implemented correctly.  No strategy is replaces effective instruction. What I mean by that is, you can’t just assign episodic notes, or text coding and expect the activity to do the teaching.  These techniques need to be carefully blended with other best practices (clarifying learning targets, frequent opportunities to respond, specific feedback…), to be truly effective.

I learned this lesson often early in my career.  I would read about all these strategies – and get frustrated at my students because they weren’t learning from them.  When the problem wasn’t the students; it was how I implemented and managed the strategy. So as you experiment with different strategies, remember the strategy is just a tool – you are the craftsman that must wield the tool effectively to make something great.

Episodic Notes

Just Try-It Tuesday: Episodic Notes: This strategy is extremely versatile and includes many different variations depending on the content or text.

When you look at the template you notice that students have a space on the left for graphic representations and space on the right for text. You are not limited to 3 that is just the amount I could fit on the page at the size I wanted.

Process: Teacher gives clear directions and models what type of content is acceptable for the graphic representation and what type of writing is expected on the right side.  Here are some examples:

Biology: Read pages 124-128 and illustrate each step of Mitosis.  Include written descriptions of exactly what is going on in each stage using the vocabulary in your academic notebook.

Social Studies:  Read pages 50-61 and identify 3 events that led to the Boston Tea party.  Depict each event with a symbol or image and include a caption on the right explaining each event.

Foreign Language: Review the new vocabulary in Chapter 3. Draw 3 images that involve two or more vocabulary terms and use the terms in a gramatically correct sentence. *Challenge – write each sentence in present tense and past tense.

Math:  For each word problem create your own chart, image, number line, or graph.  Explain the steps you took to solve the problem.

ELA: Identify and illustrate 3 sources of conflict the protagonist encounters in part 1 of this novel.  On the right, explain how the protagonist changed as a result of that conflict.

Universal:  Read the text and illustrate the 3 most important points the author makes. Explain why you think these are significant.

Text Structure:

Different disciplines include texts with different text structures. For example, ELA mostly features text that has a plot (novels, stories…) Social studies and Science includes text that have a cause/effect, problem/solution, or a chronological structure – oftentimes a blend of the three. Math texts are unique in that they usually chunk complex processes content into steps that gradually build on one another.

Using Episodic Notes is a great way to help make these text structures more explicit for students. While fluency and comprehension are universal reading skills, we read each type of text for different purposes.  When was the last time you went on vacation  to relax and curled up with your latest copy of Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching? Most  of us don’t read technical books for enjoyment – we read them to glean specific information, so the WAY we read them is different.  Students need to be explicitly taught HOW to read certain types of texts. Episodic notes could be a means to that end by making the template mirror the text structures – see below:

  • Cause/effect:  illustrate the causes. Explain the effects in writing.
  • Sequence: Illustrate each step in the sequence and explain what is actually happening during each step.
  • Problem/Solution: Illustrate the problem and explain the solution.
  • Compare/contrast: Illustrate what is being compared or contrasted. Write distinguishing characteristics of each item on the right.
  • Description: Illustrate what is being described. Include quotes from the text that influenced your illustration.
  • Short Stories/novel: Illustrate important events in beginning/middle/end of story or chapter.  Include an important quote or caption for each illustration.


  • When implemented correctly this form of note taking gives students purpose for reading the text.
  • Students who are intimidated by writing a lot are more at ease due to small amount of space set aside for writing.
  • Artistically inclined students have a chance to show off their skills.
  • Students have flexibility/autonomy in regards to how they illustrate a concept.
  • Takes a little plan time and can be used with any text.
  • Teachers can quickly see whether or not students grasp important concepts in text.
  • Can help make text structure more explicit.
  • Can function as quick formative assessment – make sure you provide descriptive feedback related to your learning target.
  • By reviewing student work, teachers can pin point difficult parts in the text, or uncover student misconceptions.
  • Student responses can function as good whole class discussion starters as oftentimes two students may include 2 very different illustrations that are both applicable depending on reasoning.

Caution: Handing this template to students and giving them the hour to read the text and draw pictures will more than likely not result in them understanding the learning target. It is still necessary to provide direction before the assignment and time for them to process or extend their learning after completing the notes.


TRY IT OUT Tuesdayb

 Just Try-It Challenge: Identify a text in the unit you are teaching and teach students this strategy to take notes.  Be sure to adapt the assignment to meet your specific learning target.




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