Collaborative Reading and Note-taking

Julie Sagliano, Miyazaki International College



  • Key Words: Reading, Pair Work
  • Learner English Level: Low Intermediate to Advanced Learner
  • Learner Maturity Level: Jr. High School and above
  • Preparation Time: None
  • Activity Time: One hour

All four language-skill areas are integrated in this activity to teach reading strategies and note-taking techniques in academic and pre-academic programs. By beginning with individual previewing, timed readings, and guessing vocabulary in context, the teacher introduces ways to increase reading speed and comprehension. Then, by working cooperatively in pairs, students negotiate the meaning of individual paragraphs and learn basic paraphrasing, summarizing and note-taking skills.

This technique can be used with any selected reading passage. I have used this activity with low intermediate to advanced language learners. Allow at least one hour of class time for this activity. It requires no preparation time.


The student will:

  • increase reading speed
  • guess vocabulary in context
  • find main ideas
  • discuss the reading with a classmate, and
  • summarize verbally and in writing the main points of a reading.


Step 1: Introduce previewing techniques, such as focusing on the title as a possible summary of the reading, predicting the contents of a reading, randomly reading several sentences in the text, and estimating the time necessary to read a portion of the text.

Step 2: Do a series of three-minute timed readings in which the students work through the reading section once. Allow the students to read at their own pace for the first timed reading to determine individual reading speeds (see Suggestions and Options for details). Then for the subsequent timed readings, encourage the students to push themselves to read at a faster speed. For example, if a student's normal reading speed is 80 words per minute for a text, urge him or her to try to increase the speed to 100 or 1l0. Emphasize reading for the gist or main idea.

Step 3: After quickly reading through the entire reading portion, put the students in pairs. Ask them to write one or two sentences in their notebooks answering the question: What's the reading about? Have the pairs compare their sentences and then ask several students to share their sentences with the class.

Step 4: Next, ask the students to read the first paragraph of the text and lightly cross out any vocabulary words that they don't know. Have them re-read the paragraph, guessing the meaning of the crossed out words. Allow students to use their dictionaries only to look up one or two key vocabulary words which they feel will help them understand the main idea of the paragraph. Tell them to help their partners understand vocabulary words. Crossing out the unknown vocabulary words enables the students to realize that it is not necessary to look up every word in order to understand the main ideas of a reading passage. It also gives the teacher important information about the readability of the passage.

Step 5: Ask the students to try to answer the question: What's the paragraph about? Have pairs discuss the meaning of the paragraph and compose a sentence or two which summarizes the main idea using their own words. Tell students to write the sentences in their notebooks. For initial sessions using this technique, the teacher should circulate and help pairs guess vocabulary in context and guide them in verbalizing the main idea of each paragraph. The students will require less and less help with repeated practice.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each paragraph throughout the reading selection.

Suggestions and Options

To determine reading speed or the number of words read per minute, count the number of words per line in several lines throughout the passage. Calculate the average number of words per line. Ask the students to count how many lines of text they read during the three-minute timed reading, to multiply that by the average number of words per line, and to divide by three.

Although frequently I did a series of three timed readings when doing this activity, two is probably enough. In my experience, almost all students increase their reading speed on the second timed reading, but some go down on the third. Tell the students to go back and read from the beginning of the passage if they finish the reading before the three minutes are up. Having students keep a record of their reading speeds increases motivation and encourages progress.

If time permits, it is very useful for two pairs to compare their notes and, finally, for selected groups of four to share their notes with the class.

As a follow-up, the teacher may want to give a short quiz based on the main ideas of the reading and allow students to use their notes.