What do I do With These Sticky Notes?

2 Jan

I have a love-hate relationship with sticky notes.  My gut says they’re good.  Having students write down what they’re thinking is good.  Having a flexible way for them to organize and re-organize their thoughts (by grouping, layering, sharing) is good.  Asking students to take a thought they jotted on a sticky note and write long about it is good.  

But the reality is so often bad.  Random thoughts jotted down in a rush of careless haste.  Pages  of sticky notes detailing every event in a book.  Seemingly endless numbers of stickies with stick-figures drawn on them, stuffed inside of a desk like packing peanuts in an Amazon box.

What to do about sticky notes?

Shana Frazen, a staff developer at TCRWP, gave a lecture where she shared the idea that “stickies are a means, not the end.”  We forget that the purpose of writing a sticky note is to get kids to think at a deeper level than they otherwise would have.  A sticky note is a tool meant to help foster greater thinking.  Here are a few things I’ve tried to support student work with sticky notes.

Problem: Students never write any sticky notes, so they have no thoughts to work off of.

Strategy – Stop and Jot During Read-Aloud

The read aloud is the time of the day that you get to up the complexity of the work your students are doing.  You’re reading and thinking-aloud from a post-it-worthy text.  I’ll frequently stop my read-aloud to have students jot down what they’re thinking.  Sometimes they’ll talk to partners and then jot, to get a larger perspective.

The read-aloud is also a great place to show students the variety of thinking and jotting they can be doing.

  • Jot down inferences and predictions
  • Stop to sketch when a particularly vivid portion of the text comes up.
  • Make lists–lots of lists!  We have lists of character traits, lists of things that repeat, lists of main events.  The kids have learned that they can grow a lot of thinking from good lists.

The read-aloud not only models for students the kinds of note-taking they can be doing in their own reading, but it gives them material to work with if they continue to struggle to take independent notes.

Strategy – Whole Class Stop and Jot Times

If students are having a tough time monitoring their own sticky noting (either with too much time spent writing or none at all) you can institute whole class stop and jot times.  I wouldn’t do this more than twice in a reading period, and I’ve cut it down to just the end of the reading period for my class.  We stop 2 minutes early, and students jot down what they’re thinking.  It’s enough time for them to flip back through their book if necessary and to spend some time reflecting on what they think are the most important ideas to record.  It’s also a good time for me to quickly remind them of the charts we have around the room, detailing good places to stop and jot.

Problem – Students Don’t See the Purpose of Sticky Notes

Strategy – Use Them!

Remember, stickies are a means, not an end!  What are you doing with them?  Are they placed in the books students are reading, only to be ripped out and torn away when the students are done?  Are they carefully placed in a reading notebook…never again to be read or used?  I’m certainly guilty of all of these.  A few ways we can use stickies:

  • Preparation for a grand conversation.  Have students go through their notes and pick out the most provocative idea that they want to discuss as a class.  Students can also use their sticky notes as evidence during the conversation.
  • Write long.  Students take one sticky, or many (see photo), and write longer about what it means.  It helps to have sentence frames for students to push their thinking when they do this work, such as “For example,___” and “This is important because ____.”  These could be done in a reading journal or reading letter.
  • Preparation for book clubs.  Much like grand conversations, students use sticky notes as jumping off points for their club conversation.  They can also put their best sticky notes together and try to see what ideas “go together” vs. if any ideas contrast.

    First page of a "Write Long" page.

    First page of a “Write Long” page.

Second side of a "Write Long" page.

Second side of a “Write Long” page.

Problem – Student Thoughts on Sticky Notes are Terrible

We’re all familiar with these.  They go like this: Annemarie and Ellen are friends.  Or like this: I have a dog like Jack.  Or this: I predict Percy will win in the end.  They’re maddening.  

Strategy – Revise Post-Its

  • Take a ho-hum post-it and revise it.  Ask students to add on with words like “___because___” or “This tells me that,___.”  If they absolutely have nothing more to say, this may lead them to their own realization that they need to dig a little deeper for the next jot.
  • Ask students to sort their sticky notes into categories.  Shana suggests the following labels: “Big Deal,”  “Kind of a Big Deal,”  “No Biggie.”  Have students think about the significance of the event, the people, or the thought, on their sticky note.

Strategy – Teach When Good Post-Its Are Likely

Books give us signals when a significant idea comes up.

  • Repetition is a signal.  A repeated object, line, or event is no accident.  You can teach students to notice when something is repeated and to stop to consider it’s significance.
  • Change is also a signal.  When a person does something strange, or the weather suddenly changes, it’s a sign that something important is happening.  Students should also stop at these junctures to think about the meaning.
  • Lingering is a signal.  “Lingering” is a term I learned from Shawn Murphy, a 5th grade teacher at my school.  It refers to the idea that when an author spends a long time detailing a person or event that doesn’t seem important (think about the turtle from The Grapes of Wrath) there is probably some symbolic significance behind it.  Instead of just thinking, “that was weird,” we want students to stop to consider the purpose behind the writing.
Chart for good places to Stop and Jot

Chart for good places to Stop and Jot

If you have more ideas, please share!

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