The 4 Square Method for Taking Notes

Do you teach your upper elementary and middle school students how to take notes from an online article? I have created a special strategy for this that I want to share with you today. It’s called the 4 Square Method and it makes note taking from an online article a breeze for my students!

(Pssst…Scroll to the bottom for a 4 Square FREEBIE!)

How Do You Teach Note Taking Strategies to Elementary Students?

The 4 Square Strategy is a note-taking strategy that I created in order to help teach students how to annotate or collect information from an article that is on a computer screen. This is also an online test-taking strategy that I like to teach upper elementary students.

Unfortunately, someone that gets paid more than the teachers do decided that children in 3rd-6th grade don’t need to take paper/pencil tests anymore. #RIDICULOUS. Therefore, I created this method to help my babies organize their thinking to best answer the test questions.

As we are prepping for the test, I use my Reading Comprehension Test Prep Passages with my students as we practice the 4 Square Strategy. I created this resource to mirror the state test. It has Part A/B questions, longer sentences, rigorous vocabulary, and text dependent questions. However, it’s fun and engaging with articles about Fortnite, rolled ice cream, Snapchat, and the Titanic. If you want to learn how I use this test prep resource in my own classroom, check out this post here.

The 4 Square Method of Note Taking

Here’s how to teach the Four Square Method for taking notes to students:

1. Write the Key Words from the Text

First before they do anything else, have students draw a huge 4 square template on their page for taking notes. This literally looks like a giant plus sign or lowercase letter t. This gives them 4 boxes to take notes in using the four square strategy.

In the box at the top left corner, they should write the key words from the article. This might be any words that are in bold, words that are repeated a lot throughout the article or any underlined words. These are words that are critical to the main idea of the text. Students should do this after they have read the article through at least once or twice.

2. What is the Text Mainly about?

After identifying the key words, students will have a better understanding of the main idea of the text. They should write that in the top right box of the 4 square. Have them use their key words that they identified to help them with this, as well as any context clues. Students should reference the text features in the passages as well to help them identify the main idea or central idea of the text.

3. What is the Author’s Purpose and Author’s Perspective?

Next, under that box in the bottom left box, students will take notes on the author’s purpose and perspective. Is the purpose of the article to inform us, persuade us or entertain us? This, in turn will let us know if the article is fiction or nonfiction. In addition, what is the author’s perspective? Have students look for positive and negative words and figure out how the author feels about the text.

4. Key Details and Notes from Students

Finally, in the last four square box at the bottom right, students can write any key details and notes that were important to them from the text. This is important that they jot their own notes down about what they read also. It helps to increase their comprehension of the text. I typically have them do this using bullet points.

After the students complete the 4 Square Method, they are ready to use their annotated notes to guide their thinking when it comes to answering the questions about the text. If there is a constructed response, the students have already recorded key words that will help guide their writing as well.

Some EXCELLENT *FREE* Websites to Practice Online Annotations with your Students: – EXCELLENT free site for test prep practice; it provides data and LOTS of excellent feedback for you and students. Get on it, sister.

DOGO News – Current event articles that would engage students, but also in an online format

FREE Scholastic Magazine Articles – Because…everything on this site is amazing!

If you think this 4 Square Method would be beneficial to your students for state testing, grab your copy below by clicking on the image.


What kinds of strategies do you teach your students for taking notes?

State testing strategy, reading comprehension passage

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