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Notice & note what the text says and means

March 21, 2023

After students recognize that their “reading voice” and “thinking voice” work in tandem to achieve reading comprehension, the next step is to help them document their thinking process while reading.

We want to encourage students to have multiple and varied thoughts about the texts that they are reading—but we also want them to remember all of those thoughts. This typically leads to students taking notes.

Although note-taking is a common practice, effective note-taking requires explicit instruction. And sometimes—the first thing to teach is what NOT to do. Taking notes is NOT about highlighting the author’s words or just copying down a bunch of facts.

The most important part of note-taking is to record the reader’s own understanding and interpretation of the text details. Reading comprehension doesn’t come from simply reading all the words. Students need to digest them and understand what they mean.

The Says & Means T-Chart is a simple tool that can support this valuable reader habit.

  • LEFT COLUMN | List key words and details that the text actually SAYS (i.e., Reading Voice).
  • RIGHT COLUMN | Note thoughts and understandings about what each one MEANS (i.e., Thinking Voice)

What the text says

Taking notes about a passage should be efficient. Therefore, teach students how to make a “grocery list” of details pulled directly from the text. Like a shopping list, the reader will write only key words and phrases—NOT entire sentences.

If students can abbreviate words and still know what they represent, encourage them to do so. This is even where text-message spelling can work well. Those short-hand versions of full words will allow students to jot literal details more quickly.

After recording what the text says, then note what it means.

What the text means

Each time a student records an important detail, relevant fact, or key phrase from the text, he should jump to the right column and write a note about what it means. This back-and-forth process documents the journey of reader thinking.

The two-column T-Chart format makes it easy to distinguish which words came from the text (left column) and which are his own thoughts (right column). To emphasize that point, some teachers prefer the Quotes & Notes version of this same organizer. (Words quoted from the text are adjacent to notes made about them.)

If a student decides that a text detail is important enough to write it down, then he should record what it means and/or why it’s important. This is critical to reading comprehension. It reveals what the student is understanding, absorbing, connecting, and questioning about the specific information he is reading.

Text with Sample Graphic OrganizerReading Voice and Thinking Voice Example from ArthurThe Says & Means T-Chart is easily incorporated into the primary classroom, too. During whole class read alouds, the teacher scribes student thoughts about specific details.

Completing a Says & Means T-Chart at any grade level is valuable DURING reading. But, it is still powerful AFTER reading. When a student cites text evidence (left column) to support an answer, he can explain how it fits by simply sliding across the T-Chart to recall his own thinking (right column).

Alternative graphic organizers

ABC Chart by Smekens Education Solutions
Storyboard Graphic Organizer PDF
Dissected Web Graphic Organizer Template PDF

ABC CHART: Regardless of the text structure or reading purpose, the ABC Chart is a fabulous note-taking tool. Because the alpha-boxes are so small, students can only jot key words and phrases (eliminating the writing of whole sentences). Another benefit to this format is that all the vocabulary, details, and notes about a single topic are housed on one sheet of paper–rather than 20-plus pages of a spiral notebook. Access a Google share version.

STORYBOARD: Collecting visual and verbal notes on the storyboard template works well for any text that goes in chronological order. Students jot down important facts and details frame-by-frame, as they note their visualizations, too. Here is an example based on Stephen Krensky’s Dangerous Crossing.

DISSECTED WEB: If the text structure is not chronological, then the dissected web template is a fabulous note-taking tool. As students read each facet or sub-topic of a passage, they collect details that go with each other. Here is a completed web from the passage “How Animals Talk.” NOTE: If they need additional “pie slices,” they can just draw in lines.

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Adjust a T-Chart to fit various text structures


Adjust a T-Chart to fit various text structures

Track main ideas and details within a Dissected Web


Track main ideas and details within a Dissected Web

Adapt the Storyboard to fit all chronological texts


Adapt the Storyboard to fit all chronological texts