The Seven strategies of effective readers


Trash or Treasure? Researching and taking notes

Jigsaw - differentiated and cooperative learning

Reading for Information:
The Trash-N-Treasure Method of Teaching Note-Taking (Grades 3 - 12)
by: Barbara A. Jansen
Added on Thursday, November 29th 2001.
Updated on Monday, October 16th 2006.
"And remember, don’t copy out of the encyclopedia. Write it in your own words!"
How many times have students heard this warning as they begin searching for information in the
library media center? Students will copy out of the encyclopedia or other source unless taught
effective note-taking strategies and given an authentic task that requires higher level manipulation
of the located information. (For more information on authentic task development, please see
"Authentic Products: The Motivating Factor in Library Research Projects," SLMAM December
1995) Reading for specific information and taking notes may be the most challenging step in the
information problem-solving process. Students in grades 3-8 need many developmentally
appropriate opportunities to locate and use information before mastering the techniques. By
providing these opportunities in an information problem-solving process model, such as the
Eisenberg and Berkowitz Big Six Skills Model (Eisenberg and Berkowitz, 1990) or Stripling and
Pitts Research Process (Stripling and Pitts, 1988), students will work with a well-defined and
focused task including researchable questions. "The real skill of note-taking lies not in the manual
techniques for arranging material on a page, but in the cognitive techniques for looking for and
asking relevant questions. Knowing what is important means knowing what it is important for
having a sense of purpose" (Irving, 1985).
More than just extracting needed information, note-taking consists of three steps: Identification of
keyword and related words in the researchable questions, skimming and scanning and extracting
needed information. These steps begin after students have defined and narrowed the task,
constructed researchable questions, and located appropriate sources.
Identification of Keyword and Related Words in the Researchable Questions
Once students have constructed researchable questions based on the information needed to
complete the task or solve the information problem, they can transfer the questions to a data chart
(McKenzie, 1979), other graphic organizer, or note cards. The students should then underline the
keywords and generate a list of related words. Demonstrate, using the overhead projector, how
students will identify keywords and related words. Then allow students to underline keywords
and generate a short list of related words for the questions on their data charts as the library media
specialist and the content-area teacher monitor.
Skimming and Scanning for Specific Information
Having organized the researchable questions on data charts or other organizer and identifying
keywords and related words, students are ready to begin reading for information. This may be the
most difficult task a student researcher faces. Teaching students to skim and scan a nonfiction or
reference book will facilitate their search. Skimming and scanning "is to utilize text in as
pragmatic a way as possible with a minimum of time and effort" (Cheek and Collins, 1985).
Skimming requires the reader to read quickly and look for main ideas or supporting details in a
paragraph (Phipps, 1983, 4-5). Skimming requires the reader to take in large chunks of text at one
time. The reader is concerned with getting an idea of the whole passage. Comprehension does not
depend on reading every word. Teach students to read the first and last paragraph of sections for
summaries of the content and the first and last sentences of paragraphs to gain an impression of
the topic (Cheek and Collins, 1985).
Scanning requires the student to "move his or her eyes quickly over a piece of reading material
looking for one specific point, the words they are looking for jump off the page at them. It is
employed for pinpointing needed facts or ideas from the text or the index. It involves skipping
words, but the emphasis is on recognition the reader knows what to look for and rapidly scans
until words are found and closer reading can occur” (Phipps, 1983. 4-5). Here is where students
will look for keywords and related words.
Extracting Needed Information
Note-taking consists of four types: citation, summary, paraphrase, and quotation. The citation
technique involves exact copying of specific facts (Stripling & Pitts, 1988, 116). Students should
learn to take notes by omitting all words or phrases not essential to the meaning. The most
important considerations in note-taking are accuracy and honesty. The student must not distort the
author’s words or views, and give full credit if copying or quoting the author’s ideas (Irving,
1985.) The trash-n-treasure method supports the citation technique and teaches students how to
eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.
The Trash-N-Treasure Note-taking Technique
After identifying appropriate sections in the source by scanning to locate keywords and related
words in the table of contents, index, headings, subheadings, and captions, students are ready to
begin extracting needed information. Direct instruction is necessary the first few times students
are required to take notes for an assignment. Frequent review will help students become
independent users of the process. Relate note-taking to a pirate’s treasure map (show one if
necessary). The map itself is like the article or chapter of a book containing information about the
topic. The X on the map, which marks the exact location of the buried treasure, is the section of
the text containing needed information, or an "answer" for specific questions defined in the task.
A pirate must dig for the treasure chest, tossing aside dirt, weeds, and rocks (trash). A researcher
must dig to find words that help answer the questions (treasure words). He or she must "toss
aside" unnecessary sentences, phrases, and words (trash words). Of course, these words are not
trash to the original source, only to the researcher because they do not answer the questions
defined in the task. Demonstrate this concept using an overhead projector and transparency of an
encyclopedia article or section. The students should each have a copy of the article so they can
follow along and practice the technique.
1. Show a prepared question, including the underlined keywords and list of related words.
2. Scan the article until the appropriate heading is located.
3. Place a slash at the end of the first sentence and read it. Ask "Does this sentence answer
the question?"
4. If the answer is no, tell the students that that sentence is "trash" to them. Go on to the
next sentence, placing a slash at the end.
5. If the answer is yes, underline the first phrase and ask if that phrase answers the
question. If the answer is no, underline the next phrase and repeat the question.
6. If the answer is yes, read that phrase word by-word, asking which words are needed to
answer the question these are treasure words. Circle those words, then write them in the
appropriate place on the overhead data chart (see sample) or whichever organizer the
students are using. Those that do not answer the question are trash words. Continue
phrase by phrase and word by word until coming to the end of the sentence. Count the
words in the sentence and then count the treasure words. Students are very impressed
when you say, "The sentence has 17 words and I only needed to write four of them. I
don't know about you, but I would rather write four than 17!"
7. Demonstrate the process again, allowing the students to practice, using copies of the
article. Allow students to independently practice a few times before they begin their
own research. The library media specialist and teacher should monitor each student’s
work, reteaching as necessary.
Once students understand the concept of "trash-n-treasure" words, they begin to write fewer and
fewer unnecessary words. Third, fourth, and fifth graders can begin to understand the concept of
not copying every word, but mastery should not be required.
When students have located and extracted adequate information for the stated task, encourage
them to summarize as necessary and add written comments and reactions concerning the use of
the notes in the final product or performance. To avoid plagiarism, the notes should be turned in
with the final project, whether or not it is written. And, of course, the more creativity that the final
project requires (Stripling and Pitts, 1988, 117), students have no reason to "copy from the
Works Cited:
Cheek, Earl H., Jr. and Martha D., Collins. 1985. Strategies For Reading. Columbus: Charles E.
Merrill Publishing Company.
Eisenberg, Michael B. and Robert E. Berkowitz. 1990. Information problem-solving: The Big Six
Skills approach to library & information skills instruction. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing
Irving, Ann. 1985. Study Skills Across the Curriculum. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
McKenzie, Gary R. "Data Charts: A Crutch for Helping Pupils Organize Reports." Language
Arts, October. National Council of Teachers of English, 1979. pp. 784-788.
Phipps, Rita. 1983. The Successful Student's handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Study, Reading,
and Thinking Skills. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
Stripling, Barbara K. and Judy M. Pitts. 1988. Brainstorms and Blueprints: Teaching Library
Research as a Thinking Process. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Date: Originally published in the February 1996 issue of School Library Media Activities