Post-It Note Strategies to Improve Understanding

​Ah, the post-it note! Born from a happy accident at 3M in 1968 as a "low-tack", reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive, this light adhesive note makes it ideal to use for students to use in class as a way to mark up texts, encourage collaboration, and provide formative feedback.

Here are a few separate strategies that are effective across the curriculum or as interdisciplinary activities in the secondary classroom that use post-it notes of all shapes, colors, and sizes in order to improve student understanding.

01
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Tarzan/Jane Summary Strategy

The simple post-it note is a powerful reading comprehension tool for all grade levels.
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 Tarzan/Jane summary:

  1. In a text (fiction or non-fiction) with multiple paragraphs, pre-number each paragraph.
  2. Have sticky notes available for students to use; the size should allow students to summarize each paragraph text.
  3. With each sticky note numbered for each paragraph, have students provide a very short, few word summary for each paragraph.
  4. Have students then gather the sticky notes together and arrange sequentially (they are numbered).
  5. In groups, have students provide expanded oral summaries as part of a retell (Me: Tarzan, You: Jane)  for each paragraph.
02
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I Wonder Strategy

Post-its on board
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Pre-reading/Post-reading strategy:

  1. PRE-READING: Introduce a topic.
  2. With sticky (post-it) notes, have students write down “I wonder if..." prompts for questions or thoughts which could emerge from the topic.
  3. Collect all sticky notes.
  4. POST-READING: At the conclusion of the reading, post all sticky notes in one area.
  5. Set up columns: "I wonder if -answered" and "I wonder if -unanswered".
  6. Have students arrange which questions have been answered/unanswered by moving them into one or the other column.
  7. Take unanswered questions and determine what information is still needed.
03
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Boiling it Down/Precis Strategy

Different sizes of post-its allow for different kinds of activities
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Two very similar ways to have students summarize.

BOILING IT DOWN:
This first activity requires different size sticky notes.

  1. Ask students to provide a summary of a text (fiction or non-fiction) on the largest size of the sticky note.
  2. With the next largest size, ask students to provide another summary of the summary.
  3. Continue in this manner with each small size sticky note, making sure students write with the same size lettering.

PRECIS:

  1. With a reading passage (fiction or non-fiction)  sum up each paragraph in one sentence;
  2. Then, sum up the sentences into one sentence;
  3. Finally, sum up the sentence into one word. 
04
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Pin the Post It on the...Image Strategy

Post-it for text reduction can be a short as one important sentence on even the smallest space
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The teacher projects an image or text onto the whiteboard and asks students individually or in groups to provide a written response/comment/explanation which they then place on the relevant area.

Across the Curriculum:

  • Math: this could be placing the answer on a post-it onto the relevant point of a graph, with explanation;
  • History: this could be placing a post-it upon a historical figure/map/infographic with a concise explanation;
  • English: this could be a powerful descriptive image in a text and asking students to write a sentence or two onto a post-it for one aspect of that image, or an analysis of a presentational device on a media text
  • In all subject areas: multiple responses can deepen the quality of analysis.
05
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Chat Stations Strategy

Chat stations with post-it notes can combine comprehension and group work
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In “Chat Stations,” there are discussion prompts (on tables/posted on the wall, etc) in locations around the room. As students visit each prompt, they can add to other students' ideas. Several rounds may be necessary so that everyone sees all comments.

  1. Students are provided post-it notes;
  2. Students visit prompts and leave their ideas on the post-it;
  3. Post-its shared through several rounds of visiting prompts. 

Possible prompts can be centered as: 

  • test reviews
  • ethical debates
  • exploring new material
  • analyzing literature
06
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Guess Who/What/Where? Strategy

Girl with post-it on face
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 This is a variation on a party game of a similar name.  

  1. Place a key word/character/concept etc. onto a post it; 
  2. Place the post-it upon the forehead or the back of a student; 
  3. Students are limited as to the number of questions (depending on size of group, keep the number low) they can ask before they guess the term/topic on the post-it.

Bonus: This fun group activity can help students to improve questioning skills and to stimulate talk in order to recall key information.