Friday, April 26, 2013

Blank Notebook Page Equals Blank Stares?

When you give your child a blank notebook page, do you get the deer-in-the-headlights look? What exactly does your child put on these pages, and how can you guide them?


I begin by simply reading our history books aloud, although if your child reads it aloud or to herself, that is certainly fine.  If your child is on the young side, I would ask "What is one thing you remember about the passage."  I would transcribe for him and have him copy it onto the notebook page.  This would be an exercise for 1st or 2nd graders.  It is important that he be able to read his summary sentences, otherwise the cementing of history that we're looking for in notebooking won't be occurring.  I would practice this way for several months until it is easy for him.



After practicing the one-thing-you-remember technique, I will move on to summarizing.  If your child has trouble summarizing, begin with leading questions to pull out the "bones" or the main points of the passage.  Make sure to tell your child to leave out details unless it is essential to the passage.  Try using who, what, when, where, how, and why questions.

If we read about the ancient Roman catacombs, I might ask,
  • What did the catacombs look like?
  • Who used the catacombs?
  • Why did they have to use them?
  • When did they use the catacombs? (Ancient Rome?)
  • Where were the catacombs located?

We practice doing this for several months (possibly even years!) until they can give a summary by themselves, leaving out minute details that are not of consequence.  With harder passages, our children sometimes need help even after summarizing skills are solid.

After the leading questions to help them pick out the main points of the passage, ask your child, "Summarize the passage in __ sentences."  Depending on how old your child is, this number of sentences can range from 1 or 2 on up.  My 3rd and 4th graders are doing 4 or 5 sentence paragraphs for their notebook pages this year, although this is certainly different with each child.  Don't get too hung up on the amount.

While my child is dictating these summary sentences, I transcribe them onto a plain piece of lined paper.  Then I simply have them copy it to the notebook page.  As they get older and their summaries grow more complex, I'll have them do the writing instead, although we are following a writing program as well, so sometimes our notebook pages for history just need to be easier for them, as they are putting so much energy into their writing program.

To Summarize

For 1st or 2nd graders:
  • Read history passages.
  • Ask child what is one thing she remembers from the passage?
  • Transcribe while she is dictating.
  • Child copies onto notebook page.
For about 2nd or 3rd grade and up:
  • Read history passages.
  • Guide him in summary of passage with leading questions with the goal of no leading questions.
  • After asking leading questions, ask him to summarize in a specific number of sentences.
  • Transcribe his summary on plain lined notebook paper while he is dictating.
  • Child copies onto notebook page.
I hope this helps!



  1. Julie,
    Thank you. This is a great explanation of how to use notebooking pages. I will be trying this on Monday.

  2. Thank you so much! We are using Sonlight and I have wanted to start notebooking and you have given me a great place to start with so much more than I expected. I am looking forward to jumping into our Spring semester with some fun new ways to enhance what we are currently learning.