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Guided Notes to Support Students with Disabilities

Structuring Instruction and Support that Helps Students Access Content


Guided notes are prepared notes that help students either follow classroom instruction or to read a text book. Many students who receive special education services struggle with reading skills or with reading comprehension. They need more time to “dump” information into their long term memory where they can access it to complete tests or write reports.

Guided Notes for Instruction

Because inclusion has become the major way in which content area instruction is delivered to secondary students, either you, the special educator, or the content area teacher will be working to prepare for instruction. If you can create the syllabus as partners, and share the different tasks of instruction, you will both be more effective.

Lecture is often still the most efficient, if not the most effective, means to deliver information in secondary settings. Certainly good general education teachers are including collaborative activities where general education students can support students with disabilities. When a teacher prepares his/her lecture in order to use guided notes, it is more likely that they would structure it in a way that it is clear to all their students what information they believe is critical.

Guided Notes become the framework for the teacher’s instructional delivery, when it is organized in an outline form that uses that structure to make those things clear. Guided Notes should have a way for students to insert critical vocabulary into the text. It supports learning that vocabulary by expecting your students to apply it as they are hearing it for the first time.

Creating Guided Notes for Instruction

  1. Scan and review the text/content you intend to cover in instruction. If you consider some material unimportant for understanding the concept/chapter, omit it.
  2. Choose your Roman numeral headers. It will be the framework on which you will hang your outline.
  3. Make decisions about important vocabulary: what will you omit to give your students an opportunity to apply their learning the new vocabulary? What will you omit to review new vocabulary?
  4. When you chose the words you will omit, create a “word bank” to put at the end of your notes.
  5. Choose the subheadings that you will use to divide each of the Roman numeral headings. This is the time to decided what is critical. Does it reflect the motivation, for major actors in history? Does it help students understand an underlying process (in science?) Once again, omit words and create blanks where students can write the topics that are important.
  6. Create your Power Point presentation. If you use Power Point it will significantly help you structure your presentation. If you add illustrations, and use your power point for student notes, you may want to omit words in the captions.
  7. Add a section for vocabulary. You may add a section at the end of the guided notes that have your students apply what they have learned. Scramble the new vocabulary, place it next to definitions and have the students unscramble the words?
  8. Evaluate and modify. Unless you are in a district where your partner is having students buy different texts of text books, you will be reusing your guided notes from year to year. Since we create them in computer word processing programs (those of us old enough to remember mimeographs, and we thank our lucky stars!) you can readily make any changes that will make the materials more successful the next time you use it. What worked well? What seemed to confuse your students? What do you need to review?

Guided Notes for Text Books

Purists may be upset by guided notes alongside the text book. Certainly, it encourages students to hunt for the information they need. If we are honest, we need to admit that many of our students are able to understand the content, but may never be able to read their text books like poetry. But then, few text books are that well written. The underlying goal of developmental reading is to teach students strategies to find and learn the content information they need. It also teaches students how to study for a test, another purpose of good guided notes.

Creating Guided Notes for Text Books

State standards are more concerned with what your students are learning than fidelity to the text book. Still, text books are still effective ways for students to learn content. As you and your teaching partner (in inclusion classes) present your material, you may choose to ignore some parts of the text that don’t support the standards.

  1. Once you have decided what part of the text you are using, once again lay your notes out in a way that parallels the headings and subheadings of your texts. That will help your students understand the author/editors emphasis.
  2. Some people will take their guided notes directly from the text. My own preference is to paraphrase. Your focus should be on the important content and vocabulary, not on the ability to find the “right” words in the text. Organize your guided notes parallel to the text’s organization.
  3. Create an opportunity for students to reflect and respond to the text. Make it possible to respond easily, perhaps modeling what you want in your form.
  4. Special educators need to be sure their students are finishing their guided notes, so they can prepare for their unit or chapter tests.

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