Giving Notes a Power Rating

school-2-750x422Power notes help prioritize information

Let’s say you are in the market for a new car. Notice how your mind immediately begins to sort and categorize the information that is relevant to your decision.

As you consider vehicles you would like to own, perhaps the first mental sorting, sadly, divides your choices into “cars you can afford” and “cars you cannot.” Next you might group the affordable cars into important subcategories, perhaps based on vehicle size or fuel efficiency. Finally, within these clusters, you might list the makes of vehicles that are possible purchases.

Classifying and subdividing information is a natural mental activity, and it is an essential process in classroom learning. But many of our students struggle with perceiving integral relationships in material, and as a result have difficulty distinguishing attributes, examples, and other details from main ideas. Power Notes provide a systematic way to help students organize information for their reading, writing, and studying.

Teaching/Learning Activities

Power Notes are a streamlined form of outlining, and are easy to introduce to students. Main ideas or categories are assigned a power 1 rating. Details, examples, or attributes are assigned power 2s, 3s, or 4s.

Step 1: Start by modeling Power Notes with categories familiar to the students. Point out how the powers relate to each other: power 2s offer examples or elaboration of power 1s, power 3s provide examples or elaboration of power 2s, and so on.

For example, a power 1 could be “fruit.” Power 2s could be bananas, grapes, pears, and apples. Power 3s for apples could be Macintosh, Yellow Delicious, and Cortland. Power 4s could list characteristics for each apple variety, such as “red-skinned,” “great for pies,” and “keeps a long time” for the Macintosh category.

As you model Power Notes, show how indenting helps you recognize how the powers relate to each other, as demonstrated in this football example:

1. Penalties in Football
—– 2. On Offense
———- 3. Holding
———- 3. Clipping
—– 2. On Defense
———- 3. Off Sides
———- 3. Pass Interference
———- 3. Grabbing Face Mask
—– 2. On Special Teams

Step 2: Provide students with opportunities to practice using Power Notes to categorize information and explore relationships among the material. For example, select a number of power 1, 2, and 3 terms from a unit of study and write them on separate index cards. Distribute sets of cards to students working in cooperative groups and give them the task of arranging the cards according to powers and corresponding relationships.

Cards in a U.S. history unit on the “Age of Reform” could include a power 1 (“reformers”), power 2s (“populists,” “unions,” “progressives”), and power 3s (“NAACP,” “Farmer’s Alliance,” and others). Students might arrange these cards the following way:

1. Reformers
—– 2. Populists
———- 3. National Grange
———- 3. Farmer’s Alliance
———- 3. Populist Party
—– 2. Unions
———- 3. The Knights of Labor
———- 3. American Fed. of Labor
———- 3. IWW
—– 2. Progressives
———- 3. Muckrakers
———- 3. NAACP
———- 3. Progressive Party

This activity can serve as a review exercise, and students could be given blank cards to add power 4 information to power 3 cards, or add other items to the outline.

Step 3: As students become adept at perceiving “power” relationships, Power Notes can be used in a variety of ways to enhance learning. To improve comprehension of textbook material, photocopy a paragraph(s) and cut the sentences apart. Have students work in groups to arrange the sentences according to power relationships. Sentences which do not adhere to power relationships, such as transition sentences, can be set aside as students fit together the information in the passage.

Power Notes can also be an effective way to help students organize their writing. A simple 1-2-2-2 outline can start students with constructing a well-organized paragraph:

1. Healthy Methods To Lose Weight
—– 2. Set Realistic Goals
—– 2. Eat Fewer Calories
—– 2. Develop Regular Exercise Program

You should follow healthy methods if you want to lose weight. First, you should set realistic weight loss goals. Next, you should plan a diet that involves eating fewer calories. Finally, you should develop a regular program of exercise in addition to your diet.

Students can further elaborate each point by adding power 3 and 4 details to flesh out their writing. Power Notes gives students a means to analyze their writing in terms of structure and development of ideas.


Power Notes offer an easy-to-understand activity for classifying information. In addition,
· Students are given a system that helps them prioritize main ideas from supportive details.
· Students are prompted to look for relationships within material they are studying. o Power relationships can guide students in taking coherent notes from textbooks or classroom presentations.