The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
Taking notes is a necessary skill in secondary and post-secondary education. Oftentimes teachers and professors use lecture as a primary method for delivering information and key content. When this occurs, it is incumbent upon the students to record those particulars with fidelity. Yet the mere act of copying down items from a board or transcribing a lecture too often bypasses the prefrontal cortex and instead relies on rote recall. A solution, then, would be to shift the verb. When students begin to make notes rather than merely take notes, they are much more engaged with the content.
To that end, DICE notes, which stands for details, inquiries, connections, and emblem, provides students choices in how they interact with the content. Taking a piece of paper or a page in a journal, they bisect the page horizontally and vertically to create four quadrants. The top-left quadrant is for details that need to be recorded, such as dates, facts, and key events. This area is closest to the traditional notes that students take in class. The top-right quadrant is for inquiries, or questions, about the content. Rather than interrupting a lecture, which sometimes is not feasible during the time allowed, students are encouraged to write down their wonderings and actively interrogate the content.
The bottom-right quadrant is for connections. Merely memorizing a list of facts and figures might work for a simple multiple-choice test but rarely allows students to interpret and analyze subject matter. By noting connections between what they are learning and previous material or between the content and their personal lives, students form deeper ties with the information and have a greater ability to recall it for future use. Finally, the bottom-left quadrant recognizes the reality that some students prefer to learn in non-linguistic forms. By allowing them to sketch, draw, doodle, or otherwise pictorially represent information, it opens the door for many students who are more spatially oriented.
Why It Works
DICE notes feeds directly into one of the five facets of student motivation – autonomy. When students are given a voice in how they participate in learning, they are much more engaged than when they are dictated to. Giving students a choice honors their need for self-determination and provides them with an opportunity to make notes in the style that best suits them.
For those students that flourish with traditional notes, switching to DICE notes might not be much of an improvement. Yet for a large amount of pupils, their brains process information differently. They need to interrogate the content, connect it to their lives, or even think about it abstractly or pictorially. DICE notes gives students multiple pathways to make meaning and opens the door for increased comprehension and interaction. It allows the teaching method to fit the students rather than trying to make the students fit the teaching method. This will increase the retention of information from seemingly passive teaching activities such as lecturing or reading from a textbook.
Introducing DICE notes to students is a fairly simple matter. Use the following steps to begin the process.
1. Ensure that students are familiar with each component and how they differ. Instead of giving students all four quadrants to choose from at once, which might be too overwhelming, roll them out one at a time. Explain each type of thinking and note-taking in isolation before asking students to use all four parts of DICE notes.
2. Model a think-aloud using the different components of DICE notes. While the finished product might look simple to students, the thought processes needed to ask questions or make connections are sometimes rarely used. Many would benefit from hearing their teacher verbalize his or her thinking while one or more of the components of DICE notes are filled in.
3. In addition to modeling this note making process, students would also benefit from seeing a finished example. This exemplar can serve as a sample for students to reference when working to make notes using the various structures.
4. If desired, students can be required to utilize one of the components in order to provide a sense of familiarity with it. However, as the components are used repeatedly and students grow comfortable with their design and use, make sure that choice is central to this worksheet alternative. If teachers continually mandate that students complete all four sections of DICE notes and turn them in for a grade, this activity turns into just another fill-in-the-blank worksheet.
5. If there are any considerations for providing a grade for DICE notes, it should be restricted to completion rather than correct or incorrect. Teachers could, for instance, ask students to show successful use of DICE notes by recording information or thoughts in at least two or three separate boxes.
Mr. Rogers’ second grade students were about to study matter and how to classify it according to its physical properties. He had many days of labs planned and had been requesting and saving various items from his students’ parents for weeks. He knew that his students would love the coming lessons about relative temperature, flexibility, texture, and states of matter. Each day was designed to let students explore a variety of items and sort them based on properties, something he knew his students would love.
To begin the unit, he had a seven-minute video that he wanted to show to his students. Before allowing relatively free exploration of physical properties, his students needed some background knowledge. Though physical properties should have been studied in both first grade and kindergarten, oftentimes those grade levels focused so much on literacy that science took a back seat. He wanted to ensure a more level playing field regarding their schema before jumping into new content.
He decided to use a form of DICE notes for note-taking during the video because his students watched videos more intently when some type of assignment or task was tied to it. He didn’t want a worksheet that would be taken for a grade, however, because for some students this might be their first exposure to physical properties. Instead, he asked students to cut out and glue a simple graphic organizer into their science learning logs.
“Class, please take the half sheet of paper that Steve is passing around and glue it into the next clean page of your science learning log. The title of the lesson, Physical Properties, is on the board and should go at the top of the page. Use just a few drops of glue, like I showed you, so the paper isn’t too wet. You’ll need it at the end of our video,” Mr. Rogers began.
When the students had finished gluing in their 4-part notes pages, he continued with his instructions. “We are about to watch a seven-minute video about physical properties. That’s what we’ll be studying in science for the next few weeks and I want to make sure you all know something about physical properties before we begin. To help you record your thoughts after the video is finished, you can use the 4-part notes page you glued into your learning logs.
“Take a look at the two boxes on the left. The top box has a magnifying glass and asks, ‘What did you learn?’ Underneath that you see a crayon and the sentence, ‘Draw what you learned.’ After the video, I’d like you to put at least one thing you learned from watching on your sheet. If you want to write it out, you can use the top-left box. If you’d rather draw it, you can use the bottom-left box. You only have to put something in one of those two boxes, though you can use both if you want.
“The two boxes on the right are places that you can record some other things you might have been thinking about during the video. The top-right box, which says, ‘What do you wonder?’, is where you can write down any questions you might have after watching the video. Who knows, we might be able to answer your question in the next few weeks. The bottom-right box, which says, ‘What do you remember?’, is a place for you to write down anything the video talked about that you already knew. Maybe you remember doing something in your class last year or reading about it in a book. If you hear something that you already knew, you can put it in that box.
“I’d like at least one of the two boxes on the left to be filled in by the end of the day. If you want to put something in any of the other boxes, you can. You don’t have to do anything during the video because I’ll give you ten minutes afterward to discuss it with your table and work on the 4-part notes,” Mr. Rogers finished. Seeing that his students seemed to understand, he started the video. As he looked out across his class, he saw some students already talking about which boxes they wanted to complete.
With the point of DICE notes being to sift knowledge through a series of lenses, customizing this strategy is as easy as changing the filters they use to interact with the content. Teachers can ask students to create notes using a graphic organizer of their choice, by stating either facts or opinions in various boxes, and even writing exclamatory sentences. In all circumstances, the students are interacting with the same content. The infinite variations come from changing the perspective of how students are asked to consider the topic in each of the boxes.
Once students have used a variety of filters to take notes, one way to further personalize it is to provide students the choice of how to fill out their notes quadrants. With examples readily available for students to reference, they can start with a blank page and draw lines to split it into quarters. They could then choose which filters to use for each box. More than simply details, inquiries, connections, and emblem, a plethora of other views could be chosen. Some include opinions, generalizations, exclamations, supporting evidence, arguments against, webbing/mind mapping, or literature connections.
Another option for making notes would be to split the page by different senses. For example, students in the primary grades spend time talking about and exploring their five senses. A teacher could create a sensory walk organizer for students and then take them on a walk outside around the school. After going around the playground, through the parking lot, and possibly even down the street a ways, students could return to the classroom to record their observations. In this case, they would classify their findings by which sense they used to observe it – sight, smell, touch, or sound.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
Remember that the key to using DICE notes is the choice involved in allowing students options in how to best make notes. To that end, DICE notes doesn't necessarily have to be four boxes or have the prescribed categories (i.e., details, inquiries, connections, emblem). You can customize the note-taking sheet or template in many ways using digital tools to allow for digital responses. Students could use Google Docs, Slides, or other Google tools to record their thoughts. They could use recording apps like Flipgrid to make their voices heard (literally).
With collaboration tools, students could work in groups on a communal DICE note. In pairs or teams, they could each contribute to one or more of the categories. With digital options available, they can each add memes, animated GIFs, or even TikToks to buttress their arguments.
Yes, that's right, TikToks.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.