Recurring Lesson

Note Writing in the Primary Classroom

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Introduction: 30 minutes; thereafter: 15-30 minutes per session
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This lesson includes a variety of activities related to note writing that can be incorporated into the classroom throughout the year to promote authentic writing among students. Model note writing in context by taking advantage of opportunities that come up in the classroom both to read actual notes and to think aloud while writing them. Read books featuring notes, discuss why the notes were written, and copy the notes for classroom display. Enlist families in the fun by asking students to collect notes from home to share with the class. Create a classroom message board and add good news to it throughout the day. Have students sort the notes you have gathered based on audience, purpose, and format. Write notes to your students and encourage them to write notes, too. Finally, explain to students when you take notes for assessment purposes, and share those notes with students during conferences.

From Theory to Practice

Literacy instruction for young readers and writers works best when students are given many opportunities to participate in reading and writing for real purposes. According to Shelly Hudson Bowden, "Children learn literacy when immersed in classroom environments that support natural literacy experiences throughout the day. Routman (1999) describes these types of activities as authentic learning because students use the tools of the discipline (language arts) and apply them to real-life situations."

Regie Routman states: "Young writers need time and opportunity to use their developing skills in functional, realistic, non-artificial ways. When we encourage children to write purposefully each day, using their developmental spelling, we are providing them with one of the most powerful approaches for learning phonics."

This lesson offers activities to immerse students in authentic reading and writing experiences throughout the day, using note writing as an inspiration.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Picture books that feature notes or note writing:

    • Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 1996)

    • Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats (Four Winds Press, 1979)

    • Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells (Dial Books, 1997)
  • Writing materials (memo pads, sticky notes, stationery, clip boards, variety of pens, colored pencils, crayons, markers)


Letter to Parents explaining the project. Note: If you modify the project to include a hundreds chart, you might customize the letter to include an explanation of this additional goal.



  • Decide on the number of activities from this lesson and the order that you want to complete them in. This lesson includes a range of ways that you can explore note writing in your classroom and can be arranged so that they suit your situation and your students. The project usually works best when started with either the Think-aloud Introduction or the Reading Connection section.

  • Locate examples of authentic notes-memos, reminders, and notes to family members, colleagues, or yourself. Look for everyday notes to remind, plan, request, persuade, compliment, or solve problems as well as short correspondence for inquiring, greeting, sending thanks or condolences. Survey your desk, calendar, planning book, and book bag to locate examples of your own personal notes or memos. Leaving these in place as you show them will add to their authenticity.

  • Gather picture books on notes or note writing.

  • Provide eye-level environmental print to support beginning writers: alphabet charts, class lists of names, familiar poems and songs, high frequency words, and so forth.

  • Assemble writing materials.

  • Prepare a copy of the Letter to Parents for each student.

  • Check your district and school's guidelines for any restrictions on note writing that you'll need to take into account as you choose activities for the project. Some schools have restrictions on the content of messages; others may have rules in place that ban note writing altogether. In the best scenario, you wouldn't need to draw students' attention to a guideline regarding "Inappropriate Student Note Writing" (e.g., "Note writing which contains sex, drugs, violence, or gang graffiti, symbols or writing is prohibited during the school day and related school activities." However, it's better to know of any guidelines that exist before you begin the project.

  • Test the Letter Generator student interactive and Berenstain Bears' Pack a Picnic Interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • recognize the natural, frequent, and productive ways people use notes for real purposes.

  • help collect examples of everyday notes and short correspondence.

  • demonstrate their ability to write notes to accomplish things of interest or importance to them.

  • demonstrate their ability and eagerness to read notes they receive.


  1. Introduce note writing as naturally as possible by coupling think-aloud with authentic note writing to model the purpose and process of note writing. Think aloud is exactly what it sounds like—the process of saying aloud the things that you're thinking as you complete a process. You might think of it as self-narration. It's similar to "showing your work" on a math problem: You're showing the work that goes into the conclusions you draw. You can think aloud about note writing while writing reminders to yourself on the board, adding a note to your planning book, or writing a note to another teacher or a parent. As appropriate, encourage students to chime in and help you think your way through the writing situation. The sample below demonstrates the think-aloud process. The think-aloud process would continue until the entire note was completed.

    I have to remember to take the library books back to the library today. I'd better write myself a note. What should I write to remind me about the books? OK, I think I'll write, "Don't forget the library books." Hmm, what letters do I hear?
  2. When notes or memos arrive from the office, other classrooms, or parents, read the notes aloud (if they are on topics that can be shared with students). After sharing the notes, respond right then, using the think-aloud process, and inviting student participation as appropriate). Refer to environmental print as you're thinking aloud and writing (e.g., checking a word on the word wall or consulting the list of names).

  3. Discuss the process of note writing explicitly with students after several days of highlighting your use of notes. You might begin simply by asking students if they've noticed all the notes I've been writing and reading lately.

  4. Share one or two examples of the notes you've written or received recently, encouraging students to examine and discuss the purposes and possible effects of the notes.

  5. During the discussion, suggest note writing as an effective way for them to communicate with each other, with the teacher, and even with yourself!

  6. Show students where paper, pens, and other writing resources are available for them to use if they want to write their own notes. Encourage students to work together and to make use of all the environmental print in the room.

  7. (Optional) Demonstrate the Letter Generator student interactive, which students can use to compose more formal notes and letters.

  8. Display the notes in an accessible place where students can reread them later if they want.

Reading Connection

  1. Read one of the following books aloud. Each features notes as a part of the plot:

    • Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells
      In this warmly engaging read aloud, Max (an emergent writer) and his sister, Ruby, write grocery lists. In the hilarious escapade, Max learns how to communicate on paper and then learns the key lesson that notes must be readable to the recipient!

    • Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
      In this humorous, yet realistic, story, the delightful, energetic Lilly gets in trouble with her beloved teacher because she is unable to contain her excitement about her new purple plastic purse. Wise Mr. Slinger resolves the issue with a timely, well-worded note.

    • Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats
      This simple, poignant story engages listeners with the tale of the disappearance of Maggie's pet cricket. Left in the cricket's place is an ominous note: "The Pirate Was Here!" As the suspenseful story unfolds, a more complicated and unusual motivation for note writing is revealed—to gain attention.
  2. Introduce and share the book as you would any read aloud. Encourage student predictions, questions and response to the story.

  3. The next day, reread the book, or at least the section about writing notes. Discuss why the character wrote the notes and what effect the notes had.

  4. Have the students help you copy the featured note onto chart paper and leave it prominently posted to be reread together and individually.

  5. Repeat the process with the other books, if desired.

Home Connection

  1. Read the Letter to Parents aloud to the students, encouraging them to participate with their families in looking for examples of note writing at home.

  2. Ask students to predict the kind of notes they will find, who the authors of the notes will be, and where they might find them.

  3. (optional) You might set a goal to gather a hundred notes by a specific date. Share a hundreds chart where you can document progress toward the goal.

  4. Send home the Parent Letter.

  5. As notes from home arrive in the classroom, read them aloud to the students, encouraging the child to tell about their source, location and possible results.

  6. Collect these examples and make them available to students as a resource for their own writing. Make copies, if necessary, returning the original to the owner.

  7. Display the notes inside plastic sleeves on a metal ring or inside a three-ring binder.

  8. Consider a shared writing activity of composing short thank you notes to the contributing families.

Message Board Notes

  1. Introduce the Message Board which functions much like the refrigerator door or the kitchen bulletin board at home: for announcements, reminder notes, or other short communications of interest to all.

  2. Enlist students' help in designing, making, and locating the message board in the classroom. Remember to choose a location that is at students' eye-level.

  3. Demonstrate the Board's use by writing and posting several notes written together with the group. You might post about the following subjects:

    • upcoming events ("Zoo Trip next Tuesday")

    • lost and found ("Have you seen Jamal's new purple pen?")

    • reminders ("Remember lunches for Zoo")

    • announcements Michael's tooth came out!")

    • lunch menu reviews ("Yummy corn dogs Wednesday")
  4. Encourage students to post notes, and share the responsibility for keeping the Message Board up-to-date.

  5. Choose a special area on the message board to share "Good News." Throughout the day, when you observe a child's behavior, new learning, or a student interaction that you want to share with the class, jot a note to yourself (e.g., "Keisha offered to help Carlos with his project.") Make your notes throughout the day and without comment, giving students implicit encouragement to use their reading strategies during the day to figure out if they are somewhere in the notes.

  6. At the end of the day, refer to the notes of "Good News" to acknowledge and celebrate the many wonderful, positive moments of each day.

Notes Sorting and Exploring

  1. Once you've gathered a collection of notes, students can sort the collection, using one of the following criteria:

    • Divide the collection based on the audience for the notes: to parents, to the teacher, to students, to other teachers, to the principal, to absent students.

    • Explore the purpose for different notes by going through your collected notes: notes that explain, notes that ask questions, notes that serve as reminders, short greetings, and so forth.

    • Sort notes based on their format: lists, letters, memos, sticky notes, unsigned notes, and so on.
  2. Once students have sorted the notes, ask them what they notice that is similar and different about notes in a particular category. Ideally, this sorting and comparison of the sorted categories will lead to observations about when notes are more formal, more polished, and so forth. Draw student attention to issues such as when notes are signed and addressed and when they're left unsigned, and when you need more information to understand a note (e.g., when a sticky note is no longer stuck to the original location, does it still make sense?).

  3. Based on their observations, students can help create "how to" charts and posters for the classroom.

Notes to Students

  1. Demonstrate the process of writing notes to students during the day. Once you get into this mind set, many naturally occurring teaching moments will become apparent, such as the following:

    • "Thanks for bringing snacks."

    • "I like your new haircut!"

    • "Did you find your lost tooth?"

    • "Will you bring your animal book to school?"
  2. Demonstrate writing several short messages to students, mentioning the importance of signing the author's name (unless it's a secret message).

  3. Following your demonstration, allow time for students to write a few messages and to discuss the process.

  4. Periodically, with student permission, copy or borrow student notes for your classroom collection.

Notes by Students

  1. Role play situations in which note writing could be used:

    • During small group instruction time, students can write you a note to ask a question or report something, without verbally disturbing the small group instruction.

    • In the home center, students can role play and write shopping lists, menus, reminders and greetings.

    • In the block center they can write notes to plan their work or request that it not be dismantled (for instance, "Please don't wreck the blocks").

    • Students can post signs around the room as reminders to "Walk. Don't run." or "Put caps on markers."

    • When a student asks you to remember to bring something to school, you can reply, "Please write me a note so I won't forget."
  2. Highlight and celebrate these uses when they occur in the classroom.

Notes for Assessment

  1. Explain the process of anecdotal notetaking to students, so that they understand why you are writing these notes about what they do.

  2. Share example notes on student achievements and explain how you use the notes to provide feedback to the students, to share with parents, and so forth.

  3. Take notes during conferences with students, during small group instruction, and so forth.

  4. When the time comes to talk about a student's progress, consult your notes so that the student sees the notes being used.

  5. You might encourage students to add to your notes on their progress by adding their own self-reflection in note form.


  • Share the Berenstain Bears Pack a Picnic Interactive, from the PBSKids Website, with students to show the storybook characters using their notes to prepare for their outing.

  • Have students use the interactive Postcard Creator to create the text for their own postcards. Students can then illustrate the front of the cards using markers or other art supplies.

  • If resources allow, demonstrate the "sticky note" software available for computers and handhelds (such as Stickies on Macintosh computers). You might also demonstrate how to use a basic word processor to type notes. Students might use Notepad on Windows machines or Simple Text on Macs.

  • Encourage students to write notes by making it fun. Arthur's e-Cards, from PBS Kids, and Primary Games' Stationery for Younger Writers make writing exciting for young writers.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Observations and anecdotal notetaking are perfect for these writing activities. Ideally, your observations can be integrated with other daily classroom activities, demonstrating another authentic purpose for note writing. Watch for situations where students demonstrate that they have adopted and are using note writing strategies. For instance, make a point of wondering aloud how you’ll remember something, and listen for students to encourage you to write a note. Further, observe students’ interest and enthusiasm as they participate in writing and reading notes—at this point in their literacy learning, engagement is perhaps the most important marker of future student success. Students who are excited about reading and writing are more likely to expand their knowledge of language and the ways that they make meaning.

Elizabeth Rosalen
Preservice Teacher
Thank you so much for posting this lesson plan, I adapted it for my class, and will be trying it out tomorrow. I wanted to let you know about another book that features note writing that I will be using tomorrow for this lesson, "Officer Buckle and Gloria". If you don't know this book, I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy and read it right away. It's a hilarious story and the kids love it. Thanks again! Betsy
Elizabeth Rosalen
Preservice Teacher
Thank you so much for posting this lesson plan, I adapted it for my class, and will be trying it out tomorrow. I wanted to let you know about another book that features note writing that I will be using tomorrow for this lesson, "Officer Buckle and Gloria". If you don't know this book, I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy and read it right away. It's a hilarious story and the kids love it. Thanks again! Betsy
Elizabeth Rosalen
Preservice Teacher
Thank you so much for posting this lesson plan, I adapted it for my class, and will be trying it out tomorrow. I wanted to let you know about another book that features note writing that I will be using tomorrow for this lesson, "Officer Buckle and Gloria". If you don't know this book, I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy and read it right away. It's a hilarious story and the kids love it. Thanks again! Betsy

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