U.S. History & Government at Miller School

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U.S. History Notebook Requirements


U.S. History Notebook Requirements &

Guidelines for Note Taking

As part of your grade in the course, you will be required to keep a separate notebook (three-ring binder with minimum 2 inch spine) with five separate sections in it for this class. The sections must be separated by section dividers. These can be purchased at the school store, any office supply store, or the grocery store. Below, you will find a description of each of the five sections and what is required in each section. Your binder will be graded weekly.


Section 1: Reading Notes

The first required section of your history journal will be the notes you take from our assigned readings. Reading notes are a required part of your grade in the class. More importantly, reading is the best way for you to learn the basic content of a history course. You must read in this class in order to do well. I cannot possibly cover all the content that you need in lecture–and no one, especially not me, wants me to try! The only way that a history class can become more than a simple lecture is for you to do your reading.

I’ll give you an example of how important reading is for a history class. In Math class, you watch a video or do a reading, and then complete a few exercises for homework. This helps you to master the information so that when you come to class, you are prepared to practice what you’ve learned. Instead of the teacher lecturing you on how to do the problem during class, you can instead do a cool project using the method you learned in homework. If you had a problem with the homework, of course you go and ask the teacher about it in class. But for the most part, learning the methods at home allows you to actually apply them in class. This is how you actually learn something–by doing it! But if you didn’t do the homework, you will be totally lost in your next class. You won’t know how to solve the problems set before you, so you can’t complete the projects, and you will fall behind.

In history class, it is much the same thing, except you are not learning one specific skill in your homework. You are learning a story, and you are learning how to analyze that story. If you don’t do the reading, you will have no idea what we are talking about in class. As the class moves forward and builds on what came before, you will farther and farther behind.

There are two big sets of questions that you should be able to answer after your homework:

  • What are the basics of the story I read tonight? Who are the key people? The main events? The big ideas?
  • What is the pattern in this story? What caused the events in the story to happen? Are those causes familiar ones? Are they totally new? Why did people in the story do what they did? Do you think they did the right thing?

When you read your assignments actively with these two big sets of questions in mind, we get to have big discussions in class. You get to do what a historian does–look at a story, a set of events, and analyze it. Find what is important. Argue for why something happened the way it did. Argue for why an event was good or bad, or a decision was the right one or the wrong one. Debate whether or not things could have turned out differently. These discussions and debates are history. We will necessarily need to have some lectures–it is unavoidable. But lectures are not “doing history.” Lectures are a way for us to get the story straight so that we can analyze it and debate it. The first step in “doing history” is to take reading notes.


Cornell Notes

You will be required to take reading notes using the Cornell system. To create Cornell notes, you should set up your page to look like what you see on Page XX. You should put your name, date, and the reading assignment at the top of the page. Then you should draw three columns. The middle and far right columns should be slightly larger than the far left column.

You start Cornell Notes in the middle column. Here is where you can create ideally an outline of the chapter, where your note the important points of the reading and give brief details about them. In the example I gave on Page 3, I jotted down a few key terms from your textbook reading on pre-Columbian peoples in North and South America. I wrote “Bering Land Bridge,” for example, because it is the key way that the book tells me people’s first came to North America. I also wrote why the concept is important (“Allows people to walk from Asia to Canada during last Ice Age.”) Note: I did not use a complete sentence! These are your notes. They need to be clear and legible, but that does not mean they need to be full sentences. They just need to  have enough information to accurately describe the main idea. It is a good idea to write the page number next to the key concept, so that you can easily go back to look up the page if you have questions when reviewing your notes.

After you write your right-hand column of notes, you go back and formulate key questions about those notes. Go back and look at your right-hand column–what question/s does the information you have written there answer? That is a key question. In the example on Page 3, you can see that I wrote “What forces caused these civilizations to die out?” in the left hand column next to “Drought and European diseases kill them off.”

Underneath the table, you must leave space to summarize the text. Here is where you present the information in the right hand column in a more formal way, and where you can put in a few extra details that you did not place in the right hand column. This should be a short summary! It is not meant to recount everything in the reading, it just meant to give you the main points and details. When you study, you should be able to focus on the summary and the right hand column and get all the salient points of the reading without having to go back to your textbook.


Cornell Reading Notes Example

Name: Sam Miller Date: August 29, 2013

Assignment: America: A Narrative History, pgs 4-10 (Title of Book, pages read)

Major questions that you could ask about the key points go in the left-hand column

Where did the first inhabitants of America come from? When did they come to America?

Who were the first peoples in North America and what kind of societies did they create?

What forces cause these civilizations to die out?
Who were the major civilizations in Central/South America and what kind of societies did they create?

Details about the key points and subpoints go in the right-hand column

Bering Land Bridge: Allows peoples to walk from Asia to Canada during last Ice Age

– Mound Builders, Anasazi and Mississippian culture are three major civilizations before Europeans   

-Mound Builders in eastern U.S. and Anasazi in southwest around same time; they die out, followed by Mississippians in the eastern US

-Built huge cities, had advanced technology like irrigation
-Drought and European disease will kill them off

-Aztecs, Mayans and Incas are three major civs

-Aztecs: major empire in central Mexico; Tenochtitlan was capital, huge city with advanced arch. + design

-Mayans: southern Mexico

-Incas: covered most of western South America; big but weak, split by civil war


North America has been occupied since the last Ice Age by people who migrated from Asia; eventually these peoples formed civilizations as advanced as those in Europe at the same time. The main reasons for the collapse of these civilizations included climate change (like droughts) which made it impossible to farm, internal problems (like civil war or weak governments), or diseases which destroyed their societies. Just before the arrival of the Europeans, these civilizations had either recently collapsed (in North America), or faced major struggles (in South America), which made European conquest much easier.

Active Reading Tips

  • Ask yourself when you start read: what is the central claim of this book/assignment? Look for answers to this question as you read. You should be able to summarize in one or two sentences the author’s main point when you reach the end of the section or assignment.

  • Underline or Highlight key words or sentences in your text. This will help you identify the main points of the reading (and what to put in your notes), as well as keep your mind engaged while reading. Mark important people, dates, events, and arguments.

  • Write down any questions that pop into your head when reading. Write them in the margin of your book, or in the right hand column of your notes. If any of your questions are factual–for example, you write a question like “Who is Queen Elizabeth again?”–you can look them up when you are finished with the reading, or perhaps go back and answer them once you reach the end of the section. Most of your questions should be “big questions”–what is the author’s bias? Is the author’s argument convincing? Could things have happened differently? Why did this happen/What motivated these people to do this?

  • Do your reading with a dictionary. Look up the words you do not know. This is the only way that you will learn new vocabulary–and it is far easier to learn new words when you read them in context.

Section 2: Lecture Notes

When we do lecture in class, you are required to take lecture notes, which will be graded weekly, along with your reading notes. Lecture notes will be done using the same Cornell method as your reading notes, with a few minor modifications.

Each lecture day will begin with a “class question” written on the board. This will be the big question that the lecture is going to help illuminate for you, and it will always be related to that week’s “essential question.” You will write this question at the top of your Cornell notes for that day, along with the date.

You will write the content of the lecture in the main right hand column of the page. The left hand column is for you to write the major questions that apply to the content you are receiving in lecture, just as you do with your reading notes. The questions for lecture notes are a bit easier to figure out, because often they are directly stated in the lecture. 

Cornell Lecture Notes Example

Name: Sam Miller Date: August 30, 2013

Class Question: What lessons did the US learn from its involvement in World War I?

How did the war affect Europe?

What did the Paris Peace Conference achieve?

What were the main elements of the Treaty of Versailles?

In the United States, why was there debate over the Treaty of Versailles? What were the outcomes of that debate?

Consequences of the War

-approx. 10-11 million dead soldiers

-approx. 20 million civilian casualties

-1918 Spanish Flu epidemic makes weak population worse

-750,000 Germans starved by war’s end
Paris Peace Conference (1919)

-US, England, France, Italy meet to create peace treaty that will solve problems of the war

-problems include: what to do with Germany?  what to do with colonies?  

-Wilson had promised the Fourteen Points would be achieved post-war but many European leaders don’t like the idea of self-determination

-Wilson does get League of Nations, but consequences for Germany are harsh
Treaty of Versailles

-territory is taken away from Germany, under the War Guilt Clause they must pay reparations to Allies

-many new countries in the Balkans

-colonies outside of Europe are not free, but become “mandates”–areas promised  freedom once they set up their own governments (Syria, Lebanon, etc)

-sets up League of Nations
Debate over Treaty in U.S.

-Isolationists in Senate (mainly Republicans) oppose Treaty because they don’t like the League of Nations

-reservationists (accept treaty with changes) v. irreconciliables (won’t accept treaty no matter what)

-Henry Cabot Lodge leads reservationists, who want to reserve Congress’s right to declare war

-Wilson won’t change treaty, goes on public speaking tour to get support for treaty but has a stroke; Republicans win debate in Senate

-Democrats lost 1920 election, League is never ratified, many in America feel that involvement in Europe is not worth hassle and struggle of negotiation

Summary: The war was devastating for Europe, and created a great deal of anger against Germany, which resulted in the very harsh Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty created the League of Nations, but also put all of the guilt of the war on Germany and required them to pay huge reparations. Woodrow Wilson wanted a quick approval of the Treaty at home, but he was opposed by isolationists in the Senate who believed that the Treaty took too much power away from Congress. Wilson, partly due to poor health, lost the debate over the treaty to Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, the Treaty is never ratified, and isolationist Republicans are put into power by 1920.

Active Listening Tips:


  • Write down any outlines/questions/terms that are written on the board. This will give you the structure of the lecture, so you will have a broad sense of what is going to be discussed. Remember though, do not only write down the things on the board and believe you are down with note taking. You must add to what is on the board in a substantial way.



  • Listen for cues in the teacher’s speech. When the teacher repeats something, emphasizes it (by using key words, a change in tone, gestures, or pauses), or gives word signals (“There are two points of view on…” “The third reason is…” “The biggest factor for…” “In conclusion…”), you should write down the main idea of what is being said.



  • Pay close attention to summaries given at the end of lecture and reviews given at the start of class. These can help clarify material covered previously.



  • Never use a sentence when you can use a phrase. Never use a phrase when you can use a word. Put all notes in your own words.



  • Don’t try to write down every word you hear. Focus on finding the main idea and key details and write those down.



  • Minimize your distractions. Do not focus on the tics of the speaker (outfit, hair color, etc) but rather focus on the point s/he is making.



  • Engage with the lecturer and with your notes. Watch the lecturer as s/he speaks and interact with them (nodding your head if you agree, reacting to something they have told you if it is dramatic). Interaction keeps your interest high. If the lecturer asks a question, suggest an answer, even if it is only in your notes and not aloud.



  • If you miss something in the lecture, make a note of it on your paper (perhaps with a question mark or by leaving space) and then go back and speak with the lecturer about it.



  • Section 3: Document Analysis: H.A.P.P.O.


Analyzing primary sources, like historical documents or artefacts, is the major work of historians. You will be spending a lot of time in class this year learning to do this sort of analysis.

Primary sources are the building blocks of history. They are what actually constitutes the historical record–all history that you read in your textbook or in any other historical work, is based on primary sources. Historians read these sources, and use them to craft a narrative, or story, about the past. Historians must pay carefully attention both to what the documents say, as well as what they don’t say. Historians must always be careful of taking what a document tells them as the absolute true story about what happened in the past. Often, the authors of our documents didn’t have the whole story, or they chose to ignore or leave out or sometimes even directly misinterpret events going on around them. To try to create the most accurate view of the past, historians have to read many documents to figure out what “really” happened.

Historians themselves, of course, are not immune to choosing to emphasize some things and leave other things out when they write their stories. If you believe, for example, that human beings make decisions primarily based on economic considerations, and that economic classes are one of the most important factors to look at when you investigate the past, you might ignore other factors that could motivate people, such as culture, or personal ideologies and beliefs. The analytical skills that you learn here with primary sources are just as applicable to secondary sources–even to your textbook.

H.A.P.P.O.  Document Analysis

Historical Context

  •   Causation: Can you bring into the open connections between the Document and Historical Facts?
  •   Chronology: Can you place the Primary Source within its appropriate place in the Historical Narrative or Timeline?
  •   PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: What do you know that would help you further understand the Primary Source?


  •   For whom was the source created, and how might this affect the reliability or accuracy of the source?


  •   WHY or FOR WHAT REASON was the source produced at the time it was produced?  What was the author’s GOAL?

Point of View

  •   Can you identify an important aspect of WHO the author is, and explain HOW this might have impacted what they wrote?
  •   Can you identify an influence that shaped the author or source, and EXPLAIN HOW THAT INFLUENCE specifically affected the document’s content?

Outside Information

Section 4: Class Handouts and Class Writing

This section is to keep track of any handouts you are given in class (maps, timelines, outlines, documents, etc) as well as any in-class writing exercises that we do.

Section 5: Tests and Quizzes

You need a section in your notebook where you keep your test and quizzes. Because the midterm and final exam questions are often taken directly from your old tests, these are great things to have for study tools. Quiz questions can often show up on your tests, so they are also materials that you need to keep track of and learn from.



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