Three cartoon monster characters with text

Monster: Note Taking Skills

Monster-themed activities to introduce digital note taking skills to gen ed students and students with visual impairments.

Note taking is an important digital skill for students to learn. Young students, including students who are blind or visually impaired, should be given age-appropriate opportunities to take notes while listening in class. Students will need to learn to multitask and to be able listen, determine what information is important and to take notes – all while comprehending the content of the discussion!

Pre-requisite Skills

Your student should be ready to go at the beginning of class. If the class is language arts and typically includes using technology, the student should have his/her device open, on and ready. (The classroom teacher should determine what “ready” means; that might be to have a running document of Notes for the class, or new word processing page for each language arts day in class, etc.) If the classroom teacher prefers to have devices off at the beginning of class, students should be primed to quickly turn on their device and open the word processing app when they hear the general prompt “take notes”. The student with visual impairments should not need an individual prompt or step-by-step prompts on how to be ready to take notes! 

Note: The TVI should make sure that the student is as efficient and independent as peers with the prompt “take notes” prior to doing these activities in the gen ed classroom.

Making Lists

Your student should be familiar with making lists on his/her device.

Note: Students should be making lists as soon as they are able to “write” letters using a keyboard or braille display! If using an iPad, the student should be “writing’ with a Bluetooth keyboard not the on-screen keyboard.

If your student has not been making lists, practice this skill before doing the Monster Note Taking activity. Start by giving the student a document with lists to navigate. Ideally, each list should have a heading followed by bulleted items. The list can be simple, such as a list of classes that the student is taking, a list of spelling words, a list of ingredients for a recipe, etc.

Example: Here is a list of 3rd grade contraction spelling words. (Note: These are gen ed contractions, not braille contractions!) The heading is “Contractions”. If the student is using a computer, I strongly recommend that the student make the headings a true Heading 2 so that the student can practice using the screen reader to scan the document by jumping from heading to heading.


Navigate through the list reading line by line. This activity can be done with any device and any screen reader. For example purposes, here are the commands for an iPad running Voiceover (in Edit mode – the visual cursor will be blinking on the screen):

Note: The iPad will say “list item” and then the word when bullets are used.

Ask the student to create his own list. As always, the content of the list should be pulled from something that the gen ed class is already doing, such as a list of spelling words, vocabulary words, fall-themed words, etc. Kindergarten students might be doing a unit on family or a unit on farm animals. For the family unit create a “Family” list using names of people in the student’s family. (You can help the student spell these names, if necessary.) For a young or beginner tech user, the list does not have to be a bullet points. 

Repeat this activity of making a list regularly. Embed the list making activity into daily or weekly routines. It’s easy to create spelling lists, homework lists, or lists are a great way of organizing anything and everything that can be ‘grouped’ together. Routine practice is also a great way to practice the “take notes” prompt for getting getting tech out and ready to work!

The gen ed classroom teacher can reinforce this skill by having the students practice creating lists as part of the daily/weekly routine. The classroom teacher may verbally state the items – such as vocabulary words – to be added to the list (which leads right into note taking!)  

Monster Lulu (Listening and Note Taking)

Tell your student(s) that they are going to “take notes” on Lulu the monster. This should alert your student to have his/her device on and open to a new page in a word document application (Word, Docs, Pages or their favorite note taking application). The student should listen carefully for the title of the activity and quickly type the title, in this case, “Lulu the Monster”.

Pause briefly until the students have their tech out and are ready to take notes. 

In the Monster Note Taking activity, the classroom teacher will read sentences and the student has to pick up the key points to write in his/her list. (In the previous lists, the student was told specific words to write in the list format.) If necessary, review what descriptive words are or give an example of a monster sentence and discuss with the class what descriptive words should be written in the list. With this activity, students do not have to spell the words in the list correctly – the goal is to quickly determine which words are important and to type the list. Speed is more important that correct spelling!

Ask your student to listen carefully as you read Lulu’s description. Students should be prepared to jot down a list of words that describe Lulu as you read the story. Depending on the student’s skill, you may need to pause after each sentence so that the student has time to process and write the important descriptive words. If this is the first lesson on note taking, the teacher may choose to emphasize the desired words.

Read Lulu’s Basic Description

Lulu is a big, round polka-dotted monster. She has five eyes. She has 3 skinny legs and no arms. Lulu likes to sit back on her wide spiky tail. She has two sharp teeth. 

Did everyone have enough time to take notes? If this is the first time that students are taking notes, read the story sentences again and ask the students to check their work and/or add anything that was missed. Discuss the items that the student listed. Did they include the important descriptions? Did they miss anything? Encourage the students to use abbreviations in order to write faster such as the number “2” instead of spelling the word “two”.

Teacher Hint: Remember, for students who use a screen reader, they are also learning to multi-task – listening to the teacher and to VoiceOver. At this stage, students may to change the VoiceOver announcements to Words (not characters) or even no typing feedback. You, the TVI, will want to pre-teach making lists and note taking before the student is asked to do this in a gen ed classroom.

If you want to add extra information (that students’ have to consciously ignore) explain to the students that they will be doing an art project to recreate Lulu out of playdough. They need to carefully listen for the details which will help them make a model of Lulu. They will write a checklist of descriptive words that will help them create the model of Lulu. Hint: They do not need to write words about her personality, likes/dislikes, friends, etc. ONLY the words that describe what Lulu look like.)

Read Lulu’s Description 2

Lulu is a big, round polka-dotted monster. She has three older sisters. Lulu has five eyes. Lulu likes to listen to music. When she sings along to the music, she jumps up and down on her three skinny legs. Lulu does not have any arms. Lulu likes to sit back on her wide spiky tail. Lulu lives in a cave. Lulu has pointed ears. Lulu has two sharp teeth. Lulu and Chewy are friends.

Create Lulu out of Playdough

Now ask the students to create Lulu out of playdough. Your playdough monster should have each characteristic that the student wrote in his/her checklist. As a class, compare the different Lulu figures. Do they look the same? Why or why not? Did everyone take the same notes? Compare the lists created after Lulu’s Description 2. Is your first list the same as your second list? What information was NOT an important description of Lulu (and was not included in the list)?

The Lulu descriptions were not detailed, so it is anticipated that every student will have their own interpretations of Lulu. Example: Lulu has 5 eyes, but what type of eyes? Where are those eyes located?

Made Up Monster

For the next activity, students will write about their own monster description. The students should “take notes” on the Made Up Monster activity (create a list) of the things to include about their monster. Here are the instructions to be read aloud by the teacher that the students will take notes on. With this activity, the student should not write down every option, but should listen for and write down the “categories”.

Made Up Monsters are imaginary creatures. This means that we can create our own monsters! We can use our own ideas to make the monsters. We can choose what our monsters look like and can add any features that we want. Start by choosing a shape for the body, such as square triangle oval, star or random shape. Next, add a face and decide the features of the face. How many eyes does your monster have, how big is it’s nose? Does it have teeth and/or tusks? Next think about the monster’s legs and arms. How many arms and legs? Does it have paws, claws or tentacles? Some monsters fly, swim or crawl. What unique features does it have? Does your monster have wings, a tail, horns, or spikes? Once you have decided what your monster looks like, give your monster a name.

Provide the students with art materials so that they can create their own monster. Be sure to include things like googly eyes, pipe stem cleaners, feathers, fur/hair, sequences, playdough/clay, different textures, and possibly some textures cut into different shapes that can easily used to create legs, tails, horns, etc. The students can choose to make 3D models or adhere the materials onto construction paper to create a 2D model. After the monster is created, students should write sentences that describe their monster. These sentences should cover the categories that they listed in their notes.

Note: Amazon has numerous precut felt and foam monster kids. If using a kit, be sure to add tactile materials such as googly eyes, hair, etc. for extra texture.

Modification: Students can draw their monster instead of creating a tactile monster. The visually impaired student can draw using a Sensational Blackboard or other drawing tools. (See Tactile Graphics Tools post).


Monster: Note Taking Skills Pinterest tag.

By Diane Brauner

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