Blogstitute 2017: Sticky note strategies for transitional readers

July 11th, 2017

Welcome to Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute 2017! We are thrilled to kick off our series with this great, practical post from Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak, authors of Still Learning to Read, Second Edition. Share with us in the comments or on Twitter (#blogstitute17) how you use sticky notes in your reading workshop.

Sticky note strategies for transitional readers
Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

Our classrooms are reading communities that represent a variety of readers who have different needs, a variety of interests, and a range of skills. Transitional readers are in many of our classrooms in grades 3–6. They are making a move from reading mostly picture books to reading chapter books. They have developed some strategies for making sense of texts but many of them lack independence in several areas. Some transitional readers need to be better able to sustain comprehension as they read. For others, maintaining interest in an entire book is a challenge. Our goal is to help them become independent readers of more complex texts by giving them the strategies and tools they need. As they move toward reading books with more complexity, transitional readers need new tools and a variety of new strategies for making sense of the texts they are reading. As they become strategic about making sense of texts they can easily move from the transitional stage to becoming successful readers of more complex texts.

Some simple but effective strategies can make a huge difference in helping students move toward independence. We have found that sticky notes are a helpful tool for transitional readers. They offer a variety of support to readers as they become more independent. Sticky notes are always handy during reading conferences as we support students in meeting their goals. They are also easily accessible in the classrooms so children can use them as they read independently.



This student was transitioning to longer chapter books. Holding on to a story over several days was a skill that needed some practice. He was discovering that when he opened the book each day and just started to read, he was often confused. During conferences, we focused on strategies to do some thinking before reading each day to remember the story. Using sticky notes to summarize the plot at the end of each day of reading helped support him in this skill. Instead of just starting where he left off, he started each day of reading by rereading the summary so he had a  a clear understanding of what occurred in the story so far. This helped build a solid background when starting a new reading session.



Figuring out the meaning of unknown words is another common challenge for transitional readers. This student relied on an adult or another student when she came across an unknown word. She would simply ask someone to tell her the word but this did little to build her own strategies for discovering the meaning of unknown words. During a conference, we cut up sticky notes so that she could guess the meaning of a word based on the context of the sentence/paragraph. Then she discovered that if she read on, she could often determine the meaning of a word. This sticky-note strategy gave her the confidence she needed for more independence.


Some readers transitioning to chapter books tend to read quickly without really holding on to the story. For this student, sticky notes reminded her to stop and think about the story throughout the book. While she was capable of reading the words on the page, she needed to pause to think about what was happening in the story. Rather than rushing through the book, she needed to develop a strategy for building the meaning of the story as she read.  We spent time during a reading conference putting a blank sticky note on every fifth page of the book. So as this child read, she was reminded to stop and think whenever she approached a sticky note. On the note, she would take time to summarize and/or write her thinking. The visual reminder to stop and think was exactly what she needed to support better understanding of the story.


Our students sometimes have difficulty finishing books as they begin to choose longer books. We had a reading conference with a child who was moving between books and never finishing any of them. He knew several books he wanted to read from his book bin. He went through the stack and decided in what order he hoped to read them. He numbered each of them with a sticky note. This simple visual reminder helped him to finish one book before moving on to the second, third, or fourth book in his book bin.


Some transitional readers have difficulty sorting out the important parts of a story from those that are not as critical to understanding the text. Recalling the important parts of a story over several reading sessions is an important skill to develop. This student used sticky notes to bullet the two or three things that were most important to remember in each chapter. This gave him something to go back to when beginning to read each day. It also gave him practice understanding the difference between important ideas and small details.


For some students, creating a picture as they read is a new skill. Transitioning to chapter books requires students to visualize the story and it often takes some practice to stop and think about what was read. This child is using a blank page in his reading notebook to stop and jot every time he gets a picture in his head from the words alone. Using a notebook or sticky notes to collect simple images is a way to invite students to stop and think specifically about the picture in their head and to build understanding over time.


Often students get stuck in one way of thinking and as text becomes more complex, it is important that they do various kinds of thinking in their reading. After conferring with me, these students are sorting sticky notes from a recent read into categories to get a sense of the kind of thinking they tend to capture while reading. They are noticing when they wrote down a prediction, a summary, a wondering, or a thought about a character. At a future conference, we used these reflections to set new goals of trying to capture different kinds of thinking.

Some students prefer using digital sticky notes. This child is using the app Corkulous on the iPad. This app allows students to jot on sticky notes, to color-code sticky notes, and to reorganize the notes for better understanding. Since students are becoming more and more comfortable using electronic devices, Corkulous offers another perspective on sticky notes and how they can support reading.


Sticky notes are valuable tools in our reading workshop. Sometimes, in reading conferences, we give students invitations to use sticky notes in ways that support their goals. Then students can use sticky notes independently to build new habits as they go off to read each day.

Entry Filed under: Reading

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristen  |  July 11th, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    The power of the sticky note! I enjoyed this article! I was reminded of the ways to use sticky notes to help the transitional reader. I also gained some new ideas! As a reading coach, I can’t wait to share these simple, yet useful, ideas to my colleagues!

  • 2. Terri Ryan  |  July 11th, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    I’m a Title 1 teacher in a super small K-8 school. One of our teachers left and I believe it is likely that instead of replacing her, I be given reading classes. In the past I’ve has students use sticky notes when making connections, predictions, and questioning as they read. I’ve purchased quite a few sticky notes from Naier and will definitely keep these in mind.

  • 3. Niki Rowland  |  July 11th, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    I have students use sticky notes for many different purposes during Reading Workshop, including marking places where they needed to stop and check for understanding, to note a word that they became stuck on, or to record thoughts that they want to share with me next time we meet!

  • 4. Kim  |  July 11th, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Using sticky notes for this is a very smart and useful strato. Although I teach HS English, the majority of my students are LD and all have an IEP. This, I have to say, was one of the most useful articles I have read all summer. I have bookmarked this page, so that I have it handy to refer back to.

  • 5. Lisa C  |  July 11th, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    There are a lot of good ideas here! I’ve been having some grass 3 students use emoticons drawn in stickies to mark things they want to talk about in a book group meeting. They spend very little time drawing a smile face, or a question mark, something else but the note reminds them to go back to a happy part or a confusing part during our meeting.

  • 6. Elizabeth  |  July 11th, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Great ideas – thanks for sharing! I especially like the idea of numbering books with a sticky note as a reminder to finish one before moving on. I can struggle with this too! 🙂

  • 7. Tracy  |  July 12th, 2017 at 7:06 am

    Thanks for the good reminders about how versatile sticky notes can be for readers. As a science teacher, I like the idea of the sticky note app as a way to track vocabulary. Definitely putting this on my to do list for the coming year!

  • 8. Angela  |  July 12th, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for the great ideas! What a great use of sticky notes to aide in comprehension and to check for understanding!

  • 9. Nicola  |  July 12th, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you for a great article – sticky notes are such a versatile resource. I am wondering what ideas do you have for the sticky notes once the book is read – I and my students are drowning in a sea of sticky notes and I worry about all that paper being consumed. Unfortunately, at this time, we don’t have a digital option available. Any ideas would be gratefully accepted!

  • 10. Teresa  |  July 13th, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    This is a great article that provides several different ways to use sticky notes in ways that I have not used before. I will teach 7th & 8th grade reading intervention classes this year, and I want to try the Corkulous app as a station. I also like the idea of marking every nth page of a book as a reminder to students to stop and write about their reading.

  • 11. Wendy  |  July 14th, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Great ideas! I was surprised this year to find that my struggling 7th and 8th grade readers were motivated by putting a sticky note on the page they hoped to reach by Friday each week. The concrete, visual reminder to keep reading made a difference in the focus of many students.

  • 12. Michael Williams  |  July 15th, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Love the use of sticky notes to support student comprehension. This strategy can very easily be transferred from an instructional strategy taught in the reading workshop to a real-life tool that can be used in a wide range of texts in many different settings. I often reach for a post-it to jot down a thought and/or comment that I have while reading. Also, this tool is applicable to learners of all ages. Now I just have to start gathering post-it notes.

  • 13. Debbie Parker  |  July 19th, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I like the idea of putting a sticky note every few pages to remind the student to use the sticky note. Our school has been using stickies for a few years and many students find them cumbersome or forgot to write them. Having the blank sticky already in the book is a great reminder

  • 14. Christie Wyman  |  July 20th, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    We are sticky note crazy in my K classroom! Even my beginning readers use them to mark pages that made them laugh or that they made some type of connection with, even if it was with an illustration. Never too early to develop this powerful reading habit!

  • 15. Blogstitute 2017: Sticky &hellip  |  July 22nd, 2017 at 6:12 am

    […] This article is useful for those working with students who need some alternative strategies to help them become more thoughtful readers. It contains a variety of ways to use sticky notes to aid comprehension, set and achieve reading goals, and make connections with the text.… […]

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