Although much has been written about the history of commonplacing, there is a lack of evidence‐based research to show the extent to which this historical practice may still be valuable today as a pedagogy that educates citizens in critical reading for democracy. This article describes an institutional‐review‐board‐approved, experimental study to answer this question. Three sections of the same first‐year reading and writing course were compared: one section did not use commonplace books, a second section used commonplace books that included quotations only, and a third section used commonplace books with reflective writing. We expected to find that students who used commonplace books would perform better in end‐of‐study assessments than those who did not. Instead, we were surprised to find that many of the students who were not required to use commonplace books created their own note‐taking methods that performed a similar function. In essence, they developed their own commonplace book culture and methodology using Google Docs and other social reading practices. Their performance was as strong as the students who used commonplace books.