Friday, July 10, 2015

Interactive notebooks: Tips & tricks

I am an interactive notebook fanatic! I always get a lot of emails or questions about the best way to go about starting an interactive notebook. Many teachers have seen their colleagues use them or seen pictures on Teachers Pay Teachers, but are a little unsure where to start.

These notebooks are more than basic activities, they contain all the information you need to teach your students a new concept. My products contain differentiation. In each notebook, I have a notebook page for an answer key, fill-in-the-blank, and entirely blank page. This allows you to adjust your teaching and students' learning depending on your classroom and needs. You can keep it simple with the fill-in-the-blank, or allow for more writing and critical thinking by discussing what should go in the entirely blank page. I have a wide range of notebooks for language arts, science, social studies, math, and even each month of the year!

Interactive notebooks will bring your classroom experience to a new level, benefitting you, your students, classroom parents, and even admin!

Teacher: Interactive notebooks are simple to hand out to students, and contain answer keys. They are differentiated based on your students' needs and how much assistance you want to give them concerning writing notes and learning/reviewing a topic. Since all the information is in one place, it also makes end-of-the-year review one million times easier.

Students: The most important part of any classroom is the students. My students ask in the beginning of each unit we learn, "Do we get to do an interactive notebook on these?!?" They are exciting and engaging to students. The notebooks serve as a reference point, almost like a homemade textbook that students can use to deeper understand a concept or subject. Most of all, the kids have FUN making these. They love opening and closing the little flaps and tabs, staring in awe at the accordion pieces. The fact that my kids are having a blast learning something as blah as subtraction vocabulary terms thrills me. Learning mixed with fun?! What could be better??? The kids are SO proud of these notebooks, it gives them a sense of ownership over what they create.

Parents: Your classroom parents will express excitement and interest in these fabulous notebooks. My students often opt to take these home to color them (I do not make them do this, many of them beg to! Well, usually the little girls). Parents often remark on how much they love seeing what their children are doing all in one place, and it helps them with projects and studying. Parents want to be informed, and this is one of the many ways to do that!

Administration: These are great to bring into evaluation. They provide accountability of every concept that you are working on. You can point out which standards that you are working on or have already mastered.


What are interactive notebooks?
Interactive notebooks are a way for your students to better understand their learning. It provides a visual and kinesthetic way for students to literally "interact" with information. The pages in interactive notebooks are generally flipbooks and foldables, giving students a sense of movement and active understanding.

What supplies do I need to do interactive notebooks?
Of course you will need a composition book. A spiral works as well, but the composition book is a little bit more sturdy. My boyfriend says that my totally-filled-out interactive notebooks resemble "George Costanza's wallet," they get HUGE! This is why a composition book works so well, it stands up well to how much gluing and paper is inside.

Each kiddo has a pair of scissors and glue stick. I personally have never had a problem with the kids using glue sticks, but I read in many other blogs that teachers prefer using glue bottles so that the flippables and foldables are really stuck down well to the page. Up to you! We personally have a lifetime supply of glue sticks that we keep ending up with each year off our supply list, so I like to use those suckers up :-)

How many notebooks do my kids need?
I like to use one interactive notebook per subject. This way it is an easy reference point when the kiddos need to look up something about Ancient Greece, graphing, making predictions, or what an adaptation is. They can pull out the correct subject notebook, and get to work!


How do you construct the pages?
I construct a notebook with them! I also sometimes cut out shapes/flipbooks for the kids with the slowest motor skills. Sometimes I yell out "I CAN FINISH BEFORE YOU!" and make it a competition.

It's funny though, once the students cut out and glue a specific shape a few times, they know it. They do not have to watch me do it or cut along with me. They cut, glue, and wait for the next directions.

After the page is constructed, we do the activities or notes inside of them. If it being done whole-group (as my social studies and science notebooks usually are), I slip the notebook underneath a document camera (I use my iPad as a doc cam) to do the note-taking pages. This can also easily be done on your whiteboard/chalkboard!

Isn't all that cutting and gluing time-consuming?
Before I did interactive notebooks, I was absolutely opposed to cutting and gluing. My kids were so SLOW at it, so I avoided any sort of cutting or gluing in my classroom. We stuck to purely handouts. It finally dawned on me that they simply did not have quick motor skills, this is something that I needed to help them work on. Yes, the first week or so you do these are going to be slow and a little painful. Just as we do any routine in class, practice makes perfect! The kids will quickly pick up on how to fold, cut, and glue each piece. They will know how to recycle the paper. They will know how to help certain students at their table who need additional help.

Isn't there messy paper everywhere?
I am a TOTAL NEATFREAK. So I came up with a way to not deal with the hassle of scraps of paper everywhere. There are two ways to go about this, depending on your students' desk setup. Firstly.... NO ONE CAN STAND UP! If you have 27 kids trying to get to the recycling bin and back, it will be a nightmare.

If you have tables....I go to the Dollar Tree and buy a $1 bucket for each table. I call these their trash bins. When they are finished, they can crumple up their trash and put it into the trash bin. Then, one student from each group will dump the trash when they are all finished.

If you have desks.... tell the students to crumple up their scrap paper when they are done with it and place it in the left-hand corner of their desk. Pick whichever student is finished cutting and gluing first to go around with the recycling bin and get the trash from students. My kiddos beg to get to be the recycler, and it is a great motivation to get those kids to cut and glue as fast as their cute little hands can!

How do you pass out the handouts before they are cut and glued?
I find it easiest to sit down before each unit, and print out the pages that I want students to complete for the notebook. I also print out an answer key for me. For the students, I have a parent make the copies 1-sided --> 1-sided and stapled. The students keep these in a pocket folder. When we want to construct a page, I say "tear off the top page of your packet and put the rest of the packet in your pocket folder." Then we keep going. Immediately reminding them to put it away helps to sidestep any accidents or misplacings of the packet.


When do you complete these?
These notebooks can be done whole-group, small-group, or individually. In social studies or science, I use these whole-group. We cut and glue together, then I place my book underneath the document camera as we write in them together. For math, I have the kids bring their notebooks either to the carpet/easel, or horseshoe table. We cut and glue, then complete the activities either independently or as a group. Some of the activities, like pocket sorts, are a fantastic literacy station or math station that can be done independently by the kiddos.

What subjects do you use interactive notebooks in?
I use these lovelies in all subjects that I teach (math, language arts, social studies, and science). My students have a composition book for each of the subjects. It provides a nice reference point if we are doing a PBL or project for them to use the information in the book on their research.


Do you grade these notebooks?
I do not. The kids take so much pride in their notebooks. I have many kids who beg to take the to recess to color, and they often choose to color them during Quiet Time. I do not want them to suddenly feel like these notebooks are a grade and that they are afraid to "mess them up." These notebooks are theirs, they should feel ownership and responsibility over them, but not think that they have to take them home to gussy up and turn in is a grade. We have plenty of assessment and project opportunities in class, I do not want these notebooks to be one of them.

Do you do left-hand/right-hand stuff?
Your notebooks should make sense to you. I personally am not a fan of the left/right business (input/output). I think in middle school or high school this would be great and a fantastic way to reflect at home on their learning, but this is not something I would like to do with my third-graders. The fact that my eight-year-olds are cutting, gluing, solving problems, and discussing what is in their notebook... how is this not considered "output"? With my differentiated notebooks, the kids are taking notes in their notebook foldables and flipbooks that are given, so without a doubt this is already showing "output."

What if a kiddo is absent?
We emphasize teamwork in my classroom. Whenever a student returns from being absent, one of their shoulder partners will show them what they missed and together they will quickly assemble their notebook page. The students love playing "teacher" and assisting others in the class.

Here are some links to a few of my favorite interactive notebooks that I offer! Click the subject links below if you're curious about other ones I have for each subject. I offer over 80 interactive notebooks so you can find one that is perfect for you, your classroom, your students, and the content that you teach. 

Do you use some sort of interactive notebooks in your classroom? What tips or tricks do you have? How have they changed your own classroom and teaching?


  1. I love the idea of running off the whole packet at once and stapling them together!! I'm totally doing that this year. Thanks!!
    Read, Run, Teach

  2. Great ideas!! Thanks!!

    Jen~Two Little Birds

  3. Besides the obvious benefits, you are so RIGHT that interactive notebooks are a huge help with fine motor skills. It's sad how cutting/pasting/coloring has fallen through the cracks.

  4. I love using interactive notebooks! I like to use binders instead. I find we can add and move around concepts when needed. I use the binders in language arts but notebooks in other subjects.

  5. What a great post, Kelly! Your tips will make IN's so much easier to organize.

  6. These are great tips, but taking down notes from the teacher is not output. It's not student thought, and it's not reflecting on their own learning. I think this is great notebooking, but it's not truly an interactive notebook without that input/output stuff. That's not to say what you're doing isn't useful- but I think it's not quite the right name. I do think you gave some helpful tips, though- I'll definitely be using a Recycler in my room!

  7. LOVE these ideas! Can you explain to me how you use your iPad as a document camera? Does it require a special stand and/or Apple TV? Thanks in advance!

    1. I'm thrilled you enjoyed the post! I previously posted about my newfound love for an iPad doc stand I found on Amazon, here's the link!

  8. I am doing interactive notebooks for the first time this year. I was planning on using a binder with dividers for subjects. Have you ever used a binder instead of composition books? My theory is that this will keep everything together in one organized place. I hope my theory works:-)

  9. Thank you for these great tips. I've been using IBs for going into my 3rd year but I quite haven't mastered it yet (well at least I don't think so) but with the reading of this post I hopefully will have a better start!

  10. Thank you for these great tips. I've been using IBs for going into my 3rd year but I quite haven't mastered it yet (well at least I don't think so) but with the reading of this post I hopefully will have a better start!

  11. I love this blog post! I have been wanting to get into interactive notebooks for a long time, I have all the templates ready but just didn't quite grasp them - your blog post has been so informative and great to help me!

    Teaching Autism