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The Ultimate Guide to Using Interactive Notebooks

In my ten years teaching middle school science, there are few practices I’ve come to love as much as using interactive notebooks! An interactive notebook is place for students to combine new lessons offered by their teacher with their own thinking and creativity. These notebooks are portfolios of their individual learning. They are a place to store all notes, important papers, and content from the year, so that students are able to easily refer to prior learning while exploring new concepts. If you’re interested incorporating this amazing tool in your middle school classroom, here is my ultimate guide for using interactive notebooks.

Things to Consider:

Interactive notebooks can come in many forms. Personally, I always prefer good ole’ fashioned paper and pencil notebooks, but you can also opt for a digital interactive notebooks. (Google drive or Google Classroom work well if you prefer a digital format.)

If you’re anything like me and you opt for a paper notebook, you’ll need to decide whether your students will create their science interactive notebooks using composition notebooks or three ring binders. I’ve used both! Here’s what I’ve learned:

Pro’s of Binders:

  • Easier to print (can be done full size with adjustment)
  • Typically involves less cutting/gluing (i.e less wasted time)
  • New pages can easily be added anywhere (even to the front of the notebook)

Pro’s of Composition Notebooks:

  • The pages are less likely to fall out or get lost.
  • Note that you can easily print any regular sized page at 80% and it will then fit perfectly into a composition notebook!

    Each of these options work well, but consistency across your classes is helpful.

Supplies You Will Need:

Since interactive notebooks are a little more involved than you average notebook, there are a necessary supplies that will make the process easier. First and foremost, students will need a notebook (either binder or composition). If you opt to go the composition book route, I highly recommend having students come prepared with an extra notebook. Depending on the age of your students, you may consider collecting the extra notebooks on the first day of school to keep them safe until later in the year when students are ready for a new notebook.

You will also need a variety of art supplies to create the colorful pages that set interactive notebooks apart. Students will need regular access to:

  • Colored pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Glue sticks
  • Scissors

It’s up to you whether these supplies remain with each individual student or you collect the supplies at the beginning of the year to distribute when needed.

Finally, as teachers, we all know how exhausting it can be trying to reinvent the wheel each time we need a new notes sheet. Here’s the good news…you don’t have to! I cannot recommend enough using interactive notebook templates. In my TPT store, you’ll find many different resources that can be easily integrated into an interactive science notebook. Here are a few of my favorites:

How to organize your notebooks:

When it comes to using this interactive student notebooks effectively, organization is key! Without some structure and organization to the notebooks, they can quickly become a mess of confusing pages and notes, rather than the helpful learning tools they are intended to be. I’ve found that the most effective way to support students in keeping their notebooks organization is by creating and maintaining your own notebook to use as an example. This exemplar notebook can be pulled out for modeling purposes each time you add a new page to the notebook.

When it comes to the actual structure of your notebooks, there are a few basic strategies that are incredibly helpful!

Include a table of contents.

The table of contents should occupy the first few pages of the notebook. When you set up your notebook (particularly if your students are using a composition or spiral notebook), I recommend having students set aside 3-5 pages at the front of the book labeled “Table of Contents.”

As students input pages to their notebooks, instruct them to add page numbers to the bottom of each page. These numbers should correspond to an entry added to the table of contents. Utilizing the table of contents feature in their notebooks is a great way for students to reference prior information and learning throughout the year. It also makes it easier for you as a teacher to find specific pages should you choose to check or evaluate their notebooks.

Use dividers for different units.

It’s important to create some separation between different content units. In a binder, this can be done easily using divider tabs. In a notebook, students may create their own “cover page” at the start of each unit and can even create their own tabs using a sticky note or colored tape.

Use circle stickers to secure important pages.

When you are collecting notes and resources from the entire year, it can be tricky or time consuming to find specific pages. I’ve found that using circle stickers to tag important pages is a great idea! You can use these stickers for anything, but I think they are especially helpful for pages they will need to cross reference all year (ex. important vocabulary, science lab rules, the periodic table, etc.)

Add a unit summary page.

I recommend having students keep a bullet pointed list of important information that will be covered in each unit. This important tool is an easy reference tool that students can use when reviewing their notes or looking for specific pieces of information. These summary pages can be placed either at the beginning or the end of each unit. They also help to give each unit a more cohesive look.

Print pages at 85% for composition notebooks.

Pages printed at 85% are scaled down to fit more comfortably in a composition notebook. Without adjusting the size, you will likely waste a lot of student learning time cutting and gluing. Not to mention, the more cutting that is required for your interactive notebook pages, the lower quality work you will likely see from your students. (Note: if you choose to use a binder instead, pages can be printed normally without adjustment.)

Accountability:

How do you ensure that your students actually complete their interactive notebook assignments? Great question! There are a few ways you might approach this. Many teachers opt for occasional binder checks. These could be pre-scheduled (ex. every Friday, notebooks are turned in) or they could be spontaneous to keep students on their toes.

Personally, I find that having a stack of students notebooks or binders to go through can be overwhelming and cumbersome. Instead, I prefer to have my students take photos of specific pages each week and upload them to Google Classroom. This allows me to assess their effort and involvement in the notetaking process without having to collect their physical notebooks.

I’ve also found that giving the occasional notebook quiz over information that should be in the notebook is a great way to keep students active and involved. I allow them to use their notebooks for the quiz, which means they must have quality notes in order to do well.

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