This post originally appeared on the blog Mrs. E Teaches Math.
Whether you’ve been using interactive notebooks for a long time or you’re a newbie, you will run into problems that will drive you nuts. Right now, my biggest annoyance is students leaving their glue bottles open when they put them away. Ugh. If you know how to magically get teenaged boys to slow down enough to take care of craft supplies, I’m all ears!
To help you stay sane in your classroom, I’m sharing my top eight tips for interactive notebooks.
1 – Save everything as a PDF. Several times, I’ve re-opened a document that’s been formatted for their notebooks only to find it messed up. I’ve also had graphics disappear. Can I tell you how maddening it is to have 15 intricately drawn geometry diagrams just disappear and be replaced with a giant red X? Also, if you make something with a cute font at home, it likely won’t show up on your school computer. PDFs are a lifesaver.
2 – Easy is best. When I use foldables, I love hamburger books and flap books. My kids know what to do with those without me explaining. I use other types of foldables as well, but I recommend using one or two types all the time so that you don’t have to give instructions every day.
3 – Give students a choice as often as possible. This is just good classroom management advice. However, it works well with their notebooks, too. Sometimes I let students choose the color of paper for their next foldable. (Lots of people like BRIGHT paper in their notebooks. My students find that distracting and hard to read their pencil writing, so I really like to use pastel paper, for example.) Other times, I let them choose what kind of review activity we will do. Students are more engaged when they have choices. Give them choices you can live with.
4 – Model the “extras”. Kids won’t “make it their own” and add extra information unless you model it. Sometimes I quickly outline a white foldable with a highlighter before class. Show them how to add extra information in their notes by letting them see you do it. They will start to mimic what they see.
5 – If something isn’t working, dump it. A table of contents didn’t really work for me. I would forget to add to it and wouldn’t refer to it myself. So, I quit. I’ve thought about trying tabs, but I don’t really see the point. My students can quickly flip to the pages from this unit and it’s much easier for me to say, “Remember that giant purple foldable?” than try to remember the page everything is on. Also, sometimes kids don’t remember what a topic is called. What would they do then?
6 – Go with composition notebooks. They are so much more durable. HOWEVER, I have a friend that uses the large size 5-star notebooks with the plastic front. They work pretty well, too.
7 – Don’t check notebooks all the time! Just the thought of checking notebooks makes my head spin. If you insist on checking them, DO NOT TAKE THEM HOME. Just say no! I check them once per grading period. Students pass their notebook to a neighbor and the neighbor fills out a tiny sheet that grades them on all pages being glued in and foldables filled out. Kids either get a 100 or a 50. It’s the easiest grade for them all quarter. It takes me less than 3 minutes. DO NOT TAKE THEM HOME TO GRADE.
8 – You must have a teacher copy. I keep a teacher copy, but I don’t make it ahead of time. I actually make my notebook along with the students and I have one for each class period. It helps me model what to do in their notebook and I fill in their notes under the document camera. If a student is absent, they can borrow my notebook (in class!) to copy the notes. It makes life so much easier to have a sample.
Do you have any tips that make using interactive notebooks easier?
Karrie from Mrs. E Teaches Math is a high school math teacher in Texas. She loves helping teachers find relevant and engaging ways to teach. Karrie has an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and a graduate degree in Statistics. You can find her blog at mrseteachesmath.com.