This post originally appeared on the blog Teaching With Elly Thorsen.
Interactive notebooks are useful in any subject area. In my science classroom, students used them for all of their Do Nows, all of their notes, and many daily assignments. Every day, the students knew they had to get their interactive notebook, fill in the Table of Contents, copy the Do Now questions, and answer the Do Now in sentences. When we went over the Do Now answers, the students would sometimes add to or change their answers so they had accurate information. Then, if we took notes that class period, the students knew exactly where to write them. They would add any vocabulary words to their glossaries. When it came time to study for a test, the students had potential test questions and answers from all the Do Nows and they had all of their notes organized neatly so they could find information quickly.
During the school year, I kept an interactive notebook as well. When a student was absent, I could show them my interactive notebook or make a copy of certain pages to distribute. Interactive notebooks have proven invaluable to me as a teacher. They show everything we learned, when we learned it, and how we learned it. That makes lesson planning so much faster and easier the next year. I love interactive notebooks and would never go back to not using them in my classroom.
Interactive notebooks are adaptable and can suit the needs of each classroom and subject area. There are different ways to set up interactive notebooks. Below you will find directions, pictures, and advice on how to set up a basic interactive notebook for your classroom.
First, instruct your students to purchase a composition notebook. Composition notebooks were the only required supply for my classroom and should cost less than two dollars. I strongly recommend composition notebooks over any other kind of notebook. Composition notebooks are durable and, in my experience, can even hold up to a year of abuse from middle school students. All other notebooks tend to fall apart quickly. Plus, students are tempted to tear out notebook pages to use for other purposes.
If this is something you want to do, have no more than two letters per page. I only required students to write the vocabulary words and page numbers in their glossaries. To label the glossary like I did in my classes, have students use the last three sheets of paper in their lab books. Label the top of each page “Glossary.” Then divide the page into four even boxes. Write one letter in the corner of each box. See the pictures below.
If during the year, the students run out of room in their glossaries, simply put a sticky note over the top of the box. My students never had enough room in the C box, as you can see in the picture below.
Once the students are finished making their glossaries, they are done! The interactive notebooks are now set up and ready to use. Like I mentioned earlier, I did not let the interactive notebooks leave my classroom. If you implement this rule too, you’ll need to have some sort of storage system in place. I liked using plastic milk crates because they were inexpensive, sized perfectly, and kept the interactive notebooks neatly organized. I bought six crates and then labeled them alphabetically, with several letters for each crate. The students placed their interactive notebooks in the crates by last name.
The first year I used interactive notebooks, I had the crates divided by class period rather than alphabetically. I do not recommend this. I had close to forty students in each of my classes and it took FOREVER for all of the students to locate their interactive notebooks when they were all crowded around the same crate.
As far as grading the interactive notebooks, I graded them once each quarter. I have tried many grading methods over the years, and I finally have one that works for me. You can get it for free here.
Elly Thorsen has taught in a variety of grade levels and educational settings. She started her career as a middle school ELA teacher in a tiny town in South Dakota. Once she got married, she moved to Minnesota where she taught multiple subjects and ages in an open school. Teach For America later brought her to Oklahoma where she taught seventh grade science for several years and absolutely loved it. Having a spouse in the military meant leaving Oklahoma too soon and moving to South Korea where she taught English to students as young as four and as old as eighty. Currently, Elly is enjoying some time at home in Tennessee with her little dude before making an eventual return to education.