Archive for the ‘Interactive Notebooks’ Category

Learning Contracts and Interactive Notebooks

My student’s success in taking good notes from text using the Q-Notes strategy lead me to wonder how I could apply that to my interactive notebooks. I was approaching my World War I unit and had access to ten copies of America Enters World War I. The book addressed most of the I Can statements my students had to master for the unit, so I decided to jump in and see what happened.

The process:

I created a chart to represent left side/right side assignments. The left hand assignments were all Q-Notes from the book, and I chose appropriate right hand assignments from the list I put in the front of their notebooks. I then decided what I would supplement with whole class experiences, and planned to meet with them individually about their notes. Then they had a week and a half to get it done – using combined school/homework time.

The results:

  • Students were very capable of taking the notes to met the I Can statements.
  • During class discussions/review I found more of my students participating and seeming to retain more content using this method.
  • While the notes were fabulous, right-hand sides seemed to suffer – either not getting completed or students misunderstanding the instructions – even though I purposely kept it to assignments we had completed before in class.
  • My “go-getters” were constantly conferencing with me as they finished their notes pages, and some children I never saw individually as they were late completing assignments.


Summarizing and note-taking are part of Marzano’s nine instructional strategies that work, and the students did seem to retain more information. I am excited as the I Cans become the student tasks and I help them find resources – articles, websites, nonfiction books to meet them. For my next contract, I’m going to try the following:

1) Provide one task at a time and provide short term due dates. I believe some of my students were simply overwhelmed, and others kept thinking that they would have class time tomorrow without realizing that time was going to run out eventually. This still allows students to work ahead, while providing a safety net for those still developing their time management.

2) Use checkpoints. I was re-reading How to Teach Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom to refresh my memory on learning contracts. The author used a “study guide” format which seemed similar to my I Can statements, and every 1 – 2 objectives there was a “checkpoint”. For me this is a small quiz that I create on Edmodo – I am not going to allow students to progress to the next task until they pass the checkpoint.

3) Meet in small groups by informational text RIT band. I want to meet with everybody in small group, twice a week. This ensures that I will see all of my students and have an opportunity to question them and lead small group discussion on the content and to troubleshoot right hand assignments. Since I am their Language Arts teacher as well, it is a great opportunity to work on their informational text skills while working on the content.

Note: a great deal of my growth this year is due to my risk-taking teammate, who is flipping her classroom this year. While I’m not doing that, I have admired the self-pacing and individualized instruction that is happening in her classroom. You can check out her blog here.

Title Pages – An Interactive Notebook Assignment

Whenever we start a new unit of instruction, I have my students create a title page to preview the content.

Together, we set up the page and write the title of the unit.  I always draw one on the board and let them know which pages in the book they can choose their pictures from. Pictures can be charts, maps, and actual images. They can be from the students’ imaginations. No stick figures, and they need to have captions.

Before they start drawing, I preview essential question and the the guiding questions from the unit. I lead them through a chapter walk highlighting key events. Then the students choose their pictures and draw them.

It takes a good half-hour of student work to create a solid title page, so I feel that the intro and chapter walk are key in making it a worthwhile activity.


Don’t have a half-hour? Students not big on the drawing thing?

Alternatives to picture gallery title pages:

  • Acrostics – Acrostics of the title can be great title pages.
  • A-Z wordsearches – students scan the chapter/lesson and look for words that start with each of the letters of the alphabet. This activity is based on the Janet Allen strategy:
  • History One-Pager from Mr. Roughton – (although as a title page activity, I would limit this to one period. Students could complete it on a legal size sheet of copy paper and then glue it in, or use a two-page spread.


Weslandia by Paul Fleischmann – A Picture Book Lesson

I love using picture books to teach history. My fifth and sixth graders love them. Weslandia is a title I used for years to introduce the concept of civilization.

The best part of a picture book is of course, the pictures. I have a Promethean board, so I take pictures of the pages so that I can show them on the board as I read the book. I find that the pictures are faster/easier than scanning. This is a picture of the title page, so you can see that the image quality is pretty decent.



Weslandia Title

Weslandia is the story of a young boy named Wesley, who decides to create his own civilization as a summer project. His civilization, like all others, starts with agriculture and the development of a staple crop.

This is how I use it as a lesson. The teacher side page is the GRAPES graphic organizer that I wrote about in my previous post.

GRAPES – civilization

I ask them questions and they highlight the answers. I show them pictures and they tell me what parts of a civilization they represent. I then have them set up a concept map on the right hand side. In the center is “Weslandia” and then all of the traits spike off the center. As I read them the story they take notes on the parts of Wesley’s civilization to show me that they understand and can apply the different parts.

Here are a few other lesson plans for this book:

Generating Ideas for Assignments

I love the notebooks, but as with any strategy, I find I can fall into a rut. That’s when I need something random, something fun, that will spark my creativity.

learningactivitygenerator was one of those random things. It has a “learning event” generator that randomly gives you an assignment and then a way to “show what you know”. You just click and it keeps generating activities, and some are quite funny. They have also listed their assessment strategies on a wiki.

Sensory Figures, An Interactive Notebook Assignment – Part II

I love, love, love these assignments and posted about them earlier here.

This year I was working with younger students, and I was concerned about them “getting it”. They say you should teach a new strategy with familiar content, so I decided that for each new assignment they would create an example based on themselves. I saved the first ten pages of the notebook for this.

One comment complaint from students is that they can’t draw. I say that everyone can draw, we just can’t all draw well. I am one of those who can’t draw well and this gives me a certain amount of classroom “cred” – If I can do it, they can do it.

So I started with a stick figure, and showed the students how to put clothes on the stick figure to “flesh it out”. Then I did the assignment for myself, explaining the rules. No generic comments (I hear birds singing, etc), no repetitive comments (oops, I can’t mention my class again, hmmn, how can I say this?), and each of the seven comments must tell something important about the person. Here is my example:

Teacher Example for Sensory Figure

Of course, I was tired of drawing myself by the end of the day ;), but doing it from scratch really seemed to help.

I’ve also recently found this tutorial on on how to draw a proportionate human body:

Then I had student create “mini-mes”, or sensory figures of themselves. I circulated and reminded them to spend equal time drawing and writing. Here are some of theirs:

Student Example Sensory Figure 2     Student Example Sensory Figure 3   Student Example Sensory Figure 5

Students then partnered to complete a reading guide on pioneers on the Great Plains. (That was their left hand assignment) Then, after we reviewed it, I had them create a pioneer sensory figure. Here are some of the result:

 Pioneer Sensory Figure 3  Pioneer Sensory Figure 4  Pioneer Sensory Figure 5

These first content ones were so much better than I am used to, and I’m convinced it was because I took the time to teach the strategy with familiar content first.

Reader’s Theater – Another Teacher-Side Option

Earlier I wrote a post on types of teacher-side assignments for interactive notebooks. Here is another idea, and if you don’t use the notebooks it can be a useful stand-alone strategy.

I’m always on the look-out for new things to do, and while browsing proteacher, I read a post about someone writing a Reader’s Theater to put in their math interactive notebook. (Thanks, Catbells, for the idea!) It got my creative juices flowing and made me remember a reader’s theater training I had had several years ago. I ended up taking my article for the Civil Rights Amendments and re-writing it into a reader’s theater. It went smashingly – the kids had a great time, we re-read the content several times with no boredom or arguments, and they could easily use it to complete their student-side.

Tips on writing/adapting curriculum based reader’s theater:

  • Choose a piece of writing that has the content you want to teach. It can be a story or a factual article.
  • Don’t use character names – use numbers. This allows for greatest girl/boy flexibility.
  • Try not to let any one number speak for too long – I like to change it up every sentence or two.
  • Mix up the numbers throughout the reading so that students speak throughout the piece.
  • For important parts, let all of the children speak. Add sound effects and action if you wish, but it is not necessary.

The training I received was based on Rosalynd Flinn’s work. This is her website, and there are several great samples – hopefully there is one you can use. I’m attaching a copy of the one I did with my students on Amendments 13 – 15. Our right hand assignment was a simple chart of the amendments, when they were ratified, and what rights the provided.

Reconstruction Amendment Reader’s Theater

Interactive Notebooks – First assignments

  • New information = use a familiar strategy.
  • New strategy = use familiar information.

This is my mantra when introducing the notebook assignments. My students come to me used to reading the book, doing some worksheets and answering questions, spiced up by the occasional project. While the notebook assignments are not revolutionary, they are different, and I find I’m more successful if I take the time to model them. I like to start with assignments that we’ll use frequently. I use the most familiar information they have – information about themselves.

This year I have dedicated the first ten pages of my notebook as a “mini-me” unit. It serves two purposes – a great get-to-know-you and models those frequently used assignments in a concrete way. Let me say I do not plan to do this for all 50+ assignments in the assignment table – just the most common ones, and just to help them “get it” initially.

The first assignment we do is a personal title page. The students set up the first page with their name and class period, then decorate it with six pictures about themselves and the things they like. It is a “high success” activity and helps personalize their notebooks. They will do a title page at the beginning of each unit we do, and this will teach the the procedure and give them a sample. I will post pictures later this week.

I like to start with a fairly straightforward and multi-purpose assignment for their first content assignment, the Illustrated Outline. I wrote about these in a previous post. Today I had them create a four column one for themselves first – school, favorites, friends, and family. Then we read a chapter (3 pages)  in Reconstructing America, and created an Illustrated Outline based on the text. It went really well because the students had a solid understanding of the requirements of the assignment.

Our first right hand assignment will be a poster. The requirements are simple and straightforward – a title, five pieces of information on the topic, and an illustration.  My recommendation is build comfort and success at first, and don’t be afraid to repeat the same assignment 2 or 3 times in a row at first. Choice and the more complicated assignments can wait – you’ve got all year!

Interactive Notebooks – Types of Teacher-side Assignments

My teacher-side assignments are usually either question strips, fill in the blank notes, or articles. These are my “go tos” when I sit down to plan those pages.

Question Strips

Question StripI use question strips most often when I want to guide students in reading their textbook or another type of nonfiction article. 7 – 10 questions will fit on a strip,depending on how involved the answer is to the question. I use a Word document in landscape orientation, then insert a table. Once I’ve formatted the individual column, I just cut and paste. Students work on them individually or in pairs, and then I review them with the class.

Fill in the Blank Notes

Fill in the Blank Notes

I use fill in the blank notes when I want to “tell the story” of the topic, with lots of visuals and possibly film clips. I create a powerpoint presentation with all of the relevant info, then export the outline to Word. I delete key words/people/phrases and replace them with blanks. The blanks will be filled from the lecture.

If it is more than one page, the notes can be easily formatted into a booklet. Occasionally I have students answer discussion questions from the notes before we move on to the right hand page.

Fill in the Blank Notes - Booklet - With Questions


Sometimes I will write, find, or otherwise cobble together an article that addresses the topic. We read it and do one of several active reading strategies with it. I like this strategy when the information they need to learn is fairly straightforward.


Those of you who use the interactive notebook, I would really love to hear about what you do on your teacher pages!

Here is a more recent post on another type of teacher-side assignment: reader’s theater.

Setting up the Interactive Notebook

Every journey begins with a single step.

Notebooks begin with setting them up.

I always take a full class day to set up my notebooks. I buy extra composition books to have on hand so that I can provide them (at cost) for students who haven’t brought them in – I want everyone setting them up at the same time.

I usually start by having the students respond to a prompt – would anyone describe you as organized? why or why not? This sets the stage for today’s lesson. I then introduce the idea of the notebooks with a powerpoint. The powerpoint takes students through the idea of the left/right orientation and shows examples of assignments from previous students. Interactive Notebook Presentation

Now that the students have the idea, I teach them how to glue things in to the notebooks. You can see my earlier post on glue here. I started off my notebooks in the past with “starter pages”. Essentially it was my syllabus in kid friendly terms and instructions for all of those notebook assignments. This served two purposes – by the end of the day, students were really good at gluing and parents held the notebook in their hands at least once at the beginning of the year. One of my teacher friends, Mrs. Heaton, blogged about these starter pages and has a version of them posted on her science notebooking blog.

The drawback was it was a lot of paper, a lot of glue, and a lot of time. Since I was using at least two notebooks a year it meant having to do this twice. Last year another notebooking friend of mine created a booklet that went into an envelope. This was great because the booklet could simply transfer to the new notebook – no extra paper, no extra glue, and no extra class time.

This year, I decided that I would put all the notebook assignments in a table format that we would keep in a binder with their agenda. This way all of our teachers could use the same printed out assigmment instructions instead of having four completely different versions. Save a tree 😉 .

 I actually really like the table format and I am interested to see how it will work out this year. The assignment ideas come from many sources, and I changed instructions to suit my needs and my students. It is impossible to recognize every source of each assignment – many started off as suggestions for assignments for the History Alive program which I then fleshed out and adapted, and over many years of notebooking ideas have been bounced around over the internet and over coffee and things have evolved and changed. I would like to give a shout out to  Mr. Roughton though, who so generously posted 50+ assignments on the internet, many of which are included and/or modified on this list.

Assignment Table

I usually close the set up the notebook lesson by having students create a personal title page. You can find the instructions under “Unit Title Page” on the Assignment Table. Instead of using the textbook they include six illustrations about themselves.

That’s the setup day. It’s lengthy, but I work with younger students and I feel like taking the day is an important first step.

FAQ – Tips and Tricks to Keeping Everyone on the Same Page

“Mrs. G, what do I do when I run out of room on page 10?”

Now, if you had your students number the pages in their notebooks, this will happen the first time you give a handwritten assignment. Here are some possible answers:

  • “Use a flippy page”. Everybody being on the same page is important to me, so I keep a stack of precut “flippy pages” – some that are exactly notebook page size and some that are just half sheets of notebook paper. Students grab these as needed to continue writing, and then we tape them in. I prefer tape for flippy pages.
  • Just go on to the next page” This will work if you have done one of these things:
    • You have decided to ignore the left/right orientation and just work sequentially. A notebook user that I admire greatly does this and it works just fine for her and her students.
    • You have planned for additional pages for this assignment using a 3-1 ratio. For example, you knew you were taking notes, and decided to allocate pages 10,11,12 for the notes, and 13 for the student assignment. Or, you were using an article for the notes and were asking for a written student side so you allocated page 10 for the article, and pages 11,12,13 for the written assignment. This works well for me.

Why do I care?

For me, and for my classroom, it is easier if we are all on the same page for the following reasons:

  • Ease of communication – I can say, turn to page ___ and everybody’s page ____ is the same. I can tell a parent that we worked on pages _____ to _____ this week. If there is nothing on page 12, then the student is missing an assignment. It is easy to post on my website, instructions for substitutes, etc.
  • Notebook walks – I do these every week with my students before I collect notebooks. I walk them through the table of contents. Turn to page ____, that should be ______. Turn to page ____, and that should be ____.

Another way of avoiding the issue is to use teacher-side assignments that are designed to utilize a set number of pages. I’ll talk about things I use as teacher-side assignments in another post.