Archive for the ‘how to use interactive notebooks’ Tag

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.



G.R.A.P.E.S. – a content organizer

During the years that I taught ancient civilizations to 11 year olds, I found that students often struggled with the content. It had an awful lot of big words, and each area/time was just so different. I was thrilled when I ran across this organizer for timer periods, G.R.A.P.E.S.

G – Geography

R – Religion

A – Art and Architecture

P – Politics and Government

E – Economics

S – Social Structures

One, it was a great way to explain and remember the parts of a civilization and for them to understand the definition of the word. Two, I organized all of our notes this way in our interactive notebooks, so that there became a predictable pattern to our lessons. Oh, we finished up religion, now we’ll be learning about art and architecture. We were able to discuss the standards with these – ok, guys the state wants us to focus on the art, architeture, and politics and government. Does that mean they didn’t have the others? Etc. It became a great way to compare and contrast. Loved it.

Here is the document that I use when I introduce the concept in my class:

GRAPES – civilization

I’ve recently come across another acronym called “PERSIA”.  Here is a link to a great description at the History Tech blog. I hope you find either or both of these useful!

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.

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 – What should I use to attach handouts in my notebooks?

Elmer’s Glue All. It’s a superstar!

Not the School Glue, it can get a little runny. RoseArt glue is a little tackier than School Glue, but given a choice I’d rather have the Elmer’s Glue All. If you are going to use glue, then there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Glue is the cheapest now that it will be all year. Buy enough to last the year. Trust me. You do not want to go out and pay over a $1 a bottle for something that is going for .25 – .30 now. I teach about a hundred students and 40 or so bottles get me through the year (I also do crafts, so if it is notebooks only 25 -30 bottles might do it for you.
  2. Establish a procedure. Glue will only become an issue in your room if you allow it to become one. I spend a lot of time explaining/demonstrating how I want glue to be used. 3 dots on each side, none in the middle, for me. We practice saying ” A dot is a lot, a glob is a slob” (remember, I teach younger students). I monitor like crazy and if you abuse the classroom supplies I make you do without them for awhile. (They get really annoyed when I staple something in to their notebooks instead of letting them glue – natural consequences) A poster on a teacher’s board I belong to even wrote a song about it:
  3. glue%20songimg008small

  4. Glue as much as you can at one time. I like gluing everything for the week on the Friday before or the Monday of. One of my internet friends is so put together she can glue in everything for the unit at once, but I’m not there yet. It seems easier to monitor when you are only doing it one day, and when they have more to glue in the less time they have to be tempted to play.
  5. Glue refill bottles are surprisingly cost effective. I found that it was easy to find a volunteer or two to keep the bottles filled (during homeroom), and the refill bottles are reasonably priced. You can actually get a gallon of Elmer’s Glue All at Lowes for 12.62. That’s a lot of bottles!
  6. Storage and Passing Out. Have a place where the glue is easily accessible without it being right there. I don’t recommend having it out when there is no defined need for it. I also like to have two students share a bottle. 

Why not glue sticks?

I get asked this question a lot, because glue sticks are every bit as inexpensive as bottle glue right now, it is smaller, and arguably less messy.

This is why I don’t like glue sticks:

  • Caps and Roundness. As in the caps seldom are replaced correctly letting the glue dry out or get smushed. As in the caps make marvelous projectiles. Roundness, because things roll. Off the desks and onto the floor and under someone’s foot. Arguably this is a classroom management issue, but its one I choose not to deal with.
  • Monitoring. Unless I spring for the colored glue sticks, it is harder for me to tell who is using the glue excessively. I was constantly running out of glue sticks.
  • Stickiness. Stuff just doesn’t *stay* glued in. I use my notebooks for at least a semester, and when I tried glue sticks the papers just didn’t stay in after awhile, even in my teacher notebook.

What about tape?

Tape works fine, it is dry, and has less of a potential mess factor. Tape seems expensive though, to me. If someone out there uses tape and likes it, please comment. I’d love to know how many students you teach and how much tape you go through in the course of a year!

What about staplers?

I actually did this when I used spiral notebooks instead of composition notebooks because the page is bigger. In the composition notebooks, the staples get in the way of using all of the “next page”. I found it damaged the composition notebooks more so as well. It is a wonderful motivator though to those students who can’t use the glue properly.

FAQ – How do you put handouts in composition notebooks?

I use composition notebooks, and I love them. The biggest hassle with them is formatting your handouts, and the good news is that once you figure out what works best for you it really isn’t that big of a deal!

Options for full size pages from reproducible books/workbooks:

  • Use as is, and have students take notes or answer questions into the notebook itself. (Paper conscious – this only requires a class set, possibly minimal paper if using a question strip.)
  • Use as is, and fold. A standard sheet of paper folded in half will easily fit into a composition notebook. Use tape or glue, so that the page can be unfolded and read.
  • Copy the original on a copy machine that allows reduction – 70 – 75% seems to work best. Then trim two copies, and make a master copy from this. Always keep your master copy – this way you only have to do the work once!
  • Scan to pdf (many workbooks and reproducible books come in pdf form already) and print two to a page. That option is in the print dialogue box – many many full size pages are perfectly readable printed two to a page. This is my preferred method.
  • PDF print multiple pages

Options for teacher-created handouts:

  • Design as normal, then print two to a page using the option in the print dialogue box.
  • Word 2003 Print Dialogue Box 2 to a page
  • Format your word document this way – Landscape, two columns – then create as usual. This will allow for two to a page.
  • For longer notes, design as usual. Choose “book fold” in the print dialogue box and you can easily get 3 half pages as a booklet.
  • page set up book fold
  • For longer notes, you can also “layer” half sheets creating a type of flip book.

Binders and Spirals and Composition notebooks, oh my!

The first decision to make in starting Interactive Notebooks in your classroom is the type of notebook your students will use. The basic choices are binders, spirals, and composition notebooks. I have tried all three of these, and each format has pros and cons, and what you choose will depend on your teaching style, storage, and student population.


 Pros  Cons
  • Handouts – no changes need to be made to handouts, just hole-punch and go
  • Longevity – one binder will last the entire year, if it fills up, just clean it out
  • Adaptability – pages can be moved, added, and removed with easy
  • Portability – Pages can be turned in individually for grading, making them as easy to transport as any stack of papers
  • Consistency – If you put a binder on your supply list you could get a huge variance in size, quality, features – fortunately, with a binder, this only matters when it comes to storing them in your classroom.
  • Storage – If you teach more than one class, storage could easily become an issue. I’ve taught up to 100 students, and I don’t have the space to store that many binders. Of course, students could keep up with them and bring them to class daily.
  • Organization – pages can be moved easily, which means that they can easily be placed incorrectly. Pages tear or fall out. I find it more difficult to maintain the left/right orientation of the notebooks.
  • Expense – Could be pricey, especially if you wanted to provide them for your students.












 Pros  Cons
  • Expense – these can be incredibly inexpensive (5 cents during the summer)
  • Storage– these are easy to store inside the classroom, milk crates or yaffa blocks or even dishpans make great containers.
  • Organization – because it is a bound book, pages are consecutive allowing for more standardization.
  • Portability – it is possible to take a class set of these home in a dish pan. However, it is impractical to take home all of your notebooks if you teach multiple classes at the same time. I used to do this and don’t recommend it.
  • Handouts – may or may not need to be trimmed or reformatted, depending on the size of your students notebooks.
  • Consistency – If you put spiral notebooks on your supply list, you will get everything from the 5 cent spirals to the Mead Five Star. Some will be 70 pages, some will be 100 or more pages. Some will have pockets, some won’t.
  • Snagging– I have yet to see a spiral notebook that won’t catch on your clothes or onto other notebooks. Blech.
  • Longevity – will depend on the size and quality of the notebook. When I used spirals, the cheaper ones were in bad shape by the end of first quarter. The cover starts to tear off and the spiral gets bent and funky – sometimes aided by the students. I always asked for 4, one per quarter.
  • Adaptability – You are limited to the page number count of the notebook, and things cannot be moved around easily.

Composition Notebooks

 Pros  Cons

  • Consistency – You ask for a composition notebook on your supply list and your notebooks will all be the same size and page count. The only real variable is the cover material/design and the quality of the binding. Other than that they will be the same size, and 100 pages.
  • Expense – these are reasonable in cost, rougly 50 cents during the summer.
  • Storage– these are easy to store inside the classroom, milk crates or yaffa blocks or even dishpans make great containers. With composition notebooks, one or maybe two shelves of a bookcase could also work.
  • Organization – because it is a bound book, pages are consecutive allowing for more standardization.
  • Portability – it is possible to take a class set of these home in a dish pan. However, it is impractical to take home all of your notebooks if you teach multiple classes at the same time. I used to do this and don’t recommend it.

  • Handouts – will need to be reformatted or folded to fit
  • Longevity – you will probably want to plan on two per year, without reinforcing many of your students’ notebooks will be in need of replacing by January.
  • Adaptability – You are limited to the page number count of the notebook, and things cannot be moved around easily.


Personally, I prefer composition notebooks for their consistency, relative durability and inexpensiveness, and organizational properties.  I really like having all of my students “on the same page”, and it is very obvious during parent conferences when work is “missing” because of all the blank pages. In a binder, there aren’t blank pages for the missing work and the visual isn’t as apparent. I hope this has been helpful in making your decision and if you have any additional pros and cons please share!

Grading Notebooks

You mean I’ve had a wonderful meal and now I have to wash the dishes? Sigh.

Many times I feel that way about grading my student notebooks.  I love the strategy, it helps me organize and ensure I include higher order thinking skills with each topic, but wow. Facing 100+ notebooks at the end of the week, is well, daunting.

I’ve tried many things over the years – grading every page with a “check” rubric, attempting to grade a week at a time, and last year grading a two page spread with a different rubric. About the only thing I haven’t tried is grading them at the end of a unit, which many interactive notebook users do. You can see different rubrics I’ve tried here.

I haven’t really been satisfied with any of it, except the notebooks themselves. So I’ve been reflecting on the purpose of my notebooks, because I believe purpose is important in assessment. My student’s notebooks become personalized textbooks through their notes and student assignments, and in many ways are working portfolios.

So, after much thought and reflection. I plan on trying something new this coming year.

I want their notes to be fairly low risk – after all, it is a skill and practice. It is formative – their questions/connections let me know how they are progressing, but it is not summative. There are supporters for not asssessing anything that is formative, but I teach fairly young children and I think we all like to know that our work “counts”. So I plan on giving a completion grade for their efforts each week and give them feedback on what they are doing well. I’m fairly satisfied with that for the “teacher side” – articles, questions, notes.

The right side, or student side assignments are different though. They do show me two things – each student’s understanding of the topic at that time, and how they are progressing with the types of right hand assignments. These are often new to my students, and initially some kids are not comfortable with them. I was thinking about what a portfolio is, and with a portfolio, a major focus is student selection of their best work.

Next year, I will have students select 1-2 right hand assignments a week for me to grade for content and quality. In my standards, the state defines “understanding” in social studies by “explain, compare, summarize”. I’m thinking of developing rubrics for each of those categories, and use them to assess not only the student’s understanding of the topic, but his or her progression on those skills.

So grading notebooks will look like this for me:

  • check the assignments for completion daily – in a perfect world I would do this with the child as I was circulating, but the ones I don’t I’ll check afterschool – making notes of anyone I need to speak to the next day.  (tip – when you are looking at one or two pages it is easy to have students turn in their notebooks open to that page) I would want to make sure if I didn’t get to visit with a child on Monday, that I would visit with them on Tuesday.
  • Have students select one or two student side assignments for me to check – I think I’ll use Thursday this year, that would allow me to meet with students on Friday. They would mark the page with a post it.

I think this will provide two things for my students – more timely feedback on what they are accomplishing daily, and more quality feedback on specific, self-selected assignments.

Those are my current thoughts, but like everything else about the notebook, you will need to figure out what works best for you and your students!