Essential Guide to Interactive Notebooks

Interactive Notebooks as Educational Tools

Perhaps, you use interactive notebooks in your classroom or in your homeschool group. But no matter the setting you use them, there is more value than simply as an educational tool.

More than ever, teachers and instructors rely in interactive notebooks. These educational tools are great for students to take ownership of their learning. More than ever, active learners keep track of what they are learning.

However, there is no simple steps to setting up an interactive notebooks. Many students even reject the idea because they may think it is another school supply they must keep up with. But if students want success in school, keeping up with study skills is essential to getting good grades.

How can teachers or instructors encourage students to use their interactive notebooks regularly?

One of the first steps you need to encourage is using the notebooks every day. Even if it is a simple activity, students need to know that their notebooks is an important part of the daily instructional routine.

By implementing simple expectations, rubrics, and guidelines, students will know what they will get by using interactive notebooks. When students don’t regularly use the notebooks, or do not find value in using them, students will lack the motivation to keep up with activities, feedback, and studying.

Rubrics and Guidelines

At the beginning of the school year, talk to your students about the expectations of interactive notebooks. They must get a notebook on their own or you may want to provide one. A simple spiral notebook of 80 pages is a good start.

The rubrics or guidelines that you provide are essential for students to comprehend the necessity of using their notebooks. Rubrics need to be set up by points or on a specific grading scale.

Depending on the type of information you are looking to grade, you might want to include it in your rubric. Also, make sure to go over that information with your students. If they don’t know what you will be grading, they will not know either.

Another important part is to send a letter or email notice to parents about the expectations of interactive notebooks. This information could be included at the beginning of the school year in the course expectations.

If you have a class web site, it is a good idea to post those expectations and rubric guidelines. As a matter of fact, a class web site (although somewhat time consuming) is a good communication tool between you, students, and parents.

interactive notebooks

Reward Systems

Not only are interactive notebooks considered for a grade, but you can also run several contests during the semester. This is especially popular for middle school grades and even high schoolers.

You could offer certain incentives such as extra credit or free homework pass for the most colorful notebook. You might also offer candy rewards for the most informative notebook.

How can you effectively use notebooks as an educational tool?

Even if students use interactive notebooks in other classes, you need to make it useful for your class. For instance, in a language class, you might want to use notebooks as part of the grammar and vocabulary learning.

In many instances, notebooks in science class make good study tools. Students in science class become life long learners not only science but also in other disciplines. By using the notebooks as part of being active learners, students focus on grasping the learning ideas for a particular concept.

Bilingual Learners

Many bilingual students come from all over the world. Perhaps, you have a diverse classroom with students from all parts of the world. Many of them have excellent study skills that they learned in other countries or many not.

Interactive notebooks helps bilingual learners to incorporate the new language and culture. It helps them to think about what they are learning in class. More importantly, it helps them to see, first hand, the relationship between what they are learning and how to relate it to what they know.

Their prior knowledge is so important in the learning process. When bilingual students are able to make connections between what they are learning, it helps them boost their understanding of the class subject.

What is the pedagogy behind implementing notebooks in the classroom?

The instructional part of interactive notebooks is simple to implement. As a matter of fact, the pedagogy of using notebooks in class is more valuable than simply fill in the blank notes.

When you open up the notebooks, they have a left and right side. Within the left side, I consider it the metacognition section. This area is the thinking part for students. It is the output section.

The right side of the notebook I consider the instructional section. This area is the input section, where most (if not all) of the information you provide to students take place.

The Metacognition Section

On the left side of the notebook, you can divide it into 2 subsections: the In and Out Activities. Here is where you can direct students to think about important prior knowledge or previous concepts.

The In Activities are the following:

  • Warm-Up questions
  • Essential questions
  • Video clip and fill in the blanks
  • Cartoon question
  • Think About It question
  • Problem Solving question
  • Think-Pair-Share mini question
interactive notebooks

The Out Activities are the following:

  • Exit tickets
  • Quick quiz question
  • Problem answer then provide question
  • Matching question
  • Reflection question
  • Closure fill in the blank

The Instructional Section

In the right side of the notebook, you can provide several activities for instruction. From hands-on activities and foldable lessons to graphic organizers, this section is the most important for students.

Here is where students start to engage with the information you provide. But it doesn’t have to be in a simplistic form. This section is a great opportunity for students to work in groups to develop metacognitive skills.

But it doesn’t have to be about group collaboration, independent work is also beneficial. Whether it is a vocabulary worksheet or a lab activity, students are able to think about their learning in this section. 

interactive notebooks

The Grading System

Probably, the least favorite part for any teacher is grading. When it comes to notebooks, it does not have to overwhelm you with another grading that you need to take care of.

You can simply use your seating chart (if you have one) to quickly assess comprehension or understanding of material. Also, you develop the method of grading that is best suited for your students.

A simple complete and incomplete can be a good technique to use as you circulate the classroom. You can also use stamps to quickly grade the sections.

This is especially useful for secondary teachers with multiple class sections. You don’t have time to grade 200 notebooks or check for comprehension. 

Interactive notebooks are important not only for students but for teachers as well. You can start to sense whether your students are active learners. When it comes to subjects as language and science, it is necessary to assess student learning as you move from one topic to another. This is evident when you come to more complex concepts.

What methods of notebooks do you use in the classrooms?

A great source for beginning interactive notebooks in the classroom is:

Waldman, C., & Crippen, K. J. (2009). Integrating interactive notebooks. The Science Teacher, 76(1), 51.

Barbara Mascareno

Barbara is an educational writer, teacher, and instructional designer. She loves to write K-12 education content, teaching strategies, bilingual education approaches, and foreign language.

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