Social Sundays: Teacher Tips for Using Interactive Notebooks

Last week I wrote about my first year of using interactive notebooks and how I use them.  I'll admit, I was a little intimidated about using them at first.  I was thinking about I wished I had known in that first year.  I gathered the insight of some of my teacher friends to create a list of essential tips for getting started with and using interactive notebooks:


Find your style:   some people love foldables, others like cutesy pages, and still others just want it plain and simple.  There is no one right kind of notebook page.  I like relatively simple pages that flip.  The top of the flippable has a question or title and students write notes and draw below the flap.  Students find it easy to quickly scan the titles when referencing information from the notebook.  With the exception of the inclusion of maps or primary sources, I keep the notebook pages simple and have students add their own doodles.  Research shows that doodling can help memory, focus and comprehension.


Write-it: Kovescence of the Mind says (and I absolutely agree) "I know digital notebooks are all the rage, but I have my students write their notebooks out, and I will continue to do so because seeing the information, processing it, and kinesthetically writing it out will help students with retention.  Research says that taking notes by hand can lead to better comprehension."

Managing the cutting:  Last year, my students cut out notebook pages each day we were using them.  It takes about 5 minutes at the beginning of each class, but I prefer to start class learning not in procedural ways.  Towards the end of last year, I was more prepared and had notebook pages for the next day ready ahead of time.  As students were wrapping up, I had students cut and glue the next day pages in their notebook.  I liked this much better.  I also read a post by Getting Nerdy with Mel And Gerdy in which students take one day and cut out all the pages for a month.  I might try that with one class this year.

Glue, Glue Everywhere:  Glue can be a giant, sticky mess even with older students.  Says Science and Math Doodles: "I place dots on the back of all my foldable papers to help control students urge to swirl and glob glue.  I tell them they have a 'glue budget' with each foldable.  If they go over their budget, they will owe me a quarter.  I also tell them about my own money going to bottles of glue.  Explain the glue dots budget at the beginning of the year."  


Only number the pages on the right. Says Spanish Mama: "My first year, we
numbered all 200 pages on the first day. I had sections for the interactive notebooks and we needed to know where each one began, so we numbered every single page. It was really frustrating for many students (even I struggled!) and made for a negative introduction to INBs. If you number just the pages on the right, you can refer to the entire spread. Say 'page 5 left' or 'page 5 right,' and keep the table of contents efficient as well."


To grade or not to grade:  Many teachers like to grade the interactive notebooks.  If you do, Kovescence of the Mind has a great trick to manage notebook assessment:  "Grading notebooks can be time-consuming.  I use printable rubrics on mailing labels to make the process faster.  I print enough for the whole class on one sheet, which saves paper.  Then I can flip through the notebook, score each item, and stick the rubric right on the last used page to communicate with my students.  Check out the details and grab a template."

Color can be fun and good for comprehension:  A little color is a nice addition to interactive notebooks.  Science and Math Doodles advises have a caddy at each table with glue, markers, and crayons.  Let students color.  Coloring commits the page of information to students' minds and personalizes the learning.  

Give Yourself a Break:  Interactive notebooks can be overwhelming the first year.  You don't have to do it all.  Spanish Mama shares these great words of wisdom:  "Inevitably, there will be days without something super creative and ready-to-go. This is when you might be tempted be hard on yourself to give up on INBs, but don't do either! Notebooks become interactive when there is an active connection between the students and the page, not merely because something flips up or looks cute. Perhaps consider Cornell Notes, a color-coded system, or a certain way of circling key words. If the students are familiar with a particular kind of outline on the no-foldable days, the INB will still have a consistent, logical feel to it. "  


The concept of interactive notebooks is that they are INTERACTIVE.  You don't have to have a fancy organizer for students on days you don't have time for it.  Think of the questions or topics that students will be investigating and then frame questions that will guide students to engage with the material.  I hope these tips help you in getting started or thinking about how you use interactive notebooks in your classroom.  



Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  

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