Setting Up and Maintaining Interactive Notebooks in the Classroom

Having become widely popular with teachers and even mandatory in some school systems, interactive notebooks help students to organize and synthesize information with creative, interactive, and easily personalized activities. Teachers guide students through creating pages of notes on new topics. Instead of being in the traditional linear, handwritten format, notes are colorful and spread across the pages. Notes often include drawings, diagrams, and 3-D elements to make the material understandable, relatable, and relevant. Interactive notebooks help students become active, engaged learners while also allowing teachers to differentiate learning for different levels and needs.

Here are some helpful tips for how to set up, use, and maintain interactive note-taking in the classroom using Carson-Dellosa’s reproducible Interactive Notebooks series:

Getting Started with Interactive Notebooks

You can start using interactive notebooks at any point in the school year. Use the following guidelines to get started in your classroom.

  1. Plan each notebook. Use the provided planning template to lay out a general plan for the topics you would like to cover in each notebook for the year.
  2. Choose a notebook type. Interactive notebooks are usually either single-subject, spiral-bound notebooks; composition books; or three-ring binders with loose-leaf paper.
  3. Allow students to personalize their notebooks. Have students decorate their notebook covers, as well as add their names and subjects. This provides a sense of ownership and emphasizes the personalized nature of the notebooks.
  4. Number the pages and create the table of contents. Have students number the bottom outside corner of each page, front and back. When completing a new page, adding a table of contents entry will be easy. Have students title the first page of each notebook “Table of Contents,” and have them leave several blank pages at the front of each notebook for the table of contents. Refer to your general plan for an estimate on how many entries students will be creating.
  5. Start creating pages. Always begin a new page by adding an entry to the table of contents. Create the first notebook pages along with students to model proper format and expectations.

Planning for the Year

Developing a general plan for interactive notebooks will help with planning, grading, and testing throughout the year. You do not need to plan every single page, but knowing what topics you will cover and in what order can be helpful in many ways. Use the provided Interactive Notebook Plan to plan units and topics and where they should be placed in the notebooks. Remember to leave enough pages at the beginning for pages such as the title page, table of contents, and grading rubric. You may also want to leave a page at the beginning of each unit to place a mini table of contents for just that section. In addition, when planning new pages, it can be helpful to sketch the pieces you will need to create.

What Type of Notebooks Should I Use?

Spiral Notebook
  • The pages in this book are formatted for a standard single-subject notebook
  • Encase the spiral in duct tape to make it more durable.
  • Keep the notebooks in a central place to prevent them from getting damaged in desks.
Composition Notebook
  • Copy pages meant for spiral notebooks at 85 or 90 percent. Test to see which works better for your notebook.

Binder with Loose-Leaf Paper
  • Provide hole reinforcers for damaged pages.

How to Organize an Interactive Notebook

You may organize an interactive notebook in many different ways. You may choose to organize it by unit and work sequentially. Or, you may choose to create different sections that you will revisit and add to throughout the year. Choose the format that works best for your students and subject.

An interactive notebook includes different types of pages in addition to the pages students create. Non-content pages you may want to add include the following:

  1. Title Page This page is useful for quickly identifying notebooks. It is especially helpful in classrooms that use multiple interactive notebooks for different subjects. Have students write the subject (such as “Math”) on the title page of each interactive notebook. They should also include their full names. You may choose to have them include other information such as the teacher’s name, classroom number, or class period.
  2. Table of Contents The table of contents is an integral part of the interactive notebook. It makes referencing previously created pages quick and easy for students. Make sure that students leave several pages at the beginning of each notebook for a table of contents.
  3. Expectations and Grading Rubric It is helpful for each student to have a copy of the expectations for creating interactive notebook pages. You may choose to include a list of expectations for parents and students to sign, as well as a grading rubric.
  4. Unit Title Pages Consider using a single page at the beginning of each section to separate it. Title the page with the unit name. Add a tab to the edge of the page to make it easy to flip to the unit. Add a table of contents for only the pages in that unit.
  5. Glossary Reserve a six-page section at the back of the notebook where students can create a glossary. Draw a line to split the front and back of each page in half, creating 24 sections. Combine Q and R and Y and Z to fit the entire alphabet. Have students add an entry as each new vocabulary word is introduced.

Formatting Student Notebook Pages

The other major consideration for planning an interactive notebook is how to treat the left and right sides of a notebook spread. Interactive journals are usually viewed with the notebook open flat. This creates a left side and a right side. You have several options for how to treat the two sides of the spread. Traditionally, the right side is used for the teacher-directed part of the lesson, and the left side is used for students to interact with the lesson content. The lessons in this book use this format. However, you may prefer to switch the order for your class so that the teacher-directed learning is on the left and the student input is on the right.

It can also be important to include standards, learning objectives, or essential questions in interactive notebooks. You may choose to write these on the top-left side of each page before completing the teacher-directed page on the right side. You may also choose to have students include the “Introduction” part of each lesson in that same top-left section. This is the in, through, out method. Students enter in the lesson on the top left of the page, go through the lesson on the right page, and exit out of the lesson on the bottom left with a reflection activity.

Managing Interactive Notebooks in the Classroom

Working with Younger Students
  • Use your yearly plan to create a table of contents that you can copy and give to students to glue into their notebooks, instead of writing individual entries.
  • Have assistants or parent volunteers cut pieces for students.
  • Create glue sponges to make gluing easier. Place large sponges in plastic containers with white glue. The sponges will absorb the glue. Students can wipe the backs of pieces across the sponges to apply the glue with less mess.
Creating Notebook Pages
  • For storing loose pieces, add a pocket to the inside back cover. You can use an envelope, a library pocket, or a resealable plastic bag. Or, tape the bottom and side edges of the two last pages of the notebook together to create a large pocket.
  • When writing under flaps, have students trace the outline of each flap so that they can visualize the writing boundary.
  • Where the dashed line will be hidden on the inside of the fold, have students first fold the piece in the opposite direction so that they can see the dashed line. Then, students should fold the piece back the other way along the same fold line to create the fold in the correct direction.
  • To contain paper scraps and avoid multiple trips to the trash can, provide small groups with small buckets or tubs.
  • For students who run out of room, make full and half sheets available. Students can glue these to the bottom of the pages and fold them up when not in use.
Dealing with Absences
  • Create a model notebook for absent students to reference when they return to school.
  • Have students cut a second set of pieces as they work on their own pages.
Using the Notebook
  • To organize sections of the notebook, provide each student with a sheet of tabs.
  • To easily find the next blank page, either cut off the top-right corner of each page as it is used or attach a long piece of yarn or ribbon to the back cover to be used as a bookmark.