Interactive Notebooks

Although I think a system I’ve been using to encourage students to keep good notebooks works really well for me, and might even work well for students, I am not exactly sure what they’re writing down and whether or not they are truly using their notebooks to the greatest capacity. Therefore, I am going to try Interactive Notebooks next year. In case you haven’t heard of Interactive Notebooks, they are a system for taking notes developed by Addison Wesley as part of their History Alive! program. Teachers quickly adapted the resource to other subject areas.

What are they?

Essentially, Interactive Notebooks (INs) are a format for taking notes that encourages organization, making connections, and interaction. The Interactive Notebooks Wiki describes them as a way “to enable students to be creative, independent thinkers and writers.” The beautiful part of the IN to me is that students are encouraged to do assignments as part of the notebook, which will mean I will have fewer smaller assignments. For example, I frequently ask students to do close-reading assignments with questions in small groups. With an IN, the assignment can be part of the notebook. When INs are collected, I can assess the assignment as part of the overall notebook, which should cut down on some of the time I spend grading.

What do they look like?

Greece Central School District, as always, has wonderful resources related to INs, including a picture of what a language arts IN might look like (click to see a larger image):

Interactive Notebook

How do you set them up?

Students should use the right side of the notebook pages for testable material: notes from class and group discussions, reading, video and audio presentations, and lectures; literary terms; vocabulary; and assignments. The left side is for reading responses and journals; graphic organizers; songs, pictures, cartoons, and poems; connected or related ideas; reflections, quotes, perspectives; and mnemonic devices and memory aids. Take a look at the sample page above, and you’ll see it action.

What materials will I need?

Depending on how you want your students to organize their notebooks, you will need different tools. For instance, most teachers discussing INs seem to loathe 3-ring binders. To me, it makes more sense for organizational purposes to have a 3-ring binder as opposed to a spiral-bound notebook or composition book—there would be less need for pasting, for one thing, and it would also lie flatter when closed because 3-ring binders are designed to hold a lot of paper. Here is my list of supplies:

  • 3-ring binder (1-1½ inches)
  • notebook paper
  • highlighters
  • colored pens or pencils
  • subject dividers
  • a glue stick or tape
  • a pencil bag (or students can keep tools in backpack or purse)

The binder, paper, and pencil bag are probably self-explanatory, but highlighters and colored pens/pencils are used to underscore ideas or add color, both of which seem to help students when they are studying. The subject dividers are optional, but if you divide your course into units based on either a textbook or curriculum, you might consider them. The glue stick or tape is for affixing materials into the notebook.

Where can I learn more?

Start with the Interactive Notebooks Wiki, but be sure to check out Greece Central School District’s information, too. I also created this presentation for my own students that you are free to read, download, and adapt for your own purposes (it is licensed under a Creative Commons License).

13 thoughts on “Interactive Notebooks”

  1. Great information. INs can also work really well in digital format, especially in the school has tablet notebooks. We use OneNote for student notetaking. In addition to individual student notebooks, we can also have shared notebooks. so students can copy pages at the beginning of a unit or if they are absent.

  2. I haven't heard of IN's, but they sound interesting. I'm wondering, as msstewart is, how we blend this concept with digital tools–if we should. Next year, we have six teachers in my district, including me, getting a classroom set of mini laptops that will stay in our rooms so that every student, every day will have a laptop during class. I'm excited. But, your post and some discussion we're having at my school are making me think about the blend of digital and paper thinking, what the balance should be. The term "paperless" has been thrown out in our discussions, the idea that we're striving to go paperless. We're trying to think beyond traditional paper copy texts that students read and that students produce. But, I don't see this being the way people work in the real world. Sometimes we need to doodle on paper to dig out ideas and play with them. I know you can doodle online on various web 2.0 sites, but it's just not the same. So, I wonder what balance we need to strike in the classroom between going "paperless" and blending pen and paper and digital tools. Perhaps, the IN could be a way to bridge the two. It sounds a bit like a hybrid writer's notebook, reading journal, and notebook. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm actually leading a 5-day session next week with our laptop teachers. This balance is a key concept, I think, as we move forward preparing to redesign our classrooms.

    1. Lisa, I'm far from being paperless, but my hunch is we could do this with laptops—some sort of digital portfolio. I am not familiar with OneNote. At any rate, we allow students to bring in their own laptops, but not all of them have one. I can usually get into the computer lab when I need to. Our students, by and large, tend to choose Apple laptops when they bring in their own. I think whatever tool we would need must be compatible with both Apple and PC, and OneNote will not currently run on Macs. It's also $99, which isn't bad as far as Microsoft products goes, but is a consideration. I have a hunch it could be done with blogs and wikis or possibly a Ning. I agree that doodling online is not like really getting in there with a pencil. Shoot, they can even use Inspiration to create create diagrams, flow charts, etc., but there is something quicker about the pencil and paper, and who knows if it doesn't make the synapses fire in a different way to have the tactile experience of trying to represent something yourself? Just a few disjointed thoughts from me right now, but I'll turn it over in my head and perhaps come up with something more coherent after I think about it a while.

  3. This is a great post thank you.

    As a way to combine the paper every day craft of writing and the interactivity technology affords I have started combining my writers notebooks with student blogs.

    Kids keep a writers notebook all year, its a safe place for random thoughts, jottings, favorite quotes, longer well developed stories etc… I then require them on a semi regular basis to bring a piece to publication. Publication takes the form of any number of things. Usually it is a blog post but sometimes it has been a animoto film or a recent favorite a toondo cartoon.

    I am always looking for new ways to do this and make them more meaningful and your post will certainly help.

  4. Yor blog was very informational and interesting. I hadn't heard of Interactive Notebooks before. I think it is a great idea to have a tool that facilitates student's learning.

  5. YES! I talked to you earlier (like yesterday!) about "interactive notebooks," and told you I did something very similar when I taught middle school, and this is one and the same. As soon as I saw the company TCI, I knew we were talking about the same thing. I used these all through middle school and they were big hits with the students (as soon as they figured the left from the right!). I'm going to email some of old students and see if I can borrow them, as I know some of them kept them b/c they were so proud of them. I used the TCI book in a social studies course I took at Mercer when working on my master's and really liked the idea. Well, well, well. Who would have guessed the idea would still be around? Maybe I'm not that old after all?

  6. Hello teaching community. This is a student with comments about the "i"notebook (the "i" representing interactive). I feel like the iNotebook is a good thought, but I don't think that it is beneficial. I am in Honors English in the Oak Park California school system (10th grade) and have ADD. I feel like the iNotebook is mostly busywork and doesn't help me further my learning. I'll give it that sometimes when the teacher gives out a review worksheet to paste inside it does help with the corresponding test. However, this is due to the worksheet, not the iNotebook itself. Every night that it is due, I find myself staying up so late it becomes early just to finish. While this is due mostly to a lack of planning, my peers with ADD and other learning disabilities do the same. My main point in this is to tell you all that most students I have talked to and shown the iNotebook to have given a response of disgust, not praise. It takes up mass amounts of space causing many students to not focus as much on other classes, falling dangerously behind sometimes. While it could be said that this is preparing us for college, sometimes it is just too much work. And interacting with work makes some students literally write a paper not on what they felt about the assignment, but on why this idea is detrimental to their academic career. All in all, I hope this helps out that I posted this and hopefully this helps.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I am always glad when students share their thoughts. I'm thinking perhaps if it's being prepared the night before the date, it's easy to see why it might not be beneficial because that kind of preparation does not allow for engagement and reflection.

    2. In response to this student, I would say that perhaps it's being approached in an incorrect manner? Almost all of the notebooks I did with my students involved class activity, with a few things assigned for homework and done on the left side of the notebook. My students approached them more as a work of creativity and many still have them. If it's taking too much time, it may be that you're doing at home what should really be done in class…

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