How to Effectively Use Interactive Notebooks

Interactive notebooks are widely used in science classrooms all over the nation.  They are a powerful tool to help students compartmentalize important science content through the use of guided notes with pre-made templates.
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However, we’re the first to admit that it took us quite a while to jump on the interactive notebook bandwagon.  We were extremely hesitant to give them a try because, well…if we’re being completely honest, we felt that all of the cutting and gluing was such a waste of our valuable classroom time.  We quickly realized that this process did not take as long as we thought.  It actually increased the effectiveness of our lessons and helped our classrooms run much more efficiently.As a husband and wife who both taught science, we obviously bounced a lot of our classroom ideas off of each other.  During our first few years as teachers, we thought we would be those “cool” teachers who allowed students to decide what they wanted to bring in order to be prepared for our class.  In addition to bringing the obvious supplies such as a pencil and paper, we gave our students the option to bring a binder, spiral notebook, folder, or whatever they felt worked best for them.

It sounded great to us.  We simply just told them to stay organized and make sure to keep track of our important assignments and notes that were completed in class (because surely they would know what was important, right?)  By giving our students choice, we would ultimately empower them to become more independent in the learning process.  What could go wrong?

Then, each year the reality of a middle school classroom set in…lost papers…question after question…confused and unprepared students.  It wasn’t the fault of our students.  The fault was on us for failing to implement a clear system which offered the support they really needed.

So we were forced to finally admit defeat and knew that something had to change.  And as many of you already know, change can be hard when it forces you out of your comfort zone.  However, if we wanted to effectively empower our students and create more independence, we needed a better system in place.

Cue the interactive notebooks!  If you’re new to the classroom or simply want to try a proven system, you definitely need to introduce your students to interactive notebooks.
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Here are our top 5 reasons to use interactive notebooks with your students.

1. Interactive notebooks allow students to take ownership of their learning.  Interactive notebooks are personal to each individual student.  Interactive notebook pages focus on the key concepts we want them to know, but still allow students to use their own ideas in order to make the learning process more meaningful.  For example, some students like to doodle or draw pictures to demonstrate certain concepts, while other students prefer to write phrases or sentences.  We always encouraged our students to treat their notebook as their own “journal of ideas” or “science diary.”  You can also help to encourage this by allowing students to create a unique cover page for their interactive notebook that represents them or the things they’re interested in.

2. Interactive notebooks focus on the key concepts learned in class.  Let’s face it.  During a typical class period there is a lot of information to digest and it can be quite overwhelming for students.  We would be teaching a gripping and captivating lesson (because aren’t they all?) but were constantly interrupted with the question “Do we need to write that down?”  We soon realized that our students could not be truly engaged in class if they were constantly struggling with recognizing the important information we wanted them to get.  With interactive notebooks, students are now able to focus more on the classroom discussion or activity because they know that the most valuable information and key concepts will be covered on their guided notebook page(s) for the day.

3. Interactive notebooks allow students to be prepared for class each and every day.  It’s pretty simple.  Students need their interactive notebook and a pencil each day.  That’s it.  We provided anything else they would need such as glue sticks, scissors, and colored pencils.  We liked to have our students create pocket folders within their notebooks to help with organization.  For example, the front of the notebook always had a pocket folder for warm-ups.  That way it was easy for our students to locate it each day when they came into class.  Then, our students created a pocket folder for the current unit.  Here they could place important papers and various interactive notebook pages that hadn’t been glued in yet for that unit.  Once the unit was complete, they then made a new pocket folder for the next unit.  We preferred to keep it simple with only one pocket folder per unit, but you may choose to make separate folders for graded assignments, homework, etc.

4. Interactive notebooks help to create student “buy in.”  We always allowed our students to use their interactive notebooks on classroom activities, labs, and particular quizzes and assessments.  Wait, what?  We know, we know…many teachers have very strong opinions on this!  Although teachers are torn on this idea, we wanted to add as much value to the notebook process as possible.  We found that our students put more effort into their notebooks and were much more detailed in their responses which in turn helped them learn the information better.  You’d be surprised to see how the level of engagement increases when students KNOW the information within their notebooks is valuable.

5. Interactive notebooks are the perfect reference guide for students.  Interactive notebooks act as a “one stop shop” for any class material your students need.  All important information from both past and present units is easily accessible and literally at your students’ fingertips.  We made a point to stress the importance of always having this resource to refer to.  In addition to the obvious of using it to study and prepare for tests, this also greatly reduced questions during classroom activities because it allowed our students to seek out the information they needed within their own notebooks.

These 5 reasons sound great and all, but if you’re like we initially were, you’re probably still thinking, “I don’t have any time to allow my students to cut and glue!” Remember, we were once in your shoes!  But please, hear us out!  🙂

Here’s a list of our time-saving strategies to help you incorporate interactive notebooks as efficiently as possible.

5 Time Saving Strategies

1. Have students make a pocket folder at the front or back of the notebook (or just use the one they already made for the current unit) .  Cut out all necessary templates that will be used during a certain week or unit.  Place all of the templates into a bag and secure them in the pocket.  This takes a little time up front, but saves so much time in the end.  PLUS, it allows students a “sneak peek” at some of the things they will be learning about which is great for sparking their curiosity and creating meaningful discussions.

2. Use as an entry activity.  Place the notebook templates that will be used for the day on several tables around the room for students to pick up as they enter the classroom.  Or you can hand it to each student as they enter the classroom.  We suggest setting a time limit on how long they have to get it cut and ready for the day.  Once the bell rang, we set a timer for 3 minutes and our students knew they needed to get cutting.  If you are consistent, your students will catch on to the process pretty quickly.  It really works!

3. Use as an exit ticket for formative assessment.  We were always looking for a short 3-5 minute formal assessment that could be used at the end of class.  Interactive notebook pages are perfect for this strategy and it doesn’t require any extra work.  We would simply walk around the class and observe our students as they filled out their notebook page.  We were specifically looking for students that seemed lost or had a hard time getting started.  We were subtle in our observations, but strategic.  We then made a quick note to ourselves so that the next day we could revisit the concept at the beginning of class.

4. Keep your students on task by having them prepare for a future lesson.  No matter what you do, there’s always that one lesson that runs short.  We would fill that extra time at the end of class by having our students cut out any upcoming notebook templates.  This strategy saved us many times!  It helped keep our students productive and also acted as a great segue into the next day’s lesson.  Plus it’s a life saver if an administrator decides to pop in unannounced near the end of a lesson that didn’t take as long as you originally planned for.  😉

5. Have your high achievers or teacher helpers cut a few extra notebook templates for absent students.  A great idea is to create an “I’m Finished, Now What?” area in your room.  We would place extra notebook templates in a basket for students to cut out.  Of course not all students want to cut extra templates, but there was always a few in each class that were more than willing to help out.  We found that those  students could cut more than enough templates for us which was a great time saver the next day.

Well hopefully we’ve provided you with enough reasons why interactive notebooks can be a successful tool in the science classroom.  If you would like to give them a try in your own classroom, you can click HERE to check out our Science Interactive Notebook Bundle.  This bundle includes 9 units for you to use within your science class and each of the individual units are also available for purchase separately.  Each notebook pages comes with directions and a photo of the completed activity.

Try out our FREE Interactive Notebook Sampler and let us know how it went!

Thanks for reading!

Scott and Natalie

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Hello everyone! We are Scott and Natalie of The Science Duo. We have 21 years of combined experience in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Science. Natalie has a BS in Geology from Stephen F. Austin University and Scott has a BS in Biology from Southern Nazarene University. You could say that we are pretty big science nerds. We now focus full time on creating interactive and engaging resources for middle school classrooms.

We strive to display our passion of science through highly engaging and differentiated lessons. We feel it is important to get students up and moving and actively participating every day. Most important of all, school should be a safe environment in which all students are respected and appreciated.

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