Let’s talk interactive notebooks!!
To be honest, I truly don’t know if you would classify my notebooks as “interactive” notebooks! My thought process behind the notebooks is that before notebooks, my students would lose EVERYTHING. LITERALLY EVERYTHING. It didn’t matter that they had a designated “science folder.” It was as if someone would come in our class late at night & throw everything away because things magically disappeared. I started these notebooks because I wanted a place for EVERYTHING. We put all important items in here from notes, activities, reference sheets, worksheets, labs, etc . Anything that I want to come back to in the future as well as the vital content in the form of notes is in there. I found that when we put these items in their notebooks, they didn’t disappear!!!
Every time I post a picture or video & you can catch a glimpse of a student notebook, I get tons of messages about them! I have shared bits & pieces here & there, but today I wanted to do an in depth post that answered ALLLLL the questions!
*I am by no means an expert on notebooks in the classroom. I have used interactive notebooks for three years. I have loved some things & I have hated some things. I finally feel confident enough to share what works best for my students in our classroom!*
I have around 150 students each year. I have 5 sections of 6th grade science, so I teach the same lesson 5 times a day. My class periods are 47 minutes long.
Every student is required to have a composition notebook for science. It is on their school supply list, but I give the students a few days to go out and get one before we start setting up their notebooks to ensure everyone has one. I also go out and buy about 30-40 notebooks when they are dirt cheap in late August so that if students don’t have one on the day of set up, I will provide them with one. I also stock up on a few extras for students who move in during the school year or for students who somehow lose their notebook (yes, that happens!).
The students leave their notebooks in our classroom. When I announced this on Instagram I had so many questions about this. Hear me out. I have 5 bins from Walmart that are labeled for each of my science classes. The students put their notebooks in the bin before they leave. When they come back the next day, THEIR NOTEBOOK IS IN THE BIN!!!! I was so tired of hearing, “I can’t find my notebook!” This excuse was no longer applicable because their notebooks didn’t leave the classroom.
Have you seen what middle school lockers look like?! They are a DISASTER!!! When students kept their notebook in their lockers, they were damaged & beat up so fast. When they are placed neatly into the bin, they are able to last the whole year! Do they get a little rough around the edges? YES! But I found that they are actually able to last an entire school year when they are kept in the classroom!
Now the question, “What about when students need their notebooks for homework or to study for a test?” I am not going to bore you with my opinion on homework, but being a science teacher, 80% of what we do in our classroom is a lab, hands on, group work, demo, in class activity, etc. It is extremely hard to complete this at home. Because of this, I rarely give homework so that part of the question isn’t really applicable to my students. If students do need their notebooks, they come in during our study hall time, grab their notebook, and bring it back at the end of the period. When it is time for a test, I always provide my students study guides. Students need to use their notebooks on their study guide so I provide time in class for this to be completed. Because of this, students rarely need to take their notebooks home but I ALWAYS let them before a test. If we are being honest, the students that take their notebooks home to study before a test are usually the students that are going to bring them back the next day.
Cutting, Gluing, & Taping
In an ideal world, scotch tape would be free so we could use it for all items in our notebook!!! Unfortunately, that is not the case. The only thing we use tape for in our notebooks is the cover & dividers. I print the dividers on cardstock and glue simply does not work with the cardstock. I have trained the students to use tape for dividers and glue on EVERYTHING else. Scotch tape and glue are on the school supply list and these are two items that we collect on our team. I have giant buckets of tape, glue, and scissors in my room. I also keep 4 pairs of scissors, 4 glue sticks, and a couple rolls of tape in the caddy on each lab table. This makes it so everything is already in front of them. By the end of the year, I am begging parents and students to bring in glue and tape!! Doesn’t everyone do that?!
You would think that by the time my students get to 6th grade they would be experts at cutting and gluing, right?! NOPE!!!!! I swear if I let them cut & glue something into their notebook for 20 minutes they would use every second of it! I had to come up with a way to cut this down because it was cutting into my instructional time.
To help with this issue I do two things:
- Use their bell ringer time to cut & glue.
- When I know we are short on time, I don’t have the students complete a bell ringer and instead have them come in & start cutting & gluing the items into their notebooks. I have the notes sheet at the front of the room for them to come grab & scissors & glue in their caddy. The instructions are on the board and the students immediately get started when they enter the room. This frees up so much time!
- Put on a song & the students have to be done by the end of the song.
- Students are always up for a challenge! I put on a song that is around 4 minutes long. I tell the students that everyone has to be done by the time the song is over. That means notes glued in & scraps recycled. You would be shocked at how quickly they work!! I let each class choose their own song. After a while, the students can begin to identify when the song is going to end and they start cheering each other on or helping out their group,,,for real! If the whole class finishes, I give the class a point on my classroom management system. Works like a charm!
Once I started having the kids keep their notebooks in the classroom, I started noticing another issue. I had all 5 bins on my back counter. When the students came into the classroom, they would all go back to the one bin, dig through it, & try to find only their notebook. This caused so much congestion in the back of the classroom & it was taking forever for all the students to get their notebooks. To solve this issue, I made a new rule. The first few students in the room had to go grab the bin of notebooks, dump them on the counter, and spread them out. This made it so much easier for everyone to see their notebook on the counter & it didn’t cause any congestion. Once the students know everyone in their group, I have the first student at their table grab everyone’s notebook.
The clean up procedure is very similar. At the end of class, I have one person from the table put everyone’s notebook back in the bin. This makes it so only 8 students are at the bin, rather than 30+.
I have done bell ringers since my very first year of teaching. In the past, I had a section of the notebook that was solely dedicated to bell ringers. I think I had the students count out 50 pages to dedicate to this. Well I’m sure you can see the issue that I had…By the end of the year some students had 25 pages left because they write small, and some had 0.
This year I did not do this & I just had the students complete their bell ringers in the unit section that we were in. I loved this so much more because a lot of times the bell ringers were previews to what they were going to learn that day. I think it is more powerful to have everything in the unit section so it is all in one place!
I have always had the students label their bell ringer with the date. They also draw a line directly underneath where the bell ringer for that day ends & start the next day’s directly after. This ensures that they are not wasting any space in their notebooks! Before I had them do this, they would literally do one bell ringer per page and waste so much paper!! What I am doing different this year is that I am going to have the students block off one page per week. (See example picture). I am going to test it out this year and see how it goes! I will let you know!
This was the first year that I made dividers for each unit. I even started it in the middle of the year. Once I started, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it earlier! The amount of time it took for the students to find the next page was ridiculous. Once the dividers were in place, the students could immediately turn to the unit we were on! I do not have the students put all the dividers in their notebooks at the beginning of the year. I only do one divider at a time based off of the unit we are starting. This ensures that we are not wasting any paper! Once we are done with a unit, the students cut and tape a new divider in their notebook to signify the start of the next unit. I got nothing but positive feedback from the students on the dividers as well! Check out my science notebooks dividers here.
Let’s Talk Notes
Yes, my students take notes. I truly do believe that note-taking is a skill that every child needs. I also believe that students have a very short attention span and that note-taking needs to look a little different than what we are used to. My students don’t take notes longer than 10 minutes at a time. Their note-taking also might include drawing pictures, coloring, taking notes from a YouTube video or a podcast, obtaining information through stations around the room, etc. Very rarely do my students take notes by sitting in their seats and copy from the board. They will retain very little of that!! We have so many types of learners in our classrooms. I try my best to mix it up to keep their attention, help them retain the information, and aide to multiple learning types.
Grading the Notebook
This is a huge question I get all of the time. Let me just start off by saying that I DO NOT grade their notebooks or bellringers. (Insert gasps from all). My district has been using Standards Based Grading for a few years now. I am not going to get into the grading philosophy, but basically there is no standard that says, “I can copy information into my notebook” or “I can complete my bell ringer every day.”
Yes, my students know that I don’t grade their notebooks. Yes, they still complete them. I set very clear expectations at the beginning of the year that this is their textbook. The more they put into their notebook, the better they will do in science. Are all my students perfect little robots? Heck no! I am constantly on my students to write in more detail or complete sentences. There are always those students that write the least amount possible.
Before my district went to Standards Based Grading, I did give a grade for bell ringers each week. Since this is such a hot topic, I figured I would share. Again, nothing is perfect, but this is what worked for me! The students would do one bell ringer a day so they would get a total of 5 points per week. Every week I had a student that was assigned the “class stamper.” This was such a popular job that I had to go in alphabetical order because they were arguing over who got to do it next …literally arguing over who gets to stamp their classmate’s notebooks!! I don’t get the middle school brain sometimes. Anyways, this student would go around every day and stamp everyone’s notebook who completed the bell ringer for the day. On Fridays, I would go around with my grade book & quickly glance over and check for the number of stamps. They would get up to 5 points for the week. Perfect? No, but it worked.
THE SET UP
During the first week of school we spend one entire class period (47 minutes) setting up our notebooks. Within this time I explain the importance of them, talk about bell ringers they will do daily, go through the procedures of how to get and return them, and go over the rules of cutting and gluing.
What they put in on the first day:
- Cover (color and tape on)
- Lab rules (glue)
- Bell Ringer Example
- Science safety divider (tape because it is cardstock)
**All included in my Science Interactive Notebook product**
What I Don’t Do Anymore:
- NO Table of Contents
- NO Glossary
- NO Numbering the Pages
Basically, I couldn’t justify the time it took to keep up with all of these things. I used to make the students number their entire notebook & make sure every student put the notes sheet on the same page as the rest of the class. First off, numbering literally takes forever. Then students would misnumber, be off, and it was just a hot mess. I quickly gave that up. The other two are very important skills for students to learn, but I just never found the class time to keep up with them and found other ways to teach those skills. With the dividers, the Table of Contents wasn’t needed anymore and the students were writing the vocabulary within the notebook anyways.
How do you size things to fit them in composition notebooks?
To make sure that the pages fit into their notebooks, I simply make a notes sheet or worksheet like normal on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet. Then when I go to make copies, I just shrink it down to 80%. This is the perfect size for composition notebooks!
Do they fill up the notebook?
We get close every year, but we have not completely filled them up!
Do you have a teacher one?
I have not ever made a teacher notebook, but this is my goal this year! I am going to try to keep up with the students. This will also help absent students!
What if a student is absent?
I handle this the same way I would any other time a student is absent. When they come back, they come and grab what they missed from the Absent Bin. They then cut & glue that into their notebook. Then they are responsible for getting the material from a classmate. This is all done during our study hall.
Phew! That was a lot! I am sure I missed something. Feel free to leave any other questions in the comments!