If you follow Lucky Little Learners on Instagram, Facebook, Teachers Pay Teachers, or Pinterest it is no surprise to you how much love my team and I have for the humble interactive notebook. Looking at pictures of complete interactive notebooks can make some teachers feel excited and fill others with dread (so many pieces!). I’m here to tell you that interactive notebooks are not only wonderful learning tools but also really easy to manage.
This post has EVERYTHING you need to know about the why, what, how, and when of interactive notebooks. Dive in and learn all about them! Bonus, if you’re looking to try out free math notebook activities you can grab those while you’re here!
7 Reasons You Should Use An Interactive Notebook
If you’re here you either have already made the decision to use interactive notebooks or you’re on the fence. Here are 7 reasons you and your students will love them:
1. A Tool to Increase Engagement
1- Let’s face it – if an activity is fun, hands-on, and engaging our students are going to learn. Often when my students are assembling a page, they are smiling and talking about it with their neighbors. Now, that might not sound like a big deal but how often do your kids smile and talk about their math assignment when they are working in a workbook?
2. A Tool to Track Progress
When I am preparing for parent-teacher conferences, I don’t have to wonder what I am going to show the families when it comes to their child’s math. No prep for me! These notebooks provide a great summary of math skills that have been covered and it shows the families their child’s level of understanding of each skill.
3. A Multisensory Reference Tool
We all know that making our lessons as multisensory as possible benefits all students. Interactive notebooks are visually appealing, require physical assembly of the pieces and flip flaps, and use engaging images to increase understanding.
4. A Tool to Help Build Student Ownership
Students can start working in their interactive notebooks on day 1 of the school year and continue through to the last day. They develop ownership and pride over their work. They spend a lot of time on this notebook. By the end of the year, they are so proud of their notebook and can’t wait to take it home to show their families.
5. A Reference Tool to Build Resourceful Students
I emphasize the importance of my students’ interactive notebooks being a tool for them to use when they are stuck or forget how to do something. I have had students come to me with a question and I can say, “Isn’t that something that we did in our interactive notebook last week?” and they know to take it out and find their answer. You are teaching your students to be resourceful!
6. A Peer Learning Tool
Allow for opportunities for students to teach their peers about skills from their interactive notebooks. They love doing this! I tell my students to find a partner, pick a page, and be the teacher. Why do this? When students are teaching others about skills, it brings their level of understanding to a deeper level and it’s a great review!
7. A Tool to Make Learning FUN!
I have to admit that this is my favorite reason to bring interactive notebooks into your classroom: I’ve had students finish an activity and say, “why aren’t we doing math today?” They are so engaged they don’t even realize they’re learning!
Tips for Organization & Storage of Interactive Notebooks
Interactive math notebooks are popular for a reason. They are highly engaging with students and if managed correctly, can be a game-changer in your classroom. There’s a lot of success but there are definitely still some challenges. The biggest is keeping all the pieces and pages organized.
Tip #1 – When to Use Spiral vs. Composition Notebooks
This one is a personal opinion but I feel that the spiral notebooks are better for the littlest learners. If you teach kindergarten through third grade, I would go with spiral notebooks because of their size. Sometimes composition notebooks are just too small to fit all the pieces of a single activity on one page. That being said, the downfall to spiral notebooks is that the pages tend to tear out more easily. I have a solution to this problem…keep reading.
Tip #2 – Include a Table Of Contents
One way teachers navigate the opportunity for quick referencing is through the use of a table of contents. If you plan to use your interactive notebooks as a resource for your students to look back and reference (you should!), a table of contents is beneficial. One year I had my students number their pages from front to back at the beginning of the year. The next year I had them number the pages as they used them. Do what feels right for your class. The numbered pages are necessary if you plan to use a table of contents.
Tip #3 – Topic Tabs
Topic tabs are another form of organizing your students’ interactive notebooks. This is a personal preference option. Some teachers feel these are essential and some prefer to use a table of contents. Depending on how your math series is set up, topic tabs may help keep your students’ content organized. If your content bounces between strands then topic tabs can be a bit of a headache when you’re not exactly sure how many pages your students will need per domain/topic.
Tip #4 – Don’t Forget Page Numbers
Earlier, I mentioned page numbers. These are important even if you choose not to use a table of contents. When there is a certain activity that I want the class to revisit, I can tell them the page number to turn to and we are quickly and easily on the same page with little time wasted.
Tip #5 – Use Yarn As Bookmarks
Yarn bookmarks are a huge time saver. At the beginning of the year, tie a piece of yarn to the top of the wire spiral of each notebook. Make sure it is a little longer than the length of the notebook. Then teach your students to lay their yarn bookmark on their page when they finish working on it. Gone are the days of blank pages being wasted. The next time your student needs to work in their notebook, they can open up to their yarn bookmarked page and be ready to go.
Tip #6 – Glue Stick or Drippy Glue?
I get this question all of the time. Do your students use a glue stick or drippy glue? Here’s what I have found. Glue sticks are less messy but the pieces tend to fall off over time. Drippy glue (that’s what we call it) works well for the sticky factor but can be really messy and if they close their notebooks with piles of glue…well, you know the rest of the story. The pages are forever stuck together. I know that some teachers have been very successful with drippy glue because they train their students to use small dots along the edges so if this is you, awesome! For me, when it comes to interactive notebooks, we use glue sponges. They are very easy to make. Here’s a tutorial on how it can be done.
Tip #7 – How to Handle Time Consuming and Extra Pieces
A common question that we receive is what to do about the students that take longer with gluing and cutting tasks. They are just finishing their cutting and the rest of the class is finished gluing. Yes, we all have them! First of all, if you have one or two students that struggle with their fine motor skills, don’t hesitate to do part of the cutting job for them. In the end, it is another huge time (and stress) saver. Another thing I do is glue or tape an envelope/pocket/plastic baggie to the back of each student’s interactive notebook. The extra pieces that do not get glued in on time can be stored there so they can finish their task when they have time.
Tip #8 – Prep Ahead of Time
This organizational tip may not be applicable to everyone but get as much prep done as you can before the school year begins and before big breaks. Future you will thank you. I print out ALL of my interactive notebook pages a semester at a time. I organize them all into folders and I have math work for the entire quarter at my fingertips. No last-minute copy runs for me. It’s AMAZING! This system works well for me! Find what works best for you.
Don’t forget to print extras! There’s always that one student that cuts off an important piece and those extras can prevent frustrated meltdowns.
Tip #9 – Keep the Interactive Notebook Out of the Desk
When my students finish their interactive notebook task for the day, they turn them into their Team Tub. The reason that they don’t put them back in their desks is that they are less likely to get damaged if they are in the tubs. Plus, it is easy for me to collect them to grade!
A Rubric for Grading Interactive Notebooks
I am often asked the question, “Do you grade your students’ interactive notebooks?” The short answer is yes and no. Let me explain.
Before I start, I want to emphasize that I teach second grade so this is what works for me and my primary age students. An important piece of my interactive math notebooks does include the grading component. I will start off by saying that I DO NOT grade every single page! Not only is it time consuming but I also do not feel that second graders should get a grade for how well they practice new concepts. If I am going to take a grade on an interactive notebook page, I am going to choose a page that I feel the students should have a good understanding of, prior to the assembly of the page. I also tell my students when I am taking a grade on their assignment.
Here is the anchor chart that I display at the beginning of the school year. I post it on my wall and we talk about each rating in detail. I have my students come up with why they think each example is a 1-star, 2-star, and 3-star assignment. When they give me their reasons, I write them on sentence strips with arrows that point to the example on the poster. This anchor chart is on display and referenced all year.
If a student is going to earn 3 stars on their assignment, there are 5 components that I am looking at that need to be their “2nd grade best”. You can see each of these components in the photo above.
1. Title of activity is at the top of the page and written with nice handwriting.
2. Date is in the top right corner with nice handwriting.
3. All flip flaps/pieces are cut out nicely on the lines.
4. Answers are clear and thorough with multiple strategies displayed (if applicable).
5. Coloring is neat with more than one color (if applicable).
1. Title of the activity is at the top of the page with legible handwriting.
2. Date is in the top right corner with legible handwriting.
3. All flip flaps/pieces are cut out and glued to the notebook.
4. Answers show a strategy in use (if applicable).
5. Coloring with more than one color (if applicable).
1. Title of the activity is NOT at the top of the page.
2. Date is missing.
3. Some flip flaps/pieces are cut out and glued in the notebook.
4. Answers are basic or incorrect with NO strategies displayed.
5. No coloring or very little coloring and it may be messy.
As you can see from my examples above, I do provide feedback with the star rating. I feel it is important to be specific about what I feel the students do well and what they need to improve on. When I am providing feedback to my students, I always give them a compliment sandwich.
I feel that if our feedback to them only includes the suggestions or areas that need improvement, it becomes too negative. At the same time, you can’t only give compliments to what they do well because they will never know what they need to work on. Make sense?
One more point that I want to make about grading is that if a student receives a 1-star rating, it will always have a comment stating that they need to come and see me so we can work out the struggles. I organize my math block of instruction time so that my students can choose a math center to complete when they finish their independent assignment. Math centers are independent activities. I mention this because this is a great time for students to come and see me so we can go over an assignment or interactive math notebook page that did not go well. I do keep a record of students that I need to see so that if they “forget” to come and see me, I can call them over once they finish their independent assignment.
Interactive Notebook Resources
If you are looking for some interactive math notebooks that can get you through the entire school year, check them out HERE or follow my interactive notebooks board for ideas to use in your classroom. Don’t forget to grab the math notebook activities below before you go!