Tips for Starting Interactive Notebooks in Your Classroom

Interactive notebooks are designed to enable students to be creative, independent thinkers and writers. Interactive notebooks could also be used for class notes or for activities where the student will be asked to express his/her own ideas and process the information presented in class. Requirements vary from teacher to teacher, there is no one right way to implement them.

Some teachers have a love-hate relationship with interactive notebooks (love because it invites student pride and hands on learning; hate because it requires gluing), some teachers are intimidated by them, some teachers could not imagine their classrooms without them.

If you’ve heard the hype, but are still unsure, here are some tips to adjust the learning curve so that you ease into interactive notebooks.


Tip #1) To use the composition notebook or not to use the composition notebook? If you are intimidated by the change, you can skip the composition notebook at first and start with a binder that contains loose leaf paper. This leaves room for traditional classwork as well as INB activities so that you can slowly incorporate.

Tip #2) Left, Right, Left, Right- Right? In a traditional interactive notebook, the left and right sides are categorized.
Typically, the left page is for the student to personalize with some guidance from the teacher. This is referred to as the output side. Examples: pre-assessments, quick writes, KWLs, demonstrations used to provoke student thought, post reflections, summaries, student made diagrams or charts). A quick way to remember this is the left side LOVES creativity. Students may need guidance with the left hand side the first couple months of school. As they get used to it, they will become more independent.

The right side of the INB is the information side (notes, vocabulary, lab procedures and data, concept maps). This is typically referred to as the input side. A quick way to remember this is the Right side is Restricted- only information given by the teacher belongs on the right side.

The right side is traditional. The left side gives it that interactive feel.

Tip #3) Assigning Sides vs. Sequential- If the left and right pages seem challenging for your students, or if you are unsure if you’d like to start off with this design, you can certainly implement the INB using the sequential method. This simply means that students add content as it is received. This is a good method to start with if you’re biggest hurdle is assigning “sides”. You can omit them completely and just assign each page to whichever activity, quiz, or set of notes you happen to be on. You can always switch to left-right sides once you’re more familiar.

Tip #4) Always keep a table of contents no matter if you are using a binder or a composition notebook or using left-right pages or sequential pages. Have students number their pages. You should leave room at the beginning of the notebook for their table of contents (about 4-5 pages worth).

Tip #5) Simple templates with high academic value- If you haven’s used foldables or INBs in your class before, I recommend starting out with foldables that are simple in design but offer high academic value.  I offer more info about this in my newsletter. 

Tip #6) Students should help out with materials – Ask students to provide their own markers, glue sticks, scissors, rulers, and colored pencils/markers and to be responsible for their materials (but have some backup materials of course). You can also have students keep post it notes for the left side of their notebook.

Tip #7) Encourage students to make it their own! Encourage students to use color on the personal side of their notebook. Color can help organize thoughts and information.

Tip #8) Grading Notebooks- Some of the notebook components can be peer-graded to help you save time. You can do random or announced notebook checks. A common practice is to fold the upper corner of the page you left off at to mark the grade. This way you know where you left off.

Tip #10) Rough Drafts and Master Copies – If you want to give INBs a try next year, spend a few minutes each day as you teach creating a rough draft of what you want your interactive notebook to look like for the following school year. This. is. HUGE. If you have not done an interactive notebook before, it’s helpful (and sane) to have a general guide of what it will look like. This can be your rough draft for ideas, questions, general layout of pages, etc. And as you go along, you can create a master copy of your interactive notebook. This will be a useful tool for not only yourself to use for years to come, but for students, too! Feeling ambitious? Have the first unit of your INB in a master copy before the first day of school.  But however you’re feeling, have a rough draft at the very least ready to go before you jump in feet first.

One final additional tip- if you are using composition notebooks, and you found a really great worksheet or foldable that wasn’t designed for interactive notebooks, you can change your printer settings to adjust the size to 80-90% of the original. This will make it fit better!

The only right way to do interactive notebooks is the way that works in your classroom!  Each year you can make changes as needed as some ideas work and some do not.  My newsletter offers lots of advice- from taking sick days to implementing INBs. Subscribe to find out more.

If you’re still not sure if you want to take the plunge- do some additional research. I recommend taking the interactive notebook plunge published by the California Science Teachers Association to help address some of your concerns. Good luck!


Tips for interactive notebooks | Tips for starting interactive notebooks in your classroom



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *