Interactive Notebooks: The Best Teaching Tool Ever

Interactive Notebooks

***Update 5/27/2019*** This isn’t quite how I do my interactive notebooks anymore.  I am moving toward standards-based grading (though I am not there yet!) and I am rethinking a lot of how I do notebooks.  Most of the changes that I am making have to do with the grading component because students are mostly organizing their work and not demonstrating skill.

I  am thinking about giving up a little control and requiring that everything be on exactly the same page as mine.  Also, in the last two years, we are doing less and less notetaking in my classroom in favor of more active and engaging forms of learning.   This is also true of the way that I am teaching vocabulary, though I haven’t perfected my strategy for helping students with vocab yet (though I will share it with you when I do).

Finally, I may be shifting toward a digital notebook in my classroom for next year.  To find out more, visit this new post!

I thought about taking this post down, but some components might still be helpful to you.  I think it is also important to show you that I am continuing to figure out what works best in my classroom.  Anyway… happy reading!



I started using an interactive notebook during my second year of teaching.  This is my 10th year using them, and I absolutely LOVE this tool because:

  • It keeps students organized and on the same page (literally!).
  • It cuts down on my grading time.
  • It helps me to organize myself, my plans and the many different subjects that I may be teaching.
  • Kids are creating their own resources.

My interactive notebooks aren’t the prettiest ones out there.  But they are highly functional.  I manage to squeeze all of my material for an entire year into my notebooks for my 7-10th-grade classes.  (I use one per semester for my higher-level courses.)

Below is a guide to how I organize and use interactive notebooks in my classroom.

Starting With Your Table of Contents

I start every interactive notebook with a Table of Contents aka the TOC.  I letter the first seven pages (left and right) A-E.  I leave the first page open for a student’s name, doodles, etc and then use pages B-E for my TOC.

I used to print out a TOC and even separate the left and right side like this and even used a new TOC to separate each unit at one point.  However, I think with this, as with everything, it just seems better to keep it simple.

I project my TOC every Monday after we complete our vocabulary lesson so that students can update it themselves.

My TOC has 4 columns: pages number, date, title and score.  All pages are worth 5 points unless students complete extension work and then it is worth 6/5.


The Left Side: Student Input

Note: The Left and Right Side Cover Pages can be found on my TPT store.

Below is the grading rubic that I used for this year.  I update it annually and next year to reflect the extra point for extension work.

I have included ideas for students to use to create their own left side activity, but I often provide them with the work.

I require that students use a minimum of 3 different colors for all left side activities because I find that if the color rule is a “sometimes rule” students become confused as to when they are to use color.

When we do a worksheet, observation or practice problems, I remind them that highlighting is useful way to use color.  Students can highlight a worksheet by:

  • Underlining important instructions.
  • Boxing answers.
    • I often encourage them to use a different color for an answer that they are unsure of or that are incorrect.
  • Distinguishing between sections.


The Right Side: The Teacher Side

I use the right side primarily for notes and vocabulary.


All of the notes that we do in my class are Cornell Style.  I write the title, objective and leave room for questions and a summary.  I use a wide-ruled notebook for myself and I write pretty large so students are able to fit their notes all on one page.

This means that all of the notes in my class are VERY short and this forces me to be very concise.  This is also helpful when teaching middle school students who have a tendency to get antsy during teacher directed time.


Additionally, I sometimes have students create their own notes using a Fishbone Worksheet using this worksheet creator.  I outline the notes for them by dividing their reading into sections.  I then divide students into small groups and have them read the text out loud section by section.  They then discuss the main ideas and write them on the diagram.  I differentiate this activity by providing a more extensive outline for students who need a little more assistance.

I also do a short vocabulary lesson every Monday.  We do 8 words each week (with the exception of weeks when we are wrapping up a unit).  This vocab is divided into three columns: term, definition and picture/example.


The Index

Students are responsible for keeping track of all vocabulary words in their Index which makes up the final 7 pages of their notebook.  This helps them to refer back to their own notes when they come across a term that they don’t remember. I grade this by randomly selecting 10 words per notebook check. Students switch notebooks and grade each other’s. One point is given for each word present.


I require the index to be organized in this fashion through 9th or 10th grade.  After that, most students are capable of navigating their own notebook.

For higher level courses, such as Chemistry, I use the index to keep track of frequently used tables, charts, etc.



Notebooks are graded about once a month.  I have students switch notebooks and we go through page by page and discuss the grading for each.  This takes about 30 minutes in a middle school class and less than 15 in a high school class and it saves me TONS of time grading.  It also reaffirms what the expectations are.

I always spot check a few notebooks “randomly” especially if the score doesn’t seem to be an accurate description of their effort for that span of time.

What questions do you have about organizing your interactive notebook?

Join the newsletter

Classroom checklist freebie pic small

Get ready for your Back to School Prep. Subscribe to get this editable Science Classroom Checklist Freebie for Google Docs, information about our latest content and MONTHLY Freebies by email.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

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