Computer with table of contents of digital notebook

A Super-Flexible Method for Building A Digital Interactive Notebook

May 25, 2019 10 Comments

Last Summer I got so many questions about digital interactive notebooks. I’d never used them before so I decided to play around with them this year in my classroom.  I have been using a paper composition notebook with my students for the last nine years, and I wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.  I decided to pilot them in my elective classes to see how they might work for me in my classroom.

What are the benefits of a digital interactive notebook?

  • They are better for the environment.  I try to conserve paper as often as possible in my classroom, and digital notebooks would make it so that there is almost no paper used in my classroom.
  • Work can’t be lost (mostly!).  Middle school students are notorious for losing things.  Google Apps saves everything automatically so nothing is ever truly lost.  (However, this doesn’t mean that your students won’t have trouble finding them.)
  • Digital notebooks give students a space that can be used to organized digital content.  I am using digital content more and more often in my classroom.  Students regularly create and annotate graphs, do simulations, write arguments, and engage in peer editing using Google Apps. Students have some material online, and some in their notebook.  Going digital means that all of these great things could live in one place.
  • Accessibility! There are endless options for making your content more accessible for all of your students when you use a digital platform.  Students can use text to speech, video captioning, adjust font sizes and colors and translate materials when they are digital.

Using Google Slides for Digital Notebooks

When I started researching methods for using digital notebooks, just about every resource I found suggested using Google Slides for the notebook.  With Google Slides, each slide acts as a different notebook page.  Students can add various content to each slide.  Google slides is ideal for creating diagrams, annotating graphs and filling out graphic organizers, as well as many other tasks.  However, I found that it was difficult for my students to find their work within the slides.  Also, it was more difficult to organize material if the task did not fit on to a single google slide.

Using the Table Of Contents Method for Digital Notebooking

For me, slides weren’t the best option.  Instead, I created a digital notebook around the table of contents.  The table of contents is a common component of an interactive notebook.

In the video I use I outline the method that I used for using a table of contents for creating a digital notebook that my student could use to organize their content.

View this video on YouTube.

How can digital notebooks be used in a distance learning setting?

This year, I made the decision to stick to a paper composition book.  Unfortunately, when we moved to distance learning, many of those paper composition books got left behind.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus situation, my plan is to use a digital interactive notebook in all of my classes next year.

Are you ready to do more online?

If you are interested in using a digital platform more often, here are some resources that will help get you started.


What questions do you have about digital notebooks?  Comment below!

*Post updated 5/14/2020*



Erin Sadler

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  • M Carlson March 17, 2020 at 8:33 am

    I love your hyperlinked doc option. I too have been hesitant to use google slides for the reason that it gets cumbersome. But I do like the option of a slide deck as a submission especially for notes. I’ve done a hypertext doc to provide individualized instruction for a unit to students but didn’t think of it coming the other way. Great suggestion!

    • Erin Sadler March 17, 2020 at 8:42 am

      I am so glad it was helpful. I like to have a lot of flexibility in the format that kids are using, so this works well for me. I used it for my elective class, but we are still using composition books for science.

  • Sharon April 8, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Thanks! Loved the video and I feel the TOC approach is very user-friendly.

    • Erin Sadler April 8, 2020 at 8:43 am

      Thanks! It is really flexible.

  • Alanna McClary May 21, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you , so much for the article and the video.

    I have been doing interactive notebooks for over ten years, but I know I will need to change “how” they are rolled out, organized, etc….

    Do you have a resource section for your students or do all of the pages intermingle with one another?
    I have so many questions because I am looking for guidance on how to process this through before school starts in August.

    • Erin Sadler May 21, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      I used a resources page when I taught chemistry and I think it was pretty valuable with all of the formulas. I would also have electronegativity charts, polyatomic ion charts and other stuff like that.

      But it my other classes, I don’t find it necessary. Also, if you are going digital it is so easy for students to search for stuff. (Just control F to search).

      I am going to be doing a follow up post on physical notesbooks and discussing setup more soon too.

  • Tabitha June 24, 2020 at 9:07 am

    I was going to create a digital notebook using PowerPoint, but I love this idea! My only question is, how do you give students the documents they need to write up (ie PHET Simulation) and ensure they make their own copies? I’m using Office 365….

  • Erin Sadler June 24, 2020 at 10:32 am

    It’s really easy with Google Classroom, but I am not sure with Office 365. I have used it myself, but not with students. I will keep my ear out to see if anyone has tried this with Office and I will comment back here if I find anything out.

  • Marchell Schuman July 10, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    If I use the TOC method and assign it to my students in Google Classroom, can I keep adding pages once it is out to the students? Should I assign it to them with “view only”?

    • Erin Sadler July 10, 2020 at 1:24 pm

      I keep a master TOC on my class webpage so students know what to add. This is “view only”. They are totally in charge of putting their notebook together so I have them add their own pages. I just start with a few pages to get them started.

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