Computer with table of contents of digital notebook

A Super-Flexible Method for Building A Digital Interactive Notebook

May 25, 2019 38 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.

    • Erin Sadler June 13, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      I put everything in Google classroom (or now Canvas). Students are able to access all of the resources in a central location.

  • 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….

    • Cherish July 31, 2020 at 7:20 am

      Are you using Teams in Office 365? If so, you can attach it to an assignment in Teams. Each student will then have their own copy.

      • Erin Sadler July 31, 2020 at 7:20 am

        Thanks for the info!

  • 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.

  • Marsha B July 17, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    I have been using INBs for the last 4 years. This year I would like to create a digital INB to use with my classes. I would like to build it as we go. I am a little confused about how to share the pages with my students. I have also discovered how to create foldables that can open and close. How do I share the pages with my students, so that they are able to add it to their INB? We will be using Google Slides.

    • Erin Sadler July 17, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Marsha,

      Thanks for your question. There are several ways that you can push out pages to students. In the past, I have used a Google Calendar for each subject I teach. I attach the page to the calendar on the day that it is supposed to be worked on. However, that adds another platform that students have to learn to use. If you are working in a remote learning scenario, this might not be ideal.

      During remote learning, I assigned work through Google Classroom. They could turn it in and get feedback or just attach it to their notebook.

      Regardless of the type of notebook I use, I always keep a master notebook. In a remote scenario, this could be a TOC linked on your class webpage. When I used this format, I would have my own TOC, with links to the assignments. I taught students how to pull from this TOC and make a copy for themselves.

      Finally, if you are going to build your whole notebook around Google Slides, there is an extension called Slip-in-Slide. I haven’t used it myself, but I have been told that you can add slides to a student slide deck. I have heard from several teachers that this is how they push out new pages. Here is the link to the extension.

      It’s really about finding a method that works well for you and your students. I would also recommend making a video to show them how to link to their TOC. If a student had a question, I would just reshare the video. I use WeVideo, but other teachers use Screencastify.

      I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them here or you can send me an email at

  • Carol July 19, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    Great ideas, do u have a sample to share?

    • Erin Sadler July 19, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      Hi Carol,

      I am building a good sample now but if you email me I might be able to find one that I have used before. My school one was for robotics so it isn’t great for NGSS purposes. What grade level do you teach?

      • Pamela Couch July 25, 2020 at 1:37 pm

        Hi Erin,

        I am a first year teaching preparing to teach 6th-8th grade science and would also be grateful for a sample. I’ve been researching digital interactive notebooks all summer, and your table of contents method makes the most sense to me. Thank you so much for sharing!!

        • Pamela Couch July 25, 2020 at 1:38 pm

          Edit: I am a first year teacher

        • Erin Sadler July 25, 2020 at 1:38 pm

          I am glad it makes sense. It’s easy and flexible. Let me know if you have any questions.

  • Cara Wilson July 21, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    I’m looking for some accountability help. When students are working on their TOC, can you periodically check on them to see that they are staying up to date? Do students turn in their work to you through google Classroom or just link it in their TOC? Thanks!

    • Erin Sadler July 21, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      It depends on what it is. I have them link stuff that they will like to refer back to in their notebook. If it’s more of an assignment, I will have them turn it into GC.

      Also, you can have them turn in their notebook more than once, or share it with you so you can check in.

  • Elissa Isham July 23, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    I tried to read through the comments but I am still a little confused. We are going to be using Canvas but I heard you can link Google Classroom to it. Do I have to make a copy for each student? I plan on adding worksheets that go with lessons that students will have to fill in. So I will add the video lesson followed by the worksheet they have to complete. I want to make sure each student completes his/her own worksheet. Would it be better to not add the worksheet in there but just assign it?

    • Erin Sadler July 23, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      I have only used Canvas from a student end for grad school so I am not sure one that.

      It kind of depends on what you want to do and your grading. If you want to grade an assignment for accuracy, I would say it’s probably better to have them turn it in separately. I try to keep the notebook kind of lean so that it really has the pieces that students will want to refer back to.

  • Lauren July 29, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    If I have already created “Topics” in Google Classroom with day by day descriptions that have assignments linked, how can I link the assignments from those days to this general TOC to keep it all in one place for students? Is this a possibility?

    • Erin Sadler July 29, 2020 at 2:46 pm

      I think if you create a folder and put everything that you want to include in that folder. Then share the folder. I might even attach the folder to a Google classroom assignment.

      • Lauren July 29, 2020 at 4:33 pm

        Ok that makes sense, but how does it attach the “make a copy for each student” version rather than the original version to the TOC?

        • Erin Sadler July 29, 2020 at 4:46 pm

          I think it would make them their own copy.

  • Kelly Fisher July 30, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    If you create your entire Interactive notebook for a unit beforehand and assign it in Google classroom how do you grade it? Since the students lose editing privileges once they submit anything on Google Classroom? Thanks

    • Erin Sadler July 30, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      Once the notebook is returned after it has been graded students should be able to edit it again. They will only lose access while you “have” it. However, grading notebooks can be tedious and time consuming. There are a bunch of options. 1)Create a quiz on Google forms that requires students to use their notebook.
      2)Have students peer review notebooks before they turn it in. A peer can flag things that are missing and then you can spot check it when it is turned it. 3) Don’t grade notebooks. Consider allowing students to use them on assessments. This works well if you do standards based grading. Just a few ideas. I hope they are helpful.

    • Erin Sadler July 30, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      Also, some teachers make a notebook per unit. That was a student will be done with it when they turn it in.

  • Lindsey Ragsdale August 23, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Hi Erin,

    How will I be able to see what students are putting into their notebooks? I will want to check some of their notes once a unit. Also, I am still confused about how I assign the work to students. Do I assign through Google Classroom, then students link their completed work to the notebook? Thank you!

    • Erin Sadler August 23, 2020 at 10:09 am

      If it’s something I want to check, I will often have students turn it in to google classroom before they attach it to their notebook. They can also create a folder with all of the linked documents and share it with you. It just depends on what the purpose of the notebook is in your class.

      I mostly want a place that students can refer back to. I am slowly moving towards standards based grading so I am less and less concerned about grading the notebook for points.

      Google classroom now has the option of assigning things as materials. So if you didn’t want to assign work as a separate assignment you could use that feature. I believe students would have to make their own copy in this case. Buts it’s a new feature so I am not positive about that.

  • Lia Koulalis September 8, 2020 at 6:56 am

    While it was a pain I assigned an individual notebook as a material to each student. I have it housed under the topic digital notebook. When I make a writing assignment I don’t attach the digital notebook rather I tell them to go to the digital notebook topic and make their entry.

    • Erin Sadler September 8, 2020 at 6:57 am

      That’s awesome. These can be a lot of work on the front end but then they make like much easier from there.

  • Lia Koulalis September 8, 2020 at 6:57 am

    While it was a pain I assigned an individual notebook as a material to each student. I have it housed under the topic digital notebook. When I make a writing assignment I don’t attach the digital notebook rather I tell them to go to the digital notebook topic and complete the entry. I think that’s easier rather than having to constantly go digging for the original assignment that has their notebook copy.

  • Jake February 22, 2021 at 12:24 pm

    I am wanting to create a digital notebook for my students. Is there a way to share the digital notebook (google slides from my drive) with each student so they have their own copy and can take notes/complete assignments while also allowing the digital notebook (google slides) stay active so as I make changes to the master copy in my drive, it automatically makes changes to each students’ copy?

    • Erin Sadler February 22, 2021 at 5:21 pm

      I would recommend using a slide based notebook. There is a chrome extension called slip-n-slide that will allow you to add new slides to the slide deck. My understanding is that the free version doesn’t work very well but the paid version does.

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