two stacks of spiral notebooks

Interactive Notebooks in the Science Classroom Made Simple

June 14, 2022 No Comments

I have been using interactive notebooks in my science classroom for over 10 years. I have made countless changes to my notebooks since I started using them all of those years ago. Below, I will tell you everything that I have learned in the process.

In the beginning, interactive notebooks were a LOT of work for me and my students. But, they don’t have to be. Let me explain how I simplified things for me and my students.

Interactive Notebooks and the Next Gen Science Standards

This blog post is a summary of all of the possible ways to structure your notebooks. It includes the updates that I made when adopting the NGSS. However, there are many other updates discussed below that don’t necessarily relate to these standards.

If you want to hear about the changes I made that are specific to the NGSS, click here to read a more targeted post.

What is an interactive science notebook?

Essentially, an interactive notebook is just a notebook that a student is responsible for. It holds everything that students have learned throughout the school year. And, it acts as a place that students can refer back to.

Traditionally, teachers provided students with pages that were glued or taped into the notebook. For the most part, I have limited this aspect of the notebook to save time and resources. However, I want to give you an overview of all of the things I did in the past. That way, you can decide how you want to build your notebook.

What are the best supplies for an interactive notebook?

Really, it is the student’s responsibility to create the interactive notebook. But, it helps if there are some standard components that students use. Generally, there are two major supplies needed for a notebook: the notebook itself and something that adheres loose pages to the notebook. Here are my recommendations.

Choosing the Notebook

Any notebook will do. However, I prefer to use a composition notebook because they hold up well. Also, they are usually pretty cheap, especially at the start of the school year. Because they are required for class, I make sure I have plenty of them for students in my classroom. (These are always on my Amazon wish list at the start of the school year.)

But, some teachers use spiral notebooks. I’ve had mixed results with these. I suggest that you avoid the ones with the perforated, tear-out pages. These fall apart quickly.

I don’t get hung up on the other details. For example, I don’t care if students have a wide-ruled or college-ruled notebook. In the past, I have cared about the details. But, in the end, it doesn’t make a huge difference. However, I use a wide-ruled notebook as a sample notebook in my classroom. This helps me to more accurately predict how much space things will take up in the notebook.

Is it better to use tape or glue for your notebook?

Traditionally, there is a lot of cutting and gluing or taping of pages into the notebook. The teacher provides students with handouts that they fill in. There are some benefits to this practice. For example, it helps students who struggle with organization or with keeping up with notes.

Blue frame with an off-white box in the middle.  The blue text reads "Tip: Avoid making copies and have students write directly in their notebook whenever possible. "
In addition to saving paper, having students write directly into their notebook alleviates the need for tape or glue for the notebooks.

For this reason, I made copies for my students for a long time. But, ultimately, I decided to abandon this practice.


There are three main reasons. First, it is difficult to maintain a supply of glue sticks or tape. I felt like I was always running to the store late at night to buy more. It was a constant area of frustration. Secondly, this takes up a lot of class time. Finally, it is a huge waste of paper. Now, I have students write directly into their notebooks. I have a small supply of tape that only comes out when we need it.

Accommodating Students

I accommodate students by making copies of my sample notebook. Generally, I run about 10 copies. However, I rarely make whole class copies for the notebook.

Going Digital: Online Interactive Notebooks

There is an ongoing debate about whether a digital or paper notebook is best. This is really a matter of personal preference. I started using this version of a digital notebook before the 2020 shut down in some of my elective classes. Then, when we were out of school for the 2021-2022 school year, I used a Google Slides version of a notebook for part of the year.

Nicole from iExplore Science does an AMAZING job of discussing the different options for digital notebooks in this YouTube video. If you are interested in digital notebooking, I’d highly recommend checking it out.

There were positives and negatives. But, ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you and your students. Here are a few things to ask yourself before you decide:

  • Are you at a school that is 1:1 with digital devices?
  • Will students need to access the material from home? Do they have adequate internet access or a mobile device that can access the material?
  • Do you like creating digital content and coming up with creative solutions to problems? (For example, will your students need to create models online?

How do you set up an interactive notebook?

There are so many ways to set up your interactive notebook. And, there isn’t a right way. But, the more simple the format, the easier it will be for you and your students.

First, consider the purpose of your notebook. For me, I wanted students to have a place to keep track of what they had learned. And, I wanted them to create a manual that they could refer back to. Finally, I wanted the notebook to be reflective of the next-generation science standards.

To learn about the more traditional way to set up an interactive notebook, check out this blog post. However, I don’t recommend doing most of these things anymore.

Instead, consider reading this post.

The Table of Contents

I do recommend that you have some kind of table of contents for your notebook. The table of contents is used to organize the notebook. When students add a new page to their notebook, they add a row to the table of contents. This helps students find content when they need it.

For most of the time that I used notebooks in my classroom, I had set requirements for each page. And, I made sure that each student had exactly the same information on each page. Ultimately, I don’t think this was the best use of the notebook. Instead, I recommend that students number the notebook pages. Then, they write down what they have on each page.

How do you grade interactive notebooks for science?

There are so many ways to grade the notebook. I will outline some of the methods that I have used and observed other teachers using. However, I no longer believe in grading notebooks. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Collecting Notebooks: Option 1

When I started, I collected notebooks once or twice a quarter and graded them all myself. Each page was worth five points. Students also got 5 points for maintaining their table of contents and index.

As you can imagine, this was incredibly time-consuming. With at least 140 students at a time, this took an incredible amount of time. Also, it took up a lot of room in my classroom. And, if I didn’t finish grading at school I’d have to lug them home. No thanks!

Peer or Self Grading: Option 2

Desperate for a solution, I switched to peer grading or self-grading. In both cases, we went through each page as a class. I told students what to look for and how to assign scores. They would total their points and I would come around and type their scores into my grade book.

Often, there were students who lost track or needed me to grade their notebooks for another reason. But, this dramatically cut down on the amount of grading I needed to do.

The Notebook Quiz: Option 3

One of my teacher friends showed me this a few years ago. She uses a self-grading Google Quiz to determine if students have what they need in their notebooks.


Create questions about specific content that is on each page. For example, provide a definition and asks students to select the correct term. Students use their notebooks to answer the questions and their notebook grade is the score.

Why I Stopped Grading Interactive Notebooks in my Science Classroom

I was always bothered that a large part of my student’s grades came from their notebooks. Organized students always earned full points. In contrast, less organized students did not. And, more often than not, I graded for completion rather than understanding.

By the time I reached my last year in the classroom, I’d shifted my focus to standards-based grading. So, my focus was on assessing students on the standards rather than on the completion of assignments.

How do you get students to do their notebooks if they aren’t being graded on them?

This isn’t an easy shift to make in the classroom. However, it’s important that students understand why notebooks are being used. And, they must have value to the students. For example, consider letting students use their notebooks on assessments.

Also, consider dropping many of the requirements of a traditional interactive notebook. Instead, allow students to include the pieces they think are most important. I suggest providing guidelines and suggestions rather than requirements.

I know this sounds impossible. But, when combined with other equitable teaching practices, this is definitely attainable in your classroom.

Erin Sadler

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