The Traditional Method For Organizing an Interactive Notebook

December 29, 2020 No Comments

I started using an interactive notebook during my second year of teaching.  This post was written at the start of my 10th year in the classroom.  It focuses on the traditional method of creating interactive notebooks.

However, I don’t use this method anymore.  It doesn’t reflect the intention of the Next Generation Science Standards.  To see how you can update your interactive notebook, check out this post.

5 Ways to Improve Your Interactive Notebooks

Why focus on the traditional method of creating an interactive notebook?

In other words, why didn’t I just delete this post?  This traditional method of creating an interactive notebook is very common in science classrooms.  It is difficult to see how my method is different if you aren’t able to see what I used to do.

Also, this method isn’t entirely flawed.  There are some good ideas in this post. However, this post does not reflect three-dimensional strategies that are used in my classroom.

Interactive Notebooks: The Table of Contents

I started every interactive notebook with a Table of Contents (aka the TOC).  The first page of the notebook was reserved for the student’s name, pictures, and doodles.  The next 6 pages of the notebook were dedicated to the table of contents. We letter the first seven pages (left and right) A-F.

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 eventually just had my students write their TOC directly into their notebook to save paper.

I project my TOC every Monday after we complete our vocabulary lesson so that students can update it themselves.  This kept all of us on the same page.

The TOC has 4 columns:
  • pages number
  • date
  • title
  • score


My Traditional Interactive Notebook Used a Left and Right Side

In a traditional interactive notebook, the right side is reserved for input.  The right side was used for output.  I will explain what this means below.

The Right Side: Input

The right side was reserved for any information that the student received during class.  This included:

  • Lectures
  • Video Notes
  • Vocabulary


Cornell Notes

All of the notes that we did in my class are Cornell Style.  I started the notes by writing the title, objective, and leaving room for questions and a summary.  My students were asked to get a college-ruled notebook, but I used a wide-ruled notebook.  This difference helped account for students with large handwriting.

The notes in my class were kept short and concise.  This was also helpful when teaching middle school students who have a tendency to get antsy during the teacher-directed time.



I also did a short vocabulary lesson every Monday.  Students wrote down 8 words each week.  The vocabulary was divided into three columns: term, definition, and picture/example.


The Left Side

Student work and reflections went on the right side.  I would often give my students graphic organizers, practice problems, or questions to answer on the right.

However, sometimes I would have students select their own method of interacting with the material. Below is a page I would give students to provide them with a few examples of things that they could do.


The Index at the End of the Interactive Notebook

Here is where I veered away from the traditional interactive notebook setup.  I had students create an index using the last several pages of their notebook.

Students were responsible for keeping track of all vocabulary words in the index.  This helped them to refer back to their own notes when they come across a term that they don’t remember.


The index looked like this until 10th grade.  After that, most students are capable of navigating their own notebook.

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


Grading Traditional Interactive Notebooks

We graded notebooks once a month.  I had students switch notebooks and we go through page by page and discuss the grading for each.  This took about 30 minutes in a middle school class and less than 15 in a high school class. This grading method saved TONS of time.  Also, it reaffirmed expectations.

Each page was worth 5 points.  We would go through each page and grade them as a class.  I would also spot-check notebooks or grade them myself if there was a dispute about a score.


Erin Sadler

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