What’s All The Fuss About Interactive Notebooks For Elementary Students?

living things interactive notebook coverInteractive Notebooks are all the rage.  It is a common buzz-phrase found in many blogs, but what is all the fuss about?  What is so different about Interactive Notebooks?  They can actually be a lot more trouble.  Teachers are required to keep a good supply of glue.  Students have to be taught to use glue and scissors responsibly.  It can be frustrating in the early days of trying to teach younger kids how to cut, fold, and glue the required pockets, flaps and other templates.  So, why go to all this trouble?  Is it really worth it?  Although I have been teaching for many years, this is the first year that I decided to try this new phenomenon.  Here are some of the reasons that I found to try them.


Interactive Notebooks Are Engaging

How does a teacher handle the students who constantly “zone out”?  No matter how exiting the lesson may be, they are always finding something else to do, whether that is playing with their pencil and eraser like they are superheroes, or whether it is deliberately misbehaving and distracting other kids.  Interactive notebooks can help with this.  They keep active kids busy with cutting and folding and gluing.  When the product is finished, it gives the student something interesting to look at.  The colors and foldable tabs make students want to look through their notebooks, and every time they give the notebooks another look, they are learning more.

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Here is an example of a page from one of my interactive notebook science units.  You can see how the tabs and folds can help create more excitement for the kids with their science interactive notebooks.  In my class, I let the students color the pictures as we go.  I think that for third graders, it reinforces the concept while they think about the concept as they color.  I have seen on some blogs that the teachers use the pages as only two-tone by printing in black ink on brightly colored (even neon) paper.  This still creates a brightly colored and interesting notebook that encourages students to return to it over and over to review concepts, however, it also eliminates the need to provide crayons and the needed time to color the pictures.  If you like the idea of this unit in the picture, you can find all the pages and a 5 day lesson plan to go along with the unit in my shop.




Interactive Notebooks Encourage Ownership

All of us love to feel ownership of something.  Even as adults, we will always do better work when we know we have a part in the finished product.  Instead of giving students a piece of paper with fill in the blank notes, the Interactive Notebook allows students to create their own content.  Even though we use patterns for the pages, each student’s work still has their own flair to it.  They still all have things that make them seem different, and each student can recognize their own pages.  When they look back through their “notes” in the Interactive Notebook, they understand that they created this.  It wasn’t just something the teacher handed out and told them what to write in the blanks.

Once students take ownership of their Interactive Notebooks, they love to just browse through the pages.  Sometimes, when I have 5 minutes left, I have told my students they can use that time to go back and color things they never finished or just to look through the pages at what they have already done.  A cheer always goes through the room when I say that because they notebooks are theirs.  They love to revisit what they have created.  And every time they revisit, they retain a little more of the concept.

Interactive Notebooks Are Kinesthetic

Interactive Notebooks are great for those learners who are always fidgeting.  They give them something to do with their hands as you teach the lesson.  Those same students who are always playing with pencils or erasers while you talk now have something constructive to do with their hands while you talk.  They have pieces to cut, paper to fold, and tabs to glue.  They may still look like they are completely engrossed in what they are doing instead of what you are saying, but you may be amazed at what they retain once they have something constructive to do with their hands.

Interactive Notebooks Encourage Critical Thinking Instead of Multiple Choice Answers

Don’t get me wrong on this point.  There are definitely many people who still use Interactive Notebooks incorrectly.  Some teachers simply use them as a glossary.  Students glue in flaps with vocabulary words printed on the flaps and the students write the definitions under the flap.  This is a waste of a good Interactive Notebook.

If Interactive Notebooks are used correctly, students are no longer able to simply guess multiple choice letter answers, hoping they get the right answer.  Students must now think critically about what they put on the flaps and pockets of their Interactive Notebook.  In one of my science Interactive Notebook lessons, students must create “tickets” of their observations of real life items and use a checklist to determine whether those items are living or non-living things.  They place those tickets in the correct pocket of their Interactive Notebooks to designate whether they are living or non-living.  Finally, they create sentences to describe why each item is living or non-living.  This is much more conducive to student learning than if they were guessing correct multiple choice answers or even filling in blanks to complete notes from their textbooks.

Interactive Notebooks Encourage Organization

One of the reasons many teachers love Interactive Notebooks is that they encourage organization.  I have read many secondary teacher blogs about how they have a certain format they use each time.   Many secondary teachers always use the left side of the page for teacher directed notes and the right side of the page for student practice.  I have already found that it doesn’t always work out this neatly at the lower elementary level, but the point is that you use what works for you.  Even if you never set up a standard format for what goes on each side, the notebook is still likely to be vastly more organized than anything you have tried in the past, simply by its nature.

I have found at the lower grade levels that we are still stuck in learning the organizational skills of “Make sure you don’t skip any pages and YES you SHOULD use the back of all of your pages”.  Right now, this is what we are working on.  But, the kids are learning other things without me thinking about it a whole lot.  Most of them are about to get to the point that they can look at a pattern and figure out where to fold, where to cut, and where to glue — especially if I post my example of the finished product on the board in front of them.  So, no, our organization skills are not perfected, yet, but our Interactive Notebooks are definitely helping us along the road to better organizational skills.

Why not give it a try?

If you have been reading this, and you still aren’t sure if it’s worth the effort, why not give it a try and see how it works for you and your students?  You’ll find some good examples of Interactive Notebooks here.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you about your Interactive Notebook experiences.


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