6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks


These 6 tips will help you use interactive notebooks as a powerful teaching tool and keep you sane in the process.

1 Establish a routine

Without a good routine, all the chatting, cutting, coloring, and gluing can make you come unglued.  Take some time to think about how you want things to run.

  • Where do you want materials to be stored?  How do you want students to access them?
  • How/when do you want to give directions?
  • When do you want students to begin cutting?  Do you want them to wait until you are finished talking? Or, are you alright with them cutting while they listen to you?
  • How/when will the students take care of their trash?
  • What will students do if they finish early and have extra wait time?  Do you want them to help others catch up?

Once you decide how you want to run your lessons, make sure you teach these procedures and routines to the students.  Once the kids know what to anticipate, things will run smoothly.

Establish a Routine

2 Make sure it is useful

All too many times I see a teacher (myself included) use a material for his/her interactive notebook that is just a waste of time.  Sure, it can be cute.  But, a page needs to do one of the following for it to be worth the time:

  • The page itself is an activity that requires your students to use the skill/strategy to complete it.
  • The student fills in minimal blanks to create a small anchor chart for the skill/strategy that can be referenced later.
  • The page serves as a tool for introducing or reinforcing a lesson that you are teaching.

If a resource doesn’t do one of those, don’t waste your time.  Just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s not crap.  *Pardon my language.*  Instead, find something that fits your purpose, engages your students, and adds to the lesson.

Here is an example of how I use my interactive reading notebook for two different activities when I am teaching schema.


My schema pages

I love using short texts with questions and/or graphic organizers in my interactive notebooks. Here is how I use interactive notebooks for an inferring activity.

inferring pages

Click here or on the picture to get your copy of the INTERACTIVE READING NOTEBOOK . 

Interactive Reading Notebook by Cultivating Critical Readers

3 Have a plan

Interactive notebooks are a great resource, but don’t let it drive the lesson.  Know how you plan to implement it ahead of time.  Is it a good introduction with a definition of the skill/strategy?  Can it be used as an activity to reinforce what your students are learning?  Should it be used as an exit ticket or reflection after a lesson is taught?  How you decide to use the interactive notebook is what makes it a powerful teaching tool.

One way that I use interactive notebooks in my reading workshop lessons is by engaging the students in creating interactive mini anchor charts. This helps them zero in on the key ideas of the skills and strategies.

summary of fiction anchor chart page

This Interactive Reading Notebook includes lesson ideas, activities with short texts, book lists, interactive pages for use with any text, and ideas for how to implement them. Click here or on the picture to get your copy and save now!

Interactive Reading Notebook

4 Require an appropriate amount of writing

If students are just copying what you write the entire time, they are not fully engaged in the discussion about the skill/strategy.  They may not be paying attention at all.  Think about how much you want your students to write ahead of time.  You know your students and you know what is appropriate for their level(s).  Keep in mind that what is appropriate for some may not be appropriate for others and modify as needed.  Interactive notebooks are easy to modify ahead of time by writing, outlining, or cutting a few things before passing it out.


5 Keep it organized

Years ago, one of my incredible teammates showed me an amazing, yet simple trick for keeping interactive notebook materials organized.  I had an issue with students losing small pieces that they didn’t have time to glue down (or that they weren’t supposed to cut yet – see tip #1), so she introduced me to the “parking lot.”  It’s simple enough to have the kids create when they are setting up their interactive notebooks and it has saved me time and time again.  All it takes is a regular envelope and a glue stick!  Just glue the back of an envelope to the inside cover of the notebook.  Make sure the kids don’t seal the envelope.  This way all the items that have been cut, but don’t have a home can be safely stored in this little pocket.

Keep it organized!

6 Use it as a reference

An interactive notebook is as useful as you allow it to be.  If you are allowing time to create them, consider allowing time to reference them.  Students get excited when they can use a tool that they created to find an answer.  Plus, the more times they see it, the more likely they will remember it.  My students love using the glossary in our poetry notebooks and the charts in our reading notebooks to help them answer questions during reading workshop.  They know that if I see them take out their notebooks after I ask a question I will allow enough wait time for them to find the answer on their own.  I love seeing students light up when they find their own answers!

Other great times to allow students to reference their notebooks are during review games at the end of a unit, group projects, or independent reading.  I have reading response menus for my students to use during independent reading, so I like for them to brush up on the skill/strategy of their response choice before writing their responses.  I find that they interact with the text on a deeper level and I get much more thorough responses this way.

6 ways to get the most out of your interactive notebooks