8 Classroom Tips to Successfully Manage Students' Interactive Notebooks

Tips for setting up interactive notebooks in the classroom.
I began using interactive notebooks (INBs) as subject journals in my classroom before I knew they were a thing. I loved that kids could have pertinent information, notes, and practice all in one handy composition book. 

Through the years, I devised a list of tips to manage these INB journals. I discovered setup was key in creating a successful, useful interactive notebook experience. 

I've compiled a list of 8 tips for managing interactive notebooks in the classroom.

1. Use Composition Notebooks

I like Composition notebooks (also known as marble books) over spiral or the quick page tear-out kind of notebooks for a couple of reasons. 

  • For whatever crazy reason, kids love taking the wire out of spiral notebooks, thinking they can put it back in again. That, and the pages tear out easily. Also, if I collect their notebooks, the wires inevitably become a tangled mess. No one has time for that kind of nonsense.

  • The notebooks with the easy-tear notepad binding don't hold up. The pages fall out and end up scattered all over. That defeats our purpose.

TIP: To secure the binding and stitching in a Composition notebook, run a strip of heavy-duty packaging or book tape down the binding and another along the inside middle on the stitches. 

2. Stock up on Comp Notebooks when they're on sale.

Even though I put comp books on my supply list every year, kids still showed up with the other kinds of notebooks. I got to the point where I would buy several boxes of comp books for 50¢ each when stores had their Back to School sales.* 

Each student received one for their math journals, even if they brought the right kind. I'd put the rest of them in my classroom supply store. 

I let parents know these things were available at BTS prices. And when they were gone, I did not replenish them. 

 *NOTE: This works in a self-contained classroom. It would make a good Donor's Choose request.

TIP: Have learners use one of their extra notebooks as their creative, doodling journal. It helps keep it out of their academic journals. 

3. Create a master journal ahead of time.

If you're creating a unit's worth of lessons, it helps to see the layout before having your learners put their INBs together. I've found out the hard way (after pages were glued) that the pages needed to be reorganized. 

Place the pages where you want them, but don't permanently attach them to the journal pages yet. 

Think about what pages need more space for student writing or work. Those pages will only be attached at the top to flip the activity page up and use the journal page underneath for more space. 

TIP: When you have the pages in the order you want them, build your INB journal under a document camera while your students put theirs together.

4. Tape an envelope to the inside front cover to store small pieces.

Tape an envelope inside the front cover of INBs for storage.
This is a lifesaver if you have small, loose pieces that are used throughout the lessons. I use the envelope in my Personal Finance PBL Simulation to store their blank checks and check registers. The class data strips would be lost in a second if I didn't have my storage envelope in my Measurement - Graphing Data unit. 

TIP: Use packaging or book tape to secure an envelope at the inside bottom of the front cover. Use the top envelope flap to keep small items safely tucked inside. 

5. Create a Table of Contents & number the pages.

Allow the first 2 full pages for the Table of Contents. The top line of each page has the heading: Pages (in the left-hand margin) and Topic (in the body of the page). Topics are added as needed. 

Number the next 50 pages in the upper or lower outside edges of the pages. That gets them started with a solid example. Do it in pencil. I guarantee pages will get skipped, and pencil is a lot easier to erase.

TIP: Tell your learners not to worry about everyone having the same page numbers for a topic. Their Table of Contents (ToC) will tell them where to find topics in their journals. That's why it's important they keep up their ToCs. 

Use Double-Sided Adhesive Squares to attach INB pages.

6. Use double-sided adhesive squares to secure pages.

Let's be real. Glue and interactive notebooks are a bad idea. Even if you take the time to show them how to bunny hop dots of glue, it rarely works out. 

Glue sticks aren't much better. They leave the caps off, and the glue dries out. Also, the glue-stick glue doesn't hold up, and the pages eventually fall out.

Double-sided adhesive squares are the way to go. They come in an easy-to-use container that feeds one at a time. 

TIP: One side of the square has a cover on it, so the squares can be added to the pages but not attached to the journal until you're ready. 

7. Create tabs to find different sections quickly.

Even though you've added page numbers, tabs are a great way to jump to different sections of the INB. You can even color-code different sections in the ToC to match the sections.

TIP: Use colored 1" x 2 3/4" address labels folded over the first page of a section. Label the tab. 

Use mailing labels to separate different sections in the INB;

8. Permanently attach pages to the journal after they're completed.

Some pages might refer back to previously used materials. It's a lot easier to keep the new page free until it's finished. Then the adhesive covers on the backs of the sticky squares can be removed, and the page can be added to the INB journal.

TIP: Make sure each activity and page number is recorded on the Table of Contents page.

Bonus: Create a title page for each major unit.

Tape an envelope inside the cover to store extra pieces.
Sometimes, one journal may have more than one major unit included in it. Give the unit a fresh start by adding a title page. Learners will love personalizing their own cover as a unit kickoff. 

TIP: Get learners excited about the next unit by having them create a title page.

Organizing learners' information using interactive notebooks creates ownership that other methods of delivery can't match. I smile when kids visit and tell me they still have their math and Personal Finance journals! 

What tips do you have for managing interactive notebooks? Please share your ideas with us in the comments. 

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