Why Interactive Notebooks Really Work

Thursday, August 28, 2014
tried and tested by Lori

My title today bothers me, but I couldn't say it any other way. Lots of people have approached me in the last few days eager to try an Interactive Notebook, but slightly afraid that it won't work. Our top blog post by far dives deep into the idea of Interactive Notebooks as a way of students keeping an account of their own learning. It is undoubtedly my second favorite routine in this mini-series because it works. Once I began using an Interactive Notebook, I never looked back. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I'll provide links to older posts about notebooks. Here is Suz's original post about notebooks and then mine which is not as in depth (but still good stuff). 

Some of our favorite things about notebooks include:

  • Accountability--you can pass one of your teacher notebooks on to the teacher at the next grade level and put an end to kids saying that they didn't learn something in your class. So lame when they do that. 
  • Differentiation--if you keep a separate notebook for each class, your instruction can be much more organic. One class may make a particularly astute observation. Maybe one class needs additional scaffolding. Each notebook is unique to the dynamic of each class period. This also helps your sanity.
  • Close Reading--cut excerpts of texts that you want students to annotate and have them glue in in their notebook. They can annotate and have a permanent record of that day's lesson that they can return to at their leisure. Look at that...ownership!
  • Writing and Revision--when students write daily (or almost daily) in their notebook, they have a sizeable bank of writing that they can return to for specific revision lessons and embedded grammar instruction. Since you're keeping a journal with every class period, it also enforces best practices of you writing with your kids. You produce as much writing as they do. Multiplied by however many class periods you teach!
  • Academic Vocabulary--this is my favorite part! The Visual Dictionary is by far my FAVORITE part of the interactive notebook. When you frame a lesson well AND you pre-teach academic vocabulary using the dictionary, you are an instructional powerhouse. And, your kids never get tired of using their Visual Dictionary because it is so routine. Even if you are working with diction for the 3rd time, I guarantee you there are still kids who don't have a grasp on it yet. When they continue to see the word and use the word, then they slowly begin to own the word. And word ownership is a beautiful thing! I always love the point during the year when kids pull out their Visual Dictionaries without my prompting! 
It is important to note that the Visual Dictionary is a year-long process. It begins with blank pages and slowly fills as your instruction targets vocabulary with specific teach pieces. 

If you want to use an Interactive Notebook but are afraid of what it should look like and if it will work, I challenge you to begin the process and make it a routine as soon as possible. It will change your school year in the best way possible!

Happy New Year! Rock on, folks. I'll be back tomorrow with my final routine.


  1. We did our notebook set-up yesterday in class! I am so excited to take this to the next level this year.

  2. I had tried them last year and due to multiple changes and challenges throughout the beginning of the year I abandoned them. I was determined to do it right this year. We are ending our second week of school. I know my determination to not fail with them last year has made them a success. Watching my students refer back to their notebooks to find evidence, and watching them write in them their thoughts and questions when reading has been such a benefit to me and the students. Thanks for encouraging the use of them.

    1. When the kids take ownership of their notebooks and use them, it is worth all the challenges. Way to hang in there!!

  3. I've been experimenting with interactive notebooks over the past few years, but haven't quite got it right yet. I think initially I was too caught up in the cute foldables, then got frustrated when it took too long or the kids didn't do it 'properly'. Then I had the problem of what to do with the 'extra' stuff that I wanted kids to do - of course - but that wouldn't need to be referred back to - spelling work, drafts of essays, quick writes. First year I got these done on loose leaf paper, which always got lost and were just shoved in the front of books when I returned them. This year I worked with two books - the interactive notebook and a 'spelling and drafts' book, but so many of my grade 8s couldn't cope with the idea of two books, and for SOME things were ALWAYS in the wrong book. Next year I'm going to use the sections you've suggested, one book, and the visual dictionary - definitely - will replace my 'words worth knowing' in the front few pages, which we never knew how much space to leave room for, anyway! Thankyou for sharing your experiences and saving me extra trial-and-error time!

    1. I think your best bet is to keep it simple, especially with 8th graders. Don't fret over work that you intend to take up and assess. That doesn't belong in the notebook anyway. :)

      Keep working on it! Best wishes for a great year!