Saturday, March 9, 2013

Interactive Notebooks

Interactive notebooks are a note-taking method I plan to utilize in my classroom.  Students create their own interactive notebook out of a composition notebook.  Tabs are added to create sections, and students fill in the contents of the notebook throughout the year.  In general, students take notes (teacher input) on the right-hand page, and personalize the information on the left-hand side of the page.  At the end of the year, they will have created a comprehensive record of their classroom experience.  Note: There are some assignments and items completed outside the notebook (EdModo, culture projects, etc.), but there is always some evidence of this work in the notebook (see Grade Trackers), so it truly includes everything done in class.

Here is the Interactive Notebook I created as example for my Spanish 1 Students - hopefully once next year is over I'll have some wonderfully-done and much more creative student examples.  Click on the pictures for a bigger version.

The front of the notebook!  I prefer to use composition books as it gives me a concrete notebook for students to personalize.  They can choose any type of composition book, but they all have 200 pages for you to make the most of.  Pages cannot be taken out or moved (no more "it fell out of my binder!" or "it didn't have holes!"), but you can add pages, such as worksheets and handouts, in a variety of ways.  We'll call these "foldables" from now on - and there are a lot more foldable ideas than I'll be listing here (check out this pinterest board for a bunch of creative and fun foldables!).  I used heavy-duty tabs on this notebook, but you can also use tape to make your own tabs by lining up two pieces of tape with each other on opposite sides of the same page, and then putting a slip of paper in the middle of the tape.

Inside the front cover.  \This is where I put my Table of Contents.  (I'm going to have to think of a nicer way for students to do this - possibly by creating/coloring their own Table of Contents?).  On the first page goes the syllabus for the class.  As you can see, a sheet of paper folded in half fits nicely and inside notebook. Students write the headings for that page on the top, and then papers can be taped or glued in.  Taping the paper in allows you to use both sides of the paper - if I open it up to the right (as shown), you can see the front, but I can also flip it over to the other side with the tape acting as a hinge.  This also allows me to still use the page behind the paper for notes!

A very important point that I need to make here is that each item has its own specific page.  For example, EVERYONE's syllabus is on the first page.  And the page 152 in one students' notebook should have the same information as page 152 in another students' notebook.  I keep my Table of Contents in the front of the notebook very simple - mainly restricted to what tabs students need to use - and have more detailed Sub-Table of Contents pages where I need them (seen below).  This requires planning on your part and a clear idea of where you're going as well as how much of the notebook is going to be used for each section.  I find this keeps me very organized as well!  Of course, there's always that semi-large "Misc." section at the end of the notebook for everything I don't have a specific plan or section for ;).

1st Tab: Grouping.  I want students to be able to find their groups quickly and so wanted it to have its own tab.  Since it is more of a procedure, it seemed logical to put this at the front.  I left two pages so that I have plenty of room to add additional grouping configurations.  It is easy to tape in additional papers behind the first one and fold them over one another, so I could really have as many grouping configurations as I wanted to.  In addition, I could even have them tape in or copy down "group roles" for quick reference here.

2nd Tab: Grade Trackers.  These are one of the most important parts of my IN.  In order to empower my students to use keep track of their progress (and even predict their grade!), students graph their scores on each of my five objectives (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking, Citizenship).  Each objective has a page for first semester (S1) and a page for second semester (S2) opposite one another.  Each time students do an assessment (usually formative, but also the occasional summative), students record and graph their scores, including a page number for the notebook if applicable.

 I have students label their grade trackers with the different levels of achievement - in this class, I use proficiency levels of "Advanced", "Proficient", "Basic", and "Below Basic" - which roughly translate to grades of A, B, C, D and less.  Certain objectives, such as my writing objective, use benchmarks along the way that students grade themselves against, which you can see in the grade tracker.  My grading is based off student performance at the end of the semester.  However, by checking the trends in their grade trackers, students will have a pretty good idea of where they're at in meeting the objectives and how they will do on the final, which determines their final grade.  This also helps them focus their studying by showing which areas are strong or need improvement - and recording page numbers where that assessment is in the IN also allows students to identify which specific materials they need to work on.

My citizenship grade takes into account things like participation and attendance, the notebook check (once per quarter), completing mini-assignments like EdModo submissions and pen pal letters, etc.  As such, I plan to use a variety of forms in the Citizenship grade tracker that I can quickly check.  The Participation and Attendance also serves as a classroom management tool - if a student needs to use the restroom during class or is absent, they can note it in their notebook (I need to make a key!).  If a student does make-up work, they can also note it.  Then, when I do notebook checks, I simply need to check the sheet, fill out the score, and hand the notebook back! I'm planning on students putting their rubric and score for their culture presentation here as well.

3rd tab: Pruebitas.  These are formative checks done daily. Students simply complete the warm up or other activity, date it, and will usually record and graph their scores in the appropriate Grade Tracker section.  Again, if a student scores poorly, they can simply check the Grade Tracker and turn to the pruebita they scored poorly on to study.

4th tab: Timed Writes.  This is where students do their timed writes.  If students need more space than allowed in the notebook, or if I want to collect them, students can do their timed writes on loose-leaf paper that will later be taped in (I provide loose-leaf paper to my students since it will only occasionally be needed and students may not have their own).  I only set aside 20 pages in the IN for timed writes since I only need enough pages for students to have a place to tape in their timed writes after I've collected and checked them.  I haven't decided the type of feedback I want to give on timed writes, but this is an excellent way for students to track their progress and observe how their writing is changing.  Of course, students graph their scores and record the page number of the timed write on the Grade Tracker for our Writing objective!

 5th tab: Stories. This is the largest section of my IN since so much is dedicated to storytelling.  Of course, any reading or activities that go with these stories logically fit here as well.  The first page after my tab is a Table of Contents specifically for the stories so students can find a specific story quickly.  The opposite page will have a hand-out taped in of all of our structures for the entire year for quick-reference and studying.  I plan to only have the Spanish structures listed, so students have to fill in the English translations themselves as we go along. (I don't have pictures of these since I haven't decided on my entire curriculum, so I don't know what I want to put in there yet!)

The next two pages are dedicated to the TPR words I plan to do at the beginning of the year.  I limited myself to 20 concrete words that I would use often in class when giving directions, but also come up frequently in the story.  The basic layout for this entire section is how I was taught to do a "traditional" interactive notebook: Teacher input on the right-hand page, student interaction on the left-hand page.  As such, the list of TPR words are on the right-hand page with their translations and a hint or "bridge" between the word and its meaning (Note to self: this would make a great foldable!).  On the left-hand page is the "assignment" - "Pick three words that are difficult for you.  Illustrate the word and add a caption that helps you remember what it means."  As you can tell, I am a wonderful artist.
This is what the notes for a story would look like.  On the right-hand page is the teacher input: The structures and their translations are copied down.  After the divider goes any miscellaneous notes, whether I told students to write it down or students wrote down something that stuck out to them.  On the left-hand page is the assignment for that particular story.  For instance, this assignment was to "Illustrate each of the three parts of the story and a summary of what happened in each part."

 6th tab: Misc.  This is my "everything else" tab - culture, songs, random vocabulary, etc.  It allows me to be flexible - it's OK if I don't get to the Sr. Wooly song like I wanted to!  I just don't have that page in the notebook for that class.  Of course, that means there has to be a Table of Contents at the beginning of this section - Since i set aside about 50 pages, I set aside the first two pages for the Table of Contents.  The rest of these pictures are various examples for how I could use this section.

"Power of Cognates" handout to be filled in as we cover new cognates, as well as a notes page for False Cognates.

Alphabet and Numbers Notes/Handouts

Sr. Wooly Cloze Activity with notes behind it.

Sr. Wooly foldable

 Hand outs and notes about Spanish-Speaking countries of the world.

Subject pronouns nots and song lyrics

 Day of the Dead KWL and response question


  1. Very interesting. I've struggled for years with terrible binder-keepers. This year, I decided to require a notebook for warm-ups only, but my high school students just end up tearing out pages, losing them, writing notes for other classes in them, etc. So frustrating. I found my way to your website via the moreTPRS listserv -- your site is gold! Thank you for sharing. :)

    1. I was one of those students! Papers simply disappeared never to be seen again until after the school year was over, and forget about actually being able to find something in my binder. I used to hate comp books, but finally realized they made it so I could discipline myself to use it wisely since there is a set amount of pages. Plus, it only took me ripping out a page from the back once to realize I also lost the connected page on the opposite side!

      One of the things I really like about this, and that makes notebook checks easy, is that students know specific pages are going to be used for specific things, just like a text book. When using the notebook, particularly for the sections with specific headings (Stories and Misc.), I tell students to "open to page so-and-so and title it like this..." If the page isn't there and ready to be used, it'll throw off the entire notebook.

      Checking the notebook is easy - I pick 3 or 4 random pages to look at and students are graded based on how well the did those pages, since the same information should be on those pages, and then I flip through quickly to make sure other things have been completed like the grade trackers or free writes. Of course, students don't know which pages I'm going to choose, so they all need to be done well or it could really mess up their notebook score! It's easy and quick for me or I can even hand them to a TA to compare the "model" notebook page.

      Thank you for the compliments - I'm so excited to finally get into my own classroom. I didn't get here on my own, so I'm happy to share my insights and experiences with others!

  2. WOW! This is such an amazing detailed post. Thank you so much for this! I have been thinking about how my Middle School students have such difficulties in keeping their notes together, and often don't revise old vocabulary ever. This has really helped with me formulating a plan for how to get my students organised next year. This also works really well to support students' literacy in other areas, ie. note taking. Can't wait to give it a go! :)

  3. I'm curious to find out how this worked for you and your students. I teach A LOT of 9th graders who do not know how to keep a notebook nor take notes. I experimented with using Cornell Notes this past school year and it helped a bit. I'm looking for something like this notebook and how to incorporate it in my classroom.

    I would love to hear your thoughts/experiences/what worked or didn't/what changes you would make, etc. I would be more than happy to exchange emails, etc. to chat if you wish.


  4. Do you think this would work with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders? My initial thought is that 6th graders wouldn't be able to handle it. Do you have any thoughts on that? Also, can you explain your "grouping" section to me?

    Thank you!
    Elizabeth Bertels

  5. This is glorious! Thank you!!! I use an interactive notebook with my 7th and 8th graders and they love the structure of it. They always expect an 'in' (warm-up) and an 'out' (closure) which keeps me accountable as well. I love seeing an interactive notebook for a TPRS classroom. I know how I will be starting my class next year.

    Thank you!

  6. Hello, I am interested in trying to do interactive notebooks again this year, what have been your thought on the process? Did it work well with your students? I find it to be difficult to set up for a Spanish classroom... Tips? lol Im at a loss here...
    Mil Gracias!

    1. See this post: I just wrote a post on this subject for you :)

  7. For all those interested in how my experience went, here's the update!