When I first started teaching one of my biggest struggles was trying to figure out how to have students take notes effectively in class without wasting too much time. We've all had teachers that make you write pages and pages of notes each class until your hand hurts. Or those teachers who print off a million handouts and you zone out as the class reads through them all, sliding them into the side of your notebook as you leave class only for them to get lost or crushed later. I eventually found my balance, and although I didn’t know they were called this at the time, my answer was interactive notebooks.
There are a lot of different definitions and examples of what an interactive notebook can look like. Some involve alternating between writing your own notes and gluing handouts into your notebook, others are given more as packets. For my interactive notebooks I typically print the entire unit for students at the beginning of a topic and have them add it to a 3-ring binder. Here are the top 7 ways that interactive notebooks have made classroom life easier for me:
1.) They help students stay organized
A lot of students (and adults for that matter) struggle with staying organized. Before using interactive notebooks in my classroom, the quality of notes from my students varied from the meticulous colour-coded notebook, to a stack of worksheets and lined paper notes thrown together with a paper clip. Interactive notebooks gave my students a framework to start their notes and helped them stay organized throughout a unit.
2.) Students learn note taking skills
When I ask students to take their own notes a lot of them are lost; some will copy down one or two words, while others re-write an entire page of their textbook! Independent note taking and summarizing are key skills that a lot of my students will need in university (and beyond). Rather than spending class time copying out the notes in full, we take time to highlight key terms, summarize information in our own words and create labelled diagrams. I found that once we completed our first couple of units using interactive notebooks my students were much more confident in how to read and organize their notes.
3.) Provide assessment opportunities
Throughout my interactive notebooks I have check-in questions that I can use to assess students’ knowledge. These can be used before class to check for prior knowledge or at the end of a lesson/start of class the next day to check for understanding once we’ve learned a new topic. I've found these as great opportunities for me to informally get a sense of how my students are doing while also reinforcing to them what the key ideas are for a topic.
4.) Built-in revision resources
A lot of my students struggled with revising independently, which led me to include flip-diagram summary charts with each notebook. Each tab has a key term, or an important question written on one side and the answer beneath. Students can use this to help summarize the key ideas in a section and to quiz themselves as part of their own self-assessment and revision.
5.) Diagrams are needed for those who aren’t artists.
I have never been great at drawing. In fact, whenever I try to draw something in class it quickly turns into a Rorschach test for my students. Rather than using class time to draw and label a diagram, students are provided with the diagram within the notebook and we spend time labeling/colouring the diagram as necessary. I still allow and encourage my students who do find drawing their own diagrams helpful to do so on their own time or during independent work time in class.
6.) Great if someone is absent (they have an idea of what they missed).
By giving out my interactive notebook for each topic at the beginning of a unit students don’t have to worry about collecting the notes or worksheets they missed when absent. They’re also able to read ahead on their own at home to get a sense of what they missed or can have a friend send them a picture of any notes we filled in so that their notes are completed before returning.
7.) Helps me stay organized
Using interactive notebooks in my class has helped me to better plan out my unit map and complete my weekly lesson plans. I also keep a completed “student binder” for each class on the shelf in my classroom. Students are able to use this for reference if they have blanks to fill in or have been absent. They’re also great to have if any school administrators or parents happen to stop by my classroom.
I currently have interactive notebooks available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store covering each of the 11 body systems as part of my human anatomy units, and chemistry interactive notebooks on atoms, bonding, stoichiometry and organic chemistry.