Interactive Notebooks

I loved the idea of Interactive Notebooks from the minute I heard about them at a training. It reminded me of scrapbooking, which I used to love when I had free time before I had kids. Now I don't have time to get out the stickers and ribbon and doll up my photos, so I have made Interactive Notebooks my creative outlet. My students love them too! Anytime they have a question for me, my first question for them is, "Did you look in your notebook?" Eventually, they started to skip the part where I had to ask them that and started using it for reference on their own. Each year my notebooks got better and better, and I feel like my students this year walked away with an awesome resource. I'm hoping to share with you what I have learned from six years of using interactive notebooks with middle and high school math students and hopefully inspire you to give them a try!

Make Your Expectations Clear
The first few years I used these notebooks, I swear I would answer the question "What page is this on?" about 100 times per day. Then I decided to start displaying it on EVERY SINGLE PowerPoint slide. Now I may get the question once a week, to which I reply, "Can anyone tell me where we might find that information?" And a student says something like, "Duh - it's right on the front board." I have a clip art of a composition notebook with a text box for the page number and I copy it on each slide. I also make sure the title is on every slide. 

Half Page Notes 
Below is a comparison of the notes I gave for Graphing Quadratics during the past two school years. In the one on the left, I had students cut apart all these little pieces and glue them in as we went through the lesson. I can still remember how frustrating that day was - "Which graph is that?" "I cut mine wrong." "Where do we glue it?" "I lost my scissors." "I glued mine upside down." {yes, these are 9th graders}. I realized I can get a lot more information out to them if I just make a notes sheet. Look how much nicer the notes on the right look, plus they only have to touch the glue stick one time. So much easier! 
 A lot of times I will give them notes with step by step instructions and one example for the left page and we will work out more examples on the right. I try to make all my notes open like a spread of two pages.

Sometimes we do glue strips of paper with a word problem (much faster then waiting for them to copy down a word problem). I would have these pre-cut and simply pass out a strip to each student.

 I ALWAYS give my students graphs. Have you ever had them make a graph from scratch? It takes FOREVER. I love these little graphs that allowed us to practice graphing systems of equations.
Check out my TPT store for more examples of my Interactive Notes sheets! And definitely pick up this freebie Polynomials Interactive Notes

Every once in a while I create a foldable to organize their notes. These are usually their favorite things to refer back to. Just make sure you have some extras on hands. No matter how easy the directions seem, someone will always cut it wrong. Check out my foldables in my TPT store!  And grab this freebie Write and Graph Inequalities  

What If A Student Is Absent
First they visit this bin, where everything is organized by page number and pick up the pages that they miss. This is right in the back of the room - I keep the tabs and a pen in the last hanging folder, so I can quickly drop extra copies in there after all my classes have used what they need.

Since I teach at high school, almost all my students have a cell phone. Typically this is super annoying - like when you are trying to compete with SnapChat to hold their attention, but cell phones can also work to my advantage. I tell them to take a picture of my notebook or a peer's notebook and copy the notes at home. They are not allowed to use the picture of the page for their notebook check, and they have until the notebook check to get the page in tact.

How I Grade Them
I went back and forth about whether I wanted their notes to be part of their grade. I decided that some students need that type of accountability to take it seriously, so I developed a system for grading them. At the end of each unit, I give them a notebook check quiz with questions so specific they would not possibly know the answers to them unless they were looking at the notebook page. It's kinda like a scavenger hunt with their notebook. You can see the questions below for some examples, "What color is the foldable on p. 55?" or "Which line is NOT graphed on p. 56?" or "According to the second example on p. 58, how much do adult tickets cost?" I make them multiple choice, so they are super easy to grade. {I actually have a class set of clickers that do all the grading for me, but even if you are not blessed with this technology, you could quickly grade these or even have a student help grade them.}

The best part about this method is that the accountability lies completely on the students. I am not sitting with a stack of notebooks trying to figure out if they participated in notes. I am also not the one frustrated when they don't have things organized - they are, and often they form a better system before the next notebook check. I am also allowing them a little freedom with their organization because if it's organized to THEM and they can use it as a resource to find important information, then it is accomplishing its objective. Just like my husband thinks my desk is a disaster, but I know where everything is. 


  1. I've been teaching 11 years and still found great value in your tips and resources. I especially love the pencil upgrade idea, as well as the notebook check method. Thanks!! :)

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! One of my favorite things about being a teacher is being a lifelong learner, so I'm glad you found some fun strategies here. Come back anytime!


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