Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Interactive Reading Notebooks - Tips for Setting them up in your classroom!

In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.  They really are something that I am passionate about, and I use them in all of my middle school classes.  

I started with using Interactive Notebooks a few years ago, and have slowly added to them through the years.  I will admit that there was a HUGE learning curve involved in their implementation... I made a great many mistakes, and have learned a lot about how to use them effectively.  My confidence with using Interactive Notebooks has really grown over time; every year I feel like I find new ways to use them to help make learning meaningful, as well as ways to improve student organization and decrease my prep time.  I feel like I have really hit my stride with them now though, and am really looking forward to working with other teachers to help them implement them in their classrooms in September. I have a lot of new activities planned, and am excited to try them out :)

A really important thing to remember about Interactive Notebooks is that they require a lot of thought and planning to be done well.  They are going to become student learning records, and things they refer back to throughout the year, so you really don't want to rush through them.  To prevent you from making many of the same mistakes I made when first getting started with them, here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.

Tip #1 - Keytab style notebooks work best.
I have tried using several different notebooks styles with my students, but have found keytabs to work best.  The hard covered composition books are great too, but they can be much more expensive; if you plan on using a new notebook for each unit, like I do, the cost can really add up.  Keytabs are really inexpensive.  At the end of August, I pick up huge stacks of them at Staples for 12 cents each for a pack of 4.  I ask my students to bring in their own keytabs as well, but it is always good to have a back up supply for those who forget.  

Keytabs are also great because the paper inside is the same size as a regular sheet of loose leaf.  This is beneficial, because it means that you don't have to reformat all of your handouts to fit inside the notebooks.  Composition book pages are smaller, making re-sizing necessary.  I know some teachers have their students fold their pages before gluing them into composition books, but I really like to see all of the pages clearly without having to unfold everything.

I also like using keytabs because of the number of pages they have.  They have fewer pages than composition books, which is nice when using them for individual units - I don't like having to waste a bunch of extra pages at the back of each book.  If I do end up needing more pages, it is super easy to attach multiple keytabs together - I simply use a strip of fun colored duct tape to bind the spines together.  It adds a punch of color, and the books hold up really well. 

Tip #2 - You will need A LOT of glue sticks.
If you think you have enough glue sticks to get your class started, buy 30 more.  You will be shocked at the amount of glue sticks you will go through.  I seriously feel like I am always buying, and hoarding, glue sticks.  I have tried using the bottles of white glue, and know a lot of teachers who have had huge success with them, but they have not worked for me.  I find them to be too messy, and the kids are forever forgetting to do up the lids, which means I am always dealing with clogged bottles.  While the glue sticks can be a bit more expensive, I find that their ease of use makes it more than worthwhile.  I know that many have found that glue sticks are not strong enough to hold items inside their notebooks, but I have honestly never found this to be a problem.  Glue sticks are more expensive though, so you may want to have your students bring in their own and use yours as backups.

Tip #3 - When possible, pre-cut.
Even though I am currently teaching middle school students, their lack of cutting skills is appalling.  I am seriously shocked by their inability to cut straight.  Because of this, and my obsession with having everything in their notebooks neat and tidy, I pre-cut notebook materials whenever I can.  The kids are usually ok with cutting out a basic worksheet, but when foldables or small pieces of paper are required, I try and cut out the materials before class starts.  Sometimes time constraints make this difficult, but things tend to go much smoother when I do get the chance.  This can be a great job for peer tutors, parent volunteers, or students who finish early!  Cutting can also be time consuming - pre-cutting helps save valuable class time!

Tip #4 - Use a "Tidy Tub".
I am not sure where I first heard of this, but I absolutely love the idea and have had great success with it in my classroom.  Basically, you place a small bin, or "tidy tub" in the middle of each group of desks in your classroom.  When cutting, have students place their leftover scraps into the bin.  This keeps the garbage off the floor, and prevents students from getting up every two minutes to go to the recycling bin.  At the end of class, designate one kid from each group to get up and empty the tub into the recycling bin.  This saves tons of time, and works really, really well.

Tip #5 - Be realistic.
As I mentioned earlier, integrating Interactive Notebooks into your classroom takes significant thought and planning.  No matter how enthusiastic you are about implementing them, they can quickly become overwhelming if you don't have a plan.  Be kind to yourself - everything you do does not need to be pinterest-worthy!  Not everything you put into your notebooks is going to look beautiful and perfect; real learning can be a messy process, and sometimes your student's notebooks will reflect this.  You may want to start small, and only do one Interactive Notebook unit to start with.  This will help you get into the groove, and feel out if you think it will work for you.  Later, after you have worked out the kinks, you can slowly add more and more Interactive Notebook units.

Tip #6 - Develop (or purchase) some "go-to" graphic organizers and templates.
Before you get started, make sure you have a variety of graphic organizers to get you started.  It is a good idea to find some tried and true resources you are already comfortable with, and find a way to adapt them for use in Interactive Notebooks.  Remember, not everything has to be fancy!  There are a ton of awesome Interactive Notebook resources already available at Teachers Pay Teachers to help make your life easier - check mine out here!

Tip #7 - Create a "Master Teacher Notebook".
As you work through each Interactive Notebook unit with your students, create a "Master Teacher Notebook" alongside them.  This allows you to model the process, and show students exactly what you are looking for.  As a teacher, it allows you to focus specifically on what you want each page to look like.  Having a model for students to refer to helps to avoid a lot of questions about particular aspects of page setup, giving you more time to help kids.  An added bonus is that it become a really helpful resource for students to access when they are away - they simply need to check the master notebook to see what work they have missed, and what resources they need to pick up.

Tip #8 - Remember that organization is a learned skill.
Teaching students to organize their notebooks in the way you would like will take time.  There is only a very small percentage of the population who have natural organizational skills - the rest of us need tools, instruction, modeling, and a whole lot of nagging to keep things neat and tidy.  Overtime this will get easier, but it does take time.  Whenever you get frustrated, it is good to remember that the organizational skills you teach your students will carry over into their future classes, making them much more successful students in the future.

Tip #9 - Have all supplies ready to go.
As much as I like to have my students come prepared each class with the scissors, glue sticks, and markers, I can guarantee that someone (usually quite a few someones) forgets something.  Instead of having my students run back and forth from their lockers, I make sure I have a supply of scissors, glue sticks, and markers in tubs along the back shelf of my classroom.  If kids forget their supplies, they know exactly where to go to grab what they need.  This saves a significant amount of class time, and makes the construction of our Interactive Notebooks so much easier.  At the end of the school year, as students clear out their lockers, I often have students throwing away half used supplies - this is a great time to save these things from the trash and have students donate random markers and glue sticks for your class room.

Tip #10 - Teach and model expectations.
To make things run smoothly, you will need to teach and model routines, expectations, and material management.  The end goal should be that students can construct their notebooks independently.  It takes time, and a lot of modeling, but eventually students should be able to put together their notebooks without a lot of adult intervention.  The more your students get familiar with using their notebooks, the easier and faster the process will get.  As with all things in the classroom, the more time you spend at the start of the year teaching and modeling rules and expectations, the easier things will be later on.

Hopefully these tips help you to get things started with Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.  Do you have any additional tips or tricks?  Leave me a comment in the section below - I would love to hear your ideas!

If you are looking for some great Interactive Notebook resources, I encourage you to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here.  I have included a preview of my newest Interactive Notebook product below - simply click on it to be taken to my store :)



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  2. I am unfamiliar with the type of notebooks you mentioned. Could you please post a detailed description/picture of them? Thanks so much!

    1. Hello! The notebooks I use can found at Staples, Walmart, etc. At the start of the school year, you can usually pick them up for about 12 cents each! Here is a link to an image and description :)

  3. I used interactive math notebooks last year.. was late starting this year as my husband was sick.. so didn't start it .. hope to do it again next year.. is your's Math - I assume/

    1. I actually use them for my English and Social Studies Classes - Love them!

  4. I teach ESL abroad and have just discovered Interactive Notebooks. Your post was so helpful to clue me in on best practices! I guess each of us just needs to think creatively to know which type of graphic works best for each type of material. Thanks so much for the thorough "what I've learned" explanations!

  5. This is a very thorough resource. Thanks a lot!

  6. I'll be a first year ELA teacher next year, and I really want to use interactive notebooks. Thanks for the great post!