Interactive Notebooks (INBs)


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What is an Interactive Notebook?


You may have seen references to INBs, ISNs, or INs, all of which refer to a decades-long trend in education called Interactive (Student) Notebooks. The movement has its history in a tradition of notebooking, scrapbooking and early educators promoting creativity and interaction in student learning.


Nature journals (advocated by 19th century British educator Charlotte Mason) provide an early example of interactive notebooks. Students began with blank notebooks and either drew or glued a plant or leaf onto a page. Then they wrote about it, labelled it, or included a related poem or thought. Ms. Mason’s Book of Centuries is another example where students explored each century with timelines, drawings, maps, and facts of interest.


The History Alive! social studies program is seen as the genesis of the contemporary interactive notebook movement. Developed in the 80s and 90s by educators at Teacher’s Curriculum Institute, History Alive! is a series of instructional practices that allow students with diverse learning styles to “experience” history. Beginning with the idea that students should be allowed to construct their own knowledge, the teachers created dynamic and highly interactive teaching strategies.


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So, what is it about interactive notebooks that have attracted so many educators? How do they benefit and what can be gained for students and teachers?


Here are 7 reasons to use interactive notebooks in class by Jennifer Smith Jochen, of Smith Curriculum and Consulting, on the Minds in Bloom blog.


  • Interactive notebooks teach students to organize and synthesize their thoughts.
  • Interactive notebooks accommodate multiple learning styles at one time in (and out of) the classroom.
  • Student-teacher-parent interaction is built and strengthened with the use of interactive notebooks.
  • Students are building a portfolio that allows for teachers to track growth over time.
  • Interactive notebooks have students create a resource to use as they continue to extend their learning.
  • Students take ownership of their learning through color and creativity.
  • Interactive notebooks reduce clutter in the classroom, as well as in students’ lives.


Getting Started


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When setting up an INB, whatever the subject, teachers regularly include a cover page, table of contents, a rubric for grading the notebooks, an agreement between student and teacher for upkeep of their notebooks, and finally, a strategy for dividing the notebook into school terms and/or units taught.


When working with a two-page layout, the right-side pages are often reserved for teacher input (teacher-generated notes and handouts) and student output is on the left side — paralleling right/left brain activity. American educator and Wisconsinite, Angela Nerby, explains the breakdown of the interactive notebooks used in her 2nd grade classes in multiple step-by-step blog posts at Hippo Hooray Teaching.


Tips for newbies:


  • Use sturdy notebooks; preferably with sewn in pages.
  • Create a model notebook that you can use for planning and demonstration.
  • Number the pages from the outset so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Tape or create a large pocket for unfinished page elements.
  • Tape or hot glue a ribbon bookmark to the inside back cover.
  • Use liquid glue or tape. Pages glued with glue sticks quickly fall apart.
  • Have a place for students to access materials like glue, scissors, and paper. Establish a routine for cutting, pasting, and cleanup.
  • Take students step by step through the layout process with your demo book and sample elements. Stress from the beginning cutting and pasting techniques.
  • Carry through with the notebook project! The first year is going to teach you a lot about planning, organizing, and executing your INB. Use your demo book to make notes about what worked well and what needs improvement.


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To help get you started, download the above templates that include a variety of basic manipulatives in pdf and png formats. They’re free, and please feel free to use them.


On the Flip Side


What interactive notebooks are NOT:


  • INBs are NOT a replacement for students taking notes. It is a center for interaction.
  • They are NOT a replacement for a textbook. However, a textbook can’t give you everything you need when teaching. I began using interactive notebooks for topics that were not covered in the textbook: picture dictionaries, songs and chants, sight word practice, extra writing practice, dictation, vocabulary activities, dialoguesclock work, and cursive writing practice.
  • Foldables and flip-flaps can be amazing tools but they are NOT what defines an interactive notebook. What makes a notebook interactive is that an active connection occurs between the page and the mind of the student.


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Check out the book, Interactive Notebooks and English Language Learners, by Marcia Carter, Anita Hernandez and Jeannine Richison The authors write about addressing the needs of second language learners and how an “Interactive Notebook can be used to scaffold content to move English language learners (ELLs) to the stage where they are academic language learners (ALLs).”


Making learning fun…


In this video, Nassrin Rabi, an elementary ESL teacher in Tel Aviv, demonstrates creating a prepositions of place page for her students’ INBs. You can check out more of her videos on her Youtube channel.



Since Charlotte Mason’s Nature Notebooks, and the exploratory work done by the Teacher’s Curriculum Institute, we’ve moved into the digital age — and it’s pounding on our classroom doors. If you work in a blended classroom or teach online, creating online interactive notebooks in Google Classroom helps students negotiate digital tools that are necessary to their academic and professional futures.


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Here is a nine-minute video demonstration by David Lee, an EdTech Specialist at Singapore American School, showing his 5th grade kids how to navigate a digital science interactive notebook.



If you’ve ever been discouraged or at a loss with your students’ notebook habits, take the initiative and give interactive notebooks a try. Yes, they are a lot of work, but the rewards for teachers, students, and parents are worth the effort! 


(Update) As a followup to this post, I created a series of interactive notebook templates for CVC word practice.  You can check out that post here.


As always, best of luck in your classes!


Donald Kinney

Kinney Brothers Publishing

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