Colorful Elementary Interactive Notebooks

The Power of Interactive Notebooks

Oct. 26, 2023 • by Debbie Bagley

I love the magazine and newspaper style of Studies Weekly, because with its engaging primary and secondary sources, and activities you can do right on the publication, it allows for so much more than just simply reading from a textbook – which tends to take the life out of any subject. It makes all the difference when social studies, science, and health & wellness are interactive. 

Children learn best when they are participating in and have ownership in the learning process. One way to do this is using Interactive Notebooks to increase students’ engagement.

What is an Interactive Notebook?

An interactive notebook is simply a notebook, journal, or even just a small stack of paper stapled together, which becomes a tool students use throughout the year as they are learning. This tool helps children add information and organize it in a way that makes sense to them. It becomes a keepsake of their knowledge.

There are many ways to use an interactive notebook. Students can take notes in them, or add in pre-made teacher guides and graphic organizers. They can add pictures or drawings to show what vocabulary words mean to them. They can cut pictures and informational text out of their Studies Weekly publications and add those to the notebook, and then and write what those mean to them or to the subject. They can also cut out pictures to make foldables or other learning artifacts that help them think about and show what they are learning. Then, they can house their artifacts in their notebooks also.

How often your students add to their notebook is up to you. They can add a few notes, pictures or organizers after every lesson; once each week to highlight key concepts; by unit; or any time you feel it would benefit students to create hands-on learning. No matter what way teachers choose to use them, students love looking back to see all that they have learned.

Why are Interactive Notebooks effective? 

Interactive notebooks are extremely effective because they are multi-sensory and help students take ownership of their learning. Students are reading and writing, while also thinking and creating and doing. This helps students learn more deeply. Students get to think about their learning and hopefully have time to “show what they know” with the class, teacher, or a partner. This is very powerful.

What Goes in an Interactive Notebook?

Anything that helps students to learn can be added to your interactive notebooks. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Vocabulary words with pictures, drawings, or definitions to help students understand and internalize the words
  • Information about people, events, dates, timelines, or concepts
  • Steps, responses, or results for experiments or activities
  • Writing prompt responses that relates to the subject and helps students dig deeper into the learning 
  • Studies Weekly’s ready-to-print graphic organizers, KWL charts, and other printables that students fill out, color, and glue in to add if you choose. 

Here are some tips, from my experience and from other teachers’ experience, to help with Interactive Notebook success:

    1. It is helpful for teachers to model as they create the Interactive Notebook along with their students. I make mine under a doc camera to model ideas and expectations as I put together my interactive notebook along with my students. I also talk through and show ways they can design and personalize it. I like to provide different paper color options, including astrobright and decorative paper, because having choices helps children make it their own. Provide all the materials they may need in a handy supply caddy on their tables. Things like glue sticks, colored pencils, fine tip washable markers, crayons, and scissors are a must. For younger students, I recommend modeling how to use the materials, including: how much glue and how to use it, how-tos for coloring nicely, taking care of putting lids on markers, keeping the paper wrap on crayons, and being careful not to break pencil tips, etc. Later on, when we are doing a graphic organizer from the Teachers Edition, or making a foldable or other student artifact, I teach and show the students how to make them at the same time with me, and then how to add them to the notebook
    2. Switch up things that you add to your notebook. Your students will get tired if they do the same thing every single day. Some days they may cut a simple picture from their publication that was meaningful to their topic and label it or write about it. Sometimes they may work on a foldable to add or write the vocabulary word and doodle/draw what it means. Other times, students may complete a printable from the Teacher’s Edition and glue that into their notebook. It’s nice to have variety, and remember, you don’t have to do something for every single lesson.
    3. Try adding tabs to divide by week or unit so students can find certain weeks or topics easier as they work on them and/or study. One idea to make the tabs is to use colored sticky notes. Stick one half on the front side of the page and add glue to fold around the page and stick it to the other side. 
    4. Tape a ribbon to the back cover of the notebooks that will act as a bookmark to cut down on time students spend locating the page they are working on.
    5. Use your interactive notebooks as an assessment tool. While students are working on them, walk around to observe, and stop and ask students questions on their work while they are creating. This can help you clear up any misconceptions too. Assessing this way is very informal, which helps cut down on stress and increases more engagement and connections as students share their ideas and understanding. 

No matter how you choose to use interactive notebooks with your students, the key is to empower students to decide what they want to add and how they want to do it.

And don’t forget, it is very important to let them take turns sharing with and teaching one another what they have learned, what they liked, and why. Sharing their voice is an essential part of the learning process. 

According to Doug Fisher in Engagement by Design, when students feel they have a voice in school, they are seven times more likely to be academically motivated. It also increases their self-worth and they feel they are a valuable member of their class community. Plus, when students have a sense of self worth, Fisher adds, they are six times more likely to be academically motivated to learn. These powerful strategies teach students “how to support one another in the journey of learning and life,” Fisher concludes.

For additional ideas on implementing interactive notebooks in your classroom, read Using Interactive Notebooks with Studies Weekly.