What’s all the hype about interactive notebooks?

Interactive Notebooks in the World language classroom: Who’s using them and what makes them worth your time? I think the use of this particular tool has gained steam because so many teachers have moved away from the textbook and worksheet model.

I actually started using them before I crossed my first Puente to CI. They were magnificent…ly overwhelming. I had designated sections for each unit, an elaborate and painfully extensive table of contentsa spot for the syllabus, and more documents than I can remember. I even graded my students on all kinds of criteria including the accuracy of their table of contents, completion of worksheets and the thematic unit cover sheets they designed and colored based on the units topics.

So why do I still use Interactive Spanish Notebooks in my class? As my teaching style evolved my notebooks evolved.  I work hard to make the content as CI friendly and useful as possible. While I do inculde some (textbook) thematic vocabulary the majority of the content is centered around high frequency vocabulary, including the Super 7 and Sweet 16 verbs and they Key Structures that we use in our stories. The foldables I’ve created tie in almost seamlessly to Personalized Question and Answer activities or Special Person Interview extensions.

After 4 years of using interactive notebooks, this is what I’ve learned.

What is an Interactive Notebook (IN, ISN, INB)?

An interactive notebook is a student created notebook with teacher given notes or Input pages, generally on one side (of a two page spread) and student processing or Output pages on the other side. Some teachers prefer to have even-numbered pages reserved for input and odd-numbered pages for output, while others may choose to keep the pages in sequential order. Input usually consists of class notes or vocabulary sometimes presented in foldable form while the output pages are for processing the given information, such as a written reflection/journal entry or graphic organizer.

2 Page Spread_ISN_Example
This 2-page spread has vocabulary flippables on the input side. Students lift each tab to read the Spanish vocabulary word. On the output side are sentence starters with a graph for a class survey on pet ownership. I use this activity as a Personalized Question and Answer follow-up. Students walk around the classroom talking to their classmates about pets using the target language while recording pet types and numbers.

Why use an ISN?

Using INB can help students with their organizational skills, provide an outlet for creativity, and create a sense of ownership. The notebook itself is a valuable study guide and resource. Sections of the INB can be reserved for curating assessments and reflections as well as goal setting. Teachers may also find the notebook as a useful planning tool for the following year.

What goes in an ISN?

Anything and everything! Notes can be copied directly on the pages. Timed writings, partner/buddy pages, foldables, and worksheets. Graded quizzes, grading rubrics, choice boards. Comics and Smash Doodles (OMG have you seen Elizabeth Dentlinger’s post on these?! Amazing). I CAN statements! Whatever you normally give your students that they would lose or throw away.

What can go wrong?

Everything. NOT EVEN KIDDING. Students might lose their notebooks, forget them at home, sometimes they go for a walk. Some students will not keep up with their notebooks. I’ve even had someone use the wrong notebook without even realizing it. There will be glue disasters because students will use too much glue (even when you carefully show them exactly how much they need). Markers might bleed through to the other side of the page. The Master NB will disappear or students will fight over who needs to see it -RIGHT NOW! Your (limited) copies will be wasted because someone always cuts his page the wrong way.


If you spend all your time stressing and trying to grade the notebook you’ve already lost. I don’t assess my students’ neatness, organizational skills or creativity. I assess their language gains, period. When you do choose to assess an entry or assignment in the notebook consider staggering your classes so that you don’t have 150 notebooks in limbo.

Most importantly, teach students how to references the notebook. Include a note with “helpful pages” when you give an assignment.  Otherwise it isn’t really a resource. Just another pile of papers.

Tips and Tricks

  • Before running your copies of a handout, write the notebook page number(s) where it will go in the notebook on your master copy. Explain and demonstrate how to cut, fold and glue pages before actually passing them out to students.
  • Teach glue and scissor skills EXPLICITLY. Do not assume that your students mastered these skills in kindergarten. If you teach the Middles like I do, give them the Riot Act. Do not cut your hair. Do not cut your neighbors hair, clothes, booksacks, etc. Glue goes on paper, not people. You get the idea.
  • Assign each student a number and write it on the cover of their notebook (and anything you take up). Way easier to order quizzes for gradebook entry. You can even have a student put them in order for you.
  • Get a broom and dustpan, the kind with a long handle. The Dollar Tree carries them for $1 each so you might spring for 2 sets. Assign a classroom helper to tidy up before class is over.
  • If you don’t have shelf or counter space to store each class’s notebooks use crates like these:

tools of the trade.png

  • Store notebooks grouped by rows, quadrants, groups. Assign several student to pass out and pick up notebooks if you choose to house them in your room.
  • You can color code each classes’ notebooks with painter’s tape on the spine. You can put just a piece or cover the whole spine. One roll covered the whole spine of 30 notebooks for me.
  • Match the tape color to the storage crate or use a piece of the tape to designate the shelf or counter space.
  • Use paint stirrers as dividers for notebooks on shelves.
  • Give students manila envelope for works in progress.
  • Have students make a Buddy Sheet in their notebook during the first weeks of school. Use for the semester or throughout the year. Here’s how Bryce Hedstrom explains how to use his Amigos Maps.

What do you need?

Notebooks, enough for each student, glue or tape, scissors.


To make your own glue sponges check out this blog post:  http://luckylittlelearners.com/2014/09/glue-spongesthey-are-worth-hype.html

More info:

PBL in the TL

The Deskless Classroom


A rather extensive investigation of interactive notebooks:  http://tccl.rit.albany.edu/knilt/images/d/d0/Interactive_Notebooks_Research.pdf

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s