What Are Interactive Notebooks?

Welcome back! This is the second post of my blog series: The INs and Outs of Interactive Notebooks (pun intended). In this post, I'm going to explain my thoughts on what interactive notebooks are.
An interactive notebook is a place where students can take information supplied from the teacher and merge it with their own thinking. Interactive notebooks differ from traditional note taking, in that they allow students to stop and interact with the new information and receive feedback from the teacher and classmates about their understanding of the new information, instead of just copying down notes from a book or the board and having no clue what they're writing.

Interactive notebooks are divided into two parts:

I call this the Information Side or the Learning Side. This side is teacher directed. It includes the new information the students are learning for the lesson. It can include class notes, notes from a reading or class discussion, handouts, graphic organizers, or visuals (diagrams, charts, graphs, etc.).

I call this the Thinking Side. This side is student directed. It allows the students to take the new information from the input side and apply it in their own way to demonstrate understanding of the new content. This is where the word "interactive" comes into play. Students use thinking strategies to "interact" with the new information. Some activities include: graphic organizers, foldables/flip-flap activities, problem solving, written reflections or opinions, or illustrations.

Here's an example of what my notebooks look like:
Science Interactive Notebook: click HERE for the phases of the moon wheel
I like to set up my notebooks with the input (information) side on the right and the output (student thinking) side on the left. I like the visual reminder that students are stopping to back up and think about the new learning.

Some people like the notebooks to work left-to-right, so the input (information) side is on the left and the output (student thinking) side is on the right. The middle school teachers in my district actually don't have a left side/right side. They like to merge the two together. So their kids take notes on both sides of the paper, and when they do the output (student thinking) activities, they draw a box around it. It works for upper grades, as they can't always contain their lesson notes to one page. In my second grade class, I plan my lessons so that I will only need one input page and one output page per lesson. But more on lesson planning in later posts :)

I think there's a common misconception out there that interactive notebooks are simply flip-flap books or foldables glued into a notebook. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Taking notes and summarizing new information is a proven thinking strategy that helps to increase student achievement and retain new information (Classroom Instruction that Works; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock). When you allow students to take that new information and apply it in their own way, it "cements" the learning in their brains. So do some notebook pages have foldables or lift-the-flap tabs? Yes they do. But they're not the only teaching tools I use to encourage my students to interact with the new content.
I hear a lot of people say, "I just don't have the time to do interactive notebooks in my class. There's too much cutting and gluing."

Guess what?

You don't need to cut and glue a million tiny pieces to effectively use interactive notebooks in your classroom! Flip-flap activities are fun, but let's be honest. If you can achieve the same effect with a worksheet, then why not shrink down the worksheet, trim it, and glue it into the notebook? Example: Math. We just don't have the time for our students to cut out 12 flip-flap practice problems, glue them in their notebooks, and then solve them by writing the answer underneath the flap. In this case, there's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned worksheet for students to complete to apply the new skill they've learned.
Math Interactive Notbeook. This activity is in my Geometry IN product
Guess what else?

You don't need even need glue and scissors to use interactive notebooks in your class! Observe:
I'm sorry this pic is so blurry...
In the above example, we were learning about two reading comprehension strategies: Check for Understanding and Backing up to Reread. We defined the strategies on the right (input) and the student drew pictures on the left (output) to help them remember what each strategy meant. There is a writing prompt cut and glued at the bottom of the Thinking Side that says, "I back up and reread when….." That sentence starter could have easily been written by the student at the bottom of the page.

So what do you think? Have I convinced you to give interactive notebooks a try?

Stay tuned, because in my next post, I'm going to explain how to start planning for your first interactive notebook lesson or unit!

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For more Interactive Notebook ideas, check out my Pinterest board! 


  1. I really enjoyed this post, and I did have the misconception that INBs were about the flip flaps and the cutting/gluing (until now!) I can't wait to read the next post in the series, and I hope you'll consider making INBs for first grade math! :)

    - Katy
    First Grade Kate

  2. I positively love that you said it's completely ok to use a worksheet and not cut out a million little flip flaps! All the cutting and glueing takes so much time sometimes that it really ends up not being worth it and is why I stopped doing them for the most part. I plan to really dig into them next year (now that I am getting somewhat kinda sorta comfortable in my new grade). Great post!

  3. Wow... thank you for this. This is so helpful... interactive notebook doesn't just mean cutting flaps or different parts and gluing it down.

  4. Angela, Thank you for your articles on Interactive notebooks. I have seen too many INB's that have seem to be non thinking busy work, which just replaces non-thinking worksheets. I love it when I see my kids use their INBs as a resource and go back to "check their thinking" or to prove how to do something. I do like your use of the 2 pages ( information and student thinking). I'm going to redo mine to be consistent on this feature. Thanks for all your ideas.
    First Grade by the Sea

  5. As a new teacher, I've been struggling with interactive notebooks and eventually gave up because no one really explained what in the world kids are supposed to do with them, other than glue things in! I'd honestly given up on the concept as either too complicated or mind-numbingly low rigor. Your posts have really revolutionized the way I'm thinking about INs--I'm excited to try again!


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