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Classroom Management: Using Interactive Notebooks

Zoey Sternquist

“The best way to teach is to remember what it is like to learn.

You’ve gone through school. But, has anyone ever really taught you HOW to learn? Interactive Student Notebooks, or ISNs, do just that. ISNs are student-created and teacher-directed classroom management compilations of learning that teach students how to organize their notes, questions, thoughts, in-class activities, and much more all in one place. This classroom management tool is not just for middle school and under students: It can be used in all grade levels!

Although “ISN” sounds super-futuristic, it is actually just coming back to the good-ole pen and paper in our ever-so-technology-driven world.

In fact, a study from Psychological Science (and other sources) concluded that although tech-savvy approaches are a great way to bring resources into the classroom, students learn best when they have to write things down. Not writing down the information decreases learning drastically.

There are many other benefits to using ISNs for both you (as the teacher) and your students.

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Classroom Management: Benefits of ISNs

ISNs Teach Note-Taking Skills

Common questions that all students wonder in class include, “What do you even write down from this long reading?” “Should I just copy down the definition word-by-word?” “How do I even begin figuring out what I need to know?”

With ISNs, teachers can show students how to take effective notes when doing readings and how to get the most out of in-class activities. These learning skills will transfer into how they learn in other classes, and hopefully in their life in the future.

ISNs Improve Understanding

Hands-on fold tables that are required to be cut out, colored, defined, and summarized to show relationships to critical thinking elements from the book and in-class, like answers from discussion questions and student created examples, are used to grow understanding. These techniques have been proven benefits in memory retention.

Simply writing notes does not mean you have learned the information. You must actively do something with information before you can really understand it.

ISNs Increase Organization

It is the infamous struggle of schoolteachers: How to help unorganized students. Say goodbye to hearing things like “I lost it,” “Can I go to my locker to look for it,” and the dreaded, “Did we do anything while I was gone?” Here’s how:

  • Every page has a date and a page number.
  • Ideas and relationships are highlighted and written in color.
  • Activities are included to help understanding.

This mutual place to put all the information in exactly the way you want it to look is a surefire way to keep everyone organized, including you.

ISNs Increase Everyday Motivation

Ever had that student that simply won’t do something that day you’re doing because they don’t think it impacts their grade? Well, set up your grading system so that every day and activity (that you obviously are doing to help them learn) will be a part of his or her grade. Talk about motivation! Implementing notebook checks and a rubric for grading will motivate students to work hard everyday.

Additionally, if your administration asks for documentation of student learning, you have dozens of notebooks sitting around on that fancy corner you cleared for them showing just that -- and also in a way that you’re proud to show!

To sum everything up, as you can see, implementing these is a surefire way to impress your colleagues and administration (who doesn’t want that?) and truly teach your students the process of learning.

Getting Started with ISNs

Here are some tips on getting your own ISN started in your classroom.

  1. Develop a table of contents for your ISN that makes sense for your classroom and content. Download the sample provided. But feel free to make it your own!
  2. Request that your students bring a plain-ruled notebook that is necessary for the class. Have an extra stash on hand for students who can’t afford it.
  3. On day 1, have students cut it out, sign it, and glue it on the fist page of their notebook. Make sure they write their names on the front of the notebook!
  4. Develop a point system and schedule for notebook checks. This will ensure students stay on track! Consider a rubric that can explain why you gave a certain score.
  5. Develop a way to section off notebooks. Consider how you organize your class. Do you do bell ringers every day, and your homework is questions from the back of the book? Well, then consider a section for bell-ringers and chapter questions.
  6. Do the notebook with your students! It will help you explain directions and learn with your students.
  7. Make space for the notebooks to live in your room. This will be incremental in absolutely no reason for students to loose their notebooks!

Check out our board on Pinterest for examples. Feel free to pin on to our page if you have any successful ventures!

Your Own Interactive Notebook:

  • Allows you to process information to improve your understanding
  • Helps you learn new ideas by having you use several types of writing and graphics to record them.


  • Every page has a date and a page number.
  • Ideas and relationships are highlighted and written in color.
  • Activities are included to help understanding.
  • Fold tables and graphics are used to show relationships.

Why We are Doing This:

  • Writing notes does not mean you have learned the information. You must actively do something with information before you can really understand it.
  • It gives you permission to be playful and creative with your notes. When you are creative, you remember more.
  • We cut and fold because fold tables are amazing graphic organizers. They help take big ideas and break them down into manageable parts.
  • We tape and glue so things don’t get lost. Your notes aren’t useful if you can’t find them!
  • We color because it's a great way to help important information stand out. Coloring and highlighting notes helps you recall and find information.

Other Important Things:

  • We will have a table of contents of Table of Contents with dates, titles/subjects/topics, and page numbers and as a student, I will be responsible for updating this as we go on.
  • We will create tabs to organize the concepts we will learn.
  • I will be responsible for completing the daily activities and staying on track as it affects my grade.
  • Notebook checks can be administered at random. Completion of work is imperative to overall grade in course.

Lastly, include a learning contract to emphasize the importance of ISNs:

I, __________________________, will use my interactive student notebook to enhance my learning in the following ways above and understand how they will be graded.

Name printed:

Today's Poll

Which types of articles would you like to see from us in 2020?
Classroom Management
Classroom Activities/Games
Teaching Strategies
Technology in the Classroom
Professional Development
Total votes: 112