Read this beginner\'s guide to setting up successful Interactive Notebooks  for science - ISN, INB, whatever you call them - we\'ve got tips and tools for you! #gettingnerdyscience #INB #ISN #interactivenotebook

It doesn’t matter if you are new to notebooking or a veteran – INBs are for every teacher and every classroom, and set-up and consistent implementation is key. Interactive notebooks, also known as INBs or ISNs, keep students organized for the year, prevent work from getting lost, and allow students to take ownership of their self-constructed science textbook. Here’s our take on getting started with interactive notebooks.


Who can do INBs? Interactive notebooks can be implemented in any grade level and any subject area. They can be created in a simple manner for younger audiences or with more complex models and manipulatives for older students.

When do you use them? We suggest that you begin notebooking ASAP, whether it is a new year or even if it’s the middle of the semester – you can implement them at any time. Use them all day, every day – even on days they are not needed, require students to bring them to class. You never know when a lesson will go haywire, a student will finish early, or someone needs to catch up on past work. You should always have them on hand.

Where do you use them? INBs can be used in ANY class, no matter what subject you teach. They are the perfect organizational tool for your lessons, and you’re disorganized students. Whether you want to use them for notes, activities, labs, journaling, or the like, interactive notebooks can keep everything in one compact place. Storage of your notebooks depends on your preference. Keep notebooks in a special area in class and have students label their INB with their name or initials on the binding. You could also color code them according to class period and place them in bins or on shelves. We had students keep their notebooks in their lockers so they could bring them home to study, complete homework, finish missed assignments, etc.

What do you use? Most notebookers use standard composition notebooks because the pages are bound into the book and don’t come out with minor wear and tear. Composition notebooks come in primary, standard, and college ruled. We suggest 100 page books for a year-long class, as students use every page (front and back) and create monster texts. Some teachers prefer to use spiral notebooks – while this is great for full-size worksheets, keep in mind that perforated pages can easily be torn from the binding. Our materials list also includes colored pencils (crayons smudge and markers bleed), glue sticks (rubber cement and liquid glue get messy and wet paper which tears easily when writing), and scissors for cutting. You might want to tack on some additional items like post-it notes or paper clips for marking unit title pages, highlighters for identifying important passages, etc.

How do you do it all? Question of the century… how DO we do it ALL? Don’t worry, YOU CAN do it. Here’s how you can get organized quickly and keep students on board no matter when you start interactive notebooks.

Start by having your students create a cover page for their INB – something that personalizes their notebook so they immediately take ownership of their work and their contributions in class. The cover should state their name, class period, teacher name, and have colorful drawings or photos that show what class is all about – SCIENCE (or math, or language arts, or whatever you teach)! You can either provide them with a half-sheet of copy paper or create a template that encompasses everything that you want – like we have shown below.

Just like every other reference book out there, the INB should have a table of contents. Notebook paper lends itself to easy creation of a table of contents. Students use the red margin lines to create three columns for the date, lesson/title, and page numbers, OR they can use one of our templates for an overlapping TOC. Using a template is beneficial because pages can be glued one on top of one another, saving precious space for your lessons down the road. If your students are unable to complete set-up in class, or struggle to get it all done in one period, assign it as homework over a few nights. This makes  the tedious, overwhelming task of numbering pages and populating the table of contents easily manageable.

One of the best ways to get students to take ownership of their notebook is to make it about them!  Give students the inside cover or the first few pages to tell you all about themselves. We did this with a few ice breaker activities during notebook set-up that we could use to decorate our room, our bulletin board, as well as their INBs (you can read about these get-to-know-you activities HERE). What’s great about introduction activities is that they can be used any time of year. One of our favorites is a 3-part interactive notebook flipper that students cut out and glue into their notebook.

At the top is the head flap, where students tell us what they’re “thinking” about the current school year. As they move down the body to the torso, they tell us what they’re “loving” about school thus far. For the legs and feet, we ask them where they imagine themselves “going” – are they going to join the football team? Are they hoping to get on the honor roll? And this is also another great way, aside from the cover page, for students to show that this interactive notebook is THEIRS because taking ownership from day one is key!

We taught in an International Baccalaureate school and the Learner Profile was a HUGE component of our daily teaching. Students are taught to reflect constantly on the work they do in their classes as they complete their IB portfolio. To get them thinking on the right track, we had students complete a mini-booklet describing the type of student they are and how they best learn. Even if you don’t teach in an IB school, the learner profile activity is still a perfect tool for any student in any school because these same IB principles can be applied daily in classrooms of any subject area.

And since this IS an interactive notebook for science class, we always had students take a science poll/quiz to assess their knowledge about scientific principles. We call it their “SCI-Q”, and when they’re finished, they create an avatar based on their answers to each question. We love this activity for the ease of identifying misconceptions in the science class – we simply had students hold up their avatars and glance around the room at the pictures. Everyone should have a similar looking avatar, since there is only one right answer for each question.  If we found that several avatars popped up with similar incorrect qualities, we talked about those concepts at length with the class.

We hope these ideas help you as you start using interactive notebooks into your classroom. If you want to save yourself some planning time, grab any of the lessons mentioned above in our Introducing Interactive Science Notebooks and Set-up Bundle.   It comes with cover templates, author pages, left-side templates, an EDITABLE syllabus for YOU, a general list of root words, suffixes and prefixes for Life, Physical, and Earth Science, and a student-friendly instructional INB set-up PowerPoint with easy directions and lesson guideline.

Want to learn more? Check out our other blog posts:

If you’re looking for high-quality life science resources and can’t find the time to make your own, we have a highly-effective, evidence-based curriculum that’s comprehensive and ready to go! Check out our assortment of PowerPoint and handouts on every life science topic here in our store. If you’re interested in interactive notebooks, we have accompanying INB activities too!

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