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OCTM 2014: Making Note-Taking Fun & Interactive

If you’re visiting my blog after attending my OCTM presentation on interactive notebooks, welcome!  I’m so excited to have you here in my little corner of the world wide web.  (Does anybody even call it that anymore???  Oh well…)  If you just happened upon this site, you’re also welcome.  Pull up a seat.  And, if you’re one of my regular readers, let me just say thanks!  If you didn’t read, I’d probably still blog.  But, you make the blogging process so much more fun!

We’re going to talk about something today that is very near and dear to my heart: interactive notebooks!  I’ve used interactive notebooks in my Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 classes for the past two years.  In fact, I can’t imagine teaching without them!

I want this page to be both a reference for people who attended my session and people who were unable to attend but are still curious about the process of creating interactive notebooks.  So, here are my slides:

At the beginning of my presentation, I took a couple of moments to introduce myself.

About Sarah Hagan (mathequalslove)

And, for the majority of Oklahomans who don’t know where Drumright is, I thought I’d include a nice little map that I found online.  For the record, I didn’t know where Drumright was until the day I went to my job interview.  The superintendent called me to ask how long it would take me to get from Tulsa to there for an interview.  Not knowing where Drumright even was, I had to ask him how long it would take!  He then had to give me driving directions over the phone…

Map of Oklahoma with Star on Drumright.

I asked my participants this question: If you asked your students to describe the note-taking that happens in your math classroom, what would they say?

Question: If you asked your students to describe the note-taking that happens in your classroom, what would they say?

Then, I shared with them how my students described note-taking in their letters of advice to students taking the class next year.  Want to read more of the end of year advice that my students gave?

Quotes from my Algebra 2 students about note-taking.

I tried to add color to make their specific statements stand out more.  These quotes are word-for-word excerpts from the letters that they wrote.  Probably my favorite comment is that they take “lots of meaningful, colorful notes.”  I like that they used the word “colorful,” but the fact that they described them as “meaningful” makes me want to jump up and down with excitement.

Quotes from Algebra 1 students about note-taking.

Of course, the feedback isn’t 100% positive.  And, it never will be.  One of my students noted that the notebooks get “annoying sometimes.”  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  My students spend a large portion of their time annoyed at me.  Why can’t we have a free day?  Why do you make us do so much work?  Nobody else is teaching today.  Why are you?  Yeah, I’m okay with “annoyed.”  I tell them that I do it because I love them, and it’s true.

Why Interactive Notebooks?

There are a ton of benefits to using interactive notebooks.  These are just a few of the benefits I’ve found in my own classroom.

What is an interactive notebook?

One of the wonderful things about interactive notebooks is that they can be whatever you want them to be.  My students don’t have textbooks, so we are creating our own textbook as we go throughout the year.  My students use them for notes only.  But, other teachers have students store their homework and bellwork in their notebooks as well.  If you open one of my  notebooks, you will find foldables and graphic organizers galore.  That’s my teaching style and one of my strengths.  If foldables just aren’t your thing, don’t do them.  That’s your choice.  Your notebook should reflect your personality and teaching style.

Many teachers make a differentiation between left hand and right hand pages.  Right hand pages are teacher directed.  They are the notes typically found in a math class.  Left hand pages are student directed.  The students have to find some way to process the information provided by the teacher and to create some sort of visual display that demonstrates their understanding.  This could mean creating an illustration of a concept, writing and solving your own problem, writing a song about the topic, drawing a comic strip about the topic, writing a letter to a friend describing the steps to solving a specific type of problem, choosing 3 homework problems and writing out detailed solutions, etc.  The possibilities are endless.

I originally intended to use the left-hand/right-hand distinction, but it just hasn’t worked for me.  I guess I just have a need for control or something.  I have to dictate to my students exactly what needs to go on each page of their notebooks.  I still give them a certain degree of choice with some pages, but not the same extent of choice that is given by other teachers.  It’s completely up to you how much choice you allow your students!

Let's take a look inside...

After this brief introduction to interactive notebooks, we jumped into looking at lots and lots of pictures of interactive notebook pages I have made in the past.  I’ve made a bunch, so it was so hard to choose what pages and ideas I wanted to highlight.

Interactive Notebook pages pinterest board.

If you browse around my blog for long enough, you will eventually find all of the interactive notebook pages I have created.  I recently created a Pinterest page that features pictures of every single interactive notebook page I have made + links to the page it is found on.  You can click on the picture to visit that page to download the file for that page or to read more.

My best suggestion is to follow the pinterest link above and just spend time browsing.  There are currently over 280 pictures to look at.  And, that’s just the tip of the ice berg.  You’ll see some pages that you could use without modifications with your students.  And, you’ll see some pages that you would never use.  Many of these foldables can be easily modified to cover any number of topics, though.

I get e-mails every week from people who are curious about how to get started with interactive notebooks.  I’m never quite happy with the responses I write to these e-mails.  Here’s my latest attempt at answering the question of how to get started:

I’m so excited to hear that you want to try out interactive notebooks next year! The process can be a tad overwhelming! Here’s my advice for getting started.

1. Decide what type of notebook to use. I prefer composition notebooks. Spiral notebooks work great for a semester, but they just won’t hold up for the entire school year. Others use binders or even graph paper notebooks. All have their pros and cons, of course.

2. Decide what you want your students to keep in their notebooks. Just notes? Homework? Bellwork? If students are just keeping notes in their notebooks, where will the other stuff go? This is one benefit of using a binder. You could have a divider for notes and other dividers for homework, tests, etc. I have my students only keep their notes in their notebooks. We don’t have textbooks, so we are essentially creating our own textbooks. Students learn pretty quickly that if we put it in our notebook, it must be important! Next year, I’m going to have my students make homework/test portfolios in addition to their notebooks.

3. How will you grade notebooks? Completion? Rubric? Some people actually don’t grade their notebooks. At my school, if I don’t grade something, my students don’t do it. I’ve moved to to a 0 or 100 grading scale for notebooks. If it’s not perfect, students get a 0 and are required to redo the missing/incorrect pages in order to earn that perfect score. Students take much more care with their notebooks now!

4. Figure out what your first unit of the year will be. Do a search on pinterest for that topic followed by “foldable” or “graphic organizer.” Get an old, partially-used notebook. Try to design notebook pages based on ideas you see online or from your own imagination. Play around with it. Have fun! This is the best way to see what works and what doesn’t. I started out by making rough sketches of my pages, and that was the most helpful thing I could have ever done.

5. Have fun! Your first year (or second year or third year or – I think you get the picture!) of notebooking won’t be perfect. You’ll continue to learn better ways to explain things and improve your notes/foldables/graphic organizers. Realize that some days your notes will be boring. That’s okay.

If you need inspiration, I recently made a pinterest board with links to every single notebook page I have made over the past two years! Clicking on each picture should take you to the page on my blog where you can download a PDF file to make that page.

If you want even more interactive notebook inspiration, I would recommend checking out the following sites of other teachers who use interactive notebooks in their classrooms.  I have stolen so many ideas from them!

Ms. R

Monday 3rd of September 2018

Hey Sarah!

I have recommended your blog to all of the math teachers at my school, and I wasn't surprised to learn that the majority already read it regularly. :) I'm implementing INBs this year, and I was wondering if you communicate at all with your students' parents about the INB expectations, or if you have a rubric or list of guidelines/requirements that you give to students. My school has a very large gifted program and there are so many students who are taking math classes above their grade level, so I'm getting a few emails from my younger students' parents about what my expectations are for them. I know that I've been able to communicate the expectations that I have, but I'm sure I haven't thought of everything since this is my first year implementing them, so I wanted to know if you had something, like a list or rubric. Thank you so much for the resources you share on your blog!


Friday 25th of August 2017

Hi Sarah, I am a math and ACT tutor, and I have enjoyed using a number of your printables. Can you speak to how the notebooks have been received by boys or students with poor handwriting/fine motor skills?

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

Some do the bare minimum to get buy. Others really buy in :)


Monday 18th of July 2016

I will be using a form of interactive notebook in my one semester humanities (religious studies) course. I want to use it for notetaking and journaling, as well as for occasional homework. Do you think having all this content in one notebook is too much, or does it matter as long as it's organized?

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Tuesday 19th of July 2016

I think one notebook will be fine for a semester long course. Organization is key!


Wednesday 25th of May 2016

I thank you for generously sharing all your resources and experience. I'm not new to teaching but I was away for many years with my own children. I feel like a new teacher learning all the new technology and balancing that with practices that I know will help my students like the interactive notebooks. I will be reading your blog this summer! Thank you again!


Sunday 6th of July 2014

I'm wanting to do interactive notebooks this year for Algebra 1. Thanks for all theses tips! I'm just starting my research to try to put it together!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Sunday 6th of July 2014

You're very welcome! Let me know if you need any help during the year. Interactive notebooks are definitely a passion of mine.

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