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Organizing Interactive Notebooks

Interactive notebooks are a great education tool for teaching all subjects - math, reading, science and even social studies! Keeping them organized can be tricky though. Check out these tips to keep your interactive notebooks running smoothly!

I'll admit, I was a little slow to jump on the Interactive Notebook craze.  I didn't really get what it was all about at first.  Once I figured out how awesome they were, I thought, sign me up!  I purchased some Interactive Reading Notebooks for my class and we got right to work!

Um.  Epic Fail.

My students were ALL over the place.  Literally.  Throughout the lesson, I had students constantly searching the room for supplies or making multiple trips to the recycling bin.  Students were jumping ahead and not following the correct directions.  After a week, I threw my hands up in frustration. 

But, like any good teacher, I took a step back and thought about how I could make this work in my classroom.  I knew that my students could really benefit from these activities, as long as we could get ourselves organized.

Interactive notebooks are a great education tool for teaching all subjects - math, reading, science and even social studies! Keeping them organized can be tricky though. Check out these tips to keep your interactive notebooks running smoothly!

Material Organization
I decided that each group needed their own set of materials.  This would ensure that all students had everything they needed at the beginning of the lesson and eliminate the constant searching for scissors, red crayons, etc.  I numbered my groups and each group has their own bucket. 
The buckets are kept all together on a shelf in the classroom.  At the beginning of the lesson, one student from each group retrieves the bucket and empties it once they get back to their group (I'll explain why in a minute).  I also keep buckets of extras on hand, in case a group runs out of something.  I label these buckets by the type of material they contain.

Once the bucket is emptied, it becomes a mini-recycling bin!  With Interactive Notebooks, there are a lot of scraps.  I either had students constantly walking to the recycling bin or pieces of paper all over the floor.  Their group bin collects all their scraps until the very end of the lesson.  This way, if something is thrown away "accidentally," it can be easily retrieved!  Once the lesson is over, one student from each group empties their bucket before putting their materials back in.
And those extra pieces that don't need to be recycled?  They go in the envelope in the back of their notebook!  Sometimes we don't finish our lesson before class ends, so this envelope holds the pieces that have been cut out, but not glued down yet.

Giving Directions
I was also struggling with students who were jumping ahead of me before I completed my directions or having to repeat myself if students didn't hear the directions.  I decided picture clues were the answer! 

I made number cards and visuals for each step.  They are very basic, so they could be used with any notebook we were creating.  I glued magnets to the back so that they could be hung up on my white board.
Our class also came up with a new rule.  They couldn't start a step until the picture clue had been put on the board.  For example, they weren't allowed to even pick up their scissors until the "Cut" picture was placed on the board by me.  This meant that they would hear all the directions before they started.  Their eyes were all on me, as well, as they waited until I put that picture up!
Taking these steps towards organization has made a HUGE difference in my teaching with Interactive Notebooks.  It is no longer a frustration for me or a mess for my students.  And we really enjoy learning this way!  If you are interested in any of these labels, you can grab them here.  I hope that you find them helpful as well!


  1. Great tips...moving to grade 5 next year and think I'll be using your ideas! Love the idea of keeping all scraps till the end. One thing I've done in second (not with IN, just with cut pieces in general) is to write your initials on every single piece. Saved my sanity when I find one on the floor.

  2. Thank for the tips! I like that students can't move on until the step is on the board.

  3. I'm curious about how you go about putting up the picture cards. As in when? And specifics. Do you have a certain amount of time before the next one goes up? I also have issues with them following directions.

    1. Hi Lee!
      I put up the picture as soon as I am done giving directions for that step. For example, I might say, "Cut out only the circle on your page. Do not cut out the square." Then I will put the cutting image up. This way, I know that students will hear the entire direction, not just the "cut" part! I then observe the students and once a majority of them have completed that step, I move onto the next direction. I hope that helps! :)

  4. My students believe that they always know what the end product will look like at more times than not end up doing it wrong. I love the step picture cards to slow them down so they're listening and watching me! Love the extra pieces envelope, too!


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