Friday, November 14, 2014

Interactive Notebooks

I've always wanted to do interactive notebooks, so this year I decided to just go with it after some encouragement/help from a TCi workshop I attended in the summer.  I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I've learned a lot along the way.

Because this is something new, I decided not to approach this with my German 3/4 classes at all - they've had me for at least two years without notebooks, and I thought it would be too much of a transition to start doing it now.  That left my German 1 and 2 and Latin 1 classes.  Here's how I've approached interactive notebooks so far this year.

Introducing Notebooks to the Class
I introduced students to the notebooks the first week of school.  Each student needed to get two spiral notebooks, preferably ones with 8.5 x 11 inch dimensions.

--> Why two notebooks?  I have them keep one for Grammar-related notes, and the other for vocab notes.  Since the long term goal is for them to keep these notebooks for the (hopefully) four years they'll be taking German, I wanted to guarantee that there'd be enough room for everything they'll need to put in.  There should hopefully even be some room in case they make mistakes.

Make sure you let students know this - that it's a pain, but it's a real investment in their German studies.  They'll be taking these notebooks with them year after year.  At the end of each quarter, they won't have to ask what they can throw out and what they need to keep - keep the notebook, chuck the rest.  At the end of the summer, they won't have to worry about losing their notes - keep the notebook and it's all safe and sound.  If they forget a topic later on, they can refer back to it in their notebook.  Really sell the utility of it to make them more on board.

I also allowed students to get two section notebooks to use instead, though my recommendation is still for two (more pages, easier to reference both the current vocab list and grammar topic at the same time).

My Latin classes only do one notebook - theirs is divided into two sections, one for grammar notes and the other for culture notes.  Since vocab units are approached different for Latin, it didn't make sense for it to have its own section.

--> Why 8.5 x 11 inches?  This is the perfect size for gluing in a piece of paper.  Any smaller and the pages stick out or students need to trim them.

Setting Up Notebooks
I gave students about a week to get their notebooks.  I also recommended they get their own glue - I told them flat out that I have glue sticks for them, but between the 100 kids who will be putting stuff in their notebooks it wasn't going to last the whole school year and I wasn't getting more.  If they want to make sure they still have glue later, they should get their own.  This gives them some buffer time before it's actually necessary.  Now that we're in second quarter, the original glue I had supplied to kids is dwindling - it probably won't last through December.

When we first set up the notebooks, we started by labeling the front covers.  They needed to write:
their name; DEUTSCH (very big); the title "Grammatik und Strukturen" one one notebook and "Vokabeln und Kultur" on the other.  I also encouraged students to decorate the covers - again, this is something that's following them around for at least a year, it should reflect a bit of who they are.

We then set up a table of contents in each.  They put the title "Inhatlsverzeichnis (Table of Contents)" at the top of the first page.  They then put in three columns: Thema (Topic), Seiten (pages), and Noten (Quiz Scores).  This helps students keep track of the topics we've covered, where to find them, and how they did on the unit quiz (which will hopefully help them focus their studying for midterms and finals).

Adding to the Notebook
Each time we put in new notes, we first add it to the Table of Contents.  I keep track of the up-to-date Table of Contents for all of my classes using Google Docs.  The links to these TOCs are available to students on the class website - this way students who are absent can find out what they missed and where it goes.  If you'd like to see an example of the German 1 Table of Contents, click here for the Vocab and click here for the Grammar.

After we've put it in the TOC, we put it on the next available page.  The first time you put notes in, make sure students skip at least two pages after the TOC - they might need the room later on as they progress through German 1-4!  There are a variety of ways to put in the notes.  Here are the most common:

Straight Down: There's nothing on the back of the worksheet, so just glue the back directly to the page.

Foldables: Part of the worksheet is glued down, but part needs to be left un-glued so it can be lifted to show the other reference material.

Side Margin: For pages that have a front and back, students fold along either the left or right margin.  They then just glue the folded margin down, making it possible to see the front and lift it up to view the back.

Straight Down with Side Margin: You might have some notes that include one page front/back and the front of another page.  Glue the bottom page straight on, then fold the margin of the front page so that all three sheets are visible.

Two Page Spread: Sometimes it's just better to put the notes in across two pages.  Whether it's two pages front/back next to each other, or two single-sided pages, this is the way to go for some topics.

Written Notes: Crazy as it may sound, sometimes students will be writing the notes in themselves.  I also occasionally combine hand-written notes (usually in the form of brainstorming before we start a new topic) with some printed notes. You might need to guide them through this (at least give them a title for the page).

It's really important that you emphasize the page numbers - there's no point in keeping things and creating a Table of Contents if you can't find anything.  The pages are there to make it easier for them to find what they need later on.

Pro-Tip: Keep your own copy of the notebooks.  This is a good reference for students who are absent (even if the note sheets are blank, they can see where things go) and it helps you visualize where you want the various worksheets to go.  It's also a great visual reference for students if you add the notes to the notebook at the same time as them, or at least have it to show them how it should look.

Color Coding Sheets
I read a suggestion somewhere for interactive notebooks that the pages should be colored.  When I started doing this at the beginning of the year, but it definitely makes sense and I've switched to it now.  It's visually easier for students to find their notes within the spiral notebooks.

I used to give color-coded packets to students that contained all the notes and practice worksheets for a unit.  To an extent I still do, but obviously the notes are now given separately.  I pick a color for the notes and then have all supplementary homework, classwork, practice activities, etc. in the same color.  It helps students identify the correct pages in their notebooks to go along with the activities we're doing.

Simplify Notes
I've actually made note worksheets a lot simpler for students - there aren't as many examples or exercises, and I'm tending to use a bigger font.  I want their notebooks to be something they can take out to quickly refer to whatever it is they need.

Grading Notebooks
Every few weeks I do a notebook check.  I collect all the notebooks (EITHER the grammar OR the vocab one - not both at the same time) and do a quick check to make sure students are keeping up with the material.  I don't do anything super-extensive...  I pre-pick three of the things we've added since the notebook check, then go through to see if students have it.

I check for neatness (pretty self explanatory) and organization.  For the organization, I make sure they have everything filled in that they need to, it's in the right spot, and the page number is clearly labeled.  Here's a look at the rubric I use (click here for a digital version):
Even with larger classes, the rubric makes it easy to go through.  Students either have it or they don't.  It's either complete or it's not.  The first couple checks need to include looking at the Table of Contents, just to make sure they've set it up correctly.

So far I'm really happy with how the notebooks are going.  Although a bit more work for me (grading them and helping students set them up), I find that overall students have fewer organizational issues.  When students need help with something, I can reference different notebooks and sections.  I would definitely recommend it!

- Frau Leonard


  1. Thank you. I have been debating using interactive notebooks. This looks so helpful.

  2. I love this idea. Do you have a file of worksheets/grammar/papers for the students interactive notebooks? If so, is it on TPT or somewhere else? Thanks!

  3. This is great info! Thanks for sharing all your expertise on this. I am excited to try some of this in my class.