Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Flips and Flaps

I saw this when Dinah Zike presented at NSTA last year (Boston). I thought what a fabulous way to get more space out of your notebook pages! Not only can you present information on the flip up page but then students can write more information underneath. This method is featured in her notebooking book (http://www.dinah.org/).
I have been experimenting with glue verses tape. The first picture I taped the map down (taping edge to edge....if you use tape do not go past the edge or it no longer flips up as smoothly) the other two pictures I glued the top portion down (that is probably the best way to go. I was just experimenting with the tape).
Picture #1 - I downloaded a map of all the countries that use the metric system verse the standard system. Underneath students created a simple "cheat sheet" to help them remember that a millimeter is approximately the size of your pencil tip, centimeter as wide as your finger, etc.
Picture #2 - Students were compairing and contrasting rainforest plants and desert plants. Their written work is underneath the flaps.
Picture #3 - I wanted the students to really be able to tell me the difference between autotroph and heterotroph so I isolated those two words from the reading above it and had students create flaps that defined it underneath and then they had to draw a picture to help them remember.
My elementary students love the "flip flaps" (that is what they call them).

More Textbook Engagement

This was another textbook engagement activity that I fit into the notebook. I created a catalog template in Microsoft Publisher and deleted all the preformatted items that came with it. I then gave the catalog a new title page that fit the chapter students were working in (in this case Seedless Vascular Plants). On the inside, students had to find the information I requested from the chapter. I had questions, cloze notes, drawings, etc.
To differentiate I put the page numbers and I kept all the informational sequential so that students were not having to flip back pages to find information.
I've done this with elementary school students successfully.

Textbook Engagement

Here are other examples of how I used the interactive notebooks to engage with textbook material. The pictures above are from my middle school books but I have used both in the elementary school setting as well.
The first picture is a simple question strip. I asked a series of questions that the students had to find the answers to in their textbook. To differentiate instruction I put the page number where the students could find the information next to the question. In the elementary school I kept the first couple of sentence strips "easy" - meaning the answers could be found very easily and there were only about five questions. You can build up after students become familiar with the formatting of the strips and how you expect them to answer. Definitely model this! Students will try and write the answers under the question and not to the side as above.
The second one was a Who, What, Why, Where and When strip that I used with the terms migration, hibernation, and courtship. Students had to read the sections in the textbook and tell me who migrates, what is migration, why do animals migrate, where do they migrate and when do they migrate (they then got to draw a picture of the concept).

Other Template Options

I use Microsoft Publisher templates a lot in my notebooks. This one was an experiment I tried in the middle school using their brochure template. I got the idea from a reading class I took where the instructor had us design a brochure that summarized the ideas from a particular chapter.
The idea was good but probably not all that well thought out. It was entirely too much writing for some of my students and I would certainly tone that aspect down if I were to introduce it in the elementary school.
My inside flap of the brochure had key vocabulary words from the chapter that they had to define. I liked that and would keep that going forward.
The middle and last flap I had students look at the subheadings of the chapter (which I wrote into the brochure) and asked them to give me two sentences that isolated the main points of each subheadings (there were a lot). My struggling students had a very hard time with this project. I wound up having to differentiate (the assignment was originally supposed to be independent work) by having students read sections out loud and then as a group coming up with two sentences that isolated the main points. That took longer then I anticipated.
On the back flap the students had to draw examples of inherited and learned behaviors in animals. The entire thing was glued on the back to the book.
I still think brochure summaries are a great way for students to engage in textbook material. I would probably go back to the drawing board a bit on it but I wanted to highlight other Microsoft Publisher templates I have used.

Too Much Writing?

With the left hand/right hand rule I am always trying to keep all the written information on one side (left hand) but sometimes there is just too much information and I can't contain it to one small side of the book. In cases like this I adapt (see pictures above).
Picture 1 and 2 - I used Microsoft Publisher "catalog" template to create a mini booklet. I deleted all of the publisher information that pops up automatically with the template and replaced it with my own. I gave it a title page and wrote all my information on the inside and glued the back cover to the book. This gave me a lot more space to add information.
Pictures 3 and 4 - I just used the standard Word document (see my post on formatting word documents for composition notebooks) and folded it in half. I had students design a title for it and then we glued the back side to the book.
Picture 5 - I just typed in Word without formatting for the notebook and folded it in half and glued it in the book.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Notebook "Extras"

There are some "extras" you can add to your notebook. Above you will see ribbon that has been taped into the book. That served as a bookmark. I had the students knot the end because ribbon tends to fray. I liked the bookmark. Another teacher I know had student put beads on the end of their bookmark.
I also glued an envelope to the back cover. I saw another teacher do that and she used it for loose leaf papers. I recently used mine to store the accordion card project while students were working on it.
The same teacher also glued envelopes (2) to the front cover and it stored things like homework and bathroom passes. I never used mine that I glued in the middle school so I didn't add it to my elementary school books.

Notebook Activity Idea - Posters

This was an activity I did with students where we discussed lab safety. I made flip safety symbols using the greeting card format in Microsoft Publisher. I had the students try and guess what the symbols meant and they wrote the correct thing underneath each tab. Below that I had students take notes regarding general lab safety rules (there were ten in all). Their right hand assignment was to create a lab safety poster focusing on one of the ten lab rules of their choice. They had to list three reasons why the rule was important on the poster.

Online Notebooking Resources

Here are some online resources for notebooking:








Online foldable resources (great for ideas on things you can add to the notebook)



General Disclaimer

Most of the items I am sharing have been borrowed off of other teachers who notebook and have been modified to some degree to fit my set of circumstances and/or the skill level of my students. These teachers have been very generous with their time, resources, and experiences and continue to be so to any teacher who shows an interest in notebooking. I feel the same way about sharing information and hope that I am modeling the same kind of "teacher sharing" that I have been shown.

My main goal in blogging about my experiences is to widen the net of information about notebooking and give teachers a starting place and an opportunity to post ideas. I am also a big fan of pictures and feel like sometimes just seeing a picture of how something looks is just as helpful as reading about it (hence you will see lots of pictures on this site).

I expect that as my teaching career continues I will continue to tweak notebooks adding goals and trying new things along the way. I know that I want to add a journalling component to my elementary school notebooks (I added it somewhat to my middle school books...which I will talk about in another post). I also want to move my elementary school students to more independent work and find a grading system that works for me. These items will all be tried and published here on this blog.


Storage of the notebooks varies from teacher to teacher.

Some teachers require the students to be responsible for bringing them to school each day. I tried this and it did not work for me. The group of students I had at the middle school varied from being very responsible to being...well...not very responsible. Some of my not so responsible students "lost" their books or never brought them to class and had to do the work on loose leaf paper until they "found" their books and we could glue the loose leaf sheets in. I decided that the notebooks were going to stay in my room.

Some teachers might argue that by doing that students aren't going to learn to become responsible but it was simply not worth the headache of having to deal with lost, misplaced or simply missing notebooks for me. I gave students other opportunities to show responsibility or learn it but I wasn't doing it with the notebooks.

Some teachers had milk crates stacked like shelves that the students stored their books in. I wasn't a fan of this method because it was very difficult to see whose book was whose and the students were very rough on books that weren't their own. The plus side to that is that it took up less space then my storage method below. The bins were stacked four or five high depending on how many class periods you had in a day.

I bought wash tubs from Walmart (they come in red, black and white) and trained students to stack them right side up in the tub. The tubs occupied one of my lab tables in the middle school and are on the counter in my elementary school classroom. There was a bin for each period I taught. The bins were labeled in the front as to which period. I put large name tags in the upper right hand corner of each notebook so that students could flip through the books easily and look for the one with their name on it. I started to run into a bottleneck situation at the tubs and assigned students to pass them out in the middle school.

I use the same washtub method in elementary school but my students are sitting in tables of four. I have a weekly table runner and that person is the only person who passes out the books and collects them back up. When table runners get their books they are already grouped according to who sits at their table (since that is how they put them away) and it is easy for them to grab the four or five they are responsible for.

Above is a picture of one of the books so you can see how I put the name label on. The composition books have places where students put their name but they vary per brand and it was difficult to see.

SIDE NOTE - Some industrious students like to put book covers on their notebook. I allowed it in middle school simply because I had no experience with it. I made them all take them off after the holiday break. They would not retain the name tag and they became a serious distraction.

Who Glues?

I apologize if this blog is a bit out of sequence...basically I am writing things up as they occur to me.

I realized, as I was typing, that I hadn't talked about who glues things into the notebook and that is, surprisingly, important.

Students are capable of gluing material into the book, however in the interest of time it is generally easier if you do it. In most cases I either glue material in myself or I have a parent or middle school volunteer do it for me (time to time if reliable students are done earlier I will set them up gluing for me).

When I taught middle school I had an awesome homeroom class and I would have my early birds come in and glue my pages for the day. They had a system where they would open all the books to the right pages, stack them, and start assembly line gluing. I liked having it done first thing in the morning because then the glue had time to dry. If you glue too close to the class period students find it hard to write, highlight, color, draw, or underline if the glue is still tacky underneath.

In elementary school, I am blessed with teacher cadets from our middle school across the street and I have some middle school volunteers after school that also glue for me. Time to time I don't have the material glued in. I have trained my kids to roll with it. They take the sheets and we do our reading, highlighting or engaging with the material during class. If we have time after the lesson we glue in but if we don't they just put the pages in the book and I will either glue in later or have my middle schoolers do it.

Gluing is not that time consuming I can have it done in less then 10 minutes (that was with the 80+ students I had in middle school and the 40+ students I have in elementary).


As noted in a previous post, I love incorporating foldables in the classroom. They are great for helping students retain and categorize information. I also find that when students have to create anything related to a topic they are more likely to remember the information.

For example, we were talking about the four different types of fungi. We read the textbook entry about fungi and watched a powerpoint with pictures and the affect of fungi on plants. Then we made a foldable that had four flaps (reinforcing that their are four types of fungi they were to remember). I had them draw pictures of the fungi underneath the flaps to help them visually recall the affects of fungi on plants.

Many foldables fit nicely into a notebook. I do have to trim some down...so always try them first.

Above are pictures of some the foldables I have used in the past with my notebooks (they represent a mixture of both middle and elementary school work but each could easily be adapted up or down as the need required).
Picture #1 - The fungi foldable mentioned above
Picture #2 - The plant life cycle (students drew pictures and wrote information about the stages underneath the flap)
Picture #3 - Leaves, Stems and Roots foldable. Students wrote information about each under the flaps.
Picture #4 - Warm and Cold Blooded Animals. Students had two draw pictures underneath the flap of how each of the animals they drew respond when in warm or cold weather.
Picture #5 - Layers of the Atmosphere Layered Flip Book. Underneath the flaps students had to describe each layer of the atmosphere and draw pictures of things they might find in that layer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Left Side/Right Side "Rule"

The basic "rule" of the notebooking that I was taught is that the left hand side is for learning (this is teacher driven material and makes up the lesson of the day or the concept you are teaching). The right hand side is for student reflection of the material. This can come in a variety of ways:

Venn diagram comparing and contrasting material
Concept Map
Comic Strip
Labeled Diagram

I generally keep this "rule" in mind when planning my notebook activity for the day. I like it because it does makes me to ask myself how are the students going to interact with the material or lesson.
Above are some pictures of the left side/right side rule.
Picture #1 - We discussed/read about hurricanes and watched a video (Left Hand Side). Students then tracked a hurricane (Right Hand Side).
Picture #2 - We read and highlighted information about roots, stems and leaves...as well as looked at them during the lesson (Left Hand Side). Students then created a foldable using the information on the right hand side.
Picture #3 - I made a presentation about the five characteristics of organisms, then we read and highlighted the information (Left Hand Side). Students then had a choice how they wanted to showcase that information on the right hand side...the student above choose to use their hand to model the characteristics (other students did posters, some did concept maps, etc.). This was in a middle school where students had a lot more practice using notebooks. My elementary school students would need more modeling of all their choices before they could translate information into something on their own on the right hand side. At this point I direct them to what I want them to do on the right hand side with the understanding that I am going to make them more independent as the year goes on.
Picture #4 - (Middle School Student) - We watched a video and then read and highlighted information about endo and exothermic animals (Left Hand Side). Then students created a table on the other side where they were instructed to list at least four facts about each and then draw a picture of how an animal in that category would react in both warm and cold weather.

Formatting a Word Document

I type up a lot of the things I use in my notebook. This can be time consuming the first year.

To format items for the notebook using Word change the orientation of the document to landscape. Then change your top, bottom, left and right margins to .5. Once you have done that click on format and make your page into 2 columns. You are ready to type.

I change the text size around a lot depending on how much I have to type. I try to keep all the information on one side only. Students do fine with small fonts so don't let that deter you.

If the material fits nicely on side of the two column document you are typing then you can cut and paste what you have typed one the other side (that way you don't have to make as many copies). I use the cutting board in the work room to split them in half down the middle and then glue the material in.

I will post what to do with longer material on a separate blog entry with pictures.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I use a lot of Dinah Zike foldables in my science notebooks (pictures coming soon). I highly recommend purchasing her books. I used the elementary science book above and used it a lot in the elementary school and middle school (I have the middle/high school science book as well...which is currently on loan to my son's high school biology teacher). My social studies teacher uses Dinah's social studies books as well.

My favorite books are:

Dinah Zike's Big Book of Books

Dinah Zike's Book of Classroom Organization

Dinah Zike's Big Book of Elementary Science

Dinah Zike's Big Book of Middle and High School Science

All the books can be purchased online at http://www.dinah.com/

She recently developed a notebooking book (which of course I purchased). I got a lot of great ideas from that book as well. I am anxiously awaiting the publication of her vocabulary book for 3rd grade and up.

More Title Pages - Middle School

Here are some examples of middle school title pages.

Title Pages

The title page is how we start out each unit (and the begining of the book). I liked to do the title page on the right hand side and glue the standards we address on the left. I go over the standards at the begining of the unit.

Pictured above are a couple of examples of title pages. The one that simply says "science" is the books main title page.
Some teachers have students do a book walk through the chapters they are addressing to find pictures. I require that students give a caption that tells me about their picture (that helps when faced with a student who HATES to draw and you have no idea what they put down). The first time I did this with elementary students it was painful...the students could not come up with ideas. In that case (and in any case where differentiated instruction is needed) go through what would be appropriate pictures together as a group (after reading the standards and possibly going through the textbook) and allow the students to copy what you have drawn on the overhead or interactive white board.
I try to have them color the entire title page (no white space...is what I tell them). My fourth graders are getting better about making title pages and need less instruction then when they were first introduced.

Page Numbering

You would think that page numbering would be pretty easy (that was what I thought at least). I messed that up my first year and learned from my mistake!

How did I mess up something as simple as page numbering?!?! Easy...I had my middle schoolers number ALL the pages at the start of the year (basically 50 pages a day....most composition books are 200 pages). Well...if they messed up at page 20 forget it they were messed up for the rest of the year. It doesn't matter how much you model it or how slowly you work through the numbering SOMEONE is going to mess up (sigh!).

The pages start at the very first page (1) and then at the top of each page, which (if done correctly) would work out to be even numbers on the left and odd numbers on the right. This helps some students self check but most students are moving at warp speed once they get the hang of it and rarely self check!

What worked better for me this year was to have the students number up to page 25 and we did it togther...with me saying (repeatedly), "Make sure you haven't skipped pages" or "Make sure even numbers are on the left and odd numbers are on the right." If a student makes a mistake it is not too difficult to erase and redo when we are only talking about 25 pages.

We didn't do the next 25 until we were close to finishing adding content to the first 25 pages. Then I would do a repeat of above (walking students through all the steps of numbering). If a student really messed up their numbering they could start fresh in the second round of numbering.

Notebook Activity Idea - Accordian Book

This was an experiment this year. I had students take regular index cards and draw a picture of each of the planets and sun on the the blank side and list five facts on the back. They then taped them together at the seam (do not overlap the seams or they won't fold accordian style). They put a blank index card at the front and end when they were done and that got taped (use double sided tape - not glue because it causes buckling) to a larger index card on both ends. One became their title page the other just got taped to the book. I used velco dots (sold in the sewing section of Walmart) to hold the accordian book closed. The kids loved it (what is not to love when noise making velco was involved?!?). It took longer then I thought and I might scale it down next time.

This can be used for any type of timeline or a mini project. It wasn't too bulky in the book (11 cards used total).


I keep supply baskets on my student tables in the elementary school, which contains each of the following listed supplies. Students were also required to provide most of these supplies at the beginning of the year. The baskets were designed for students who "forgot" their supplies or students who never had them to begin with. I found the middle schoolers a bit rougher on supplies so I would I collect them up at the end of each period and pass them out as needed.
GLUE - I always require white school glue (no glue sticks!). Glue sticks tend to dry out either in the tube or on the paper making it easier for whatever was glued to fall out of the compostition books. With my school money I puchased large glue refills from Staples so I could top bottles off. Elmers glue has a recycling program for their bottles and sticks that we collect throughout the year (you go through a lot of glue). I use the "just a dot" motto when it relates to gluing. In fact in both the middle and elementary school I would model what "just a dot" looks like and give them their first grade in gluing. CAUTION - Make sure students don't glue too close to the edge or it bleeds out and pages can stick together. If that happens I just slide my hands between the two pages to break the glue seal. I usually put dots in all four corners and in the middle and that works just fine.
COLORED PENCILS - Colored pencils work the best. I absolutely don't allow markers or sharpies (they bleed through to the next page). Crayons are fine but if you are requiring that they go over their drawing with pen or pencil to label or identify they won't be able to do that because of the wax.
SCISSORS - The scissors picture above are mine but any type of scissors work fine. I find that the fourth and sixth graders I have taught can handle sharper scissors. I keep a super sharp pair of scissors in my desk that I pull out from time to time if more detailed cutting is required.
PENCIL - I require everything be written in pencil. However, I know some middle school teachers who want pen in their notebook. This is a personal preference. I know I make a lot of mistakes...and it is nice to have the opportunity to erase.
CD - This was a suggestion from another teacher and I have been using it this year. A CD in the supply box is great when students are doing a venn diagram exercise. Model it the first time otherwise the middle part is not large enough!
RULER - Some students simply can not eyeball a third of a page or draw a straight line without one. Always good to have on hand.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why Start Notebooking?

There are many reasons to start notebooking.

- It becomes a permanent record of student work
- It acts as a portfolio
- Creates an active learning environment (where students have to interact with the information) as opposed to a passive learning environment (where students simply receive the information)
- Organizes material and thinking
- Allows students to express their creativity
- Creates multiple opportunites for students to process information
- Personalizes the learning experience
- Teaches organization and structure
- Creates opportunities for students to improve reading and writing skills across the curriculum
- Encourages students to express their understanding of concepts being taught
- It is easy to glance at a student notebook and know what they are missing
- Encourages children to take pride in their work
- Parent conferences are much smoother when you can show them all their child's work in one location. If you have a child who is not keeping up with their notebook you can easily show a parent how the book should look as opposed to how it actually looks.
- Encourages teachers to think about how students can engage with the material daily.

I notebook for all the reasons listed above, however not every student is going to embrace notebooking. When I taught in the middle school I had students who took a lot of pride in their work and I had students that clearly did not. It is the same in elementary school (although, I have observed, that reaction normally is a reflection of their interest in creativity then just general apathy toward education).

I feel that the benefits of notebooking outweigh the negatives of notebooking (time consuming to get started in your first year, finding an assessment tool that works for you). I encourage anyone interested in notebooking to try it. It does not have to start on the first day of school.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Notebook Type

Why use composition books over spiral notebooks or three ring binders? It is actually a personal preference, I will list the pros and cons of each below. This happens in my scrapbooking world too where one scrapbooker favors one book or another (I am partial to the three ring binder albums where my friends are partial to the post bound books).

I use the composition books because that is what they used in my first school and the reasons were sound based on my experiences with the other books (in one conference I went to a teacher called them the "moo cow" books because of their traditional black and white marble look). I wouldn't mind trying the spiral notebook one year but for right now I am sticking with what I know works for me.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

Three Ring Binder

- Easy to purchase
- Comes in a variety of sizes and colors
- Do not have to shrink items to fit
- A simple purchase of a whole puncher will allow anything to fit.
- Can purchase dividers for each unit of study
- Don't have to mess with glue

- Papers get torn out easily and then "lost"
- Too traditional, not different enough to stand out
- Bulky and awkward to carry around (particularly with all the other books students carry)
- Lends itself to a too much text/writing scenarios where teachers print out pages of information which leaves less room for creativity.

Spiral Notebook

- Easy to purchase
- Comes in a variety of colors and often sizes
- Don't have to shrink items to fit or format pages differently when typing
- Students are familiar with them

- Spiral often comes undone and winds up poke at you or becoming distracting
- Pages tear out easily
- Students often get varied versions (instead of one set uniform version that you ask for)
- Have to glue items in

Composition Books

- Small and easy to carry
- Pages are bound so they don't rip or tear out easily
- Smaller pages make writing less overwhelming when assigned
- All composition books are fairly standardized as to page length
- Different enough to stand out as being something special
- Easy to keep through the years as opposed to a bulky plastic three ring binder.

- Have to shrink items to fit smaller pages (that is a pretty big deal for some people but having done it so often it is not that hard to program yourself to do)
- Have to glue items in

My Story

I had never heard of science notebooking until I started working at Lady's Island Middle School (6th grade science). I was hired and the teacher I was replacing was moving up to another grade level. She gave me a copy of one of her student notebooks and related papers and said that they notebook in science. This was my first year teaching middle school science and I thought better to stick with something you had copies of then reinvent the wheel.

Unfortunately the sample notebook I received was bland (very black and white with little student work or color), again I was just starting and went with what I had. By sheer luck I was placed on a team with a Humanities teacher who has been notebooking for years, who was able to walk me through the notebooking process and share several of her notebooks from years past. Her notebooks had lots of color and more student work and interaction then my sample and I was able to see what students were capable of. I didn't truly tap into that until January of that first year and you can easily see the progression from where I started (in book 1) to where I ended (in book 2). Another bonus of being teamed with such an awesome teacher was that she was training the students in her classroom on how to use the notebook so that when they came to me for my class period they already knew how to create a visual vocabulary layout, make a title page, etc. I can not tell you how invaluable that was! I am now in the elementary school setting and I am the one teaching the students from scratch and it was slow going to begin with (frustrating to the point of wanting to give up...but I'm glad I didn't).

The whole concept of notebooking appealed to my creative scrapbooking side. I loved the idea of having all the student work in one interactive book and using a variety of different mediums to teach and reinforce science concepts, from foldables to storyboards.

Apparently notebooking had been around since the 90's but somehow missed me in grad school. I looked up books, articles, webpages, and went to conferences and attended workshops to find a recipe book for starting and maintaining a good science notebook. I found several in each category but again was struck with how bland and unappealing they were. I found myself relying more on my team teachers experiences and samples, and what I wanted to accomplish, then all the other information I was finding.

During my December break that first year with notebooking, I really dissected what I wanted to do going forward and started fresh when the students came back in January. The difference was night and day in the quality of work and finished product. Still it was my first year and I listened intently to my team teacher saying how it is a growing and evolving process...she recently introduced Cornell notetaking into her notebooks this year and is working through what works and what doesn't with that. I am introducing notebooking in the elementary school for the first time, so I too am working through what works and what doesn't in that setting. I expect that to be ongoing until the day I leave teaching.

I shared my middle school notebooks with several friends who are now attempting their own versions in several schools in both social studies and science. We share back and forth and they are experiencing problems that they are working through, just as I am. I have shared my books with a few teachers in my school but hesitate to "push" them on anyone because this is my first year using them in an elementary school setting and I think I might be able to "sell" the concept better if I had finished versions to show. I also feel that teachers need to decide for themselves if it is something they would like to do, rather then have it thrust upon them by administration. Teachers who want to do it rather then are forced to do it take more pride in what their students are accomplishing using the notebooks.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I have been frequently asked about my science notebooks and thought the best way to communicate would be to start a blog addressing notebooking questions, post pictures of student work, and highlight the successes (higher test scores) and pitfalls (grading!) of notebooking.

I have done notebooking in both the middle school (6th grade science) and elementary school (4th grade science). I have spoken to science coordinators within school and showcased some of my student work at conventions. Schools I have left requested copies of the notebooks and material I used in them. The reaction is generally mixed, from those who are dying to try to those who like their current system.

I love science notebooking but understand not everyone is going to be as enthusasic as I am. If something else is working for you (three ring binders) you might take some of these ideas and incorporate them in to your binder system making them more interactive.

I hope to generate a useful discussion about notebooking in general. Please feel free to post!

Eve Heaton