Interactive Notebooks in Science Class

In my recent year end review, I mentioned the notebooks I’ve been using in my classroom for the past three years.  Many teachers are using Interactive Notebooks based off of the social studies program History Alive.  My notebook has been based off of the efforts of numerous individuals work, as well as discussions on the now defunct IAN listserv.  The recommendations I make here are by no means the only possible ways to structure this style of notebook.  In fact, I have struggled some with the grading of the notebook the past couple of years, as you will see later.

Notebook Basics

The basic idea of the Interactive Notebook is that each topic/idea gets a two page spread of the notebook. The right hand page is for teacher directed materials.  The left hand page is for student generated processing of the class information.  For example, students may take notes on a teacher demonstration on the right hand page, drawing diagrams of the set-up, giving basic explanations of the science behind the demo, etc.  On the left hand page, students might design a magazine cover with headlines that convey the information from the demonstration.

One of the hallmarks of this style of notebook is giving students choice in their processing activities up front.  Often during the school year, teachers try to incorporate many different opportunities for students to express themselves and their knowledge.  The Interactive Notebook gives those opportunities from the very beginning.  A compiled list of processing activities is placed in the front of the notebook and students have the chance to choose which activity they will use to process the day’s material.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

For my notebook, and for many others, the idea is for students to learn science Hook, Line and Sinker. Hooks are short response questions used to direct learning as the student enters the room.  These are assigned Monday – Thursday in my class with Friday being a time to go back through the week’s work checking for anything missing.  Hooks are answered in 2 to 3 sentences and may review the previous day’s work, activitate prior knowledge for upcoming topics, or just serve as a launching point for discussion.

Lines are generally teacher directed and may include lab data collection, lecture notes, notes on readings, a current event article, graphic organizer or other class activity.  They should be varied and reach out to the multiple intelligences of your students, but Lines are the primary way of presenting/documenting class information.

Sinkers are the student selected processing activities. The list at the front of the notebook provides a launching point for student choice.  I always took the first few weeks of school to go through a number of the activities, even assigning a couple of them early on.  This gave us the chance to discuss what activities worked for different kinds of information.  Sinkers are the “meaning-making” activities that help students show they have an understanding of the topics covered in class.  They provide extension, review, and reflection on the topics covered in class.

Sinker Activities

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but here are some examples of Sinker Activities used in my notebook:

  • Current Event summary – find and article related to class discussion
  • Illustrations
  • Concept Maps/Mind Maps
  • Invitation – to an event in science history
  • Acrostic Poems
  • Haiku – recommend at least three if this is the only Sinker incorporated
  • Song Lyrics
  • Letter to an absent student
  • Mnemonic device
  • Textbook reading/questions if not assigned (I normally provide suggested text readings to supplement class activities and rarely assign text questions, but they work for some kids)
  • Biographical Poem – similar to Haiku in that they are structured line by line
  • Comic Strip
  • Magazine Cover
  • V3 (Visual, Verbal, Vocabulary) – pick some vocab. from the days lesson, define it, use it in a sentence, and draw a picture to represent the term

I know these are not all that I use, but these are the main ones students choose to use.  I also encourage students to combine ideas above, using Haiku on their Magazine Cover’s for example.  You will see, the activities are heavily weighted toward visual/spatial and linguistic intelligences as they are drawing and writing intensive.  For this reason, I’ve stressed song lyrics, letters to other students, etc which tap into some of the other intelligences not normally brought out with our Sinkers.  The key is student choice, which allows them the opportunity to process information in a way that is relevant and useful for them.

Other Features

The last page of the notebook is set aside as a place for students to log parent views of their notebook.  I normally require at least one per nine weeks. The student must show/explain something in the notebook to their parent, who then signs the log.  This helps keep open that line of communication for what is going on in the classroom.

One of the first activities I do with my students is give them a copy of the state Standard Course of Study for our grade level/subject.  They are asked to read through it and do an activity called “What Does It Mean?”  This gives them an immediate preview of what we will be covering during the school year, allows them to pre-determine some questions they may have, and gives them insight into just what the state says my job is as a 7th grade science teacher.

Though I’m terrible about doing this, a number of Interactive Notebook users reserve the bottom couple of lines on either the Line or Sinker page for a summary of the day’s lesson.  This gives students summarization practice, reflection practice, and gives them a quick place to look for an overview of that day’s notes.

The notebook lends itself well to discussing different note-taking strategies. In the past, I have discussed with my students how to take many different forms of notes:

  • Outline form book notes
  • Cornell notes
  • Notes using Concept Maps
  • SQ3R reading notes (Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Reflect)

Many students have never been taught any note-taking strategies, let alone given suggestions for how to use them in multiple situations.  Although I don’t want to be a “lecturing, note-giving” teacher, it is important for students to realize they have some options when they run into those types of teachers.

Organization, organization, organization.

One of the main reasons I went to Interactive Notebooks in the first place was my frustration with students using “lose-leaf paper”.  I found that they only thing it was good for was falling out of notebooks and winding up in the trashcan.  For my class, students have to have a 5 subject notebook with a plastic cover.  The goal is for it to last until the end of the year.  I’ve only had 1 or 2 students in the 3 years I have done this who used notebooks without a plastic cover and still had it in one piece at the end of the year.  This year, I may experiment with a 3 subject notebook as they are a little cheaper and I haven’t used all 5 sections the past two years.

How do students keep other papers in the notebook?  Lots and lots of glue…I keep the gluestick companies in business during the school year.  I always purchase somewhere around 100 gluesticks for the year when they are on sale before school starts.  Students are asked to have their own as well.  Any paper that goes in the notebook is one sided and is glued in on a specific page.  We keep a table of contents at the front and (here’s where I’m a real stickler) everyone must have things on the same page.  This allows me to tell them exactly where something should be in their notebook, as well as easily see if something is missing.  The students get used to gluing fairly quickly as the first week or so we glue in about 12 or 13 pages which include notebook rules, rubric, Standard Course of Study, and Sinker Activities.


Here is the issue I’m having most with my notebooks.  I started off using a variation of a rubric I found online.  There were 10 categories: Table of Contents, Hooks, Lines, Sinkers, Color, Answers to Essential Questions, Title Pages, Neatness, Organization, and Page Setup.  I used this the first year and then realized I hated it.  This is largely due to my shift in thinking on grading.  If a grade is to be an accurate representation of what my students know and are able to do in science, how does color, neatness, page setup, and table of contents have anything to do with their knowledge of science?  As I have moved forward with the notebook, it has become somewhat difficult for me to even justify grading their Line activities as there is no standard in NC Science for “note-taking”.  What I have moved toward this year is the use of the notebook as a “toolbox” to answer questions related to science.  At the end of each 9 weeks, I administer a notebook test that is largely multiple choice (in fact, I used the Senteo response system several times).  Though I’m not necessarily into multiple guess tests, it seems to work in this situation.  The students get to use their notebook to respond to the questions on the test.  In this way, students who are not wonderful at keeping up with the notebook, but still learn the content can show that, as well as those who are able to keep track of the information and retrieve it from their notebook.  Still not a perfect situation, but moving more in the direction I’m interested in.

How many others out there are using Interactive Notebooks in their classrooms? I’d love to hear your reflections, thoughts, challenges, etc.  Feel free to rip apart anything I’ve said above as well 🙂


4 Responses

  1. I am struggling with grading too. However, I feel that some of the sinkers should be available for assessment because they should demonstrate a student’s understanding of a particular concept or topic. I am thinking about going to a portfolio style assessment of the notebook as a whole – for instance, having some kind of reflection sheet and having students notate via sticky notes or something examples of understanding of particular concepts or skills. I also like your idea of a multiple choice assessment because of how it allows disorganized students who “get” it to still be successful.

  2. Having used inquiry and reflection leads naturally to what you do with your portfolio. I like the activities that you do and the options you provide. Formative assessment used frequently as you do is a great way to find out what students know. I love the sinkers and agree that they would be great as an assessment. I have always hated grading notebooks, but when I was required to do so would do so much like you have. As long as they have kept up with the work and can find it, they will be able to answer those questions.

  3. I have found in the past that letting the students grade each others notebooks works best. It does take up about 15-20 of class time. The grade is more like a completion grade (does the student have all of the assignments completed…etc.) based on how many stamps the student has on each assignment. Then I pick 1 or 2 assignments that I look over carefully over the weekend and I am done. I do this about twice a grading period. Most of the grades in my class are based upon participation and in-class work. I do like the idea of giving a formal assessment over the notebook, I will try it out!

  4. I use a form of the interactive notebook (7th and 8th grade). I don’t require the kids to keep the same page numbers as I do, and I assign the processing activities instead of letting them pick (I try to hit the multiple intelligences in the course of a unit). The format of the activity is always the same- key question is a warmup, evidence is the teacher input/ in class activity, analysis is 3 higher level questions on the day’s activity, then they write a summary and then the reflection is the processing activity, wrapped up with the big idea for the day (this follows the standard and is the root of my lesson planning). Grading is my biggest pain in the neck, too. I started by reading everything and using a holistic rubric (but I eventually ended up wanting to bash my head in). What I do is stamp the activities for completion in class as they finish. Each week they take an open journal quiz, and then I do random spot checks of just one part of an activity every two weeks or so.

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