Math = Love: Q & A: Time Management with Interactive Notebooks

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Q & A: Time Management with Interactive Notebooks

The Question:

I am hopeful you'd be willing to share with me how to get started with the INBs. We operate on an A/B day schedule with 80 minute periods. I am reluctant to devote so much time to this process, especially when it sometimes takes more than 1 period to complete the fold-able for a given topic. Honestly, I am not really even sure about INBs, but I am desperate for an engaging stepping stone to collaborative groups. Any thoughts you'd be willing to share will be considered helpful!

My Answer:  

INBs do take a lot of time and effort.  Here's my advice for spending time more wisely in class.

Prep, Prep, Prep!  

Have students do as much prepwork before class begins as possible.  When students enter the classroom, a list of supplies should be posted.  Expect students to have all of the needed supplies out BEFORE the bell rings.

Here's an example of one day's supply list.  I project this on the SMARTboard at the beginning of each period.  I used to assume that students would just be able to read my mind and get out the necessary supplies.  Students like it better this way.  I like it better this way.  If I have students get out a supply we don't end up using, they call me out on it.  They also call me out if I forget to put something on the supply list for the day.  If you don't have a SMARTBoard or IWB, this list could also be written on the dry erase board.

Some teachers have tables set up for students to grab handouts and foldable templates when they enter the classroom.  Then, students can start the process of cutting and folding sooner.  I haven't found a way to make this work with my classroom set-up.  Yet.

Decide What's Worth It

Decide which information is worth having your students write down word for word and which information could be better reviewed by using fill-in-the-blank notes or even pre-printed notes.  Each teacher will have a different opinion on this.  That's okay!

I alternate between all three types of notes throughout the year.  Here are a few examples:

Example of Fill-in-the-blank Notes

Example of Completely Hand-Written Notes:

Example of Pre-Printed Notes:

Some days, I will start by expecting students to write out notes by hand.  After having it take longer than intended during first hour, I will type up the notes and print them for my later classes.  Always ask yourself - is this worth it?

Remember - You Can Make Things Worth It

Interactive notebooks do take more time.  If kids are taking notes and never looking at them again, I think the notebooks are a waste of time.  Save yourself and your students a major hassle and use a textbook.  Most kids aren't naturally going to turn to their notebooks for help.  They're going to turn to you.  It's hard, but I have to force myself to not answer questions that can be found in my students' notebooks.  The kids accuse me of being mean and probably call me all sorts of nasty names behind my back for this, but I really do think it helps my students.  

When I start forcing students to use their notebooks, they start taking better notes.  If I ask a question that no one in the class can answer, I make the entire class turn to the appropriate page in their notebook.  No exceptions.  I have to sell my students on the notebooks, and the only way I've found to do that is to make them use them.  

So, making foldables and filling out graphic organizers is more time consuming.  But, I feel that I can redeem that time by making my classroom a place where students reference their notebooks regularly.  

Set a Timer

When I give my students a notebook task to do, they can easily stretch it to take three times longer than I intended.  Cutting things out is the worst because they seem to talk to their neighbors way more than they are actually cutting.  To combat this, I decide how long it should take students to complete a task.  If it's a one minute task, I set a timer for a minute and a half.  If it's a two minute task, I set a timer for three minutes.  Usually, I try to allow 1.5 times the amount I *think* it should take.  Inform students that as soon as the timer goes off, you will be moving on whether they are ready or not.  My kids hate this, but it really does help to keep them (and me!) on focus.  

Don't Give Up

Keep at it.  Notebooks may be rough for a while.  Please don't give up.  Tweak things.  Try something new.  Don't feel like you have to have a perfect notebook page every day.  Not every notebook page is Pinterest-worthy.  My notebooks get better and better each year.  I'm still learning.  My students who are on their second or third notebook with me are helping me to get better.  They give me advice on what works best for them.  Listen to this feedback.  Give your students the opportunity to share feedback about the notebooks.  There isn't such a thing as a perfect notebook, but we can all strive to make our notes better and better.  


  1. When I do foldables I always make the cut lines dotted. Once my students are used to the routine, they start cutting the foldables before class begins.

  2. I don't know why I never thought of the setting the timer idea! Thanks!

    1. I still forget about this strategy sometimes, too.

  3. Thanks for sharing! Not only can cutting be time consuming, it can be a mess! Sometimes I will make the major cuts on a foldable (i.e. cutting off any excess). Any flap-cutting we will do together. To combat the mess, I use a "garbage bins" (from the Dollar Spot at Target) for every group of students. Then there is no roaming around the room to toss scraps and no scraps are left on the floor.

    1. I tried the mini garbage bins one year, but I found kids were throwing random trash in them such as drink bottles. I need to come up with special rules for using them and actually enforce them.

  4. I also teach on an 85 minute A/B block and like foldables because they are hands-on and keep students engaged because it's something different. My advice: start small. Try it with one class or unit, maybe at the end of this year, and see what works for you and your students.

  5. I have a similar tray system. To label my trays, I bought medium binder clips from walmart and used colored cardstock to put the period number on them. I secured the colored paper to the tray with tape and then clipped it on the base of the tray. Students know that they turn their paper into the tray with their clip on it.
    It is also gives you an easy way to change them should the periods that you teach change. :)
    Here is the link that gave me my inspiration.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! My coworker and I are planning on using Interactive Notebooks. She and I both teach Algebra II, but I teach Geometry, and she teaches Algebra I. We are planning on using the INBs for all of the classes. This has helped me to plan better for interactive notebooks in the upcoming school year. I am excited for the INB because I want my math classes to be more interactive, and I want students to be better able to use and utilize their notes

  7. May I lend an idea from 1st & 2nd grade? Instead of a timer, use an upbeat favorite song as the timer. They must finish their cutting (or whatever task) by the end of the song. I use this for Math fact practice and other timed tasks in my classroom.

    I'm learning a lot from your blog. I'm going to try Interactive Notebooks with my little guys next year. Wish me luck!

    1. Great idea! Hope you and your students really enjoy making notebooks!

  8. Hi Sarah!
    Two years ago, I was introduced to the concept of using ISN's in my classes by one of our rookie teachers. After a quick Google search I discovered your blog...Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I've used ISN's in my Algebra 2 classes for the past two years. To be honest, I was hoping my students would hate them, but just the opposite happened...they LOVED them. The time we spend on the notebooks is time well spent! As I prepare for my 31st year of teaching, I will again use ISN's!

    1. Glad to hear ISN's have worked so well for you!

  9. Replies
    1. I use the timers built into Smart Notebook Software.

  10. What do you do about students with poor penmanship? These interactive note pages seem dependent on students writing the information in a clear and legible manner

  11. What do you do about students with poor penmanship? These interactive note pages seem dependent on students writing the information in a clear and legible manner