Student Interactive Notebooks: Are you doing it wrong?


October 6, 2014 by HCDE Communications

Child with microscopeInteractive notebooks give students a way to be creative, independent thinkers and writers. Most examples I see when I visit science classrooms do not allow for creativity. Very few allow students to think independently.


What is an Interactive Science Notebook?

A science notebook is a tool that provides students a place to record their thinking and their learning before, during and after a science investigation. It reflects a chronological accounting of the progression of an investigation as students formulate and record questions, make predictions, record data, procedures and results. Students compose reflections and communicate findings. Interactive notebooks give teachers a means to assess science understanding or misconceptions. They provide the feedback students need in order to improve their performance.

My first rule of thumb: If every student has an identical notebook or journal, you’re doing it wrong. How can you tell what your students are thinking if their notebooks are cloned?

What I do see are notebooks that have a table of contents, material from a worksheet glued down, or perhaps a foldable glued or stapled inside.

  • If you have a table of contents, you’re doing it wrong. A table of contents is not a record of independent thinking.
  • If you only have worksheets or foldables stapled inside, you’re doing it wrong. Foldables are a great way to condense notes, but they are not indicators of creative or independent thinking.

No matter what subject you teach, use interactive notebooks for activities where students are expected to express their own ideas and process the information presented in class. If all of your students need glue sticks and scissors, you’re doing it wrong. An interactive notebook is not a scrapbook or a craft project.

So what is found in their science interactive notebooks or journals? This is the perfect venue for students to write down predictions to questions or a hypothesis for an experiment. They make sketches of how to set up equipment or draw their observations. Let them write down data or outline how they will graph their data.

Science teachers should continuously ask questions of their students. However, maybe just one student replies. Why not pose a question to the class and give them time to answer in their journals? Ask one or two students to share their thoughts? This is a much better use of class time than getting out the glue sticks.

So will these journals be messy? Most likely they will be. Will these journals be organized? They will be to some degree since entries are chronological. Ask students to give a date and title to each journal entry.

The biggest complaint about creating notebooks or journals in this fashion is about time, especially for the teacher who reads them. Here are some things to consider:

  1. You will probably have more than 150 students, so checking those journals will take time.
  2. Watching students cut-and-paste to make journal entries during class consumes classroom time. Make sure students are on task and talking about science when they are working with their scissors and glue.
  3. For accountability, let students know that their journal or notebook is subject to be examined by the teacher during class.
  4. It would be far more interesting to read what students are thinking instead of checking to see if everything in the table of contents is included. You make it interactive by adding comments or posing further questions in their individual journals.

The purpose of interactive notebooks is not to promote organization skills. If you want your students to learn organization skills and keep up with their work, assign a class folder or personal portfolio. You can even include a table of contents. Just don’t call it an interactive notebook.

Sample Interactive Notebooks (Source

Interactive Notebook Samples rock9









About the Blogger:
Lisa Felske is curriculum director for science at Harris County Department of Education. Her areas of expertise include integrating science with other disciplines and student misconceptions in science. She enjoys being a Girl Scout leader, reading way past her bedtime, and using the Oxford comma.

Follow Lisa:

3 thoughts on “Student Interactive Notebooks: Are you doing it wrong?

  1. Touche. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the great work.

  2. I’ve bee surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as
    you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  3. HCDE-Texas says:

    Thank you for reading our blog! Subscribe to keep getting updates and let us know if you’d like us to discuss any certain topics.

Leave a Reply

HCDE news in your inbox

Subscribe to receive news from Harris County Department of Education by entering your email address below

Get Social!

Talk to us

HCDE Communications wants to hear from you! Have a question or a story idea? Send us an email.

©2023 Harris County Department of Education

%d bloggers like this: