Interactive Notebooks

Many years ago I heard a fact about retention of information that really stuck with me. Basically, the argument was when you HEAR it, you retain the least. When you HEAR & SEE you retain more, and when you HEAR, SEE & READ you learn even more but the best way to improve learning would be to HEAR, SEE, READ & DO. While I think there is a time and place for teachers to present information orally, learning about how little is retained from simply standing up and talking really changed my teaching. Now, I make sure I have an anchor chart or presentation file with words and pictures to go along with every lesson, and I always write directions on the board as well. The tricky part, however, was learning to apply the principle of participation. How can we get students to become more engaged in their learning?

Learning Recall Related to Type of Presentation

Presentation Ability to Recall
after 3 hours after 3 days
Spoken lecture 25% 10-20%
Written (reading) 72% 10%
Visual and verbal (illustrated lecture) 80% 65%
Participatory (role plays, case studies, practice) 90% 70%

Adapted from: Dale 1969.


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Inspired by my fifth grade teammate Mrs. K, I went looking for some more information about interactive notebooks. This teacher was using interactive notebooks in science and social studies with great success, and I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. I found this blog post with a clear outline of the possibilities for interactive notebooks, and I was impressed by the way it set up a simple routine for a class period. If we were doing a fifth grade social studies for example, a teacher could activate prior knowledge through the “in” activity and then use the right side for students to record notes and information throughout the lesson. I use a “mini-lecture” approach, where I take the meat and potatoes of the content for the day and present them so that students will have just enough background to engage in the inquiry activity. I have been working on third grade lessons related to economics, and so I thought one way of using this would be:

1. “IN” activity – I try to develop a success starter where students find something to relate today’s learning to their lives. For a lesson on imports and exports, students could examine the tags on their shirts to see where they were made in the world. We could have a brief discussion about how kids think their clothing got to them, activating prior knowledge.

2. Mini-lecture- now that I have found out a little about what they know, I might fill in the gaps with some information about today’s vocabulary. Defining words, usually with a TIP chart (both this and the success starter idea comes from Suzy Pepper Rollins’ book Learning in the Fast Lane.)

3. “Out” activity- this is where students apply their learning and think about the concepts. I might have students write a short paragraph outlining how a product gets to a buyer and asking students to use vocabulary words like import and export. This is also a way for me to continually assess.

4. Bridges to tomorrow- the final and most important part of the Interactive notebook is that students should be coached to examine their notes daily. I encourage kids to use a different color pen or highlighter to go back through and record insights and questions. Getting VERY excited the first time a student says, “I was looking at my notebook last night and wanted to know…” will make this much easier.

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*A note on assessment: Interactive notebooks DO require immediate feedback, but much of this can be done through in class partnerships, or table check ins with groups. To assure student quality and take a look at growth over time, I do often collect & reflect. Rather than taking all of the notebooks home at once, I try to take 5 or so books home at night to check over the last few nights, seeing everyone once per week.

How do you use interactive notebooks? What other ways have you found to keep students engaged and accountable for their learning?


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