Bond with James: Interactive Notebooks - left or right?!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Interactive Notebooks - left or right?!

I have been receiving questions concerning interactive notebooks at the secondary level - in email and from colleagues. Therefore, I thought I would take some time to talk about interactive notebooks.  

Interactive note-booking may seem daunting to those who have never tried them or have only seen examples in workshops - color, paper, glue, tape, glue AND tape, ribbons - the list goes on. I was one of those individuals that couldn't wrap my head around the idea of INBs. I originally felt that INBs were for elementary students. I was responsible for preparing my students for college life and in my mind, INBs were not going to accomplish that (I was a hardcore binder guy at the beginning of my career). To make a long story short, at some point I switched to spiral notebooks and then transitioned to composition notebooks. 

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I've been asked which is better - binders, spirals, or comp books.

At the end of the day it all boils down to personal preference. Whatever works for you and your students! Or...whatever you were "voluntold" to use by the district or campus. ;)   

The key is to have a plan, be structured and organized, and don't give up. Additionally, keep in mind that your main focus of using an interactive notebook should be to use it as a mechanism to drive student learning and understanding. Designing, coloring, cutting, gluing, pasting, and/or taping is great; but you may need to reevaluate the use of the INB if it is interfering with instructional time and/or detracting from student learning.

If you decide you want to incorporate INBs in your classroom, you may want to sit down and ask yourself some questions. For example:
  • Am I going to use binders, spirals, or composition books?
  • Is the school and/or district able to fund some or all of the INBs for my students? Or should I go out and buy them and have students pay me back [legal and/or district policy may require you to set up a school activity fund to do this]?
  • What materials will I need to implement INBs (e.g. glue, tape, markers, etc.)?
  • How will I setup and structure the INBs, especially if I have multiple preps?
  • Do I need to keep a teacher INB? If so, do I keep a single INB or develop one per class? 
  • How will I grade them?
  • What is that whole left-side versus right-side mumbo jumbo I keep hearing about?
  • Do I allow students to keep them in class; and if so, where will I store them? 
  • What if a student loses his/her INB?
Okay...I hope I didn't run you off, however, those are a few questions that you should put some thought into before you jump head first into INBs.  For now, I'm going to focus on the left-side / right-side component of INBs because this was something that was a district-wide initiative in my area a few years ago. Furthermore, the left-side / right-side idea highlights the interactive component of an interactive notebook - INBs are simply not all about cutting, gluing, plain notes, etc. 
Disclaimer: Some teachers do what I'm about to discuss the opposite way. That's okay. Just be consistent in your classroom, school, and/or district so that it works for you and your students. :)

The left side (page) of the INB is dedicated for students to demonstrate their understanding of the information from the right side (page).  You may see or hear the left side referred to as "output" because this is the side where students showcase their creativity - either through choice or guided by the teacher - to express their learning.  Examples include but are not limited to quick writes, graphic organizers, cartoons or drawings, mnemonics, and reflections. Really, it's any thing that the student creates to show that he/she understands the information discussed/taught on the right side.  

The right side is reserved for instructional content the teacher is providing (you may hear the right side referred to as "input").  Examples include but are not limited to notes, questions and answers, problems, vocabulary, and laboratory procedures. 

Over the years I have learned to condense my notes and be more concise with the curriculum I am responsible for teaching my students. 

Well, do you use multiple INB pages per instructional day? No.  Everything for a particular day receives 1 right page and 1 left page.Use graphic organizers, half sheets to create a layering effect [see photos below] or other methods in an effort to utilize a single page each. 

The above and following pictures show how I fit multiple half-sheets, graphic organizers, and/or other activities on one page of my INB.

© James Lyas (Bond with James)

Similar to the right side, I may have the students use the left-side multiple times; however, students will learn your space saving methods, as well as pick up new tricks, if you consistently use INBs throughout the year. If you want to control what goes on the left-side, yet offer flexibility, then design a choice sheet that lists a few ideas that students can select from [refer to left-side ideas listed above for an idea]. 

You can also check out a small preview of what I discussed in the short video below (0:35 seconds). I will also be back with future posts to discuss some suggestions to the sample questions I posed earlier. Please do not hesitate to contact me or share how you implement INBs in your classroom. Thanks for reading!


  1. Hi James,
    I teach lower elementary, and we use INB's. It's a struggle with little ones for me, because they are all over the board with how well they follow instructions, how large or small they write their letters, whether or not they can cut a straight line..But they do like them, and once they get the structure of it, they will refer to them rather than a text book. I also struggle with the whole right, left issue. I went to a Region 10 workshop where they discussed research that about the whole left brain/righ. With little ones, they are still trying to learn the difference between left and right! Thanks for a great post!

  2. Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article. best mini laptop under 15000 in india

  3. I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post. agencja interaktywna warszawa

  4. Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking. seo service malaysia

  5. Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. Thank you for sharing great information to us. custom notebook printing

  6. Thank you ever so for you blog article. Thanks Again. Really Great.
    Cheap Notebook Printing