Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New Social Studies Curriculum Means Interactive Notebooks and Freebies!

I've always wanted to try interactive notebooks. Two years ago I tried to get my team interested in using interactive notebooks for our math block, but they weren't interested. Since we team teach for math, it's either we all do it, or nobody does it. I was frustrated, but in the back of my mind I kept looking for another opportunity.

The chance came this year. I'm not with the same team, and we have a new social studies curriculum, which just begs for some innovation. I'm a bit nervous, but I finally decided to jump in with both feet and create social studies interactive notebooks for my own class this year. I'm sure I'll make plenty of mistakes, but I definitely want to give interactive notebooks a try.

This will be my first post, in what I hope will be a year-long series on using Interactive Notebooks for fourth-grade social studies. If you teach a different subject or grade level, I hope you will still follow me on my journey, especially if you, too, are interested in implementing Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.

After looking through my new social studies curriculum, I had to decide what I wanted to emphasize, and where to start. We have new Common Core State Standards for Social Studies in Tennessee this year. After reading the CCSS, I was surprised to see that our new textbook was not aligned to the new standards! I would have to supplement the text in some areas, and streamline it in others, in order to teach the key ideas I needed my students to master.

In the meantime, all students will need notebooks in which to create the notes and store the foldables created in class. I created these simple Back to School Editable Supply Lists, which you can get for free in my TpT store here.

Editable Supply Lists for K-6



You can either send this home with your "Back to School" letter to parents, or whenever you want your students to bring in classroom supplies. I have spiral notebooks on my list, but you can use composition books if you prefer. Just keep in mind that foldables for composition books need to be copied at about 64% the ordinal size in order to fit in the smaller books.

Once students have their spiral notebooks, it's time to personalize and organize them. I think of this sort of as like setting up an empty filing cabinet by putting labels on the outside of the drawers and colorful hanging file folders inside. I want the notebooks to be both functional and attractive, with no two exactly the same, just like no two students are exactly the same.

For this reason, I encourage students to create and decorate their own covers for their notebooks. The only things I wanted to be sure they included on the cover were the subject, their names, and my name. My artistic students love this freedom, and happily grab blank paper and get to work.

However, I have some students who require a bit more direction, so for these students I created the following cover, which you can download free from my TpT shop here. Remember, if you are using composition books instead of spiral notebooks, you will need to copy this page at 64% of normal in order for it to fit on the composition book. :) I created these for the various school subjects, but purposely left them rather "blank" to leave room for students to personalize them. :)

Language Arts Cover

Reading Cover

Writing Cover

Math Cover

Science Cover

Social Studies Cover


I decided to introduce the notebooks before lunch, then have this paper available on students' desks after they returned. I also tried to make it clear to students that if they wanted to create their own cover from scratch that I welcomed them to use blank paper, and made that available, as well. I wanted to give students the opportunity to think about the design of their covers, before they actually had to put color to paper. Introducing the assignment prior to lunch gives students that time.

After lunch, students were directed to get to work on their covers, and were given 20 minutes to do so. If they were not finished at that time I told them they were to finish it whenever they had extra time during the week, or they could take it home and finish it for homework. While they were working on their covers, I had several parent helpers come in and gave them directions for the next part of the project. I placed one parent at each table group, so that they would be extra eyes to spot any problems and redirect any students who needed help. You can find the form I used to ask parents for help here. (It's not in my store. It's just for my blog followers.)

Add your own date, time, and signature to this form.


Next we got to work on the Rubric for the notebook. Although I knew that we could just fill out this page as we went along, I was afraid that if I didn't have something for my students to glue into their books at this point, they might forget to leave space. So I directed my kiddos to cut out the page and glue it into the front of their notebooks. Parents were great at making sure students glued this in the correct spot in the notebooks, and that they used only a little bit of liquid glue. "Just a drop, not a lot!" I heard them say over and over again. :)

Sample Rubric


We went over the items on the rubric, and discussed the importance of doing their best work on everything that would go inside. When I told them that they would be able to use the notebook on tests, some of them perked up and seemed to take extra effort, but others seemed clueless. I figured that would change after the first test, though. ;)

Then we talked about the importance of having a Table of Contents in their notebooks, so that they would be able to quickly find the information they needed. I made this Table of Contents page, which you can also find free in my TpT shop here.

Table of Contents (for you to fill out as you go)


Some students take longer than others to finish, and some kids tend to lose small pieces if they have to come back to the assignment later. For this reason, it is a good idea to have students glue some type of envelope or large baggie to the inside back flap of their notebooks. That way those small pieces will still be there when they return. :) I like the 9" manila envelopes, but you can use whatever works for you.

Envelope for storing small pieces


Finally, we numbered the pages. At this point, I was really glad I had all that parent help in the room! I had asked parents to make sure all the students in their little groups numbered the same pages in their notebooks at the same time as everyone else in the group. They were able to keep the kids on track to correctly number the pages of their Interactive Notebooks.

As each table group finished organizing their notebooks, they were directed to clean up their trash, leaving the notebooks on their desks to dry. They pulled out their texts and began to read the posted assignment, while the other groups finished the task. One by one I thanked the parent helpers and sent them on their way. When the last student had finished and the last parent had left, I was ready to begin my next lesson, knowing that student notebooks were ready for the next day.

I was fortunate not to have any absent students during this activity, but if I did I would make sure to collect the blank notebooks from their desks and complete the set-up for them. Those students could always decorate and personalize their notebook covers on another day, but if they did not have the basic organization ready when it came time for me to teach the lesson, then those absent students would quickly fall behind. This is also a job you could give to your parent helpers to complete.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the beginning of my adventure into the world of Interactive Notebooks! You can find all these forms (except the parent volunteer page) in my TpT store, or by clicking on this graphic.

Interactive Notebook Freebie
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"See you" next time!
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