Believe it or not, some middle-school students will show up in your classroom next year without basic cutting and gluing skills. That makes the whole idea of using interactive notebooks so much more daunting. After all, it is concern about classroom management issues or “wasted” time that holds many teachers back from trying this strategy. You can explicitly teach these procedures to your students for a smoother interactive notebook (INB) experience.
1. Color first
If you are going to have students color interactive notebook components, it’s much easier to do that before cutting them out. Then they don’t have to worry about coloring “inside the lines” because those edges are going to be cut off.
I am a proponent of coloring because so many students are strong visual learners. Everything in my classroom is color-coded! Research has shown that coloring can promote learning by helping students focus and retain information. That said, some students are very meticulous and have to finish their coloring at home. You could even assign students to color the pages at home the night before…if you have the kind of students who would bring them back the next day! That way they get a preview of what you’ll be teaching and one more exposure to the content.
2. Make as few cuts as possible
Look for opportunities to stack pages with the same size and shape cut-outs. If students can cut two or three pages at a time, they can save precious minutes.
In my interactive notebooks, I’ve developed a couple of shortcuts to reduce the amount of class time spent cutting paper. First, my printable pages have the edges juxtaposed. That way students don’t have to cut around the outside of every single piece. I also align them as much as possible so that you can pre-cut some parts of the page with a paper slicer if desired. All of my interactive notebook pieces are standardized so that the cutting lines are solid bold black lines and dashed lines are for folding. This consistency prevents confusion and having to start over because someone cut an important piece off. If a piece does has a decorative border or shape, I place a straight rectangular outline around it for cutting purposes.
Basically, cutting should not be the focus of your notebook creation. The point of adding little flip and flap pieces to your notebook should be to enhance the material, not to make works of art!
3. Use white school glue
Yes, glue sticks are easier to use. Liquid white glue will last, though. Pieces attached with glue sticks will dry up and fall out before the year is over. Before turning over bottles of glue to your students, however, you should demonstrate how to use it.
Most people will squeeze the glue bottle and stream it out in a zig-zag across and around the paper. Then they complain about the extra glue that oozes out from under the edges when they press the paper into the notebook. The secret is to apply the glue in tiny dots, spaced about 1 inch apart. I say, “Tiny dots; no puddles or blots.” (Warning: it won’t look like enough if you’re used to toaster-strudeling your glue.) The less glue you can use, the better the results will be! Your paper won’t soak up as much liquid, so it will dry more quickly and will lie flatter in the notebook. That really helps when students need to write notes on the pieces they just glued in.
4. Consider other ways to attach pieces
Sometimes, glue is not the answer. When you are creating a flipbook with multiple pages, use a stapler both to bind the booklet and to secure it into the interactive notebooks. A stapler may also work better for thick, heavy, or textured pieces that students want to display in their notebooks.
Tape is another alternative, especially for pieces that students may want to re-position in their notebooks.
Finally, a paperclip along the edge of the page can temporarily hold a piece in an interactive notebook. This works for papers students will want to remove later, i.e., an artistic representation that will become a keepsake.
5. Fold oversize pages
If you are using composition notebooks, a full-size worksheet or handout won’t fit without hanging over the edges. Teach your students to fold a letter-size page in half “hamburger style” (horizontally). Then they can glue or staple the top half onto a notebook page. Bonus: you now have the blank back half-page on which to write additional notes!
You can even stack these folded pages by gluing or stapling the backs together (bottom of one to the top of the next) to make a booklet of sorts. We do this in my class to preserve 2-3 page articles that students have annotated.
6. Add to the bottom of a page
It is important (at least for this control freak) to keep everyone on the same page. So what do we do when one student writes a 3-page journal entry? Teach your class to extend a page by adding extra paper at the bottom, either by gluing, stapling, or taping. Then just fold that extra paper up into the notebook before turning the page. Use the paperclip trick from above to secure it in place if needed. With that technique, even a student who writes a novel for his or her constructed response will still be on the same interactive notebook page number with the rest of the class the next day.
Find tips for setting up your interactive notebooks at the beginning of the school year.
See my most popular interactive notebook products for middle school ELA teachers.