What are Interactive Student Notebooks?



Interactive Student Notebooks, also called ISNs, hold great educational promise across the curriculum. The Teachers' Curriculum Institute (TCI) - a professional development organization focused on aiding social studies teachers in fostering more effective instruction - made the strategy popular in the early 1990s. Since then, the ISN has been an integral part of TCI's History Alive! program. Since TCI's popularization of the strategy, schools and teachers around the country and across the curriculum have adopted the strategy with their own students. Some schools have even made these notebooks mandatory in each class. But what are these notebooks really about? How are they different? You will be exploring these questions throughout this unit.


At the conclusion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Explain how Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) differ from traditional notebooks in your classroom
  • Identify the main components and principles of a typical ISN and briefly explain their purpose


Basic Principles of Interactive Notebooks

While most notebooks are used in a linear fashion with notes flowing from one page to another in a random fashion, the most basic principle of Interactive Student Notebooks is a right-side, left-side orientation. Each side of the notebook has a special purpose. The right side of the notebook is typically used as the "input" side. This is where students record lecture, discussion, and reading notes completed inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers strictly regulate and traditionally provide this information for students, so the right side could also be called the "teacher side." The left side of the notebook is typically used as the "output" side. This is where students have a chance to interact and process the information received through the right-side input activities. While there are a wide variety of activities students could complete, some of the options include writing personal interpretations, drawing cartoons, or formulating research questions. Because the left side depends on student choice, action, and creativity, it is also called the "student side."

What does this mean? To learn more about the set up of the notebook, and "visualize" the right side/left side orientation, visit the two websites below, which provide good examples of notebooks and a rationale behind them.

  • [1] This PowerPoint presentation, created by a teacher who uses ISNs, exhibits input and output activities for science classrooms.

It is crucial that you understand the basics of "input" and "output" as they relate to ISNs in the classroom. Everything we learn further will build off of this integral principle. If you have questions or concerns about this principle, please forward your questions to me on the discussion board on this page.

Key Components of Effective Notebooks

While we will be talking more about constructing "input" and "output" activities later, it is important that you understand other key components of ISNs that help keep students organized and help encourage deep learning. In order for student notebooks to be successful, they will need to include a range of components in their ISNs that you must designate. While discipline and teacher considerations will differ, several components of notebooks will remain the same across the curriculum. Continue to the learning activity below to discover these similar components. When finished with the activity, return to check your findings here: Elements of Effective Notebooks.


Visit the links below to view sample presentations by teachers who use Interactive Notebooks in their classrooms. Consider the following questions and answer them in a two paragraph response. Post them on the discussion board of this unit page by clicking the "discussion" tab at the top:

1. What are similar components of ISNs amongst all of the samples given?

2. How do the notebooks differ by teacher and subject area?

3. What components were you expecting to see, but did not?

One Teacher's ISN PowerPoint for Other Teachers Visit this teacher's web page and view her extremely helpful PowerPoint for teachers wishing to learn more about ISNs in the classroom.

Example Components: English ISN Visit this English teacher's website to view the main components of her interactive notebooks, presented in a PowerPoint show and explained in a blog-type post.

Mr. Peloquin's ISN This short video explains one science teacher's strategy for using ISNs. We will be returning to this video again in future units. For this unit, focus on the main components this teacher has students include in their notebooks.


Now that you have an introduction to ISNs visit Understanding and Integrating ISNs Discussion Space and in a 200-word discussion post, reflect on and answer the following questions. Read each of your classmates' posts and comment on at least two. Continue the discussion until the close of the lesson. Remember the goal of these discussions is to foster deeper understandings and personal meaning with the content. Your active participation is important in order to reach these goals.

1.Pen-explain.jpgExplain the differences between traditional notebooks and Interactive Student Notebooks. Which do you believe is more beneficial?

2.Pen-explain.jpgExplain the main components of traditional ISNs. Why are they necessary and beneficial?

3.Reflecting.jpg Reflect. How could ISNs change your current classroom practices?


Continue onto Unit 2 How are Interactive Student Notebooks Used in the Classroom?

Return to course homepage Understanding and Integrating Interactive Student Notebooks in the Secondary Classroom

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