Why I Don't Use Interactive Notebooks in my Secondary Classroom - It's Not Rocket Science

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Why I Don’t Use Interactive Notebooks in my Secondary Classroom

interactive notebooks

Interactive notebooks have been one of the biggest trends in education over the last few years, but are something I’ve never been able to buy into.  I’ve tried them in my classroom, and they just weren’t a good fit.  Now let me preface by saying this – I know that I am about to create a controversy by saying I don’t like INB.  I know so many teachers love them, and I love the heart behind using them, but I think I’ve found a strategy that is even better organizationally and more appropriate for use in a secondary classroom than interactive notebooks. I’m not saying INB is ineffective at all, I just want to offer another curriculum implementation/organization strategy for those teachers and students who aren’t into them. 

I call them packets. Essentially I create a packet for each unit – usually between 25-30 pages (depending on the number of labs and activities) – that I give to each student at the start of the unit.  They contain all of the content the students will need for that particular unit: unit outline, Cornell notes outlines, homework, practice handouts, labs, activities, and projects. Anything and everything that is a part of the unit comes in one complete packet, and students add new packets to a binder and separate with dividers each time they get one. I believe they do all of the things that interactive notebooks do (reduce clutter, organize content, provide a resource to support student-parent-teacher communication, allow flexibility in learning styles, etc.) but are more appropriate for students who are on their way to college (where they will never see an interactive notebook again) and save even more class time!

8 Reasons Why I love using Packets

  1. I only have to make copies one time each unit instead of copying handouts every day.  Even though it takes a while to copy the packets for each student, it saves so much time on a day-to-day basis.  (Also the last few years I’ve recruited seniors to be my “Teacher’s Aide” and have trained them to copy all of my packets for me.  I haven’t seen a copier in two years and it’s glorious!) – and now I have the packets in a DIGITAL PAPERLESS version so you don’t have to make ANY copies!  You can read more about my new digital paperless classroom here.
  2. It puts responsibility back on the students to maintain their science binder with their packet, while also aiding them in practicing organization skills.  It has been incredibly effective for my lower level students.  Even though it is a lot of papers at once, I can watch them put it in their binder and leave it there, rather than having to hang on to 100 individual papers passed out each day.  I also rarely have students losing papers because they get everything at one time.  (or NEVER if you go digital!)
  3. It makes it so easy to be absent last minute if you have to. If you or your child gets sick, sub plans are a breeze.  You don’t have to send your teacher neighbor to make copies for you – because your students have everything they need already in their packet.  You just have to tell the sub which pages the students need to work on.
  4. The structure gives them organizational skills that can transfer for use in college – and one of our goals as high school teachers should be to prepare our students for college.  The packet helps students learn how to structure notes (I give students Cornell-style note outlines for each concept) which I have found helps provide scaffolding for them to be able to write notes all on their own in later high school years.  And again, it is promoting student autonomy because they have to be completely responsible for everything they do.
  5. Time saver in so many ways – no more time wasted regularly passing out handouts, or having to cut and paste things into a notebook like with interactive notebooks.  Plus it is easier for you to grade than an interactive notebook because you can just collect a few sheets at a time, rather than taking a whole stack of notebooks home.
  6. Students do a better job keeping up with returned graded work because every page is numbered so they can put graded assignments right back into the packet where it came from.
  7. There isn’t a learning curve to implementing the packet strategy like there can be for interactive notebooks.  You really don’t have to take time to teach them how to organize it or use them as a tool.  You simply give your students their first one on the first day of school for you introductory unit and say, “This is your lifeline.  You are responsible for bringing this in your binder every day.  There is no day you will not need it.”  That is all.  Students also know if they forget their binder or lose it, they will struggle, so they take the packet and their binder seriously.  I never have to deal with students not being prepared for class anymore or looking through their backpacks for a crumpled homework sheet.
  8. You no longer need a filing cabinet – you can keep all of your curriculum and keys organized in binders!  I have a binder for each unit, as you can see below.  I use dividers to separate my CP (non-honors) packet from my honors packet, and my CP assessments from my honors assessments.  It is so easy at the start of each unit to grab a binder and have everything I need right there.  Plus I can easily take it home if I need to grade because all of my answer keys are together.

I seriously cannot tell you enough how much I love using these packets, and how much my students and parents have appreciated them.  It can be a lot of work at first to compile your first packets but once you do, they are so easy to edit and manage year after year.  Plus if you teach biology, anatomy, or physical science, I have all of these already made for you!  You can check them out by clicking below.

interactive notebooks

Advice for making your own packets

  • The first page is an outline of your unit.  I separate my units into concepts, and on the first page of the packet list out objectives and vocabulary for each of the concepts.  My students have to make their own study guides from these outlines, and all my tests are built upon these objectives and vocabulary.
  • Include Cornell note outlines.  I think they are such an effective note-taking strategy for secondary students.  I also think them writing notes by hand is extremely beneficial for their retention of the knowledge (Check out an article about this here) For lower level students, I also include prompts in the summary sections to help them do this part of their notes.
  • Include all labs, inquiry investigations, practice, projects – everything! To really reap the benefits, it needs to all be compiled as a unit in its entirety.  No random handouts ever again!  You can see a sample from one of my packets below.
So many teachers love using interactive notebooks to organize their classrooms and curriculum.  But I've found a strategy I love even better that will reduce stress, chaos, and wasted time.  Plus it is more appropriate for secondary students! An important read before back to school!

It is important to note that how you make your packets AND how to use them are both critical in the success of the packet strategy.  This blog post is NOT MEANT to encourage teachers to give students massive packets filled with worksheet after worksheet!!!  You can’t just hand your students a packet of paper and sit at your desk and expect them to teach themselves (and if you are reading this, I know you aren’t that kind of teacher, since clearly you are branching out and reading blog posts about different ideas for your classroom!)  I’ve designed this as an ORGANIZATIONAL strategy to administer content to my students in a classroom without textbooks for the last 6+ years.  My classroom is still inquiry-based, student-centered, and FULL of discussions, labs, and engaging activities.  I just make copies once every other month and have a classroom full of students with everything they need every day to learn and participate.

If you are looking to try a new organizational strategy this year, I hope you will take the time to consider testing out this packet strategy for a unit.  I’ve never turned back since!  

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