Interactive Notebooks



Interactive Notebooks[1]



The interactive notebook serves you, the student of literature and language, as a library, a laboratory, and a journal.  Like a library, the interactive notebook serves as a storehouse of accumulated knowledge; like a laboratory, it serves as a means to pose meaningful, authentic questions and to seek their answers; like a journal, it serves as a medium both for personalizing knowledge and for reflection and as a means to foster intellectual and social growth and to develop excellent habits of mind.


The interactive notebook will prove an invaluable tool in your quest to meet the goals of the course as they are articulated in the California standards for English and language arts and in the course description.


How and why does the interactive notebook work?


  • Because it requires you to use both the left and right brain hemispheres of your brain, the notebook fosters the creation of neural networks.
  • Because it requires you to record and respond to information in a manner that is organized, systematic, personal, and intentional, the notebook enables you to refer to that information more quickly and to apply it more effectively.
  • Because it provides a structure in which there is room for creative variation and requires thoughtful, self-directed interaction with course content, the notebook provides opportunities for you to use multiple intelligences[2] and learning styles[3], to improve all four language skills[4], to develop attributes of intelligent behavior[5], to identify and respond to academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, to practice and develop critical, creative and goal-oriented thinking skills, to develop academic vocabulary, to articulate and work toward personal goals, and to be surprised.


In short, the interactive notebook serves as a means to become an active and independent thinker and learner, to become, in fact, the best active and independent thinker and learner you can be.




1.      A marble, bound composition book, 9.75” x 7.5”, preferably college-ruled

2.      Glue sticks

3.      Scissors

4.      Pens with blue or black ink

5.      Highlighters

6.      Colored pencils or pens



Organizing Your Interactive Notebook


1.      Affix the label I provide to the front cover of your notebook.  Print neatly and legibly:


A.     your first and last names;

B.      my name and classroom number (“Mr. Hill, A-4”, just in case your notebook is misplaced!);

C.     the name of the course (“Academy English IV,” “English IV,” or “AP English Literature”), the semester (“Semester One” or “Semester Two”);

D.     the academic year (“2011-2012”);

E.      and the period your class meets (“Period X”).


2.      Neatly number the pages of your interactive notebook in the upper, exterior corner of each page.  Number the pages on the left even and the pages on the right odd.  Use a bright-colored pen (not blue or black) to number the pages.


3.      Count five lines from the bottom on every odd-numbered page (every page on the right).  Neatly trace the fifth line from the bottom with the same bright-colored pen you used to number the pages.  You will reserve the space below this line for vocabulary words that you learn during the course of class discussion, i.e. those words that are not necessarily intended to be part of the lesson but that make their way unexpectedly into our discussion.


4.      Cut out and affix the interactive notebook rubric to the inside of the notebook’s front cover.  Refer frequently to the rubric to remind yourself of expectations for the interactive notebook and to monitor your progress.


5.      Cut out and affix each part of the table of contents to the final pages of your notebook.  The first part should be affixed to the final page of the notebook, the second part to the second-to-last page, the third part to the third-to-last page, etc.  It is imperative that you update the table of contents after every class meeting and every time you complete an activity in the notebook.  Use a pen with blue or black ink for the table of contents.  Be systematic, precise, and clear when you enter new information in your table of contents.  For example:


A.     For those pages upon which you have recorded notes from class discussion, enter “TC: [Topic or Title], Notes.”[6]  (This information can be taken directly from the board.)

B.      For silent writing activities, enter “Silent Writing: [Topic or Title].”

C.     For assignments, enter “Assignment: [Topic or Title].”

D.     For reflection, enter “Reflection: [Topic or Title].”


6.      Head each page with the title or topic of the activity recorded or completed there and with the date.  This information should be written at the top of the page.  Begin notes for each class meeting on a clean, odd-numbered (right side) page.



Professionalism and the Interactive Notebook


Although its benefits are uniquely yours, the interactive notebook is in fact a public document, for it will be collected and graded, and should be treated as such.  Certain practices significantly both increase the benefits of the notebook and convey the sophistication of your mind.  Professionalism in the maintenance and presentation of the notebook is imperative.


1.      Your handwriting must be neat and legible.

2.      Respect both the left and right margins of each page.  Reserve the left margin for notation and the right margin for comments.  Leave the first line (after the top line) and the last line of each page blank.

3.      Do not doodle or scribble in your interactive notebook.  (Relevant and thoughtful artwork, diagrams, etc. are encouraged; meaningless marks are forbidden.)

4.      All writing is practice: follow the rules of grammar, mechanics, punctuation, etc. in your notebook.

5.      You must have your interactive notebook in class every day.

6.      You may not use the notebook for other courses.

7.      Be clear and consistent in all your efforts.



Right-Side, Left-Side, and Continuous Activities


The right-side or odd-numbered pages of your notebook serve as your library, i.e. your storehouse of accumulated knowledge.  There you will record what is called passive learning, receptive learning, or input, i.e. information you receive from lecture, discussion, seminar, books, criticism, magazines, video, or any other external source.


The left-side or even-numbered pages serve as your laboratory, i.e. a means to pose meaningful, authentic questions and to seek their answers, and as your journal, i.e. both a medium for personalizing knowledge and for reflection and as a means to foster intellectual and social growth and to develop excellent habits of mind.  There you will record what is called active learning, productive learning, or output, i.e. your active, personal, creative, and self-directed interaction with, manipulation of, and response to information that comes from external sources.


Guidelines for Right-Side Activities


The most important right-side activity is note-taking during lecture, class discussion, small-group discussion, and seminar.  Note-taking is a vital skill that requires time and practice to acquire and develop.  I can certainly guide your practice, but you and you alone are ultimately responsible for the acquisition and development of this skill, to wit:


1.      Include the daily “What?/How?/Why?,” its contents abbreviated if necessary, or agenda your teacher posts on the board.

2.      You must not depend upon your teacher to write everything you need to know on the board.  Note-taking is essentially a listening and writing activity, not a reading and writing activity.  You should certainly copy what your teacher writes, but you must also write what he or she says.  Listen for repetition, enumeration, changes in tone or pitch in his or her voice, and overt verbal indicators (e.g. “This is important,” “Here’s the crux of the matter,” “Write this down,” “Listen to my face!”) in order to determine what is important.  Unless he or she tells you otherwise, do not attempt to record verbatim your teacher’s words; rather, paraphrase his or her words, taking care to preserve his or her ideas intact.  Do not be afraid to ask questions of clarification, i.e. questions that seek more information.  Do not rush to ask for repetition, for your teacher is very likely to repeat important ideas without solicitation, but if repetition is necessary but not forthcoming, ask for it.  No teacher is perfect, although I come pretty close.  (You know you love me.  You can’t help it; I am so darned lovable!)  If your teacher is given to circuitous speech, be prepared to adjust your listening and note-taking.


3.      Incorporate visual devices, e.g. graphic organizers and diagrams, in your written notes.


4.      Include white space and geometric figures (e.g. boxes, circles) around texts for better visual organization of information.


5.      Revisit, review, and summarize your daily notes as soon after class as possible.  The sooner you return to your notes, the more useful they will be, and the better able you will be to clarify and make corrections to your notes.


6.      Record questions posed by your teacher and classmates, attributing each to the person who poses it.


7.      When appropriate and possible, outline or enumerate ideas in relation to one another.


8.      Develop a system of personalized system of notation, including abbreviations and symbols, and use it consistently throughout your notes.  Make notations in the left margin of the page.  Refer to the chart below for a few suggested abbreviations and symbols.  You should add to and refine this list of suggestions to fit your needs and as dictated by the content of the class.


9.      Remember to include page numbers for the passages and quotations from the literature we study that are discussed in class.



Question posed in class


Particularly important information


Surprising or intriguing information




Reference to the text, including page, act and scene, or line number




Cross reference


Application to “real life” or another academic discipline


“That is,” renaming, in other words


Metacognitive strategy










In addition to notes, you should include on right-side pages the content of any guided study activities.  You will complete these activities on left-side pages.  If more than one left-side page is required to complete the activity, be sure that the input on the right side corresponds to output on the left.  For example, if you receive a list of study questions, affix the questions to a right-side page, and answer them on the left.  If you answer three of seven questions on a single left-side page, make sure that you’ve affixed only questions one-three on the corresponding right side.  (I hope you have sharp scissors and excellent cut-and-paste skills!)


Remember to adhere strictly to guidelines for organization and professionalism.


Guidelines for Left-Side Activities


Because they are active, personal, creative, and self-directed, there is a vast array of left-side activities that are appropriate for the interactive notebook.


Perhaps most important among these activities are articulating and answering questions, original analysis and interpretation, application, summary, and reflection.


1.      Articulate and answer insightful and authentic factual, interpretive/analytical, and evaluative questions about the texts we study in class.


2.      Articulate and answer insightful and authentic questions of clarification, questions of evidence, and devil’s advocate questions in response to the ideas you, your teacher, and your classmates share in class.


3.      Articulate original analysis and interpretation of the texts we read, analysis and interpretation that supports, refutes, qualifies, or extends that which we have shared in class.


4.      Apply the ideas we discuss in class to another circumstance, or demonstrate by application a principle of grammar, composition, textual analysis and interpretation, critical thinking, or metacognition that we have discussed in class.


5.      On those occasions when your teacher does not explicitly summarize the content of class discussion, take it upon yourself to do so on your own.  Remember that an effective, accurate, and precise summary restates, often in paraphrase, all main ideas without illustration (i.e. examples that illustrate), elaboration, or evaluation that is beside the point.


6.      Reflect upon the personal meaning and value of the literature and ideas we discuss in class.  (Please refer to “Meaningful, Authentic, and Articulate Reflection” for guidelines for reflective writing.)


Other, generalized activities include:


  • brainstorming
  • discovery headlines
  • character biographies and biography posters
  • imaginative character interviews
  • plot timelines
  • informative illustrations of setting
  • point of view flowcharts
  • informative illustrations of characters
  • conflict charts
  • illustrations of scenes from works of prose and drama
  • diagrams blocking scenes from dramatic works
  • tonal flowcharts
  • cause and effect flowcharts
  • motif flowcharts
  • cartoons
  • poetry, original or borrowed, that is relevant to other texts, along with reflection
  • song lyrics
  • original metaphors and analogies
  • graphic organizers and diagrams that you generate or borrow
  • mnemonic devices
  • pictures
  • significant statements
  • exploration of important quotations
  • concept maps
  • original or borrowed art, along with reflection
  • original essay prompts
  • anticipation of the teacher’s questions
  • “What if . . . ?” questions
  • critical thinking activities that you construct and complete




1.      Adhere strictly to guidelines for organization and professionalism.


2.      Always use color, for it helps the brain acquire and organize information.


3.      When you receive a graded essay, essay or short answer test, or project, complete a left-side activity as a means to process and reflect upon your evaluation.


4.      Under no circumstances are you to submit perfunctory, desultory, slapdash, or sloppy work.


5.      Revisit the first page of this assignment frequently to be sure that you are making the most of this assignment and that you are making the progress necessary to earn your desired grade.


6.      Because this is an English class, the majority of your left-side activities should include writing.  For students in AP English Literature, that is the vast majority.  Remember, all writing is practice: sloppy practice makes for bad habits.


7.      Most importantly, you must complete a left-side after every class meeting during which discussion took place, and no left-side page may be left blank!


Continuous Assignments


Certain assignments, such as ERWC activities, essay planning, close-reading notebook entries, and longer reflective writing assignments, may be completed on both left- and right-side pages.  I will identify those assignments as they are made.



The Reflection


As we near the end of each unit, you will be asked to revisit and review the content of your interactive notebook and to reflect in writing upon your work.


Reflect upon your mastery of the content of the unit.


1          Thoughtfully and carefully select four ideas, skills, assignments, and/or interactive notebook entries that, taken together, represent the range of the quality of your work.  In other words, select four ideas, skills, and/or assignments that demonstrate great success, moderate success, and little or no success in your endeavor to master content and skills and to meet state, course, and personal goals.  Clearly delineate each of your four selections.


On paper: a list of four selections


2          In one well-developed and articulate paragraph per idea, skill, assignment, or entry, specify the quality of work of each selection, explain in very specific and detailed terms your reasons for having evaluated the selection as such, and delineate your habits, strengths, and weaknesses as a student of literature and language as they are suggested by each selection.


On paper: four paragraphs, one per idea, skill, assignment, or entry.


Reflect upon your completion of the interactive notebook itself.


3          Review in detail the rubric for the interactive notebook.  Evaluate your interactive notebook against the rubric, and propose a score of 1-9.


On paper: a score of 1-9


4          In two well-developed and articulate paragraphs, justify the rating you have chosen.  In the first paragraph, provide an assessment of the notebook’s strengths, and in the second, an assessment of its weaknesses.  Be very specific and detailed, including examples from the notebook from the beginning of the unit to its end.


On paper: two paragraphs


Reflect upon your organizational and study skills.


5          In two well-developed and articulate paragraphs, identify and explain those organizational and study skills that you have practiced to be successful in this course.


On paper: two paragraphs


Reflect upon the delivery of course content.


6          Choose a single idea, skill, or assignment that was confusing for you.  In one well-developed and articulate paragraph, explain in very specific terms why it was confusing, and explain how you yourself would teach it to make it more easily and fully comprehensible.


On paper: one paragraph


Reflect upon and establish goals.


7          In two well-developed and articulate paragraphs, identify goals you believe yourself to have met, goals you believe yourself to have failed to meet, and goals for improvement.  List and explain specific areas in which you feel you need to improve or in which you believe you need more help to improve.


On paper: two paragraphs


Summary Table


Be sure to identify by number and topic each of the seven activities you complete as part of the reflection.  Refer to the summary table below to ensure that you have done so.






Content Mastery

List of four selections


Content Mastery

Four paragraphs, one per selection


Interactive Notebook

Score of 1-9


Interactive Notebook

Two paragraphs


Organizational and Study Skills

Two paragraphs


Content Delivery

One paragraph



Two paragraphs


 Meaningful, Authentic, and Articulate Reflection


Meaningful, authentic, and articulate reflection includes consideration of your work in many or all of the following terms:


1.      what you learned;

2.      how you learned;

3.      which aspects of the work were high quality;

4.      which aspects of the work were not high quality;

5.      what you would do differently in the future and why;

6.      what makes you proud of your work;

7.      the extent to which and why the work was worthwhile for you;

8.      the extent to which, why, and how the work has made an impact upon your understanding of view of the world.


It also includes an account of your growth as a student in general and as a student of literature and language.  It may consider your growth in terms of multiple intelligences, learning styles, language skills, and attributes of intelligent behavior[7].


Meaningful, authentic, and articulate reflection is never perfunctory, desultory, slapdash, or sloppy.


As you compose your reflection, adhere strictly to guidelines for organization and professionalism.


[1] I am greatly indebted to Melissa Hero for inspiration and the excellent model she provided for this assignment.

[2] Spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential (see Howard Gardner)

[3] Visual, auditory, reading-writing, kinesthetic or tactile (see Neil Fleming); concrete experience vs. abstract conceptualization and reflective observation vs. active experimentation, converger, diverger, assimilator, accommodator (see David Kolb)

[4] Listening, speaking, reading, and writing

[5] Persistence; decreased impulsivity; listening to others with understanding and empathy; coöperative thinking; flexibility of thinking, metacognition; striving for accuracy and precision; a sense of humor; questioning and problem posing; drawing on past knowledge and applying it to new situations; taking risks; using all the senses; a sense of efficacy as a thinker, i.e. ingenuity, originality, insightfulness, and creativity; wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving (see Art Costa)

[6] “TC” = “Today’s Class.”

[7] See footnotes, Page 1.

Joey Hill,
Aug 25, 2011, 3:54 PM
Joey Hill,
Aug 25, 2011, 3:54 PM
Joey Hill,
Aug 29, 2011, 9:46 AM
Joey Hill,
Aug 25, 2011, 3:54 PM
Joey Hill,
Aug 25, 2011, 3:55 PM