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Why do you use spirals for Interactive Notebooks?

Interactive Notebook Cover Page

It never fails each week I get the question asked of me, “Why did you choose spirals for your Interactive Notebooks?” The answer is fairly simple… I didn’t, they chose me.

How you ask?

I started using Interactive Notebooks in 2010 with my students and that year it was really whatever the kids had was what they would use. I was very liberal since we were starting in the Spring Semester and I wanted them to just have a place to put everything. Well, it worked for some and for most it didn’t. I knew something had to change when we made our school supply list for the following year.

Next we were all about binders. One binder all for math and using 5 dividers to sort things (warm-ups, practice sheets, notes, graded papers, extra). I took a lot of time each week to make sure that my students had their materials in the right places. It made me feel like things were finally starting to work. I still have students who are now Juniors in high school who have kept these because they were organized.

Moving onto the next school year we decided to use graph paper spirals and/or composition books (yes, I had one class of each- crazy but that’s another story) because we were limited to one binder for all subjects. We thought the graphing spirals would be perfect because it would allow students to line things up as well provide the needed room for graphs. Well that is all fine and dandy if you plan to use it that way. I started researching more about Interactive Notebooks and used more interactive things in them rather than just notes. Yes, these spirals were GREAT when we needed to graph things but for the most part when you are writing with pencil the dark blue lines can get in the way.

The class that used composition books went well. Because I was using both a spiral and a composition book I was always either having to shrink things down (65% is the magic amount) or fold them it was just getting to me. Not only was it more work for me as a teacher but it began to get frustrating keeping up with two different copies of everything. I loved composition books for their size and that they laid flat for the most part. The major thing that got to me over time was that students were notorious for tearing out a page from the back when they needed a piece of scrap paper not matter than warnings I gave and then pages started to fall out. DOH!

Moving onto year number 4 (2012-2013), I switched grades and they had already made the supply list to be two GREEN 100 page spirals. The students brought them in the first week, kept one for the second semester on a shelf in my classroom and we used the other. This is where spirals chose me, I had to make them work because I couldn’t change it.

I started planning during the summer how I would use them and really took time to look into what other teachers had done with their notebooks and I set up that structure I wanted from Day 1. Spiral notebooks allowed me to have more room not only for flippables and notes that we would glue in but also just to get everything in on the pages. I was finally in a groove and loving it. I took time to make it work and loved that my students were doing the same.

Now that I have continued to create Interactive Notebooks as samples for my products I still use spirals for the majority of them. I have also used three-prong folders that I can separate units with and I really like how portable they are. I definitely would have used these in my Resource Math classroom so that students weren’t overwhelmed by all the massive amount of notes over time.

So you can see that I have used just about all there is to use in the way of creating Interactive Notebooks. In the end you really need to determine not what only will work for you as a teacher but also for your students because in THEY are the ones who matter.

A few months back I created a video about the various different forms of Interactive Notebooks and talked about the pros and cons of each.

So now my question to you is… What are you using for Interactive Notebooks in your classroom? Are they working for you and your students? What could you do differently?


  1. Karen Currie says

    This is the first year that the INBs have been truly interactive, thanks to your great examples and units. I have 4 this year because I teach 3 sections of 6th grade math, plus the one I mock up to make sure everything will fit. I like the spiral notebooks because so many of the CCSS spiral. We have been able to easily see that we’ve worked on The Distributive Property four times now!! Next year I’m going to ask that they get the larger spirals so that everything can fit in one notebook.Some of the students have them and said they got them at Costco. I had them take notes last year for math (using Calif. Standards) and we still used two spirals. My students from last year said that they definitely are glad that they listened to me about their notebooks being “like gold” and to hold onto them, because they’ve helped them so much in 7th grade Algebra. I considered switching to folders with notebook paper in them, for units, and I’ve given this option to my students when we start a new unit next trimester. So far, all of the students have said they like the spiral format the best.

  2. says

    Thanks for the idea about the folders. I’m still brainstorming for next year for my lowest level class. I teach block in high school, so 3 classes a day. My regular classes do great with the composition notebook, but I’ve tried two years with my lower level (lots of EC/ADHD kids) and it just isn’t clicking in the composition notebook. Not sure if a five subject notebook where we can keep everything together or a folder method might work.

  3. Miss Martin says

    Personally, I LOVE composition notebooks. They are just so sturdy, and I have never had pages fall out the way they do with spiral notebooks. The kids treat them like they are making their own textbook, rather than just a notebook to doodle in. It’s funny how everyone has their own preferences and make them work for their own style!

  4. Melissa says

    I would to see some examples of how you use the folders. I am teaching resource ELAR for the first time after teaching Regular Math, and I am finding it difficult to do INB this year.

  5. Jann says

    2014-2015 was my first year totally using INB and my students loved it! We dumped the textbook and our composition notebook became our textbook! Jenn thanks for all your help!! I have already begun planning for the 2015-2016 school year!

  6. Lizzy Buitron says

    This is my 2nd year using INB….I TOTALLY ❤ them!!! I have been tempted to try using spirals, BUT scared they will tear there pages out for other classes

  7. Jenne Brown says

    I would love to see your starter kit. I have never used an interactive notebook ever but would love to for my 7th grade math students. Thanks

  8. Nicole says

    Hello! I happened to stumble upon your blog of INB. I will be teaching 7tj grade math next year and would love to incorporate INBs. Do you have a starter kit that I could preview? Thanks so much.

  9. Kimette says

    I teach high school science and I am REALLY interested in using INBs! I generally have lower level students and live in a low socioeconomic area so I think that INBs would help students learn to organize and study and are relatively inexpensive (particularly when compared to textbooks). However, I still have some major areas of concern – how to handle grading 130+ notebooks and the spiral-composition-binder quandary. I’m leaning towards a 1″ binder because of its durability and because at the end of a term my students can store their work (I have storage for papers, but note binders) and start anew without having to buy a whole new book. Because of the specialized vocabulary, labs, and math work, we use up a LOT of pages and the spirals would definitely get filled up. Also, whenever I’ve had more than two spiral notebooks together they always get tangled. Imagine that with a class set (25-30) notebooks! Which brings us back to my other big concern – how do you grade these? My students will NOT do work that isn’t graded no matter how important or helpful that I tell them it will be, so I will have to grade the notebooks, I just don’t know how:(
    I’m sorry this is so long, and I realize that you teach middle school, but I would appreciate any insights and advice that you can offer.
    Thank you for the great ideas that you’ve already given me!

  10. Susan Freeze says

    I have really enjoyed watching several of your videos. I was wondering what do your students use to write in the interactive notebooks for the colored part. Colored ink pens, markers, or colored pencils?

    Thanks in advance for the help!

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