The Tome (Interactive Notebooks)

I could not teach without The Tome. If you have had me as your teacher in the past 8 years you have been subjected to making one of these monsters and are a better person for it (right?!). I certainly did not invent this idea (could it have been TCI, the History Alive! people? that is where I learned about it . . .). Here is the gist: every student has a three subject, college ruled 5 Star (or other high quality) notebook. Within the first week of school we number all of the notebook’s pages and then take notes, record individual reflections, and keep track of papers in a prescribed, highly organized way as a class. Most often, notebooks are set out like so:

I actually tape in a 1/2 sheet of paper with the Do Now (which I call a Spark Plug) on the front and the Exit Ticket on the back (Spark Plug). Notes can look like this with a Gallery Walk on the Right and a Burn in Brain reflection on the left:

There are many excellent instructions for using interactive notebooks in your classroom out there (here is the History Alive! video promo, a nice book I’ve seen with a middle school science angle, and a book on interactive notebooks and ELLs). I’ve also put together some instructions that explain how I have used it before in my World History class (Instructions for The Tome). If you want to give interactive notebooks a shot in your classroom, here are some tips/ideas that have come from learning it the hard way:

  1. Give it a cool name: Students don’t love the term “interactive notebook” – so go with “The Tome” or “My Best Friend” all of which I have used at one point or another. Not only is it more fun, I love to hear students say “Do we need our Best Friends in class today?” Always, dear student, always.
  2. Use it daily and build really tight classroom procedures around it: This should not be a time waster. I have made students practice gluing images into their Tomes (in what Melissa Barkin calls “the X maneuver” which involves an X of glue, no more). They may only use a thumb’s length of tape. Each group has a labeled basket with supplies that take 10 seconds to go an get, another 60 to use and then another 10 to put back; done and done. While it is nice for students to take their time and make the notebooks as creative and beautiful as possible, extra decoration (i.e. drawing, coloring, gluing scrapbooking materials in, adding glitter, drawing intricate museum-worthy work, spraying on perfume so “it smells nice,” etc.) should happen outside of class time.
  3. Notebooks are better than binders: Papers fall out of binders but stay in notebooks. I recommend having labeled binders in class with tests, papers, homework, tracking, etc. that never leave the room and then having your Tomes come in and out of class each day. If students do not want to keep up with them designate a “parking lot” shelf where they can leave them. However, do not take responsibility for what happens in the parking lot. If they are stolen or messed with – too bad.
  4. Grade those notebooks: Nothing says “This is important” like making it be a grade. I grade notebooks every 3 to 6 weeks depending on the age of the students. The first check should come within the first week (this is just a do you have it check) and then a check to make sure students are following procedures comes two weeks later. Here is the form I’ve over the years: Tome Evaluation Here also are some student instructions for setting things up: Cover instructions for TomeTome Into and Setup Note: I don’t grade notebooks for seniors and only grade juniors for 1/2 the year.
  5. Invest students in the notebooks: Have a cover decorating contest within the first week. Provide clear packing tape for students to cover over their designs (this is like laminating them). Give students extra credit if they add color or make their notebooks particularly creative. Also, make them super useful and integrated into your class. Take notes in them every day. Reference them in class (“If you look back on page 147 you’ll see we talked about __”) On the back cover tape critical information so students have quick reference in your class (see below).




2 thoughts on “The Tome (Interactive Notebooks)

  1. Cindy Rogers says:

    You have started a thought process that may take several months to gel… but I wonder what kind of library resources/research skills tome (much cooler name needed) that I could facilitate… something that could be added to and referred to over a period of time, say years…. So much of what I teach is point-of-need stuff that is forgotten between points… Hmmmmm….. How to instruct, manage, etc. within my limited time of interaction…. Will have to let this rattle around for a while….Thanks for the idea!

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