Making Interactive Notebooks Work in the Primary Classroom

Let's talk interactive notebooks.  They've been all the rage the past few years, right?  I'll admit that I jumped on the bandwagon several years ago myself, but I quickly found myself falling off the wagon.  It may have actually been more of a jump.  You see, I teach 2nd grade.  Second graders still take FOR.EVER. to cut out anything.  And they need lots of help folding.  Should we even mention the gluing?

I couldn't jump off the bandwagon fast enough.  I found that my instructional time was being cut in half (at least) due to the cutting...and folding...and gluing.  Now, I know that some teachers will precut all of the pieces for their students ahead of time.  Those teachers are saints.  This teacher just doesn't have the time to commit to that. 

Fast forward to the next year.  My school decided to require all teachers to use interactive notebooks. Say what?!?  How can a school require ALL teachers to use a specific tool to deliver instruction?  Well friends, that's a rant I'm not even going to start today.  But, it was non-negotiable, so I knew I had to find a solution. 

Let me introduce you to my No-Cut Interactive Notebooks and explain why I have found them perfect for my primary classroom.

When I first created these, I wanted to keep the things I loved about Interactive Notebooks:

* They provide a record of learning.
* They provide interactive activities to showcase that learning.
* They serve as a meaningful informal assessment.

But I also wanted to add my own spin with these goals:

* NO CUTTING or FOLDING for students
* Minimal gluing
* Interactive activities and games for all concepts
* Opportunities for differentiation
* Written reflective responses

So, what does this look like? 

The Notebook
I choose to use composition notebooks.  I like these better than spirals because of several factors. 

1) Students don't accidentally (or purposefully) rip the pages out.
2) There is no spiral ring to unravel or get caught on things.
3) They are more sturdy and easier to store.
4) Half pages (and all of my INB pages are half-pages) fit perfectly into these.

The Prep
I give my students a cover to design for each of my notebooks.  This is just a way for them to make them a bit more personal to them and for me to easily identify them.  After designing their covers, I use packing tape to secure them to the notebooks.

I also add a ribbon to the backs of the notebooks that students can flip and use as a bookmark.  I hot glue and staple the ribbon to the inside of the back cover. 

Finally, I staple a Ziploc bag to the inside of the back cover.  This will hold two pennies and a paperclip, which students will use for most of the activities.  It's super important to teach students HOW to close a Ziploc bag and give them time to practice, practice, practice on day one.

The Pages
My No-Cut pages are just that - absolutely NO cutting or folding for students!  I just print out the INB pages and slice them in half.  Each student gets half a page to glue into his/her notebook.  That's it!  Super easy.  Super quick.  Let's move on to the learning! 

(Now, I know that some teachers stress the importance of the cutting and folding and those ARE important motor skills that young students need to develop.  However, during my very limited instructional time is not the time to do this.  We do LOTS of cutting and folding in my classroom...just not DAILY during instructional slots  For those students who struggle with this, their frustration sets in before the instruction even begins.)

Anchor Charts
Many times, I will provide students with a personal anchor chart for that unit that provides important terms or concepts that they can refer back to during the unit.

One thing that I really tried to build in were opportunities for reassessment.  We all know that not all students master concepts that first time they are introduced.  Many times they will need to work with me again in a small group.  Many pages have been designed so that students could do that page over and over again for practice without repeating the exact same problems.  For example, in the ABC order page above, students could do this page several times and not select the exact same words to group together for alphabetizing. 

Here's another example.
In this addition example, students could do this page over and over again and add different numbers each time thanks to the spinner.  Why is this important?  Because now, if I need to pull a small group of students to work on a concept and want them to do a little formal assessment to show me they've grasped the concept, I don't have to go searching for an additional page.  The same page can be used again.  The teacher already has the page handy and the student is already familiar with the format.  Win-win!

Partner Games
I also use a LOT of partner games in my notebooks.  Most of these games use spinners or pennies and are just plain fun!  Let's face it, kids learn best when they're having fun and not even realizing that they're working.  Many of the games ask students to work with a partner.  I think it's extremely important for kids to have an accountability partner and someone to talk with about new concepts.

Early Finishers
Many of the board games in the notebooks can be played over and over and over again.  This means that the notebooks also become an instant tool for early-finishers.  Students love to pull out their notebooks and play games throughout the day!  Again, students are engaged on current skills and the teacher isn't having to prepare anything extra for this engagement.  Another win-win!


Many of the pages can also be easily differentiated without much tweaking.  Take this subtraction page for instance.  If I have some students who are not ready to move to three digit subtraction, I could easily tell them to only spin the spinner twice to continue making two-digit numbers.  Since the problems aren't written for the students, it provides an opportunity for differentiation and also extra practice

Having students talk about their learning is so important!  That's why almost every page in my notebooks have a little pencil pal at the bottom that asks students to explain something or extend their learning in some way.  I like to think of these as my "exit slips" except that they're built right in to my interactive notebooks - no need to copy anything else!

These responses let me know if students truly understand the concepts or if they still have some misconceptions that need to be addressed.

If you're looking for a way to simplify the management of Interactive Notebooks while keeping the interactive activities and engaging learning, this just might be the solution for you!

Right now, I have the following No-Cut Interactive Notebooks available:

* 2nd Grade Math notebooks for all standards,
* science notebooks for weather, animals, and nutrition,
* grammar notebook
* Weekly Poem Work for grades 2/3

Click HERE to view my No-Cut INB section of my shop.


Top 10 Read-Alouds for Second Grade

Summaries and links to 10 read alouds perfect for second grade!
{The links in this post are affiliate links.}

One of the most common questions I see among teachers, especially teachers moving to new grade levels, is, "What are your favorite read-alouds?"  I'm very passionate about read-aloud time in my classroom.  It's non-negotiable.  If we don't have time for everything in the day and I need to cut something, it's NOT going to be my read-aloud.  It's my favorite part of the day. 

I love the fact that I get to expose students to books that they may not have picked up from the shelf themselves.  I love that I get to read books above their own independent reading levels that will stretch their minds.  I love that I get to model expression and fluency that captures their hearts!  I love the fact that half of my class will get their hands on a copy of the book somehow, someway (be it at the library or bookstore) so they can follow along or even read ahead!  I love read-aloud time and I have some favorite chapter books that are mainstays in my classroom.

My read-aloud time is typically 15-20 minutes.  At least, that's what it says on my schedule.  I may be known to stretch it out a bit. :)  I plan a "loose" read-aloud schedule at the beginning of the year so that I'm never at a loss to what I'll be reading.  However, I'm always up to try a new book with my kiddos so this schedule is very flexible.

In order to expose my students to a wide variety of books, I don't exclusively read chapter books during this time.  I also use this time to dive into some in-depth author studies.  There are about 4 weeks in a month - that makes 20 school days.  A chapter book may take me 10 days to get through.  Then, I'll spend about 10 days reading picture books by a certain author and focusing on the author's craft.  It sets a good balance.  You can see my outline on the top of my planning calendar HERE.

So, one chapter book a month....about 10 months in a school year.  That means, you'll need about 10 really great chapter books to read aloud.  Introducing my top 10 favorite read-alouds for my second grade classroom...

If you've talked read-alouds with me before, you know that my number one read-aloud is The Doll People.  I love this book y'all!  When I first heard of it years ago, I was reluctant.  I thought the name alone would turn away my boys.  I was wrong.  This book has something for everyone - mystery, adventure, fantasy.  It's simply captivating. 

It's about an 8-year old girl doll and her family who live in a doll house in the Palmer's house  The dolls have secret lives, but have to be careful not to let the Palmers know that they're living dolls or else they will be thrust into doll state.  In this book, Anabelle is determined to find her Auntie Sarah who has been missing for 45 years and along the way, she finds a best friend who brings out the best in her!

The first time I read this book aloud to a class, they stood and applauded at the end.  Talk about heart-warming!  They ate it up!  The next morning, my class was gathered at the backpack of a little girl who had just entered the room when I heard a gasp.  Interested in what they were doing, I approached them only to realize the girl had went to the library to check out the book and discovered (much to everyone's shock, including mine!) that there was a sequel to the book!  My students have even written to the author trying to persuade her to write more books and to turn this one into a movie!

There are actually now four books in this series and they are ALL on our must-read list every year.  The second one with the introduction of Mean Mimi is probably my favorite and the newest one is probably my least favorite.  It was very cool that the students noticed right off the bat that there was a new illustrator on the books with the newest addition.

Roald Dahl is not everyone's cup of tea, but I promise you that your students will LOVE his books!  I could easily insert some of his other masterpieces (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, or George's Marvellous Medicine) here, but I chose The BFG because my students always select it as one of their most favorites.  In fact, this past year, it was chosen as the best read-aloud by my class (yes, it even beat out The Doll People for the first time)!

Dahl's books are a bit on the darker side with humor that kids, especially boys, just love!  This book is about a Big Friendly Giant who befriends a little orphan named Sophie.  Together, they hatch a plan to take down the other nine Giants who eat "human beans."  It is sure to deliver some belly laughs (with the chapter about whizpoppers) and a few tense moments as well (as they talk about the other giants gobbling up children).  One thing is for sure, Dahl always makes the world of fantasy come to life!

These books may just be my favorite to read aloud with my class.  This is a bit surprising because I hate to read books that make me cry.  I always cry in these, but it's such a powerful experience to share with my children.  The first time they see me cry they are shocked and in awe.  These books are written by Ann Martin, the same author who wrote The Doll People above.  I guess you could say, I'm a fan. ;)

These books are definitely at a higher level so they are books my students wouldn't otherwise read.  The first couple of chapters really start slow, painting a picture of the setting and characters.  But soon, your students will be captivated.  These books follow two stray puppies throughout their lives, which aren't easy for sure.  They are separated and we never know what happens to one of them....until the second book!  The second book may be my favorite for the way it is written.  The chapters jump back and forth between three storylines that all intertwine by the end of the book - with a shocking "AHA" moment for students.  It's a type of book that my students have never been exposed to and I love being the first to explore this format with them.

These books also help build an empathy in my students for life in general.  They are so eager to help animals after reading these books and we often use them as a spark to help out a non-profit animal organization.  The fact that a single read-aloud could spark a class to want to change the world...I mean, isn't that our ultimate goal?

Gooney Bird Greene is the perfect character for beginning of the year 2nd graders!  She's a second grader herself, but not just any second grader.  Gooney Bird is a new student who marches to her own beat.  She wears outlandish clothes, speaks her mind, and loves to be smack dab in the middle of everything, especially as a storyteller!  Gooney Bird Greene is a perfect inspiration for writing personal narratives.  She teaches students that stories need good beginnings, middles, and endings and that when you're stuck, a "suddenly" is the perfect word to keep the story going!

There are actually a lot of Gooney Bird Greene books!  Each book focuses on a different type of writing (or learning), so I like to integrate them into the units they match. 

I don't always have time to read them all, but the three above are must-reads in my classroom.  We read Gooney Bird Greene at the beginning of the year when we learn to write personal narratives.  We read Gooney the Fabulous as we learn about fables and Gooney Bird Is So Absurd is perfect for integrating into a poetry unit.

Edward Tulane is a stuffed rabbit.  In this book, he is separated from the little girl he lives with and finds himself in many different adventures.  Along the way, he has many different owners who give him various identities/names and along the way Edward wonders if he knows about love.  The ending is one students never see coming...often they take a pause and then you can watch the lightbulbs start coming on!  It truly is a heartwarming tale and a beautifully written masterpiece.  If it's not a classic, yet - it will be!

Sometimes, you're looking for a quicker read-aloud that is a little more light-hearted.  Snot Stew is a playful tale of two kittens, Toby and Kiki, who find themselves on their own after their mother leaves.  They are soon taken in by the Burkes and find themselves viewing the human world through kitten eyes, making this the perfect book for inferring as the kittens describe each new thing they encounter.  Students find that it's fun to hear a story being told from another's perspective.  Don't let the title of this book turn you's not actually about snot stew....or even snot at all.  How the title came about is one of the biggest surprises to be revealed in this book that teaches an important lesson of sharing and greed.

Speaking of greed, The Chocolate Touch, is a classic story of how greed can affect your life.  This is another fun, quick chapter book that students will eat up!  Who doesn't love chocolate?  Who wouldn't rather eat chocolate than dinner?  But, what if chocolate was the only thing you could eat (or drink) for the rest of your life?  Sounds good initially, but let this book take you on the adventure and you will soon change your mind as you learn a few important life lessons. 

If belly laughs are what you're looking for, Lulu will be loved in your classroom.  She is a bossy, rather rude little girl who wants what she wants when she wants it.  Lulu stories are short - I may have been known to read one of these in just a day or two - and students LOVE the fact that there are some chapters that are just a few sentences, chapters like Eight and a Half, etc.  I'm sure that they can all see a little of themselves in Lulu which makes them really connect with her as a character, but they also see what's wrong with Lulu and celebrate when she decides to change her ways....just a bit.

As of this post, there are 3 LuLu books out.  While I would suggest all of them, Lulu Walks the Dogs may be my favorite with the introduction of Fleischman, a know-it-all, goody-goody boy who lives nearby and tries to befriend Lulu.

I feel like Toys Go Out is really different from any other book on this list.  It is a silly, goofy story about the lives of a little girl's three favorite toys - a buffalo, a stingray, and a bouncy ball.  They explore a world of unkowns (like the washing machine and the beach) and help each other understand what really makes each one special.  This is a short read-aloud for beginning chapter book readers that also gives great opportunities for making inferences.  If you're looking for a quick book to fill a few days, this one might be perfect.

There are so many more great books I could add to this list.  I really struggled with this last one.  Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan...there are so many classics that are deserving.  However, most of my students have already been exposed to Charlotte's Web by the time they get to me (either the book or the movie).  Don't worry, I don't let that stop me from sharing it with them again, but I will let it stop me from adding it to this list.  Instead, I'll go with this classic - Freckle Juice.  I'm always shocked that almost none of my students have ever heard of this book, especially since it's such a short one....possibly perfect for a first grade read-aloud.  But, since not, I usually read it towards the beginning of the year.

My copy is, mine from when I was a child, and a bit tattered, so I didn't get a picture of it.  In fact, I'm going to order a new copy today!  But, the story of Andrew wanting something that he doesn't have (freckles) and know-it-all Sharon selling him the secret recipe for freckle juice makes for a classic tale of well as endless writing opportunities in the classroom.

I hope that these suggestions have given you some new ideas for read-alouds in your second grade classroom.  If you have some great read-alouds you think I should check out, comment with them below!  I would love to explore some new stories with my class! :)

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