Content Literacy

Strengthen the Organization of Nonfiction Notebooks

Posted on October 20, 2015

Strengthen the Organization of Nonfiction Notebooks

As you teach any content-area unit, you are guiding students through the research and study of a particular topic or concept. Students acquire deeper understanding of a topic through reading, discussions, videos, experiences, projects, etc. That said, teachers often ask students to record different information within nonfiction notebooks (e.g., identify key information, write a reflection, demonstrate understanding, etc.).

Regardless of the exact content, there are many ways to setup and organize a nonfiction notebook. Here are some pros and cons to consider in your selection.

3-Ring Binder3 Ring Binder
Advantages:
  • Maximize flexibility--pages can be moved, added, and removed from the binder.
Disadvantages:
  • Wide variety causes inconsistencies.
  • Requires large storage space.
  • A more expensive option.
  • Pages can easily tear out.
Spiral-Bound NotebookSpiral Bound Notebook
Advantages:
  • Allows for standardization of page-organization.
  • A less expensive option.
  • Requires minimal storage space.
Disadvantages:
  • Handouts may need to be trimmed or folded.
  • Wide variety causes inconsistencies.
  • Limited page-count.
  • Limited flexibility.
Composition BookComposition Book
Advantages:
  • Allows for standardization of page-organization.
  • Few options available causing consistency.
  • Reasonable cost.
  • Requires minimal storage space.
Disadvantages:
  • Handouts may need to be trimmed or folded.
  • Limited page-count.
  • Limited flexibility.
LaptopLaptop
Advantages:
  • Meets the expectation of using technology/digital tools.
  • Houses class notes & digital research in a single resource.
  • Offers variety of options (e.g., PowerPoint, Evernote, Word, etc.).
Disadvantages:
  • Requires that a device is always available (and always charged).
  • Requires additional instruction in using technology.

Beyond the physical structure of the nonfiction notebook, plan for other organization facets.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: Students can find specific chapters, topics, and information if each entry includes a topic title, page number, and date. NOTE: This requires numbering each page--paper or digital. Determine if students will maintain a yearlong table of contents, or will they start a new one for each major unit. (Teach students how to draw columns into a paper notebook for the date, topic, and page number. For digital notebooks, students could insert a simple table that includes the information you want them to list.)

DIVIDER PAGES: Start every major section of the notebook with a divider page. The day you begin a new novel, significant unit, or longer topic of study, walk students through the text(s) and facets they will read and learn about. Let them create a divider page that includes the key components, subheads, activities, etc. that you just introduced by sketching representative images. (For those creating digital notebooks, students can insert clipart or authentic photographs within such a divider page.)

DOMAIN-SPECIFIC VOCABULARY: Think about where you will have students note domain-specific vocabulary. The big decision is whether relevant vocabulary will be embedded within the unit/novel notes--or will all vocabulary for the entire year/course be housed together in a different place of the notebook (or maybe in a completely different notebook). TIP: If the vocabulary comes up throughout the year and across several units--then maybe separating it is a good idea. If the key terms are specific only to this topic of study--then keeping it together within the unit notes might make more sense.

ORGANIZATIONAL EXTRAS:

Create a pocket by folding over a page and gluing it to the next one or adhering a small envelope. Add a quick-find bookmark with a piece of ribbon taped to the outside of the spine.

Create a pocket in a notebookAdd a ribbon bookmark

ADDITIONAL DIGITAL/INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK RESOURCES: