Monday, June 15, 2015

Smash Books Part 2: Implementation

As discussed here, I implemented interactive student notebooks (nicknamed "Smash Books" in my classroom) this year in both my Honors English 9 and General English 10 classes. This post is a follow-up to the post where I first started mulling over this idea.

Success Story
I am here to tell you that these things work. It's no wonder they're all the rave in the education world right now. They're pretty freaking brilliant, actually. Overall, my students maintained their Smash Books so much better than I've ever had classes maintain binders in the past.

***The Problem with Binders***
They completely fall apart.
They are easily broken in a crammed backpack or locker.
Unless you buy the fancy reinforced loose leaf paper, the papers are easily torn out (and lost).
They become a catch-all for every class ever.
They take up a lot of space on a desktop.
They make that really terribly annoying **CLACK** sound every time you snap the rings open/close.
They're just kind of a pain in the ass.

***How the Smash Book Solved These Problems***
They hold up well AS LONG AS YOU GET THE ONES WITH THE CARDBOARD COVERS. (The vinyl covers didn't hold up quite as well, though still much better than a binder.)
They're ultra sturdy and survived the test of time in lockers and backpacks.
You ever tried tearing paper out of one of these things? Kinda challenging and makes a really ugly jagged edge. Needless to say, no floating papers.
They couldn't become a catch all because all of the space in the book was assigned.
It was easy for students to have them on their desks along with their books; it was easy for me to collect them because they didn't take up a lot of real estate.
They're quiet!
They were far from being a pain in the ass. They were like a balm for the ass... or something.

Guys, I wouldn't be telling you about how awesome these things were if they really didn't work for me. I was just so impressed with them this year that I need to share the love. Below, I will detail some basic guidelines and tips (based off of my experience) on how to implement the interactive student notebook in your high school classroom.

***A Disclaimer***
There is quite a bit of upfront work to do with interactive student notebooks. There's also quite a bit of copying to be done. You will also need to implement a procedure system to get these things working the way they have the potential to work. But if you're willing to put in the work ahead and keep up with the copies, you're gonna be okay, kid.

***A Second Disclaimer***
I am by no means an expert. This is just what worked in my classroom. And don't forget... secondary is my area of expertise. Implementing these in an elementary classroom would likely be a whole different adventure.

The Materials List (for both teacher and student)
- a composition notebook (I recommend the good old-fashioned cardboard covers)
- a set of colors (colored pencils, fine-tipped markers, pens, etc.)
- scissors
- a glue stick
- tape

The Prep Work (to do before the first day of school)
You will need to determine the basic set-up of your ISN. Remember that this book is meant to be the very essence of your classroom. What are the absolute essentials in your classroom? Maybe a math or physics teacher would include a page for formulas. A U.S. History teacher might want a map of the U.S. A chemistry teacher might want a periodic table. I included a basic writing rubric (the ECA rubric for my state). The Words Worth Knowing section will likely be essential for most subject areas.

Here were the basic sections of my Smash Book (the italicized items are the things I plan to add to my books this year).
  • The first page: Title Page (student name, teacher name, class, period, date - this also served as a reminder for the heading of an MLA essay)
  • The second to fifth pages: Table of Contents (This year I'm only going to use the second and third pages... never filled the fourth or fifth pages.)
  • The sixth - ninth pages: Words Worth Knowing - this is the essential classroom vocabulary, the words students absolutely had to know and understand to be able to carry on a conversation in English class (things like plot, protagonist, theme, figurative language, thesis statement, etc.) This did not include extraneous vocabulary. (That's still a problem I haven't solved.) (This year I'm adding two pages because we ran out of room! So my W.W.K. section will be the fourth - ninth pages.)
  • The back cover included the ECA writing rubric and the Depth of Knowledge wheel.
  • We made the second to last page a little pocket folder for the things they cut out but never quite managed to glue in that class period.
  • Fourth page from the back: grade tracking page (I'm going to do something more with this page this year, but I'm not sure what it will be.)
  • This year I plan to add a "resources" section. I plan to include commonly confused words, some grammar tricks, a list of book recommendations, and a couple other things.
  • A colleague of mine who is implementing ISNs this year told me about clock partners so I'm seriously considering putting something like this in my book for pair-and-share type stuff.
  • We started numbering and putting in our material after the Words Worth Knowing section. Basically the whole middle of the composition book is dedicated to your notes and "smashed" material.
Smash Book Procedure
You will want to implement a procedure starting Day 1 to get this off to a great start. Staying consistent in your procedure is key to success. Here's my procedure:

1. Students walk through the door and pick up any handouts from their basket by the door.

I recommend different colors for different classes and even then, you'll have sophomores picking up the freshmen handout. SMH.

2. If it is a Smash Book day, I post the following information on the board:

The font used here is a free font called "Peanut Butter Cookies" and it can be found here.
3. Students fill out their Smash Books, based off of the information on the board. (T.O.C. - table of contents and the headings of the notes pages; W.W.K. - Words Worth Knowing)

4. Students put together the handout for the day. If it is a style we've done in the past, they can usually figure out how to set-up the handout. If it is something new, I provide directions on the board. If it's a particularly complex foldable, I will demonstrate the set-up with the help of my document camera.

This has essentially taken the place of bell ringers (at least on Smash Book days). It usually takes anywhere from five to ten minutes to get their books ready for the day, which allows me time to take attendance (well, try to take attendance... I'm so bad at this), check email, etc. I should mention that when I say "Smash Book Day" I mean that we're going to be adding notes to the Smash Books. We actually use the Smash Books almost daily, but often times we are using them as a reference tool or for practicing a skill.

Overall, I stayed true to the idea of the left side of the book being the INPUT side and the right side being the OUTPUT side.

*Model everything! You're going to want to be pretty particular about these books from the get-go to maintain order. Show them EXACTLY how you want this done and practice, practice, practice!
*These require some organization and planning on your part. Don't wait until the morning of the lesson to create your ISN materials.
*Not so creative? There are lots of ISN resources to be found online! You can purchase lots of items from a Teachers Pay Teachers store (I will be adding lots of goodies to my store this summer!) but there are lots of freebies out there too. Follow my new Interactive Student Notebooks board on Pinterest for lots of great ideas!
*Just like any classroom procedure, this will take some time and you'll have to do some reteaching. The more procedures you can model or post in your classroom, the easier life will be.
*The time you front with these at the get-go will be repaid to you double in time saved later in the classroom. Be patient.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone did a bunch of the dirty work for you? Like, if someone said, "Hey, would you like to have a teacher Smash Book all set-up and ready to go FOR FREE?"

Well, that would be swell, and that's why I'm hosting a giveaway!

FIVE lucky winners will receive a personalized, prepped-and-ready teacher Smash Book. This Smash Book will have a personalized cover and title page and will already be organized into sections and ready to use! I will also throw in a bunch of my own Smash Book printables, useful for any class! The raffle will run until midnight, 06/22. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to Kim H., Katie L., Sarah R-K., Caitlyn K., and Victoria P.! You are the winners of the Smash Book giveaway!

I'll be back later with Smash Books Part 3: Creating Content. Until then...

Happy Smashing!


  1. I find the idea of ISN intriguing, especially implementing them at the hs level. I work at a vocational hs so I feel like this could be a positive game changer for my students.

  2. I love Cornell notes in social studies classes. I did notebooks in civics this year...I've never used them before, and I am in love. I used address labels to print the rubrics on for grading, which made them super quick to grade.

    Kovescence of the Mind

  3. Oooh, tell me more, Sarah. What do you mean you used address labels?

  4. Later on in this series, it'd be awesome if you gave a little of your own opinion on grading interactive notebooks. It sounds like there are a lot of different ideas out there (and a lot of people don't grade them at all!). Thoughts?

    1. I give ISN tests/quizzes rather than taking them up. I will create a test that has content and elements from the notebook and allow students to use their ISN. Those that have their notebooks completed do well. Those that don't but learned the material do ok too. Students that are not keeping up...well it is evident too.

  5. I've always been a little hesitant to try out ISNs in the classroom because I didn't like them when I was in high school. The only teacher who used ISNs was a perfectionist science teacher who required students to decorate every page (I'm talking borders and everything!). If he didn't like our decorations, the highest we could earn for our notebooks was a C. I'm not artistically inclined, so I would always get a C. However, I've been seeing a lot of blog posts by teachers who love them! I'll have to get over my own "trauma" and try them out. Thank you for this blog post, it shows me that these notebooks can be really helpful without using up a bunch of class time.

  6. I used interactive notebooks this year and had mixed reviews from students about their helpfulness, though everyone seemed to enjoy them. I think I need to be more diligent of the input/output and getting kids to refer back to them when doing independent work.

    So, my question is, why do you call them smash books? I've heard of smash books as a response to reading novels... do you combine this concept with the interactive notebook? I'm intrigued!

  7. I use these with fourth graders and they love it. There are so many freebies, flaps, and activities to keep them engaged and help them learn.

  8. I was thinking of doing ISNs with my grade 9 French classes next year for grammatical concepts. I like seeing ideas for high school kids.

  9. Well, I buy the address labels you can print on that come like 30 to a page. I graded mine every two weeks. Listed the items and points on the labels (make 1 in word and copy). The larger the labels you get the more you can fit. Then I write points, total, and stick in. I have a post in draft form about it...probably should finish it.

    Kovescence of the Mind

    1. What a fantastic idea! I love that. Would you mind posting the link to your post on this when you publish it?

  10. I'm definitely interested in using an interactive notebook this year. I'm going to read more about it on your website! Thanks for all the resources!

  11. I've just finished my first year of teaching math and, unfortunately, I don't have a favorite note-taking technique. I am interested in possibly using interactive notebooks in my classroom this year and have just read today's post regarding your year with them. Thank you for all the advice!

  12. Thank you for this inspiration! I just completed my student teaching and am getting ready to start my first year...this is very helpful! I'm hoping to use comic strips to look at grammar usage too!

  13. I am a first year teacher this year, and I have been searching the web for interactive notebook resources; I will definitely be following your new board! I am also interested in combining the notebook with mind-mapping (The Creativity Core has some great stuff on the powers of this note-taking tool). Have you ever used mind maps with your kids?

    1. Yes! We've been mind mapping in my classroom for the last two years. I love it! One of the earliest assignments my students do is a mind map of themselves. Great for note-taking and expanded thinking! If you're interested, leave me your email address, and I'll email you a resource (not of my own creation) that I have that guides our mapping.

    2. I have no idea why I didn't see this response sooner, but I am definitely interested! it's Thanks! =)

  14. I'm team-teaching in the fall and finally moving from the binder method to the ISN method for notetaking. I tend to do 15 minute spurts of lecture (history) and then throw in a re-enforcement activity when I do notes. I'm excited to have more space on the kids desk and not having binders that fall apart and are just grody at the end of the school year! One suggestion someone gave me was to keep them stored in the classroom, but I noticed that you have your students take them home. Any suggestions on one side over the other?

    1. Heather, if I had the space in my classroom, I would definitely consider keeping them in the room. With 180 students and a small classroom, though, I just don't really have the space. I've heard it's a great method for taking quick attendance too! I do appreciate the responsibility aspect of them taking them home, though. I also have several students who actually enjoyed taking them home so they could do more coloring on the printables (more exposure!). So I'm on the fence there. :)

  15. I've been interested in learning more about ISNs for awhile - I really enjoyed this post and can't wait to see more. As far as notes, I teach French so I really love telling stories and having students build their notes from there ... ISNs might be a great way to incorporate a lot of vocab, etc. Thanks for the ideas!

  16. I'm still searching for a great note-taking approach! maybe your smash books are the way to go!

  17. I used my interactive notebooks this year for the second time and I'm still madly in love with them. They become my students' textbooks for the year! My favorite note-taking technique is foldables. We probably end up with a foldable in the notebooks every other day or so.

  18. Note taking is something I struggle with. I would love to try ISNs, but most of the examples I see are for elementary or middle school.

  19. I am about to double down and come up with a ISN plan for my new 6th grade ELA classroom. It is an all boy school, so I think the strict organization of an ISN will be helpful. Thank you!

  20. I cannot wait to integrate these into my science classroom! Thank you for showing secondary examples of these notebooks.

  21. I've tried using binders in the past, never works out well! Hopefully smash books will take care of some of those issues! Thanks for the info and advice about smash books!

  22. This will be my first year teaching and I am intrigued by the idea of ISNs. Thank you for breaking down the process and making it less intimidating.

  23. I am a lover of the classic Cornell Notes. They work for me but I think that I need to up my game. :)

  24. Hi! Can you please write a post on Skills-Based Curriculum? As I move to year 3, I am really passionate about moving away from recall.

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