Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Smash Books Part 3: Creating Content

Welcome back to the final installment in the Smash Book mini-series. (Need to get caught up? Check out Smash Books Part 1 and Part 2.) Today I want to talk about creating content for your classroom interactive notebooks.

First, you should know that there really is no absolute need to create your own interactive notebook material. There are so many interactive notebook resources out there nowadays! You can find lots of freebies (hello Pinterest, you sexy beast), and if you are looking for something specific, chances are pretty good you can find it in a Teachers Pay Teachers store.

As for me, I really enjoy creating my own classroom content. For me, that's one of the many perks to teaching. This kind of stuff is a creative outlet for me. (I was almost a graphic design major.) I'm also a ridiculously uptight perfectionist partial to designing material that suits the needs of my students and me. If any of this sounds like you and you would like some tips for creating interactive notebook content, read on!

Remember that I am not a pro at this. Not even close. I'm only one year into my interactive notebook journey. I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. These are just some of the things I learned along the way. There is a steep learning curve here, but it's so interesting and so worth it!

I have organized my own Smash Book content into four general categories:

  • Housekeeping Documents - these are items that could go in any interactive notebook, regardless of class. These are documents like the D.O.K. chart, a table of contents form, grade charts, generic rubrics, etc.
  • Resources - these are content-area specific items, but they are just reference materials. These are things like MLA Handbook information, glossaries, a list of the parts of speech, etc.
  • Input Items - these are items that give students information or where students write down information given to them. They go on the left side of the Smash Book.
  • Output Items - these are items the students use to practice a skill, process newly-learned information, and express ideas. They on the right side of the Smash Book.
The key word when we talk about ISNs is "interactive." It's not enough to call your composition books a Smash Book, but then stick to the same old routine of lecture notes and book homework. The heart and soul of this is for the students to "interact" with the material. This should heavily appeal to both your visual learners and your tactile learners, which will be the large majority of your class.

How do students interact with the notebook contents?
  • They physically handle the materials by cutting, pasting, folding, etc. This requires more concentration and engagement on the part of the student.
  • They use colored pencils/pens/markers to color-code information.*
  • They use graphic organizers to process new information.
  • The "output" side requires higher-order thinking skills, such as application, analysis, evaluation, and creation
*Note: Please keep in mind that color-coding does not work for every student. While most visual and tactile learners will benefit from this (even though they'll grumble a bit about it), some students will be distracted by the constant shuffling of colors. Encourage students to use color-coding for their notes, but if a student is obviously distressed by the idea, let it go.

To me, one of the most valuable traits of the Smash Book is that it becomes a work of art throughout the school year. Students put a lot of effort into them - and many go above and beyond to make the Smash Book their own - so they really value them. The Smash Book is very strong evidence that the class isn't about "absorbing"... it's about "doing."

Okay, so here are some of tips for actually creating materials.
  • Plan out your foldables and printables on scrap paper beforehand. Make sure you understand what will need folded/cut/glued. Where will the information go? What will students "do" with it?
  • Make sure it's going to fit. Composition books are smaller than your average sheet of printer paper. You will need to format accordingly. PRO TIP: If you make an extra blank page in a Microsoft Word Document and add a comment, it will change the size of your document (to scale) so that it will fit better in a composition book.
  • Fill one out and put it in your Smash Book before you make all those copies. Put that bad boy through a trail run. Make sure it all works like you want it to.
  • Make it interesting! This is my favorite part. Visually appealing printables go a long way with kids! It should be fun to look at (but don't get carried away and make it too crazy). Follow some design basics and common sense. This link/infographic is EXTREMELY useful in this area! Love it so much. (P.S. - I get my fonts from
  • Understand which "category" it belongs in. To keep to the true spirit of the interactive notebook, your materials should very clearly be meant for input or output, for example, and not some weird input/output lovechild Frankenfoldable.
Alrighty, so now that I've lived this for a year and plan to continue, I've decided to start adding some interactive notebook resources and lessons to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Also, I really like you guys a lot and I'm so appreciative of all of the support and encouragement and internet love that you've given me. So for the next 32 hours I am offering you guys two full lessons and an additional printable (valued at $37.00) for free. All three lessons are English-class-related, but even if you don't teach English, maybe you would benefit from taking a gander at what I've made? Maybe? I don't really know.

Here's what I'm giving you:
  • Annotating Text Lesson - the activity plan, a PowerPoint, and a foldable with instructions (honestly, I think this is useful in any subject where you read... so all of them.)
  • 12 Literary Elements and Techniques Lesson - the activity plan, a PowerPoint, and a foldable with instructions
  • Styles of Poetry Practice Printable - enough space for students to practice ten different styles of poetry using only one notebook page
If you're interested, you can find these items (for free) here. Again, this is only lasting for 32 hours (ends at Thursday, 06/25 at 5:00 p.m. eastern time) so no time to lose!

Activity Plan for the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques Lesson

Foldable for the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques

One slide from the PowerPoint on the 12 Literary Elements and Techniques

(If you miss the free window, you can still find these items in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.)

I hope this mini-series has answered some questions and maybe inspired you to jump into the interactive notebooks game! Good luck in your endeavors!

Happy Teaching!