Differentiating Interactive Notebooks in the Primary Grades

How to differentiate interactive notebooks

Let's discuss how to differentiate interactive notebooks. I know that interactive notebooks can be overwhelming, but once you've got it down what you want to do, how you're going to do it, and when, your next step is to make interactive notebooks work for all your learners.

Since I teach kindergarten, my experience is working with the younger kids. I've got a few tips on how to differentiate interactive notebooks in your classrooms!

Differentiate the tasks' outcome

There are so many ways to differentiate activities in your interactive notebooks. One way is to differentiate the task that you assign to each child. This is what I think is the easiest way to differentiate. Every student will have the same activity. As the teacher, you will change what each outcome will be.

This is one of the activities that I am able to easily differentiate for my students! This six flap can be used for a variety of lessons. This particular one is used during my living things unit. After we've discussed what a living thing is and how it survives, we need to think about how different types of animals survive. I have six animals listed. Some students can write what each animal needs to survive. If you have a student that has difficulty writing, allow that student to draw a picture. Some students love putting their thoughts into a sentence. Let those students write a sentence.

This kiddo was one of my ELL friends and I LOVE being able to differentiate for them. I always try to make learning fun and engaging, but on their level. We all have the same flap. He was able to write one word for each of the animals. He could write more, but in the time restriction that we were under, I was happy with one. I have two of my non-writers draw me a picture. They are still completing the task by thinking about what the animal needs to survive, but answering in a different form. My kids that were well into writing, wrote their answers in a sentence under each flap.

Do I check spelling? Definitely not. Do I correct their notebooks? I usually do not as long as things are glued in the correct place and it will be fine for them to refer back to later and have correct information. If you teach upper grades (or higher than kindergarten) and the focus is spelling, I would definitely correct their spelling. Their interactive notebook should essentially become their reference tool or 

With this 3 flap, I can allow students to paste a picture that I give them under each letter, draw their own picture causing them to think of a picture that begins with the letter, or write a word. There is 3 quick levels of the exact same flap that can be used. You can use this for ANY grade level. Students can even paste a picture that is given to them and write the word. It all depends on the ability level of your students. Extend their learning and push their thinking to the next level with so much ease.

Differentiating the task can range from how many addition problems to the way they answer or show their answers for those addition problems. It will help you to learn how to teach your kiddos better!

Differentiate activities through their interests

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be graced with one of the sweetest boys! I've had a lot of sweet boys, but this one had a few extra quirks about him that I just LOVED. He was in obsessed with DINOSAURS. He knew the names of every single kind. He pronounce them each perfectly. He could tell me ALL there was to know. Did I know anything about dinosaurs? Goodness NO!

I had the hardest time getting him to read that year. He seemed attentive. He was never talking when I was teaching. He played all of our math games. He sat quietly when I was reading, but he was missing something from me. I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't get excited about anything. Then, one day I pulled out a book about dinosaurs. He ASKED so many questions about that book that day. From that day on, I made sure that whatever his task was that the outcome would relate to dinosaurs in some way.

For example, when we were learning about subtraction, I made his story problems all about dinosaurs. He was more excited to write subtraction stories about 5 dinosaurs than he was about 2 puppy dogs. The entire class is working on the same skill. However, I've made his learning interest be reflected in his work. This didn't ALWAYS work in my favor, but when they thought was planted in my mind, it was always there as a go to option to make sure that he would be as engaged as possible.

This KWL chart is one way to engage students through their interests. As they're reading books of interests, allow them to use the same chart to show their pre-reading knowledge, questions that they have and to show what they've comprehended and learned. You may have 5 KWLs on frogs, 2 about unicorns, 6 on spider monkeys and one on dinosaurs. Is the task complete? Yes. Did everyone do the same type of thinking? Yes. If the outcome different? Yes and that's okay. This wouldn't work in instances where you want the students to learn a particular topic.

Differentiate the pace of instruction and assessment

The pace is also easily differentiated. I can easily change how quickly I need to assess a student. If I know that 1/4 of my students have learning something new, I can informally assess them through their interactive notebooks. When I want to assess a very small group of my students even though we will all be using the same activity, I place them around the room so that they are essentially working alone. I can easily tell if they are applying their new information by what is in their interactive notebooks.

This type of differentiation also drives my instruction and guides the pacing of my lesson plans. I can quickly flip through each of my student's notebooks at the end of the day or when they finish. At an eye's glance, I can tell whether I need to reteach or move on to the next topic. If my kids are confused and not getting the content, I can slow down my instructions. Sometimes differentiating has nothing to do with the students and has a lot to do with my teaching. As teachers, we can also change our instruction to meet the needs of our students. At the end of the day, it's so much easier to cater to each child instead of reteaching over and over again.

How to keep interactive notebooks manageable when differentiating...

The biggest problem that I have in the life of teaching is that paper problem. You know the one.

When you have piles.

Upon piles. Upon piles.

Yeah, that problem. Well, when I'm ready to differentiate my interactive notebooks, I like to test them out. One of my most valuable and well thought out systems that I use with interactive notebooks is my preview/plan book. This is not my lesson planning notebook or anything like that. I have a composition notebook that is strictly for notetaking and INB making. If we're working on number sense and I have some inbs for that, I would print off two or three of that one part (just for me) and find ways to differentiate them. When I'm working with a small group and they're adding things to their notebooks, I'll already have my notebook made and know exactly what I want each group of students' outcome to be.

I have three of these. I am so random that sometimes I forget to bring it back to school or take it home which has caused me to have three. One is pretty full. This is the EASIEST way to manage what you already have available. Even though you can look through your digital files and "see" the flaps and the folds, you see it in an entirely different way when it's glued in a notebook or when you can feel the fold in your hand. I suggest that every teacher that uses interactive notebooks in their classroom, start a "preview" notebook.

This is one of the pages from my notebook. I make sure that when I print something off it:
- fits in the notebook
- is large enough for my kinders to manipulate
- is easy enough for my kinders to cut (I like large cuts that have corners.)
- is meaningful and worth their time
- can be referred back to

If I am okay with the activity for all of the above reasons, I use it with my kids. When I make it first, I figure out how they should hold it when gluing in, which piece they should glue, and many other things. It helps me when I introduce a new flap or a new way to write out our learning. Next year when I get ready to teach living things or five senses, I can open up my notebook and use the one that I've already made to show my kids. This will also help in my planning. I can look back at what I did in years' past and either use it again or try to improve an activity. I also write on the back of each activity if something did or didn't work. I like to write how my kids' responded in some of their notebooks as well. For instance, if we're working on sorting objects by the number and my students mix all of their sixes for nines, I will write that down to go over reversals more the next year.

The preview book is essentially my Bible for interactive notebooks. My kids make their own throughout the year to refer back to and I make mine to refer back to every year.

Those are my THREE really simple and easy tips for differentiating instruction, plus a HUGE managing tip for you to keep it easy. If you have some ways that you LOVE using with interactive notebooks, let me know! I'm always looking for more ways to help my students through interactive notebooks. Thanks so much for checking out this post! Here's a freebie to get you started with some editable science notebook covers.

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