Beginning of Year Activity: Decorating Science Notebook Covers

During the first week or two of school, one activity I like to do is decorate science notebooks. It’s an easy way to start the year, and a lot of students have fun with this first assignment. Happy decorating!

Why Decorate Science Notebooks?

The first days and weeks of school can be hard. Students are being switched in and out of your class, you don’t know any of their names, and it feels like several weeks go by before you get into real content. It can be awkward at the beginning of the year. Students don’t know each other, and they don’t know me. The classroom is so quiet.

With this assignment, I enjoy seeing students search, find inspiration, READ, share pictures, and start to open up in a natural way early in the school year. I notice how conversation flows naturally when the students are immersed in their work. The pictures help stimulate conversation, and it helps me to get to know them when I see a visual representation of their favorite things, passions, and interests. 

It’s a lot of fun to design notebook covers. It’s creative and engaging. The pictures are conversation starters at the beginning of the year as well as each time they change seats and get to know new people. The images, and the work inside, represents them and shows time and effort. When students decorate their notebooks, they feel a sense of ownership. They take more care about what goes inside the notebook and how it looks. Not only is it an enjoyable experience decorating them, but students make something that they treasure.

How do You Decorate a Science Notebook?

It’s pretty easy to facilitate! I ask students to include 10 images on their cover. 5 images are science related. These could be animals, nature, mountains, volcanoes, the ocean, clouds, a sunrise, a microscope, atoms, technology… The 5 other images are personal to them. This could be their favorite foods, hobbies, books, movies, sports, quotes, inspirational figures… Students sometimes bring in printed photos of their family, friends, pets, and hobbies. They also need their Name and Period # on the front.

Each table can have a few magazines to look through and cut pictures. The only supplies they need are scissors, and some scotch tape to keep their pictures in place. Some students prefer to draw the images by hand, and they will need paper, coloring supplies, and their Chromebook to look up images. Once they have all 10 images, they arrange them on their notebooks and secure them by putting some tape on the back side. They write their name and period on a small piece of paper and add it to their collage. Lastly, I cover each notebook with heavy duty packing tape to keep everything in place. It also gives the notebook a water proofing effect, which is easy to wipe clean and is great for labs!

Before we decorate, I will have gone over the syllabus, classroom rules, and done an icebreaker activity like My Favorite Things with students. In My Favorite Things, the students fill in their favorite food, beverage, things to do, movies, books, you name it! The activity gives students ideas of what can go on their notebook cover. I write about My Favorite Things and other ideas in my blog post 6 Of My Favorite Activity Ideas for the First Day of School. Additionally, I like to give them a weekend after school starts to go and get supplies. They may not have their notebook until the second week of school. This doesn’t mean you can’t start decorating your notebooks in the first week of school. It’s never too early to start cutting and drawing pictures, because you can always set them aside for the student until they have their notebook in class. 


I like to use magazines for the images on the notebook covers. I use the same bucket of magazines after 4 years now. After ~500 notebooks, there are still plenty of pictures left! Woah, that’s the first time I ever did the math on that. If a librarian or other teacher is ever giving away magazines, take them! I was lucky to inherit a great batch of magazines in the Spring of this year. I didn’t hesitate to ask for them, and even though I had to pack up my classroom because I’m moving cross country, I’m bringing a stack of magazines with me.

Magazines are also great to have throughout the year. Many students will ask to use the magazines to look for pictures when we make projects by hand. Students will add them to one-pagers, collages, and group posters throughout the year. I learned the hard way to flip through the magazines before I give them to students. I have a whole Ziploc baggie full of cocktail, beer, and wine advertisements that I removed from magazines. Also it is prudent to remove any cigarette, lingerie, or bathing suit ads.

The materials for this activity are:

  • Magazines
  • Spiral Notebook (I prefer college ruled, 3 subject)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Heavy Duty packing tape to waterproof the cover (~3 rolls for 5 classes)
  • Plain white copy paper or drawing paper 
  • Coloring supplies (colored pencils, markers, crayons)
  • Ruler (there will always be at least 1 student who asks for a ruler!)
  • Internet access to use Google Image Search (if drawing by hand)
These are the pictures I selected for my next notebook cover project. I’ll show you how it turns out!
These are some great publications to seek out when you’re looking for good images to use.

Other Ways to Decorate

An easier way to decorate the notebook covers is to use permanent markers. A teacher friend of mine has his students design their notebook covers with permanent markers every year. They bring a notebook to class in the solid color they like, and then spend a class period adding words and images with black sharpie. It looks great, and I think it requires less materials and cleaning up, which makes it a great alternative. You can also use stickers instead of magazine clippings, images, or sharpie. See my examples below of how I decorated my teacher notebooks over the years using stickers. Target usually has a nice selection of stickers.

Do you decorate notebooks in your classroom? What’s your favorite organization system – notebooks or binders? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you! To read more about how I use science notebooks in my classroom, check out my blog post How to Set-up a Science Notebook. And if you’re not sure if you want to use a notebook or a binder organization system, check out my blog post Science Notebooks! Or Binders! Which One? Also check out my blog posts below!

One of my recent creations! I wrote all of my baby research in it while I was pregnant.
Another one of my recent creations! I try to write down sweet memories and milestones at least once a week.

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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