How to Set-up a Science Notebook

Many teachers I have known over the years are organized people. You have to be in order to manage hundreds of copies, handouts, and pieces of student work every single day. Organization comes naturally to many teachers, but it doesn’t necessarily for students. We teachers all know the student with the crumpled up papers at the bottom of their backpack!

Many students are developing organizational skills. They might also have up to 7 different teachers with different organization systems and work to manage. That’s a lot! So it is super important to me to teach students how I want them to stay organized in my class. And give them class time to do it. One of the first things I do with my students every year is set-up their science notebooks. In this blog post I’ll share my tips for starting a science notebook that will help students stay on top of things and that they will be proud of by the end of the year.

The Best Spiral Notebook

The 5 Star, 3 subject, college ruled notebook is my favorite! The pages are large enough that you can glue down an 8.5×11” piece of paper. It will fit perfectly and there will be no edges hanging out that can get snagged in a bookbag. They are more expensive, just under $5 each, so I don’t require that students get this one. Any spiral notebook will do.

With other spiral notebooks, you may run into a few problems. First, a single subject notebook may run out of pages before the end of the year. Not a huge deal, students can just start another notebook. But I just love at the end of the year how a notebook represents an entire year’s worth of work all in one place, which doesn’t happen when you need to start another one. A bigger problem is that an 8.5×11” piece of paper will not fit in the smaller notebooks. With smaller notebooks, students might need to fold a paper in half to get it to fit. Out of sight, out of mind. If they can’t see it, they’re not going to look at it and they are less likely to remember it! Alternatively, with a smaller notebook students can trim the sides of worksheets to get it to fit. This will take extra time, and you need to bust out the scissors. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to pick up those little scraps of paper off the floor at the end of every day, lol.

Science Notebook Spiral, College Ruled, 3 Subject
The 3 Subject, 5 Star notebook is my favorite. Don’t worry about it too much though, other notebooks will work just fine too.
Science Notebook Spiral, College Ruled
Make sure students get a college ruled notebook. These smaller notebooks will last almost the whole year. I usually get up to page 140 or 150. It’s good to have 10-20 extra notebooks on hand to give to students. Lots of places have good back to school deals so look around.

What About Composition Notebooks?

I love composition notebooks for my own personal use. My teacher notebooks where I do research, take notes, and write my teacher scripts are mostly composition notebooks. But in my opinion, they are just too small to use as a science notebook. The pages are even smaller than a single subject spiral notebook, which means more folding and more trimming. And don’t even think about tearing out a page. The binding comes loose easily and then pages will become loose and start to fall out on their own. Composition notebooks are a popular choice in primary education. They are lightweight and fit easily inside a backpack. They are popular with English teachers as writing journals, and with Math teachers as a designated place to “show your work” on homework assignments. I worked with a science teacher who used composition notebooks. She did a lot of drawing in her class, and they worked best for her. If you prefer composition notebooks, then go for it!

How to Set-up Your Science Notebook

On the first day of school I talk with my students about school supplies, and I give them the weekend to go out and get them. It is usually in the beginning of the second week of school when we will set-up and decorate our science notebooks. I like to show my notebook under the document camera, and students follow along as we create a Cover page, a Table of Contents, and number all of the pages. For students who need to finish for homework, were absent, or transferred into my class, I post a slideshow in Google Classroom. Check out my How to Set-up Your Science Notebook slides!

Cover Page

The cover page includes basic class information like:

  • Student’s name
  • School name
  • Teacher name
  • Room number
  • Period number

Something else that can be helpful for middle schoolers is to have students write out their entire schedule on the cover page. It helps them learn their schedule and I can figure out where they are if they leave their notebook in class on accident. I have even had a teacher return a notebook to me from another school when it was left at a basketball game!

Table of Contents

This is one of the most important features of a science notebook. It’s great because students can quickly turn to a desired page or assignment in their notebook. They don’t need to flip through page by page and look at everything. I update and maintain a TOC in google classroom. If something is missing, students can help themselves to the Extra Copies Bin, which is one of my classroom systems. It saves me valuable time on administrative tasks like missing work, absent work, and making extra copies.

Probably the easiest TOC is when students write their own on the first few pages of their notebook. They number the lines from 1-200 to create and save space to write each assignment. The downside is that after frequent use, the page wears down and sometimes falls out or needs to be reinforced with tape. Another downside is it is a lot of writing.

Another option is to give students a handout that they tape or glue into their notebook and fill in as we go. When it fills up, everyone gets another handout that they tape on top of the first one. After trying both ways, my preference is to give a handout to each student that they fill in. There are lots of versions like this online, so just find what works for you. The Right Side/Left Side stuff is for interactive notebooks. I do a lot of interactive notebook stuff, but I don’t follow the input/output and left/right stuff “to the T.”

If you want to see how I update and maintain an electronic Table of Contents, check out my How to Set-up a Science Notebook folder in Google Drive. You will also find my Table of Contents handout Google Doc.

Science Notebook, Table of Contents, Organization System, 6th Grade Earth and Space Science
I like using a handout like this for the Table of Contents. It stays in really well over time and the layout is neat and organized. It’s easy to find in my Google Drive.

Number the Pages

I think it sets us up for success when our notebooks are pre-numbered and ready to go. One benefit is that students always know what page they are on. I also like that they cannot rip out the pages. Mistakes are a part of learning. They shouldn’t be afraid to cross things out and make corrections. Many students enjoy adding page numbers in their notebook. It’s like they are on a mission and they get in the zone. But I also sometimes hear complaints. I have to go to 200?! I’m tired! My hand hurts! They can take their time, and just finish for homework if needed. They can even do it while they watch TV! Students with IEPs or accommodations may need extra time to number the pages. It’s a great assignment to complete in a Study Skills class, if that’s available. My Special Education colleagues always tell me how awesome it is to begin an organization system like this from the get-go and they are happy to support!

Science Notebook, Middle School Science and High School Biology, Density, Notes
We can move much faster every day when the pages are pre-numbered. If a worksheet takes up the whole page, I like to write the page number again so it is visible.

Maintain a Teacher Notebook as an Example

Each year I make a science notebook like the students. I make one notebook that I maintain and keep up to date. Even if I teach 5 or 6 classes, it’s just easier to have one example notebook. So I also try to keep every class in the same order and using the same page numbers. I update my TOC and glue things in just like everyone else, usually as I show them under the document camera. Students can borrow my notebook to get caught up, prepare for a notebook check, and use it to see what they missed when they were absent from class. I make sure all of the questions and worksheets are on the correct pages, but the student work portion is left out so they complete the work themselves. I keep the answer keys to assignments in my teacher binder, which is another classroom system of mine.

Science Notebooks are Great!

If this is your first year using notebooks, I think it’s a great decision and you will have a lot to show for it at the end of the year. The next thing to do is decorate your science notebook! Read my blog posts below to read more about science notebooks and my classroom. What are some of your best tips for using notebooks in your classroom? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you!

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.

19 thoughts on “How to Set-up a Science Notebook

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