More Tips for Using Science Notebooks as an Organization System

I had so much to say about science notebooks in my last post, How to Set-up a Science Notebook, that I needed to start a whole new one. In my 7 years of teaching, I used science notebooks most of the time. I tried binders too, but ultimately I like using notebooks the best. Over the years I tried a lot of different things with notebooks. Some of them worked great, others I hated and never did again, haha. In this blog post I’ll share more of my tips on the logistics of using science notebooks in the classroom so everyone can have a good day!

  • Have a routine for when to glue things in. Maybe work goes in the notebook once it is graded and handed back? 
  • Time them! Give them 2 minutes (5 minutes realistically for the whole table/class) to glue the page in, then move on! 
  • Show students HOW you want them to glue. This seems obvious, but left to their own devices they will glue down a two-sided handout and you won’t be able to see the other side. 
  • Elmer’s Glue, Glue Sticks, or Tape? Wouldn’t you like to know?!
  • Have supplies readily available. 1 glue bottle, glue stick, or tape dispenser should be enough per table. If you want it to go faster, give 1 glue stick for every partner pair.

Make Organization Part of the Classroom Routine

I spend a little time on notebook improvement each day. Organization can be a great task for the beginning of class, or after an activity when students will finish at different times. This might look like updating the table of contents at the beginning of class, passing back work and gluing it in, or assigning daily warm-ups, writing tasks, or note-taking in the notebook. I get students used to grabbing their notebook at the beginning of class because they expect they are going to use it. 

I am firm with my students on how much class time they get to glue something in. I set a timer and display it in front of the class. If students need more time at the end, I increase the time by another minute or so, but I move on when most students are finished. Without a timer, it’s too easy to allow organization to suck up your instruction time. 

Gluing things in is also a good time for some other routines. Students can update the Table of Contents in their notebook. If something was handed back, they can check their current grade online. I ask students start cleaning up when they are done cutting and gluing by collecting their little scraps of paper on the corner of their desk. A few student volunteers take the recycling bin around the room (which they actually really enjoy!). Yes this takes extra time, but it also gives students a little break, some social time, and a sense of cooperation and community. 

Know How You Want Students to Glue or Tape Things in, Then Show Them!

Have you ever seen a student squeeze out the glue like they’re putting ketchup on their burger at a fourth of July barbeque? They make a mess of their notebook and the desk, and the pages stick together in a thick clumsy stack. To avoid this mess (OK not avoid it completely, but hopefully cut down on the mess) I show students how to glue during the first few days of school.

As a demonstration, I use a piece of black construction paper under the document camera for effect. When gluing something flat down, all they need is a dot of glue in each corner of the page and one in the middle. A dot a dot, is not a lot is something I picked up from another teacher, and I still use to this day!

I like for students to glue handouts along the edge, so it can flip open like a book. Fold the edge of the paper over about 1 cm to create a tab. Apply glue on the tab under the fold to allow the page flip open. Some assignments are double-sided and some are multiple pages. Students will need to be shown specifically how to glue these in to avoid unneeded creativity and craziness. Some teachers print pages specifically so they can be taped at the top or bottom and flipped up or down to be viewed. I don’t think too much about it, but I do try to avoid taping things like packets or even readings into their notebooks. They tend to fall out so students have a separate plastic folder for these handouts.

Elmer’s Glue, Glue Sticks, or Tape?

Most years I prefer to use a liquid glue like Elmer’s. It holds up the best over time. It is also the most cost effective. At the beginning of the year I buy a big gallon jug from an office supply store like Staples. I buy 8 or 9 (however many groups/tables I have) individual glue bottles and I can re-use and refill them for many years. Elmer’s glue is also a better choice for the environment than some of the other options because I an reuse the bottles. Just tape a little handmade label on the glue bottle that reminds students: Do NOT throw away when empty! Before I had the labels, students just threw them away when they were empty.

The annoying things about Elmer’s glue is that it’s easy to use WAY too much and the pages get stuck together, the tops get clogged often, and we all know how fun it is to put it on our hands, let it dry, and peel it off. After teaching 10th graders one year, I think these annoyances are what led me to transition away from a notebook organization system to using binders. It sucks that the process is so annoying because I like Elmer’s glue the best overall.

If you’re wondering if you should use glue sticks instead, they have their own problems. They don’t seem to hold things down as well over time, they dry up, they get your hands sticky, and students lose the cap which then dries them out and they have to go in the trash. They are single-use plastic, which makes them worse for the environment. Glue sticks are the most convenient, though. If I put two glue sticks in each table’s supply box, everyone can finish gluing pretty quickly.

OK, so if gluing is annoying, then what about using tape? Tape is probably the easiest to use and holds things in place well over time. The downside? It’s expensive, students use too much and love playing with it too much, and it is logistically challenging with the dispensers. You know those $15 tape dispenser holders? When the tape roll is empty, students like to take out the little plastic thing that holds the roll on the dispenser. Then they disappear. What happens to them? Who knows?! But in ½ of my dispensers the tape sinks down and you have to search for the beginning of the roll every time when you want to use it. 

Create Classroom Systems Around Supplies for Efficiency 

32 high schoolers rushing to pick up glue from the back table can be disastrous! So for smooth transitions between organizing science notebooks and doing work, it helps to have systems in place. One system I used for many years was to keep supplies for each group at the center of their table. There’s a box with colored pencils, crayons, thick markers, thin markers, glue sticks, and scissors for the group to share. In theory this system works great. But what I found is that I spent a lot of time re-organizing the boxes because the items would be misplaced so quickly. Looking back, I should have had the students check the supply boxes for me instead, or I should have held every group more accountable each period. But where’s the time for that? This system took too much of my attention and energy to maintain.

I found it easier this year to have supplies for every group laid out at the beginning of class in a designated space like the back table. A group member, A, B, C, D; group organizer; or a selected partner, A/B or C/D, would retrieve and return the supplies when instructed. This was an efficient system that eliminated a few problems for me. I no longer had to clean out trash from the supply boxes, or reorganize them daily. Students didn’t cut, color, glue, or throw things when I didn’t want them to (OK, at least not as much). Sadly, I just couldn’t figure out how to make it so the supply boxes at the center of the table were not a distraction. An added bonus with this “golden retriever” supply system is a little stretch break for the student getting the supplies.

Student Supply Box, Science Notebooks in Middle School Science and High School Biology
I made this label for the student supply boxes at each table. It was helpful, but didn’t fix the problem of students putting random things or trash inside.

These are some of my tips for how I make science notebooks work in my classroom. There’s a lot of trial and error in teaching and I hope that some of my ideas can help you out, and save you valuable time. Maybe a few headaches, too!

What are some of your best tips for using notebooks in your classroom? Let me know by leaving a comment. To read more about my classroom, check out the blog posts below!

Vocabulary Logs

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.

16 thoughts on “More Tips for Using Science Notebooks as an Organization System

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