5 Ideas and Resources for Using Interactive Notebooks in English Language Arts

Things are changing in today's classrooms. There seem to be fewer textbooks and more interactive-type learning going on. If you're new to the interactive notebook idea, have no fear! Below, you will find several ideas on how you can start using interactive notebook resources (sometimes referred to as INBs) in your English Language Arts classes TODAY! If you're tired of teaching grammar, punctuation or even novel studies the same old way, I have some ideas and suggestions on how you can change things up.
Interactive notebooks are both a continuous lesson and learning tool that can be referred to throughout a term or semester. Every time an interactive lesson is completed, students can keep it within their interactive notebook, which they can refer to any point when writing or reading throughout a semester. This resource is also a great study guide. It would probably be helpful to keep their interactive notebooks in a section of your classroom inside a bin or folder, so as to ensure none go missing or end up damaged! Once the term is over, students can take their interactive notebook with them, in hopes that they may refer to it in future English classes.
I will admit, I still regularly use pen and paper-type tasks in my classroom. (I haven't really delved into the online digital learning market, as much as I could have). While I may do a separate grammar lessons via handouts and worksheets that I have created at the start of a semester, for example, I will continue to review grammar skills using interactive resources, as another point of practice, as well as to differentiate how the skill is being taught. A fun way to incorporate everyday ELA skills into the classroom is through interactive games. As middle and high school students tend to enjoy competition, I knew this would be a real hit amongst my students!
Grammar Races: Interactive Notebook Game
This interactive notebook learning game is both exciting and educational, while your students learn how to properly use grammar in their writing. This activity can be completed individually, in small groups or even as a team. Students can use this interactive notebook resource to reinforce and improve their grammar skills, while enjoying a little friendly classroom competition. They won't even realize they're learning. :)

If you think your students might enjoy this activity, you can check out this Grammar Races Interactive Notebook Activity by clicking HERE!

The start of a new course or new term is a great time to reflect on the past and to set new goals for both personal and academic achievements. Again, if you're new to the interactive foldable idea or just looking for something quick and fun to start off the first day back of the New Year, here is a FREE Goals Interactive Foldable that you could use in your classroom on your first few days back in January! I have also included a FREE (generic) GOALS Interactive Foldable, which can be used at any point throughout a semester, if reflection is needed!

You might consider writing these themes on the board to help guide their writing:
  • Educational goals
  • Personal development goals
  • Career goals
  • Financial goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Physical/health goals
While there is no "set" method on how a teacher or student will set up their interactive notebook, some teachers choose to set up their interactive notebook using a left and right side method. To put it simply, our left and right brain hemispheres are used for different functions, so will the interactive notebook pages. The left side is used for more creative, free-thinking types of functions. 

Here are a few examples of what can be included on the right side of an interactive notebook. The right side tends to be used for more organized, analytic-types of functions. 

You might also be interested in these other interactive notebook activities for ELA:

4 Ways to Teach College and Career Readiness

4 ways to teach college and career readiness in the secondary ela classroom.

As a high school English teacher, I feel that it’s important to make sure my students are ready for life outside of high school. I usually teach freshmen and sophomores, but this year is my first year teaching senior-level English, and it is eye-opening. My students are so aware, so mature, and so afraid. In several short months they will receive their high school diplomas and walk their last steps on the high school campus which they’ve called home for the last four years. While teaching literature, literary analysis, and grammar is essential for all English teachers, we also have a responsibility to prepare these kids for life outside of the academic world. Here are a few ways to teach college and career readiness to our students.

Teaching students how to write an exceptional personal statement is important because it is so versatile. Students can transfer those skills to writing college admissions essays, scholarship essays, and cover letters. When I teach this skill in my own classroom, I emphasize the use of anecdotes. My students determine which positive attributes they want to convey, and then they prove how they embody those traits with an anecdote. To practice this in the classroom, we use some of the University of California admissions prompts for practice. This way my students get to work on a meaningful prompt they will get to use when it comes time to apply for colleges.

Dedicating a day or two for a mock interview is a great way to help students gain confidence in their interviewing skills. The more students practice answering on-the-spot questions about their background, their work ethic, and their skills and abilities, the more confident they will be during an actual interview. When I conduct mock interviews in my classroom, I also teach soft skills. We discuss appropriate interview attire, we practice nice, firm handshakes and maintaining eye contact, and we talk about what it means to be a good employee.

There are a couple ways to incorporate a mock interview into your classroom. Despite which format you choose, the most important aspect of this exercise is to have students reflect on their experience immediately afterward. Students need to analyze what went well, what didn’t, and how they plan to improve for their next interview.
You can download a free reflection form here.

  • Mock Interview
If you want to provide your students the opportunity to experience a longer, more in-depth interview, host a mock interview in your classroom. Instruct students to dress the part and bring a resume to class that day. When I conduct mock interviews in class, I have my students partner up  and have them sit at the tables across from one another. One student is the interviewer, and the other is the interviewee. After 20 minutes, they switch roles. What I like about this set-up is that students get to practice their interview skills in a small, intimate setting. They also get to see how their partner responds to the same questions they have been asked.  similar questions.  

  • Speed Interviewing
If you are looking for a fun twist on the mock interview, try speed interviewing. In this scenario, you will have students placed into two groups: interviewers and interviewees. Similar to the mock interview, they will sit across from one another, but after 2-3 minutes, the interviewees will rotate and begin the entire process over again. After 20-30 minutes (and this will depend on how long your class periods are), student roles will switch so that everyone has an opportunity to practice their interviewing skills.
Free mock interview reflection form

Another way to get students thinking about life outside of school is through research. This year my seniors completed a career research project and, according to them, it was one of the most valuable assignments they’ve completed. For the project, I had students research careers they were interested in. They researched the qualifications, advancement opportunities, locations, salary range, and general responsibilities required for that particular career. As part of the assignment they also completed a self reflection where they evaluated whether they felt like their chosen career was a good fit for them. For a few students, this assignment made them realize that the career they chose wasn’t suitable or practical to their needs or wants.
To incorporate speaking and listening into your career research paper, add in a presentation requirement. Students can use a variety of digital tools including Google Slides, Adobe Spark, or Piktochart to create a visual element to present to class. This also benefits all of the students in the class because they will be exposed to a variety of professions.

Additionally, you might also be interested in reading this blog post about how to get your students prepared for writing in college.

Here are additional resources for teaching career and college readiness:
Career/Job Exploration Project - The Classroom Sparrow
Career Readiness Bundle - The SuperHERO Teacher

Creative Ways to Teach Persuasive Language

Remember that time you watched a Facebook video and gave up sugar for a whole week? Or was it gluten? It was probably wine. OK, so that didn’t stick but don’t feel bad; you did agree to donate to that charity. And the proceeds from those cookies you bought went to a really good cause. 

Speaking of cookies, how often have you picked up a lifestyle magazine and convinced yourself you could be the next Martha Stewart? Also, why do they always put the health and fitness magazines right next to the check out? That’s where I pay for my candy bars! ‘They cancel each other out, though’. That’s what I tell myself when I add them to my basket. I know I’m not the only one guilty of impulse purchases. Be honest… what about those gorgeous, super uncomfortable shoes you never wear but bought because they were on sale? Or the time you ordered that exercise equipment with complete confidence that it would transform you into a supermodel/olympian. Oh wait, maybe that was me…

My point is (and I promise you, I do have one) – whether we’re aware of it or not – our choices aren’t as free as they seem. So many of our decisions, every single day, are guided by other people. Usually marketing executives. Sometimes journalists. Occasionally politicians and activists. More frequently celebrities and social media ‘influencers’. Even friends and family have the power to persuade us to change our behavior, think like they do, or ‘call your mother once in a while’. 

The fact that persuasion is so prevalent in every aspect of our culture means there are a ton of ways you can teach it using fun, relatable, and relevant examples that your students will respond to. In fact, I’ve got eight creative ideas right here!

1. Analyze print advertisements

Even in this digital age, printed advertising isn’t slowing down. Whether it’s giant billboards, or flyers through our letterboxes, you have thousands of persuasive examples to choose from. But I’ve found that one of the best way to engage teenagers is to bring in magazines that appeal to their specific areas of interest and comb through the many (many) pages of adverts. You know your students, so pick a selection of sports, exercise, music, fashion… whatever you think they’ll connect with!

2. Pay attention to current political discourse
Youtube is a modern goldmine for recorded speeches. Search for rallies, press conferences, debates, or state addresses to link your lesson to current affairs. But don’t limit yourself to politicians; activists are among the most savvy public speakers. Check the number of views and comments each speech has received for an idea of how effective and influential they’ve been.

3. Evaluate historical speeches
Analyzing persuasive language of the past is a great opportunity for cross-curricular projects. Have a chat with the history teachers and find out what they have planned for their lessons.

  • The Civil Rights Movement? An obvious choice would be Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis? Look to John F. Kennedy.
  • The Second World War? Look to Winston Churchill. 
  • The Women’s Rights Movement? You can’t do much better than Sojourner Truth.  

4. Embrace the season
If you coincide your lessons with seasonal celebrations, your students will carry on making connections and building awareness even outside the classroom. Big events like the Super Bowl, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the Olympics are all great opportunities to talk about the power of advertising. While your students watch seasonal commercials, get them to write down all the techniques they spot, like persuasive language bingo!

5. Look to Shakespeare
Your students might not realize that persuasive language techniques are prevalent in fiction too, but it’s a great way to interject a language lesson into a literature study. One of my favorite ‘cross-over’ lessons involves Macbeth; Lady Macbeth is the consummate manipulator. But there are so many other examples of Shakespearean characters who use persuasive language to devastating effect – like Iago in Othello, or Claudius in Hamlet, or Cassius in Julius Caesar.
6. Look to the big (and little) screen
In my experience, students love any excuse to watch TV in class! Which is lucky as TV and movies are full of fantastic examples of persuasive language. War films are always a good bet for rousing speeches, but my favorite clips to watch and deconstruct with my students are always the closing speeches in courtroom dramas.

7. Turn your students into Ad Execs
Encourage your students to learn by doing. Ask them to pick a product or an idea – something they’re passionate about – and design their own advert using persuasive language techniques. This is always a big hit in my classroom; my students jump at the chance to use their creativity in such a free and independent way. 

8. Host a debate 
No study of rhetoric would be complete without a debate. After all, Artistotle defined rhetoric as ‘the art of argument’ so it really is the cherry on top of the persuasive language cake. There’s no better way for students to practice and show off their new persuasive skills and knowledge of ethos, logos, and pathos than to craft their own arguments. And to really get them fired up, the first debate can be choosing the debate topic!

So, there you have it! Teaching rhetoric is one of my most favourite elements of teaching English because it is relevant, and all around us! What are your favourite ways for teaching persuasion?

Looking for more resources for teaching RHETORIC? 

8 Nonfiction Book Excerpts Worth Teaching in ELA

Let’s challenge some nonfiction norms for a moment.

Who says that books written for adults can't be shown to students?
Who says we have to assign the entire book for teaching and learning to take place?
Why not show students small bits of the most delicious nonfiction to shown them what's REALLY out there?

Whether you’re pressed for time, don’t have enough copies, or aren’t so sure you WANT students to read the whole book, there are serious benefits to giving students even just ONE chapter of a fantastic nonfiction book.

Reading plenty of nonfiction authors boosts vocabulary and critical thinking, but it also helps introduce students to new writing styles so their own essays and nonfiction writing can evolve. Not unlike the perks of an “article of the week” program, giving students single chapters or small samples of different authors’ arguments and writing styles is immensely beneficial… and, even better, you may persuade some of those students to go GET the book and continue reading the REST of it. (Some books are so fascinating that they sell themselves!)

(Plus, according to my school librarian, we can legally photocopy up to 10% of a book and give it to students under “fair use” educational guidelines. That’s often about one chapter.)

Check out this starter list of 8 nonfiction books that can easily offer a good chapter for a short read!

  • These vary greatly in length, content, and difficulty.
  • I tried to avoid some of the commonly recommended ones (like I Am Malala, No Summit Out of Sight, Nickel and Dimed, Bird by Bird, On Writing, How to Read Literature like a Professor, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and Freakonomics).
  • For even more ideas, you’re more than welcome to stalk my GoodReads shelves.

FREE Activity Page:
For any of these chapters (or other titles), you can use this "I Say/We Say" activity to help students independently and collaboratively react to a text! (There's also room at the bottom for you to add your own custom, text-dependent question.) Download it here!

Excerpt #1

Great Quote: “...the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (Gladwell 38).

Why I Picked It: It’s fantastic for showing students that dedication really does pay off, and that most celebs got where they are through serious investments of time and effort. (Growth mindset, anyone?)

FYI: This is a slightly long/difficult read for middle school, but not impossible. Gladwell uses a combination of (dry) storytelling AND statistics to make his points.

How to Teach It: Use this reading as your launchpad for a debate or discussion of what implications the 10k-Hour Rule has for teenagers. (For example: is it better for students to immerse in a skill/hobby, or should they be well-rounded?)

Excerpt #2:

Great Quote: “What factors inside our high schools would lead a senior to declare she is not really interested in books, pages, and words? What is causing readicide?” (Gallagher 5).

Why I Picked It: (Gasp) Yes, sometimes you can share parts of a book originally written for teachers! When students read all the statistics about how many students are bad at reading or don’t do it, the data may not only justify YOUR teaching practices but motivate them to not “be a statistic” themselves.

FYI: Since this chapter is critical of the American education system, you might hesitate to give this to students, but for me, the value here is in all of the data Gallagher gives.

How to Teach It: Perhaps teach this before a reading unit (or launch of an independent reading program); it could also be a debate-starter about what students should be required to read (and how often).

Excerpt #3:
Great Quote: “The simplest way to describe the development of HONY over the past five years is this: it’s evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog” (Stanton 1).

Why I Picked It: Yes, this book is more photos than text; most of the text is short photo captions (and not as long as the stories posted on HONY’s Facebook page). BUT, this book is a secret weapon for students who desperately need to see a diverse world.

FYI: Some pages are more appropriate than others. Preview and choose pages selectively if you teach in a conservative setting.

How to Teach It: This book is fantastic for multiple perspectives (right before To Kill a Mockingbird and walking in someone else’s shoes, perhaps?) and for INSPIRATION (like memoir, fiction, or poetry writing). Click here to see my memoir reading & writing unit!

Excerpt #4:

Great Quote: “The audience… suddenly grew silent as they took in his words. He was reaching their minds, but he could do that only after he had touched their hearts” (Gallo 44).

Why I Picked It: It talks about the great content AND style of storytelling, ranging from delivery to ethos/pathos/logos, all given through his examples and stories of real TED speakers.

FYI: Chris Anderson also has a really excellent book about how to give a TED Talk (and its ethos is better than Gallo’s), but Gallo’s book is an easier read for grades 7-12 in my opinion.

How to Teach It: Read this before your next speech unit (whether that’s WRITING speeches and learning what to DO, or READING speeches and learning what to CRITIQUE). For more public speaking lessons, check out my Intro to Public Speaking with TED mini-unit!

Excerpt #5:

Great Quote: “Students who graduated on schedule were grittier, and grit was a more powerful predictor of graduation than how much students cared about school, how conscientious they were about their studies, and even how safe they felt at school” (Duckworth 11).

Why I Picked It: Yes, I’ve seen Duckworth’s TED talk (below), but I find the book to be even better. It’s the ultimate argument in favor of hard work and why ALL students should try hard, even if they don’t feel smart.

How to Teach It: There’s more than one great application and infinite timing possibilities (new year?), but from a writing standpoint, this is a great chapter to raise the question, “How did the author gradually build her argument?”

Excerpt #6:

Great Quote: “Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful” (Meyer 27).

Why I Picked It: Even if you’re not an Ohio State fan like me (O-H!), this book is still critically relevant for any class that needs to hear messages about perseverance, leadership, and self-monitoring behavior. I was so impressed by just the first few chapters that I wished I could buy a class set. It may also pull in some of my reluctant male readers.

FYI: Though there are anecdotes based on his 2014 championship football team, you don’t have to understand football to understand and appreciate this chapter.

How to Teach It: Time this strategically in a moment of perseverance or growth mindset, which could include the beginning of the year, the start of second semester, or any other time when such qualities in your students are lagging.

Excerpt #7:

Great Quote: “Take at least 20 minutes every day to be still and quiet. Reflect. Dissect your thoughts and feelings. Relive any mistakes from the day before. Decide how to be smarter and tougher, how to be more committed and considerate of others” (Beyonce).

Why I Picked It: This book is an anthology of chapters from different celebrities, which will appeal to many students. There’s something to be said for a book that gives wisdom straight from the mouths of experts!

FYI: Kind of like HONY, some chapters are better (and cleaner) than others, so hand-pick what you want YOUR class to read instead of just passing around the entire book. For example, Mario Batali’s chapter is great one and just has one swear word that you could easily Sharpie out.

ALSO, this book is from 2011, so there are some authors featured who are a little controversial now (like Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, etc.), but so many of the OTHER celebs are SO good that I can’t omit recommending this book anyway.

How to Teach It: There’s SUCH a range of stories in this book that you can either 1) find one that suits what you’re teaching now/next, 2) pick several to match to different students, or 3) choose a few to read at set intervals (like article of the week 2.0).

Excerpt #8:

Great Quote: “I accept [the Nobel Peace Prize] on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice” (King 105).

Why I Picked It: We do a great disservice to Dr. King when we only teach his “Dream” speech. Each text in this book could be its own lesson, if not unit! You can’t go wrong with teaching any of these as your excerpt.

How to Teach It: The sky’s the limit. Annotate for grammar (parallel structure), rhetorical or literary devices (hypophora or allusion), or just the content itself. (For more teaching resources about reading, writing, or giving good speeches, click here!)

Want even more nonfiction ideas?
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Do you have other book suggestions?
Tell us in the comments!
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