Setting Up ISNBs and ISJs Part 1: Materials

Holly StuartBlog, Differentiate Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • This post shares the process for setting up ISNBs and ISJs and the materials that are needed. 
  • Use composition notebooks (not spiral bound), colored pencils, and liquid glue. Be sure to teach students how to use the glue correctly before giving them a notebook.

Remember the purpose of an ISNB/ISJ

In my last Science Better blog post, I wrote about why I use an interactive science notebook (ISNB) and an interactive science journal (ISJ) in my classroom. The purpose of the ISNB and ISJ is to teach students how to organize their information, process their learning, and develop their own understanding of the science content.

These are powerful tools in the hands of learners. But it can be challenging to get started if you have never used them before. In this blog post, I will talk about the materials that have helped me successfully integrate ISNBs and ISJs into my instruction.

The purpose of the ISNB and ISJ is to teach students how to organize their information, process their learning, and develop their own understanding of the science content. Click To Tweet

Lesson 1: Composition Notebooks

The best (and only) type of notebook to use for an ISNB/ISJ is a composition notebook. The pages are sewn in (students should be clearly instructed not to rip out pages!), there is no metal spiral that can get caught/twisted/or snagged on anything, and most importantly, this is the tool that scientists use when conducting research.

During my time as a research chemist, I can’t tell you how many composition notebooks I filled with data, observations, reflections, experimental results, etc. It is a vital part of learning in my classroom and I start off the year expressing its importance to my students. There are composition notebooks that have graph paper as the pages and some that have traditional college or wide-ruled lined pages. Which you use is up to you.

I believe that next year I will make the transition to the graph paper as it provides a built-in organizational tool for students to create data tables, draw/design to scale, and graph results right on the page.

Lesson 2: Colored Pencils

I have learned the hard way that colored pencils are the best thing to use in an ISNB/ISJ. Markers will bleed through the page and then you won’t be able to read what is on either side. Highlighters will also bleed through and you won’t know what is actually highlighted on either page.

Also, be careful with colored pens. Some of them dry quickly and stay on the page you are working on. Others will bleed through the page, again making it challenging to read what is on either side of the paper. I have students try the pens out on a piece of scratch paper first. If they can’t see the ink on the flip side of the page, then it is fine to use. If it bleeds through, go back to using colored pencils. There is a lot of coloring and color-coding in my notebooks, so regardless of whether or not they write the words in ink, students will still need colored pencils for the majority of what goes into the ISNB/ISJ.

Lesson 3: Liquid Glue

This gets the biggest complaint from my students. But from my 6 years of using ISNBs, the best way to put things into the notebook is to use liquid glue. In the beginning, I let my students experiment with tape, staples, and glue sticks. None of them worked as well as liquid glue.

Here is my caveat: you have to teach your students how to properly use glue for this to be effective. I have an intro grid that I use with my students that teaches them all about grids, ISNBs, and ISJs. One of the learning opportunities on this grid is how to glue things into the notebook. And yes, they have to prove to me that they can do it right before they are allowed to go on to the next box!

Click here to take a free course and learn more about The Grid Method!

[scroll down to keep reading]

The trick is to have them use only four tiny dots of glue in each corner (two at the top if you are gluing in a double-sided document). If I see any giant globs of glue, glue leaking out of the sides of the paper, or glue in the middle of the paper, I have them go back and try again. Some of my students have to take 3 or 4 tries before they “master” this lesson, but it is worth it to avoid all of the gluing pitfalls that I have seen over the years.

I hope that this blog post will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that I faced when I first started using ISNBs and ISJs.

If you have questions or other tips about the materials you use with ISNBs, please don’t hesitate to reach out and share them.

Having the right materials on hand when using ISNBs can help all of us learn to Science Better. Stay tuned for another post sharing the procedures for organizing and using these notebooks!

About Holly Stuart

Holly Stuart is an 8th grade science and design teacher in South Carolina. Her educational passions include finding new and innovative ways to get more students interested in STEAM, student-inspired discovery through inquiry, and learning science by doing science.

In addition to her out-of-the-box thinking in the classroom, she has successfully implemented The Grid Method into her teaching practice which led to her becoming a Teach Better Team Ambassador. Holly is married to her high school sweetheart and is a mother to three children.

When not teaching, she enjoys traveling and being outside with her family. Some of their favorite outdoor activities include hiking, running, and biking. (Holly often brings her telescope, binoculars, and microscopes with her on hikes!) Her indoor hobbies include reading, coloring, and learning more about sketchnoting and drawing.