Help your students create a resource book that is more than just a place to record notes or homework. Teach your students how to make their notebooks a true resource.
At the end of the school year, do your students drop their notebooks into the recycling bin as they leave the classroom? 😩 A year’s worth of work tossed away! Teach your students how to create their own resource notebooks that will be a true tool and resource for years to come.
What’s a resource (note)book?
A resource book is a place we go to get answers. Even in the digital age, we are surrounded by resource books: dictionaries, thesauruses, telephone books, manuals for how to use your oven or program your car radio. Sure, we can go online and find definitions and addresses, but if you want your students to use a paper notebook, share paper resource books with them.
What to notice about a resource book: it doesn’t contain everything. It is specific to a particular need. A dictionary, even though it may contain thousands of words, will tell you what “lollygag” means, but it won’t tell you how to actually lollygag.
The resource notebooks your students create do the same thing. They are specific to your class subject matter.
When you teach your students how to create a resource notebook, you are really teaching them to take charge of their learning. You want them to create a resource they can refer back to, that makes sense to them, and that is a tool they can actually use.
How to create a custom resource book
Step 1: get the notebook
Composition books are great for this because pages don’t easily come out, they are small, and cheap.
You don’t have to have students decorate their resource books, but why not?
Students can decorate the covers with stickers or glued-on scrapbook paper. If you’re up for a big-time project, students can decorate their covers with a collage. I like offering this step since it lets students personalize their resource books, makes them easier to return if they end up in the lost & found box, and increases the odds they’ll keep their notebooks!
Tips for decorating: Start by gluing scrapbook paper onto the cover. I don’t cover the black binding since it allows the notebook to easily open and close. A glue stick works great. Trim with scissors. Now your students have a blank canvas for their notebooks. They can use stickers (these stickers are for calendars, but they are great for notebooks since they’re on a transparent background), cut out pictures, or mandalas, or photos.
Protect the cover with clear adhesive paper…or just use strips of packing tape!
(Want more ideas? You can upcycle a notebook using left over paper.)
Step 2: set up
Have students set aside the first four or five pages for the table of contents. They can write “Table of Contents” at the top of each page, or they can highlight the page edges so they stand out as the table of contents.
I don’t recommend that students number the lines in the table of contents or number all the pages in the resource book. Add numbers as you go along. This allows for students who write larger and need more than one page.
For example, the first entry in the resource book might be “How to set up your paper.” Have students write that as #1 on their table of contents and then as 1 in the notebook — even though it’s actually page 5 or 6.
Step 3: add as you go
Imagine you’re discussing your writing warm up for the day. You want students to remember when to use semicolons. Have them create a listing in the table of contents, add the same number to the next blank page, and write their notes.
When you teach your students how to create a resource book, you are teaching them to take charge of their own learning.
If your students follow this same pattern (starting with the table of contents), they will be less likely to forget to enter the page number in the table of contents (oh yes, speaking from experience here!).
Making the most of a resource book
- Use headings. Titles such as “How to use a semicolon,” “Steps for writing a thesis,” “When to use direct quotes” will help students quickly find the information they need and strengthen summarizing the big ideas of the information for that page.
- When applicable, have students write a rule or statement. If you’re writing the steps for creating a thesis statement, students can head the page. It is also helpful to highlight the title.
- Provide examples. Pages will become true resources if students have examples to follow. Having a list of rule for using a semicolon is fine, but examples will help students apply those rules with more accuracy. You can extend this by asking students to find additional examples.
- Empower students. Encourage students to add their own information. If they continue to struggle with indefinite pronoun agreement or can’t remember the difference between a comma splice and a run on, they can add their own notes. In order to keep all of your students “on the same page” (tee hee), students can add their own, personal notes by using letters rather than numbers.
- Refer back. As you are teaching new concepts, be sure to refer back to the resource book so students get used to the idea of using it as a resource. For example, asking students to check their resource book to determine if the semicolon was used correctly in a sentence.
- At a minimum, keep your own table of contents for each class. You can do this in one notebook — by just making a table of contents for each class and adding to it as your students add pages. Because each class is different, even if you’re teaching the same class but different sections, you’ll find that students have different needs. Rather than trying to keep each class resource notebook identical, keep a toc for each class.
- Continue to refer back to the resource book. When you ask, “What are the parts of a thesis statement?” and hear crickets, send your students to their resource books for the answer.
- Add all the things. If you teach multiple sections to the same students, for example writing and reading, consider creating just one resource book. Too many notebooks, binders, folders, and trappers can lead to mass confusion! Keep it simple with one book.
- Create your own resource notebook. You may not have the same needs as your students, but you can create your own resource notebook. By doing so, you’ll understand what your students are going through — and create a valuable resource for yourself. Even just create a resource book for the school year. Include information on faculty meetings, tech problems/solutions, lesson reflections — anything that will serve as a resource for what and how you teach!