The end of the school year or semester is wonderful and exciting …except for the waste.

Rather than having students chunk their partially used notebooks into the recycling bin, have them upcycle them by creating new notebooks or journals.

Here’s how:

Fun up-cycle project for students.  Earth Day activity that encourages creative reuse of items students would normally throw away.

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Whether or not it’s Earth Day , students often need a gentle reminder that one of the 3Rs is “reuse.”  As teachers, we see lots of waste and know that partially used notebooks can be given new life (and save $$).

This project gives a second life to:

  • a cardboard box (like a cereal or cracker box)
  • spiral notebook pages
  • craft paper or computer paper (can be printed on one side)

Steps to Upcycle It

Step 1: supplies

Upcycle school supplies to create a fun notebook or journal.

You probably have most of the items you need:

  • an old notebook
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • craft paper, construction paper, old maps, wrapping paper, coloring book pages…use your imagination!
  • a cardboard box (I used a triscuit box to make a small notebook, but cereal and frozen pizza boxes work great — you don’t want really thick cardboard because it will make the book difficult to cut)
  • three-hole punch (you’ll need a heavy-duty one)
  • brads – or – a rubber band and a paper clip — or buttons and string

Step 2: trimming

Upcycle school supplies to create a fun notebook or journal.

Cut the box top and bottom off the box.  Cut open the right side and trim off the end.  The box will be in the shape of a book.

I use that as a guide for the paper.  Pull the amount of paper you want from the notebook and trim.  Make the pages a bit smaller than the size of the book.

Step 3: gluing things

Upcycle school supplies to create a fun notebook or journal.

Lay the box flat and cover it completely with glue.  

Press the cover paper on top and smooth it out.  I set the whole thing under a stack of books for a few hours to dry.

Step 4: make a cover

Upcycle school supplies to create a fun notebook or journal.

A fun cover option is for students to use mandalas. Students can make their own on the free website Color Mandala or, you can download two free mandalas from my Teachers Pay Teacher’s store: Free mandalas.

Once students have colored their design, they can cut it out, glue it to black construction paper (because that looks so splashy!), and use that as the cover.

You might want to “line” the inside of your book, so the cardboard doesn’t show when you open it.  I lined mine with yellow construction paper.  Just apply glue to the cardboard, place the construction paper on it, and pile a few books on top until it’s dry.

Step 4: tips for opening

Upcycle school supplies to create a fun notebook or journal.

In order for your upcycled notebook to open easily, you’ll want a crease in the front cover about a half inch from the folded edge.  I used a ruler to help with this.  Fold the crease back and forth several times so it opens and closes easily.

Step 5: add paper

Create a fun upcycle project.

Put the paper inside your new cover.  

The paper may already have holes in it, but I punched new holes through everything. You will want to use a heavy-duty three-hole punch (I love this one) for this job!

Step 6: bind it

Secure the notebook with brads, a rubber band and paperclip, or small sewn buttons (smaller than the width of the crease).  Decorate the cover with stickers or create a label for it.

Your upcycled notebook is ready to use!

Make some more!

Challenge students to create a notebook that they can use or even give as a gift.  Mini notebooks are great to record to-do lists. Bigger notebooks are perfect for reading journals, writing projects, or resource notebooks.

Have fun creating this easy up-cycle project that will give old notebooks new life!

2 Comments on How to Create Upcycled Notebooks

  1. What a fantastic idea!! We have countless pages left in our spirals and composition books. This is going to be a great last days of school project for my class! I love how I can teach them about recycling while allowing them to create something they will be proud of! Thanks for the idea!!!

  2. Love this! You’ve made the meaningful task seem like a breeze. Such a well written, practical idea!

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