Making Reader's Notebooks Work

Responding to reading through writing is an expectation in many curriculums. And it can be a great way to process what we are reading! How we house these written gems is another story. One that has given me a headache for the past 3 years since having my own classroom. I've tried to find ways to make "reading notebooks" work for both me and my students. And each year was a dud (Ok- maybe I'm exaggerating. It wasn't all negative and troublesome, but it by no means was a smooth running machine for both my students and myself).

Year One: 

We did a packet that was turned in each unit. Students "coded" their jottings by skill. I liked it. It worked better for me than my students though. And it didn't allow for really in-depth work.

Year Two-Three: 


We did binders. I love hand outs/graphic organizers and I thought binders were my solution! I could put dividers in and it will be all organized I thought. Except it didn't work for my students. No matter how often we practiced being gentle when turning pages, more pages were falling out than staying in. One year I tried dividing it one way and that didn't work. So year 3 came and I tried to divide it by unit which I thought would be better, but that didn't work either. Plus, when I wanted to collect them- they were bulky. My whole thought originally was students would turn in just the task I wanted them to and then I would return it with feedback and they would put it neatly back in the right spot. A girl can wish, right? However, it just didn't work out that way. So then I would ask them to turn in their binders for me to check... not fun. Plus, it would stink when I didn't have things 3-holed punched.

Which brings me to year Four: 

And I think I'm on the right track. Believe it or not, I'm actually trying to use the notebook as my mode. Why was I so resistant to it before you may ask? They are called "Reader's Notebooks" after all and for 3 years you didn't try a notebook. Well, you see... I like structure. And notebooks are so- blank. But I combined all the things that didn't work before that I loved, to make this notebook thing work and so far, I think I have the Reader's Notebook that has worked the best for my students and for myself in four years.

Prepare yourself. They ain't too fancy.


What I stole from binders that I loved: tabs

I still divided my notebook up into 3 sections (only 2 tabs were put in at the time of this photo #reallife). I divided it differently though than I have in the years past.



In this section, students house their daily jottings whether they be on post-its, graphic organizers (that I just shrink down to composition size on the copier and we glue in) or hand drawn graphic organizers.

What I stole from the packet that I love: codes

I stole our coding idea from the packet in my first year and when they jot on post its (which so many of my students prefer after I conducted a little survey), they code it in the corner of their post it.


This chart is organized by depth of thinking (in my humble opinion). The goal is to get to the deep jottings, or the treasure jots. Thoughts and inferences are closets to this, followed by questions, interesting facts, feelings/reactions, and then connections. I added student examples of exemplars to the chart as well to give students an expectation.

The tab for independent reading also provides some prompts students can use in their longer written responses they may do.


This is a new section I added this year and I'm loving it. We do a lot of interactive read alouds where I do think alouds and students are turning and talking and jotting. I wanted this work to be separate to make it easy for us to find. On the tab, we are recording any read aloud that we do where we jot. After we are done reading, students give it a rating too. (Trust me, we have read more than 6 books... these are jus the ones we've done heavy jotting work around)

Depending on our unit, we might jot about different things. Below you can see a t-chart we did for inference and text evidence with Stone Fox. We also do boxes and bullets, character webs, etc.


Also, if I want to see student responses to a common text through read aloud to formatively asses a particular skill, I can easily find them in this section of the notebook. 

Teacher confession: I have this tab copied, but we haven't cut it out yet and glued it in yet. Oops. It's ok, it's still working. In this section, we actual work backwards. We started on the very last page of our notebook and when we got our first helpful handout, we glued it in the back. Whenever I have another handout I want them to keep, they go to the way back and just flip to next blank page. It's working.

Some of the resources we've added to the back have included this question matrix to help form strong questions. We used this in our character unit as well as our nonfiction unit. 
Another resource we added to the back is to help us with our conversation skills when talking about our reading. This worked well with our book clubs that we did earlier in the year and we will reference again later in our future book clubs. Not to mention, this has helped with our grand conversations during reading aloud too. 

Not pictured are our text feature flip flaps that we have been filling out with our nonfiction unit, main idea and details guided note page and more! We'll be adding a new one this week about post it jotting for new words. 

This space is meant for any hand out that doesn't have another "space" in terms of our literacy work. And it works out well because some students might get more than others based on needs. As long as I scale them down prior to printing, they will fit in our composition notebook without sticking out and getting all crumbled.

This has worked so far this year. When I collect notebooks (which I've done more this year than any other year before), I can easily find what I'm looking for after extensive modeling on how we date the page, how we organize our post its in it, go in order/don't skip pages, etc. There's a few that still need reminders, but for the most part, I can find what I'm looking for and give feedback to my students. 

Yes the tabs get mangled. A little tape and we are good to go. We are now in our 5th month and only 2 students have lost a tab (but we've been able to tape them back on). Pretty decent considering how much work they get!

Want these tabs? Check them out in my store by clicking the image below!

How do you tame the jottings in your classroom?




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