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Using Interactive Notebooks in Social Studies

I love teaching social studies!  A good social studies curriculum is filled with history and civics, people, places and fascinating events.  We can learn from the past to make tomorrow better.  However, simply reading from a textbook has a way of taking the life out of social studies.  Over the years I’ve discovered that making social studies interactive can make all the difference.  Once I started using Interactive Notebooks in Social Studies my students engagement increased, as did their learning.

using interactive notebooks in social studies

What is an Interactive Notebook?

An interactive notebook is a notebook or journal that students build and create throughout the year as they learning.  It’s a place for them to take notes or add in pre-made notes, create timelines or illustrate vocabulary, and it’s a place to add foldable activities that help them synthesize and analyze what they are learning. It’s like a social studies textbook except students are creating it themselves, lesson by lesson.

Interactive Notebooks can be used for a course, like Social Studies, or they can be used for smaller topics like the Civil War or Lewis & Clark.  That really just depends on how you want to structure them.  Personally, I like keeping the entire semester or year together in one place.  Students love looking back to see all they have learned.

What Goes in an Interactive Notebook?

The short answer is . . . anything students learn!  Vocabulary, dates, people, events, concepts, notes, quizzes, projects, and anything else related to the subject matter. You can also add in topic related writing prompts, K-W-L charts or a topic related book list.

Why are Interactive Notebooks effective?

Interactive Notebooks are effective because students are using a variety of learning methods all in one place.  Students are reading and writing, creating and thinking, seeing, hearing and doing.  In the educational world this is called multi-sensory learning and it works!  It takes information and sends it to the brain using multiple sensory pathways. It reaches the learning styles of all students.

three branches of government checks and balances

Additionally, interactive notebooks are effective because students take ownership of their learning and their notebook creation.  There is really nothing more powerful in the learning process then ownership.

How I Use Interactive Notebooks in Social Studies

In my classroom, students create a year long notebook for social studies.  As we start a new unit or topic, we begin with some engagement activity.  This might be a K-W-L chart, a pre-unit quiz to assess prior knowledge or even a short writing with a prompt like “Who was Napoleon?”  All of these activities are kept right in the notebook.  What’s great about this is that when we are done with a topic, students can go back and see just how much they learned.

As we get into the “meat” of a topic, we document everything in the notebook.  We always include at least one page for vocabulary, dates, people and places.  In addition, we also keep other activities that allow us to dig deeper in our understanding of the topic.

the american gold rush in california activities for social studies

After completing a topic or unit, we use our notebooks to review and prepare for a test.  It almost becomes a game as students remember the different activities and what they learned.

Over the years, I have put together a number of Social Studies Interactive Notebook resources.  These resource packs include everything you need for a fun and interactive unit study.  Your students will love the engaging activities and you will love all the time you save planning time since the resources are ready to print and use!

Interactive Notebooks For the Entire Year

This is the mother-load of social studies interactive notebooks!  All of my social studies interactive notebook resources together in one place.  This huge bundle includes everything you need for 15 different topics.  AND . . . there are print and digital options.  Yep – you can create digital interactive notebooks too!

Here’s a peek into the Social Studies Interactive Notebook Bundle:


interactive notebooks for social studies

This year long bundle includes interactive notebook activities for each of these topics:

  1. Maps, Continents, Oceans and Landforms
  2. The Three Branches of Government
  3. U.S. Constitution
  4. Elections and Voting / Road to the White House
  5. Early European Explorers
  6. The 13 Colonies
  7. Colonial American Jobs
  8. Colonial American Life
  9. The American Revolution Causes
  10. The American Revolution Timeline
  11. Civil War Battles and Events
  12. The Civil War Map
  13. Lewis & Clark 
  14. The Oregon Trail
  15. The Gold Rush

Interactive Notebook Fun!

Add some engaged learning to your classroom.  Jump right in with the social studies bundle, or try one with your next social studies unit.  You can use interactive notebooks with other subjects too.  You can find out how I use interactive notebooks in math to help my students learn about classifying triangles, polygons and other shapes.

classifying polygons math notebook activities

Don’t Lose These Social Studies Interactive Notebooks

Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can jump back over quickly when you need fun and engaging social studies activities.using interactive notebooks in the social studies classroom

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Amy Hughes

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I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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