Interactive Reading Notebooks: The Key to Comprehension for Students

Interactive Reading Notebooks
The Key to Comprehension for Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 21,952 views

I love reading.

I’ve heard it said that the person who reads does not live one life but a thousand. But not everyone feels like I do about the written word. And even those who do love reading just as much as I do may not feel the same way about reading in a second language. (I know I feel a whole lot different when I’m reading in French!) Besides the missing heart connection to the typeface on the page, reading in a second language presents other challenges. Connections do not come easy when all you have are words on the page and eyes following along the lines. Some students are intimidated by page after page of challenging words and sentence structures. And ESL students reading in English don’t necessarily have a lot of interaction with what they are reading. There’s not really any exchange of ideas or language. That’s where interactive reading notebooks come in to play. They are one of my favorite ways to make reading more personal and more interactive for my students. As a bonus, they are also easy to use. Here’s everything you need to know to get started with these great resources for the reading classroom.

What Is an Interactive Reading Notebook?

An interactive reading notebook isn’t a complicated mystery that’s hard for teachers to make and students to grasp. Simply put, it’s a notebook or binder that holds personal interactions with a reading text. I like to use a three ring binder for my students’ notebooks so we can add pages easily. You can also have students use a spiral notebook or whatever they are comfortable using. These notebooks are about as flexible as you can get, and they are simply a collection of activities students do with the reading materials they choose.

With each selection that students read (by their choice or mine), they complete one or more page for their notebook on it. Each page can focus on different aspects of what they read. As students complete each page, they think about what they have read and get their bodies involved as they manipulate pieces on the page, draw pictures, or create collages. Instead of reading being unidirectional, students have a back and forth interaction with the reading selection and the thoughts they place on the page.

Discover 5 Things You Can Do in an Interactive Reading Notebook

  1. You are only as limited in your notebook as you are with your creativity. You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest and the Internet on interactive reading activities, but here are a few of my favorites.

  2. 1

    Open Mind Portrait

    Have students draw a picture of one character from the shoulders up. They should use the details in the text for their drawing. Then students use a heavy marker to outline their picture. You want the line to bleed through to the other side of the page. On the back, students cut pictures and words from magazines that represent what that character thinks about or may be thinking about in the story. Students then glue the pictures and words inside that outline to form a collage.

  3. 2

    Affix Divisions

    If you are teaching word roots, prefixes, and suffixes, try this page with vocabulary words from your reading selection. Draw a plate on a page – the kind that has three different sections. Label the largest section roots and the other two sections prefixes and suffixes. At the bottom of the page, write out several vocabulary words that have prefixes and suffixes. Students then cut out the words and separate the roots from their affixes and glue the pieces to the appropriate section of the plate. If you like, have students keep a list on the back of the page of each affix and its meaning or function in the word.

  4. 3

    Charting Tension

    In a good piece of literature, the tension level will go up and down throughout the story. Have your students pay attention to this frequent rise and fall of tension by completing a chart. On the bottom of the page, students list different events in the story. The events should go from left to right on the page and follow chronological order. The left axis of the chart represents the tension level. Students decide how high the tension is at each point they have listed along the bottom of the page and then mark it above that event with a dot. After they have marked the tension level for each event, they connect the dots to see how the tension lifts and falls throughout the story. They should end up with a zig-zag visual of the changing tension level throughout the story.

  5. 4

    Strip Story

    This is one of the easiest pages to create in an interactive reading notebook. Simply have a comic strip template(s) copied for your students to complete. They draw the story or a section of it in the template complete with pictures and text.

  6. 5

    The Difference between Me and Venn

    Venn diagrams are great for comparing yourself to a character in the book or two characters to each other. On the page, have two overlapping circles for students to fill in. Have students label each circle with their name or the name of a character and then fill in the spaces to show how they differ and how they are alike.

Consider 6 Benefits of an Interactive Reading Notebook

  1. Once you start using interactive reading notebooks, you will see how much they benefit your students. Here are some advantages I have found to using these notebooks in class.

  2. 1


    They are hands on. They are a great way for kinesthetic learners to connect with a text they are reading. They also enable all of your ESL students to make physical associations with the written word.

  3. 2


    They are creative, fun, interesting, and memorable. Students may not remember what they read in a book, but they will remember the creative ways they expressed their ideas in their notebooks.

  4. 3

    Be Independent

    They allow students to work independently. You can let students to work on their own by teaching them how to use each page and then making a stack of that page available in your classroom. When you assign a reading passage, let students choose which page to complete from the ones you have taught them how to use. That allows them to make their notebooks personal as well.

  5. 4


    Students learn from each other. You can maximize this by making class notebooks. If you have a classroom library that students can choose from, have a reading notebook for each selection in your library. After students read one of the materials in your library, they complete a page for that notebook. The other students can look at those pages to help them choose their next read and then afterward to see if they agree with what their classmates said about the book.

  6. 5

    Do at Learning Station

    They are great for stations work in the reading classroom. If you have independent work stations in your classroom, you may find it challenging to come up with ways to include them in reading class. Notebook pages make a great independent work station for students to work on during their free learning periods.

  7. 6

    Be Flexible

    Each page can focus on different elements of what you have read. Some pages emphasize vocabulary, some character, others plot, and others on just about every other aspect of reading. You can assign certain topics for your students to cover or you can let them choose their own. There is near limitless flexibility when it comes to notebook pages.

I hope you can see the value in interactive reading notebooks for your ESL students.

They don’t take a lot of preparation, and they make a big difference in how your students connect with the texts they are reading. I hope you give them a try and see for yourself what a great experience they are for both you and your students.

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