Organizing Student Notebooks with Dividers

Today I’m sharing my newest step towards improved organization in the classroom: notebook divider tabs.  (I got the idea from a blog post by Sarah Carter and knew that I wanted to modify them to work for me in the upcoming year).

Notebook Divider Tabs:

I decided that this year I am going to make notes worth 2 points per day.  Students need to include a summary/explanation and completed worked-out examples for each lesson (which is where the 2 points are coming from).  In the past I made notes worth 20 points per unit, but in reflecting on it, it doesn’t really make sense because some units are 10 lessons long while others are only 6.  I collect and grade notebooks on days that students are taking the unit test.

So, here’s where the divider tabs come in…before each unit I will give students a divider to glue in their notebooks.  A little tab sticks out the side with the name of the unit on it.  On the divider I listed all of the lessons that are included in the unit.  I figure that will be an easy way for students to make sure that they aren’t missing the notes to any lessons (which will be especially useful for students who were absent).  It will also serve as a checklist for me while I’m grading.  Next to each lesson I can write 0, 1, or 2 for however many points students earned for that day’s notes and record their final grade for the unit on the bottom where I left a space for it.

Notebook Divider

The beauty of the tabs is that I can flip right to the correct unit without wasting time trying to find their notes.  I also think they will be useful to students, as if I ask them to refer back to an earlier topic, they should be able to find the lesson pretty quickly.

I made the dividers small enough that they won’t waste a page of the students’ notebooks.  I think I will have students write the vocabulary for the chapter on the first page (next to the divider) and then start with the first lesson’s notes on the back of that page.  The divider doesn’t cut into any of the useable space on the back of the page at all, which I am really happy about since I hate wasting paper!

imag0610_1.jpg  imag0615.jpg

I made my dividers print 3 per page, so I just print them, cut on the two dotted lines, and hand them out to the students.  They fold on the solid line and then put glue on each side and make sure to leave the tab sticking out the side of the notebook when they glue it in, and that’s it!

If you’d like to try out similar dividers for your class, I set up a 3 per page divider template in PowerPoint that you can use.  Just click the image below to download the editable pptx file.


Other school-related things I have been thinking about/working on recently:

Have you used dividers before with your class?  Are you thinking about trying them out this year?  Please share in the comments below – especially if you have any tips for using them since this will be my first attempt!

Thanks for reading,


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Holding Students Accountable for Homework

Today I thought I’d share my new homework policy for next year which I’m pretty excited about!

My homework assignments are worth 2 points each and I grade them only for completion.  While students work on their do now problems on Socrative I walk around and record grades for each student.  In the past I’ve given out 2’s, 1’s, and 0’s.  Next year I decided to get rid of 1’s, so students will get a 2 if they attempted every problem AND showed their work.  If they didn’t do the homework, only did half of it, or didn’t show their work they get a 0.  After students finish their do nows we go over homework answers as a class and then I answer any questions about the homework.  Most of the time I don’t spend more than 10 minutes on this entire process, including the do nows, so that I have 30 minutes for my new lesson.  (You can read about & download my homework grade recording sheet here).

In the past I haven’t accepted late homework because we go over the answers in class so it seemed too easy for a student to ‘borrow’ a classmate’s assignment for their late work.  Next year I decided that I will accept late homework, but it will be a separate (but similar) assignment to the original homework assignment.

So…here’s the part I’m excited about.  I created a ‘Homework Accountability” Google form to hold students more accountable for their work.  While I’m walking around checking for completion, students who get a 0 need to fill out the form, which I will keep a link to in my Google Classroom for easy access.  The form is pretty simple: they will fill out their name, their reason for getting a 0, and either check off that they want to complete a make-up assignment or that they are accepting the 0.  Since all students are on their chromebooks at that time working on their do nows it will not be disruptive to have them fill out the form, nor will it be embarrassing for the student.| Homework Accountability Form

Here’s the link if you want to make a copy of my form and edit it for your own classroom.

At the end of the day I will check responses to the form and email/share make-up assignments with the students who requested them.  All make-up work must be handed in by the unit test day.  I will not accept make-up work after that point since the idea is that completing the homework should help prepare students for the test.

I will give students full credit on the first 2 make-up assignments they complete in a marking period, but they can only earn 1/2 on any additional make-up work they complete, to hopefully discourage students from taking advantage of the system.  While it will require a little bit more work for me to come up with make-up assignments it isn’t a huge deal.  When I write my lesson plans each week I will simply come up with a 2nd homework assignment each night so that I’m prepared.

I am excited to try this out because it gives students a chance to explain their reason for missing an assignment (without wasting class time on excuses), gives them a chance to make up for it, and gives them responsibility as they will not have the opportunity to make up an assignment unless they fill out the form and ask for one.  I also have documentation from the student that can be shared with parents, should a pattern form that needs to be addressed.  (I still plan to record student grades each day on my own record sheets, as well, so I am not relying solely on students filling out the form, but they won’t be able to make it up unless they fill out the form).

(If you missed my post on a free homework poster you can download, listing the requirements for an acceptable homework assignment, you can find it here.)

What are your thoughts on this homework policy?

Thanks for reading,


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Ideas for Setting Up Math Notebooks

With all the buzz on interactive notebooks lately, I thought I’d share how I do notebooks in my math classes for people who are looking for an alternative to cutting and pasting foldables into a notebook.

ideas for setting up math notebooks

I have gone back and forth a few times between having my students use binders or notebooks, but for the past few years I have gone with 3-subject spiral notebooks.  They are a good size and I like that they have built-in dividers with pockets and the fact that pages can be neatly torn out when needed thanks to the perforation.

The front section of the 3-subject notebook is used for notes.  The middle section is for classwork and homework.  The back section is used for scrap paper or looseleaf if I want something torn out and handed in.  I like to set it up this way so that the front section is a nice, organized resource they can use to refresh their memory on how to do something without having to root through pages of work.  (It also makes checking their notes easier when they are all in one place)!   I also like the fact that the students are not staring at their notes when they go to do their classwork or homework, so they can try the problems on their own, but they can easily flip back if they need to reference the notes.

Taking notes in my class is mandatory.  Each day (in the “notes” section of the notebook), students are required to (1) title the notes with the day’s topic, (2) write the date, (3) write a summary/explanation of how to do the day’s lesson, and (4) give an example, solved correctly and showing all work. Here is a sample of what I expect in a day’s notes for a lesson on subtracting decimals:

math notes example

I collect notebooks on chapter test days and grade the “notes” section while my students are taking the test.  I collect on test days so that students make sure they have all their notes in order (and hopefully look them over) before taking the test and because they obviously don’t need their notebooks while they are taking the test.  Notes are worth 20 points per chapter and I grade them using the following rubric:

pic of rubric

Click here for the pdf version of my notebook rubric

Click here for the editable version.

Most of my students are pretty good about taking good notes since it is a big part of their grade.  They know that simply taking good notes each day in class is an easy way to get a 20/20 averaged into their grade each chapter, which is a good motivator for most students!

For classified students with special note-taking requirements in their IEP’s, I provide guided notes on which they basically just need to fill in the blanks, but the guided notes I give are in the same general format with both explanations and examples each day.  I also save the notes I write on my interactive whiteboard each day and share them with my classified students on Google Drive.  That way if they weren’t able to finish filling in their note sheets in class, they can fill them in at a later time.

I am in the process of typing up my guided notes and making them a little nicer.  (As I complete sets, I am putting them in my TpT store along with practice sheets and application sheets that correspond to the lessons).  You can grab my set of notes, practice sheets, and application sheets on simplifying algebraic expressions free for the next few days!  Click  the image below to get this set while it’s free!

simplifying expressions pack pic1

How do you handle note-taking in your math class?  I would love to hear ideas from other teachers!

Thanks for reading,



(Also, all paid items in my TpT store are on sale today, August 19th for 28% off with code MORE15)!!

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Assignment Checklists

Happy Labor Day!  Tomorrow is my first day back at school so I figured I would write one more summer blog post about how I am getting organized for this school year.

Today’s post is about one of those simple organizational ideas that I probably should have come up with 5 or 6 years ago but didn’t think of until now…

I typically try to wait until everyone in the class has taken a test before I grade it.  I do this because I think it helps me grade fairly.  When I grade them all at once it is much easier for me to be consistent with the amount of partial credit I award for problems.  If, for example, I grade some math tests one day and others a different day I may not remember how many points I took off of Jack’s test for not writing a negative sign so I may take off more points on Sara’s test for the same mistake.

The problem with waiting until everyone has taken a test, though, is that in the past I have been pretty dependent on students reminding me that they still need to take a test when they come back from an absence.  Sometimes I remember who hasn’t taken a test, but with so many other things to worry about I often forget.

So…this year I decided to fix this issue by making simple assignment checklists.  They are basically just a list of all of my students’ names with little check boxes next to them.  I made the checklists small (I fit 5 copies of the checklist on one sheet of paper) so that I wouldn’t waste alot of paper on them.

Assignment Checklist

Assignment Checklist

My plan is to go through my stack of tests the day I administer the test and just make a check mark next to all the students who have taken the test.  I will then paperclip the checklist to the top of the pile of tests so I can look at it real quick and see who still needs to take the test.  It’s a really simple idea (that definitely should not have taken me 7 years to come up with) but I think it will really help with my organization this year!

If you want to print out checklists that you can use for your class, click the picture below to download an editable Microsoft Excel version of them.  I set it up so you can just enter your students names in the first column and they will be copied 4 other times so that you have 5 copies of the checklist per page.  Then you just need to cut apart the 5 lists and you are good to go!  Enjoy!

assignment checklists editable

Wishing you all a wonderful school year (whether you are starting this week, like me, or have already gone back)!

Thanks for reading,



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Making Expectations Clear from the Very Beginning

As pretty much any teacher would say, it can’t be stressed enough just how important it is to set clear expectations for your students from the first day of school.  This includes expectations for behavior and routines in the classroom, as well as academic expectations.

Over the years I have revised the way that I have gone over these academic expectations with students many times.  I am pretty happy with the syllabus I handed out to my students last year and think that I will use something very similar this year since it did work out well for me.  I try to keep it relatively short (my syllabus is one page, front and back) because I figure that most students probably won’t read it if I make it too long.  You can see a copy of my syllabus below:


In my opinion the purpose of a syllabus is basically to tell your students how they can be successful in your class.  That is why I include on mine how they will be graded, what they need to bring to class, and how they can get extra help if they are struggling.

The best thing about giving students a syllabus on the first day:  not having to deal with “You didn’t tell us….” or “I didn’t know…” comments throughout the year as you can just refer students back to the syllabus where it is all clearly stated.

If you like my syllabus and want to adjust it for your own classroom, click on the image below to download a free editable copy of it:

 free editable syllabus


For more first day of school ideas you can use in your math classroom, check out my “Back to School Math Activities for Middle School“!  It includes games I play with my students after going over the syllabus, as well as a good first week problem solving activity/bulletin board display.  It’s typically $5, but grab it today (August 4th) or tomorrow while it’s on sale for 28% off with code BTS14!

b2s pic1

If you have any ideas on how to improve my syllabus or would like to share what you include on yours, please feel free to leave me a comment!

Thanks for reading,


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Keeping Track of Homework

Organization is probably the thing I struggle with most as a teacher.  My method (or lack thereof) of keeping track of homework is something that I know I need to reorganize this year.

I am happy with my homework policy as a whole, but just need to change the way I keep track of who did or did not complete it.  Here is my homework policy:

I assign homework just about every night in my math classes.  It is worth two points per night.  (I use the point system of grading).  I do not collect the homework or grade it based on correctness.  I grade it based on completion only.  If a student attempts every problem AND shows their work they get 2/2, if they complete about half of it they get 1/2, and if they did not do their homework (or did not show their work) they get 0/2.  I walk around while students work on their “do now” problems and check to see who did it…and that’s where my organization falls apart.

In my old school my math classes were VERY small (they ranged in size from 4 students to 7 students).  At that school, I just kept a list of students who were missing homework assignments.

missing homework assignments list


It worked for me in that small setting because I never had more than one or two students not complete their homework on any given night so it took me less than a minute to write the date, student’s name, and missing assignment down.

When I switched schools last year my classes grew considerably…to around 20 students per class.  I learned pretty quickly that in larger classes there are more students who don’t do their homework each night so I didn’t want to take the time to fill out all the info for each student who was missing work as it would take too much time.

So…I ditched my old method and switched to sticking post-it notes in my binder:

missing homework assignments sticky notes


I just wrote the date on a sticky note and the initials of all students who were missing homework that day and either 1/2 or 0/2, depending on the grade they earned.  I consulted my sticky notes when I put grades into my computer later, and then threw them out.  This method was definitely quicker than my old one but obviously had some downsides…such as: I didn’t actually write down the assignments the students were missing, just that they were missing an assignment, and the sticky notes would occasionally fall out of my binder.  Bottom line is that it didn’t keep me organized at all.

Soo…this year I am opting to go with the more traditional homework record sheet.  I made one up in Excel. (You can click on the picture below to download the excel file if you are interested)! Click here if you prefer a pdf version of the record sheet.

homework record sheet empty pic


I will type in my students’ names once I get my class lists, and across the top I’ll fill in the date and homework assignment each day.  The key is going to be remembering to keep on top of this.  My plan is to fill in the assignment part when I assign the homework the day before so that I don’t need to take too much time to fill out the info when I am checking homework the next day.

I am hoping that it will look like this as I fill it in throughout the year and that I will stay nice and organized (at least as far as homework is concerned this year)!

homework record sheet filled in pic


What method have you used that works well for keeping track of missing homework?

Thanks for reading,


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Understanding Grades

What’s my average?

I can’t even tell you how many times I get asked that question by my students.  In one sense, it’s great that the students care about their grades.  On the other hand, this question drives me crazy…and it’s my own fault.

My first 2 years teaching, I had each of my students keep personal grade sheets.  My students knew that every time they got an assignment back they had to record it on their grade sheet and recalculate their average.  It took a couple of weeks of me helping the students, but after the first few weeks of school, it became second nature for my students and they all knew their averages in my class all of the time.  I did not ever have students asking me what their grade was…and it was great!  The most wonderful thing about this system, I found, however, was that the kids really understood their grades in my class.  They “got it” that a daily warmup worth 2 points would barely affect their grade, but that a test would heavily influence their grade.  They understood exactly how they got the grade that they did on their report cards.  My absolute favorite was when some of my better students would actually calculate exactly what grade they needed to get on their next test or quiz to maintain a certain average.  To me that showed true understanding of the point system and averages.

gradesheet example

Soo…you might be wondering why I stopped having my students keep grade sheets….

My 3rd year teaching, my school adopted a new online grade book where the students and parents were able to see their grades on all assignments, as well as their average in the class, at any given time.  I figured that since the online gradebook showed everything I had the students record on their grade sheets, there was no purpose in having them continue to keep track of their grades on their own.

I realize now (in my 6th year of teaching), that it was a mistake on my part to drop the gradesheets.  Yes, my students can login and see their grades online but (a) many don’t check, and (b) the ones who do check don’t have the same understanding of their grades that my former students did.  Not since my 2nd year teaching have I had a student understand their grade well enough to tell me that they need to get a 92 on their next test to end up with an “A” average, and I miss those conversations.

My school year is broken up into trimesters and the 2nd trimester is ending next week.  I will be bringing back the grade sheets 3rd trimester and can’t wait to (hopefully) see an improvement of understanding of grades in my students!

student grade sheet

Click the image above to download this free student grade sheet!

Thanks for reading,


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