Using Notebooks in Math

Math Notebooks

icon for math notebooks Math notebooks are places for students to keep their math work in an organized fashion. They can be as simple as folders created from construction paper, composition books, or 3-ring binders with sections to organize materials into sections. These notebooks can include notes, vocabulary, solutions to investigation problems, homework, and responses to mathematical reflections/learning logs.

Why would I use math notebooks?

You might find it helpful for students to keep their work in an organized notebook. This allows the student to learn to organize their work as well as review past content. By reviewing your students' notebooks, you can get a clearer picture of their mathematical development. Notebooks also allow family members the opportunity to see the progress of their children in math class.

When do I use math notebooks?

In order for math notebooks to be effective, they should be used on a regular basis. Many of the SFUSD Math Core Curriculum units include lessons with loose pieces of paper, recording sheets, and math reflections/learning logs. Math notebooks can be used to organize all this information into one coherent record of math learning.

How do I set up math notebooks?

There many ways in which math notebooks can be set up. Some considerations are grade level, purpose of the notebooks, and classroom management style. Here is one example of how students might organize their math notebooks.

Section 1: Handouts

  • In this section keep assignment sheets, participation logs, and classroom rules and procedures.

Section 2: Journal

  • This section should include:
    • Any and all work students do for in-class problems. This includes written, charts, pictures, or anything else to show their thinking.
    • Any notes students take; including anything that will help them remember their thinking. They should also record notes from their group work. These notes are for reference as they solve in-class problems, answer homework questions, work on quizzes, and prepare for tests.
    • Student’s learning log. This is a section for students to reflect on their learning through writing.

Section 3: Vocabulary

  • In this section, students will create mathematical descriptions with examples of words they need to know.

Section 4: Homework Assignments

  • This section includes homework assigned and also homework graded.

How Do I Review Math Notebooks?

You should check notebooks often during the first few weeks of school. It is important to give students feedback early to make sure notebooks are being used correctly and to address any problems. You should walk around the room while your students are working and give comments or suggestions on maintaining notebooks.

Since keeping notes in mathematics class might be new for some students, it is helpful to keep models of outstanding notes. This helps students understand your expectations. You can photocopy good examples to share with students. It might be helpful to have students evaluate their notes, journal entries, or vocabulary according to the models.

A Notebook Checklist can be used to evaluate students' notes periodically throughout a unit or at the end of a unit. Having students evaluate their notebooks before turning them in allows them to critically review their entries and organization. You might choose to grade the journal, notes, or vocabulary sections of students' notebooks as well as the overall organization. Rubrics lend themselves nicely to the grading of notebooks, as you are generally looking for the completeness of ideas, notes, and vocabulary descriptions and records of the discussions from class. Consider giving "Credit," "Partial Credit," or "No Credit" as a grade for notebooks.

There are a variety of methods for checking student notebooks. Here are some ideas you might try:

  • Read and respond to a few students' journal entries each day.
  • Collect papers from students at the end of a lesson. Grade or respond to student work and then return the papers for students to replace in their notebooks.
  • Collect notes at the end of a unit and grade them.
  • Check notebooks at random.
  • Give notebook quizzes. That is, periodically have students copy information from their notes on a sheet of paper; then grade just that information.


  • The New To Teaching blog has a page devoted to Math Notebooks  with many examples of notebooks and good discussions of ideas an issues.
  • Science Notebooks
    The California Academy of Sciences has a page that covers use of notebooks in Science. You'll find many helpful ideas here.

This page was last updated on June 21, 2023