OneNote to the Rescue

Many teachers become overwhelmed by increased expectations around using technology-based methods and other approaches to content delivery, learner support, assessment, and collaboration with other teachers, both inside and outside their schools.

There is pressure to use routinely digital strategies in their work with students, to act as guides and mentors in order to promote student-centered learning, and to organize their own work and comply with administrative documentation and reporting requirements (Johnson, 2015, pg. 29). To alleviate these stresses, I recommend educators use the educational powers of the Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook. If you are unfamiliar with this educational tool, imagine a digital binder that’s been doing serious time at the gym. It is a customizable, well-structured one-stop shop for everything a teacher would want to do in the classroom.

I have been teaching Computer Aided Drafting (CAD), Engineering Graphics, Architecture, Advanced Drafting, and Photography at Joliet Central High School in Joliet, IL for eight years, and have transitioned all my curricula to the Microsoft OneNote Classroom Notebook in the last two years. During the initial stages of my teaching career, it was difficult, at times, to manage many different courses, but the integration of the classroom notebook helped me easily move through the curriculum for of all my courses on a daily basis.

Throughout this article, I will share the general layout I use for my class notebooks, how I use the tool to my advantage, and tips and tricks I have learned. I will also provide picture examples and hyperlinks to videos I created to help explain and share ideas.

If you would like to dive a little deeper and see more personalized examples of how I use the OneNote Classroom Notebook, simply click on the hyperlinks throughout the article. I am excited to share this information with you because I know how big of an impact it can make.


Welcome tab


Before I share the way I lay out my Class Notebook for my classes, I want to let anyone reading this know that there are multiple ways you can go about doing this. The example I am going to share, however, has been successful for my classes. The ability to customize the notebook and mold it to meet your classroom needs is one of the reasons the OneNote Classroom Notebook appealed to me.

When you first open a notebook for any of my classes, I have a welcome tab. Within this welcome tab, I provide students with a series of pages for typical beginning-of-the-year materials and resources. These pages include the general welcome page, syllabus, Remind app instructions, a starting survey for the year, OneNote student training, and email etiquette.

I used to make copies of all these materials for all the students I have, but now I can house them all digitally in one spot and go paperless. I also encourage students to download the OneNote app on their mobile devices to allow them unlimited access to their notebook. Another great feature for students is the ability to access their notebook via their OneDrive, through their Office 365 account.

Welcome tab setup in the OneNote class notebook

Microsoft OneNote app for mobile devices

Office 365-OneDrive: example of how students can access their notebook via the web


Collaboration space


Next, I will cover the collaboration space and how it has changed and motivated my class. Group projects are necessary in my classroom because they help students see the value in others, and realize how vital collaboration is when developing solutions to a problem.

When I first started using OneNote, I mainly used the collaboration space as an area for group work. I would create a tab in the collaboration space for the current project and then each group would create a team page for themselves. They used this space to share ideas, research, provide solutions, communicate outside of school, and cover other various aspects of the project. This also provided me the opportunity to join in the group’s page and provide feedback on the project.

I have recently found some other new ways to integrate the collaboration space into my lessons, besides just group work. One of those new ways is through a jigsaw activity. If you are unfamiliar with this type of activity, it is when students help each other comprehend the given material.

For the first step in this example activity, I provided students with basic instructions and an article via their personal notebooks. I gave certain students specific pages to read within the article. While they are reading, they highlight and take notes on the page. Inside of the collaboration space, I set up a table with each student’s name under the page they were supposed to read within the article. The students will then type a short summary of what they read next to their name inside the collaboration space. Finally, the students verbally share out key aspects of their summarized notes with the rest of the class.

I found this to be beneficial because it allowed us to cover a large article in a short amount of time. Students could easily read the summaries of what was covered on the pages they were not assigned to, some of the students who are timid can share their thoughts through their writing, and it allowed the students to see the value in their fellow classmates.

Student notebook example with directions for measurement article (jigsaw activity)

Collaboration space – Measurement article example with student summaries

Another example of how I use the collaboration space is by having the students share their designs and projects with the rest of the class. I recently tried this out in my Tech. CAD class within a project that involves designing and creating a 3D model of a custom car rim.

First, I provide basic instructions that I distribute through their personal notebooks to guide them through the creation of the model. Next, I create a tab under the collaboration space called Custom Rim and, within this tab, I create a page that has a table in it. Within the table, I type in a list of my student’s names and then they screen clip (window key + shift key + S key) in a picture of the custom rim they 3d-modeled in our CAD software.

I have found this to be highly motivating for my students and it has increased the quality of many of the projects students complete. Students have told me they want to show off their designs and do their best, because the rest of the class is going to see their work. We also use the collaboration space for students to vote on their favorite rim designs. The winners get their custom rims 3d printed. It is a great way to motivate students extrinsically.

Collaboration space example – Student rim designs

Example of a 3d-printed rim. This student won the best design in the collaboration space.


Content library


For me, the content library is a central location to house all my course resources and a place to model how a well-organized notebook should look. The content library has allowed me to go paperless and store digital copies of all my documents for my various courses. The way I organize my content library is based on the chronological order of the overarching units I cover during the school year. I also include some other miscellaneous tabs for other areas I cover.

Content library example

You will also notice how I demonstrate good organizational techniques in the picture above. In each unit, there are sub-units and I use the indent option to keep my pages neatly organized. By indenting, I can also easily collapse one of the sub-units to see more pages within the current tab. To indent a page, simply left click and hold on the page and drag it to the right.

I tell my students to use the content library as an example of what their personal notebooks should look like. In my engineering graphics class, I use the content library to guide my students through the Engineering Design Process (EDP). The content library allows me to provide a structured environment that will move them sequentially through each step. Here is a link to a more in-depth look into the air rocket project for my engineering graphics class.


The student’s personal Notebooks


The next area I will discuss is the student’s personal Notebooks. This is where my students store all the work they completed during the school year. It is a perfect way for my students to create a digital portfolio of their work. The digital portfolio is a tangible artifact they can take with them when they leave my class.

As a teacher, I use this space to grade work, provide feedback, and check for understanding. I can easily develop and administer informal and formal assessments within their notebooks. My students will typically provide evidence of their work by inserting screen clips, inserting documents, or completing a “skeleton” page that I already created for them. For the “skeleton” page I will normally utilize the Insert > Table option to create an organized space for students to fill in information. I find this is much better than allowing them to type wherever they want and it makes grading for the teacher much more efficient.

Student binder example: submitted work with feedback via the stylus

Student binder example: submitted work with feedback

“Skeleton” page example


Class Notebook Add-In


The final area I will discuss is the Class Notebook add-in for teachers. This add-in has been one of the best additions to the notebook for teachers. The add-in allows the teacher to distribute a “skeleton” page, or any material, into all of the students’ personal notebooks quickly. This is done by clicking Distribute Content Library within the Class Notebook Add-in. It also allows a teacher to grade individual student work within their personal notebooks seamlessly.

A teacher can simply click on the Class Notebook Add-in at the top of the screen, click on Review Student Work, and finally choose what they would like to grade. OneNote then generates a list of student names and the teacher can easily switch to different students to leave feedback and grades. Finally, you are also able to add or remove students or teachers to the notebook.

I have found this very beneficial when collaborating with other teachers. We can both easily add, remove, and improve content within the notebook. I recently used this method while I had a new student teacher this past semester. I quickly added him to my notebook, which allowed him to begin going over the curriculum prior to him even starting at the school. It made his transition to teaching my class much smoother.

I have also used the OneNote classroom notebook during my evaluations throughout the school year. I can easily add my evaluator to a classroom notebook as a teacher and give them access to everything I am doing in the class. This is very beneficial because I can easily demonstrate student progress, feedback, student work, and other valuable information throughout this evaluation process.

Class Notebook Add-In for teachers




If you have made it this far in the article, I have a feeling I have piqued your interest and, hopefully, you have been provided with some hard evidence on how the OneNote Classroom Notebook can have an impact within the classroom. I personally know how difficult it can be to manage a classroom and the content, but I believe this classroom tool can allow teachers to become more efficient, productive, and influential in the classroom.

I will leave you with a quote: “Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.” (author unknown).

Author Information

Dale West

Joliet Central High School – STEM Teacher

Joliet Junior College – Engineering Instructor


Twitter Handle: @Mr_West_JTHS

YouTube Channel



Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., & Haywood, K. (2015). 2015 K-12 edition. The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Binder Clipart –


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