How to Use Lapbooks for Whole-Class Instruction

Use lapbooks for whole-class instruction with these helpful tips!

Sometimes teachers get overwhelmed with lapbooks and their many pieces, but a lapbook should help create order and organization, not overwhelm and disruption. If your class lapbooks feel like they are becoming more trouble than they’re worth, then this blog post is exactly what you need.

Lapbooks originated in the homeschool community and were originally designed for single-student use, but I have always loved using lapbooks with the students in my upper elementary classroom as well.

I love the format, organization of thoughts, and notes that a lapbook provides. There is a place for everything and a method for learning about new topics in a sequential manner. Lapbooks provide students with hands-on, interesting, highly visual notes for each concept within a unit of study. 

Although I love my lapbooks, and I’ve had a lot of success using them with my students over the years, they take a decent amount of time and energy to prep, especially when using them with a whole class. However, for me, the end rewards have been well worth the effort.

How to Use Lapbooks for Whole-Class Instruction: The Dos and Don’ts

Over the years, I have become something in the way of a lapbook expert (self-proclaimed of course), and I have a lot of wisdom to bestow in the way of using lapbooks most effectively as a whole-class activity. 

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, I want to start with something I don’t think you should do when it comes to using lapbooks with a whole class.

One Major Don’t

This is the number one mistake I see when people start using lapbooks with their students! They make copies of the entire set of lapbook parts and give them to students to assemble all at once. When this happens, students and teachers get frustrated and minimal learning occurs.

This method may actually result in you never wanting to use a lapbook with your students ever again. 

It works much better when you drip the parts gradually on a daily basis, giving them only what they need for each lesson. This feels much less overwhelming (and it prevents loss of materials).

Now that we know what not to do, let’s go through my top suggestions for how to use your lapbooks most effectively as a whole-class activity.

My Top Ten Best Tips for Using Lapbooks Most Effectively

#1 |  Plan only one topic/concept per day (based on the informational passages) and make a class set of the related foldable part for each individual lesson. In most cases, students will only cut and paste one lapbook part per day. For example, in this rocks and minerals lapbook, in one lesson we would read the passage about rock types and then complete just the foldable lapbook part about types of rocks. Of course, I would pair this with some hands-on rock exploration.

#2 | Pre-fold the file folders if possible. Having the folders ready to go will save a lot of class time as it is a multi-step process. In my experience, this is a great opportunity to enlist help from a parent volunteer! Want to see how lapbook folders are constructed? Check out this blog post!

#3 | Use a set of baskets (or plastic drawers, or folders) to organize your materials for each day of the week. In each basket, place one informational passage and the related foldable part.

#4 | Instead of making a full teacher sample of the entire lapbook at the beginning, make the lapbook as you go. Add only one part to your sample at a time. This adds to the element of surprise, keeps the students interested, and builds anticipation. It is also easier for YOU, because it is a lot of work to assemble an entire lapbook at once!

#5 | On the first day, introduce your topic and have students color, cut, and paste only the cover/title of the lapbook. Then, gradually work through each topic…one per day.

Here’s another example of one lapbook topic/lesson from the rocks and minerals lapbook. Students would read about the layers of the Earth and only add one part on that day.

#6 | If the lapbook has a vocabulary pocket, I usually spend one day adding the pocket and all the cards. Then, we add the written definitions to cards as those words come up in the context of a lesson. This could mean writing a few definitions each day. I have found this to work much better than writing all the definitions at once.

#7 | Use regular weight paper for the foldable parts. Card stock paper is not necessary and can be difficult to fold.

#8 | Glue stick works best for attaching the parts. I tell my students to “make it like a sticker” when they add glue, covering the entire back of each piece. 

#9 | When modeling placement of the pieces, have your students point to the exact location in their lapbook and mark it with a small “X” that you have approved before they paste.

#10 | Be sure your students have a “safe” place to store their lapbooks. In some cases, it may be best to keep all the lapbooks on a shelf in the classroom. If the lapbooks will be stored inside desks, be sure they are inside a folder to protect the flaps from ripping.

General Considerations and Ideas

In addition to my one major don’t and top ten dos, I also have a few other tips and tricks up my sleeves that may be helpful as you plan ways to use your lapbooks more effectively in the future.

For example, I know that as a general guideline, if the lapbook my students are working on includes 6 informational passages, it will take at least 7 school days (usually more) to complete. I plan to allow one day for the introduction and cover page, then at least one day for each passage and lapbook part. Some of the lessons may require two (or more) days, especially if time is limited and/or you add extra activities to support the topics.

I also know that lapbooks make an awesome display on a bulletin board or on desktops during an open house, or as an example for conferences.

Lapbooks are also perfect study guides or notes for students to use for review purposes. They are easy to carry, hold lots of pieces of information in a well-organized way, and can replace many many many handouts and worksheets. 

Important Note: Since I had been using lapbooks for years before I started selling them in the Undercover Classroom store, I purposely considered the amount of paper each project would include. That is why for many of the smaller lapbook parts, there are multiple copies of the piece on some of the pages. This saves paper when copying for a whole-class, but you always want to double-check each page before printing. If you have 24 students in your class, and there are 2 copies of the piece on the page, then you only need 12 or 13 copies. When you are trying to use your lapbooks more effectively, these types of details matter!

Lapbooks can be so much fun, and so incredibly useful for teaching and exploring new topics and concepts, but if you don’t use lapbooks effectively, they can easily get away from you. Use the dos and don’ts as a guide for helping you as you get started using lapbooks in your classroom!

Want to see why I love lapbooks so much, check out this video!

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