A lapbook is a hands-on way to help students, generally in elementary through middle school, learn material. I’m going to explain how you as a writer can create lapbooks that connect your stories to readers who process information best through doing rather than simply reading.
If you’re not a hands-on person, take heart. Neither am I. I have unfolded atlases that I could not refold properly no matter how hard I tried. Christmas ornaments that have come out of a box have refused to go back into the exact same box. And assembling easy-to-assemble furniture has driven me to tears.
So I was admittedly hesitant to attempt to learn how manipulating file folders and paper could be a useful learning tool. But, over time, God has caused the concept to “click” in my mind. And if I can learn it, so can you! As we go, I’ll try to give you as many tools as I can to make your journey pleasant and enjoyable!
First, you must get a solid picture of a lapbook in your mind. Take a file folder and set it in front of you. Open it up. Now, fold the left and right sides in to the middle and crease, so that it looks like a window with shutters. You now have a lapbook base. You can create a lapbook using only this piece. A lapbook that uses only one file folder is usually referred to as a mini lapbook. (Some companies may have their own branding that they use, but the meaning is the same.)
You can make a larger lapbook using two file folders attached in the center. Or, you can add extensions on to your lapbook base by cutting a file folder in half and attaching each piece to one side of the lapbook base. The size of your lapbook is determined by the amount of content and material you want it to cover. You will need to experiment with a few different layouts to see which one will work best with the project you are creating. Our examples in this series will all be for creating mini lapbooks. Once you are familiar with the overall picture, you can search for examples of more elaborate layouts online. Many companies have free lapbooks you can download for simply subscribing to their newsletter or blog, and I encourage you to do that.
Now, for the interior of the lapbook, the templates. The idea behind a lapbook is to encourage the children to read and understand the material, process what they have learned through writing, and add a hands-on element by designing and completing a physical project, the lapbook. Your completed lapbook packet that you design for your readers will include printed material to read (or tie directly to your book or project) and a series of templates with instructions for how to complete them.
Templates take many forms, and in fact, the choices can be almost limitless. I’m going to walk you through a number of the more common ones today and in the following weeks. I’ll also show you how these can connect with your fiction or nonfiction writing. This will help you get a feel for how the lapbook works and may inspire a new surge of creativity!
For this example, I want to begin making a lapbook based on a short story I wrote for children about a fish who didn’t enjoy being different than the other fish. My first learning goal is for the children to learn some related vocabulary words, either from a list I give them or from my story itself.
1. The fan template is a common one for vocabulary. I chose 8-10 words to use for this template. Example: Kelp—a type of seaweed
2. I chose a simple shape that fits my theme. For this one, a fish seemed appropriate.
3. I downloaded an image and edited it. I made the interior of the image blank so the children have room to write. I made the fish wide enough to make writing comfortable (this example is about 5 ½.”) Once it was ready, I added a small circle to show where a brad fastener will be placed to hold the fan together. I copied the image into a word processing or publishing software and found I could fit two comfortably on a page.
4. Next, I wrote instructions explaining what I want my readers to do with this template. (If you are completely new to lapbooking, you may want to wait to write the instructions until we practice with a few more templates.)
Example: Print four copies of page… Write one word and definition on each fish. Cut out each completed fish and stack them on top of the other. Insert a brad fastener through the place indicated. Attach to your lapbook when ready.
[Please note—some lapbook creators prefer to give the children specific instructions on where to place each template inside their completed lapbook. Others prefer to allow the child to engage critical thinking skills in deciding where each template will fit the best. Just be sure, as the designer, that it is possible to fit all of the lapbook pieces into the size lapbook you are offering!]
This is how the fan template I made will look in a lapbook. The fastener will go through all the pieces of the fan and through the cover of the lapbook base.
Give it a try and let me know what shape you use and how it turns out! Please send me any questions you have along the way. Next week I’ll show you how to make two more styles of templates.
P.S. If you’re anxious to see what completed lapbook can look like, you can find a video of one on A Journey Through Learning’s homepage. The one in their example is a multi-folder lapbook.