Lapbooks and their uses

Primary Times/Primaria - JPG- Ottobre 2019 - Lapbook-AL1311996_Original_750.jpg

Uno strumento innovativo per apprendere in modo autonomo


Il lapbook è uno strumento sempre più diffuso nelle scuole primarie, grazie alla sua grande versatilità e al suo approccio operativo viene impiegato nelle attività di ripasso e di approfondimento. Questo articolo si propone di fornire informazioni e spunti utili per la creazione di lapbook sempre più ricchi e divertenti da usare.

di Vanessa Hartson Walker

What is a lapbook?

A lapbook is simply a file folder that contains a variety of "mini books," foldables, and other material that cover detailed information about a central topic. It is an example of an interactive visual organizer where students can research and record, summarize, illustrate and present what they have learnt about a particular topic or unit of work. A lapbook is a scaffolding tool that helps guide and shape students’ thinking and communication skills. What is included in a lapbook is up to the teacher and learners.

Why create lapbooks in an English classroom?

The introduction of lapbooks allow students to take a break from traditional learning practices. They are a welcome change to the daily rhythm of a lesson in that they open up opportunities to introduce important factors to modern day learning.
Firstly, students are more involved in the learning process, feel more motivated to study and automatically build their own study methods. Lapbooks create co-operation and inclusion (important for SEN students) within the class, which is geared towards a cooperative learning approach.
Secondly, lapbooks are essential to learning in that they help students remember and review information more easily and personalize learning. Studies show that when students are given hands-on activities to learn while they study, they will retain more information.
Finally, lapbooks allow parents to see what their children are learning and provide an opportunity to open up a dialogue on what happened at school that day. Parents can also help add to the lapbook and ask questions about the materials shown which allows students and parents to interact, review, and develop the concepts in question.
A lapbook is the perfect tool to demonstrate mastery of material, it is not only flexible because students can choose and add as much material as they want, but material can be stored to show objectives that were met in class.

How and when to use lapbooks in the classroom

Lapbooks allow for versatility in the classroom and can be implemented in many ways:

  • Lapbooks have no limits - even though students need to be guided, they allow students to variate on theme: to brainstorm, research and showcase information on topics that interest them in particular.
  • Lapbooks develop a wide range processes and skills: language (reading, writing, listening and speaking), organizational, planning, creative, fine motor, sequencing, narration, summarizing, graphics, problem-solving etc.
  • Lapbooks are versatile and are useful in different parts of your lesson: to expand on a small area of a larger topic; to overview an entire topic; be created in stages while exploring a unit of work; be used at the end of a unit of work as a way of revising and consolidating; be used as an evaluation or assessment tool.
  • Lapbooks are ideal for hands-on learners - though not all children like crafts, all children benefit from a hands-on approach to learning. By not just taking information in through their mind, children can organize information in a visually appealing way (mini books), like accordion folds, wheel shaped and tabbed books.
  • Lapbooks are an inspiring way to review - when students interact with their lapbooks, their review is not dry or boring. Retention and reviewing in a natural setting come from interacting with the material or items stored in mini books, pockets or on pinwheels.
  • Lapbooks can fit all learners and so therefore are inclusive – a lapbook can be filled with information that suits each learners' individual needs – some may use more written data and some may have more visuals and less information.

Lapbooks are extremely flexible because they can be used in conjunction with any subject the students are learning about. They are excellent tools to use with any level student as a way of reinforcing what they are learning:

CLIL Lessons: History, Geography, Science, Mathematics...
Different times of the year such as mid-term assessment, Back to School, End of School Yearbook or School trips.
Festivals: Winter and Autumn, Spring and Summer. Christmas, Hallowe’en, Mother's Day, Father’s Day...
Reading projects: favourite graded reader or author
Accompany topics from your coursebook
Summary of key vocabulary and grammar from one school year
Lapbooks can be a springboard for communication as students use the Lapbook as a prompt for speaking. They can be used as a vehicle in State school exams.

"The process of creating a Lapbook is just as important as the final product and the information it contains."
Joanna Carter

Types of lapbooks

There are different types of lapbook: Pre-prepared or make your own.

Prepared lapbooks and templates are easy to use and can be easily linked to your coursebook. Some prepared templates can be found online and can be adapted to your chosen topic or you can use ready-made templates that are linked in to a coursebook. For example, in Go! and Go On! (Pearson) there are folder type, colourful templates that are ready and simple to use. They cover CLIL topics such as Festivals (Civiltà), the Human Body (Scienze) and The Egyptians (Storia). They incorporate well into your course because they are well-researched with fun activities and QR codes are provided so students can listen to songs and audio from the coursebook.

Ideas to make your own lapbooks

When you feel confident, you can make your own lapbook. The materials required are: pencil, card or paper, scissors, folders, felt-tip pens, templates, and glue. Some extra useful materials are envelopes, sticky tape, freezer bags, stapler, split pins, stickers, velcro and realias.

Once you've chosen an overall topic, brainstorm the information and content you would like to cover. Break it down into the smaller chunks of information. List all of these on paper or use a lapbook planner page – you can find them on the Internet.
Be sure to list your reference material whether it be a book, a website, or a video. How much information do you need? As each topic is different, it could vary from eight to twenty! Don't worry if it seems too few. As you study, your students may ask questions you hadn't thought of which may lead to new subtopics.
The next step is to take your list of subtopics/information, and consider what type of template or minibook would best fit the information.

Minibooks and templates

There are lots of templates to choose from – my advice is to start with a few at first. Some easy options to start with are a layered book, a pocket, a jigsaw book, a trifold etc. Some things lend themselves to certain types of folds. Lists work well in top tab books, life cycles are suited to wheel books, and timelines are perfect in accordion books, for example. There isn't a "perfect template" for any particular piece of information. Generally, any template will work for whatever type of information you want to record.
Here are the names of some templates which are easier to get started with: petal fold, shutter trifold, pocket, clamshell, flap, accordion, pamphlet, pinwheel, layered book. All of these can be easily researched in the web to see what they look like.

The Front Cover

Lapbooks are made from folders or A3 card. They are folded into the middle of the page to create the 'doors' – these 2 flaps will become your front cover. Like any front cover it has to be explanatory, inviting and appealing. You can choose a title, glue pictures or draw something related to the topic, use realia and any decoration you like.

Lapbook Content

Brainstorming the topic matter is a really helpful way of deciding the make up for the lapbook in question. Mind maps are a really useful tool for planning, analyzing, conceptualizing and deciding what information to put in your lapbook.

An example of what material to include in a CLIL Science lapbook could include, see the example in the figure.

If you are working on an animal lapbook you can include:

life cycle

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Back to School Lapbook

So to stay in theme with the time of year a 'Back to School' lapbook is an ideal less stressful way to start the school year, a brainstorm on this topic would be see the example in the figure.

The most important things about lapbooking are that they are fun and versatile for all ages and above all students are using a life essential skill, which is creativity. Research shows that when teenagers were asked what is lacking from their school curriculum and what they would like more of – the top answer was CREATIVITY.

“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.
Maya Angelou


You can find more about lapbooks and how to use them in different ways here: Ideas for using Lap Books, and here: La scoperta dell’inglese: ipotesi per la costruzione di un lapbook «montessoriano»

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Vanessa Hartson Walker has taught English for over 20 years. She is Celta and Delta trained, and is now a teacher trainer. She has worked for International House, the British Council, Pilgrims and the American University of Rome. Since 2004 she has been Director of Studies and owner of Kids Can – a chain of language schools that specialises in teaching children and teenagers in Rome.