Reactions Interactive Notebook

text: Reactions Interactive Notebook (preview image)

Do we all have a unit at the end of the semester that seems to change in depth every year, based on how the rest of the semester has shaken out? In my course progression, that unit is Reactions. The unit that I title Reactions is purely a qualitative exploration of reactions, laying the groundwork to understand chemical systems conceptually so that we can apply quantities to them at the beginning of second semester.

Based on the year, this notebook varies in length. This year, we will only have a two page spread – Anatomy of an Equation (balancing and general vocabulary of reactions) and then Types of Reactions. If I have the entire span of time from Thanksgiving to the end of term to spend on this unit, then I spread it out into 4 pages: Anatomy of an Equation; Single Replacement Reactions; Double Replacement Reactions; and Combination, Decomposition and Combustion.

So which one do you choose? I firmly believe that this unit should be spent almost entirely on lab activities. This year, I will be shorter on time at the end of the semester and will do one stations lab (over two days) that shows all the reaction types so we will do the single layout for all 5 reactions. If you have more time and plan on doing a lab series that allows students to spend more time predicting products of various reactions, the 4 layout unit will probably fit your needs better.

As I mentioned in the Periodic Table Notebook post, I am trying to lead with activities and then move into concepts, so I will do the lab first. I have successfully changed how my students use the notebook – students do activities first, explore the concept and start to master the content, and then the notebook is filled in as a summary. This is not how I have traditionally used my notebook (which you will have noticed if you read my blog post on How I Use Interactive Notebooks) but I really like it a lot. It’s a powerful tool for helping students restate their learning and create a record for future reference.

For other units, see our ChemEd X INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK COLLECTION.

As we end 2022, I want to share an update on where I stand with this interactive notebook sharing project. I shared my first notebook unit in April of this year, with the goal of sharing my entire notebook by the end of 2022. You may have realized that I’m not quite going to make that goal, but I am still committed to getting my entire notebook published on ChemEd X. The next unit I will be sharing is Chemical Quantities. If you want to look ahead, my Stoichiometry, Gas Laws, and Thermochemistry notebook units have already been published. After I get Chemical Quantities published, I will leap ahead to fill in the remainder of my notebook with Solutions, Acids and Bases and Nuclear.

If you have questions or comments, please log into your ChemEd X account and add a comment below the post.

activity series
balancing equations

Composition notebooks, printed copies of each page, colored paper or construction paper for making flipbooks/foldables, scissors, tape or glue

**A note on my manipulatives: If you see a dashed line, that is where the item should be cut. If you see dotted lines, that means fold.


For backstory about how Nora uses interactive notebooks, view a recording of her ChemEd X Talk: Integrating Interactive Notebooks into Chemistry Courses with Nora Walsh and read her previous post, Interactive Notebook Unit on Stoichiometry. Nora wrote the following in response to questions she received after her ChemEd X Talk: A Classroom View of Using Interactive Notebook Pages.

See all of the interactive notebook units Nora has published: INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK COLLECTION


Spread 1: Anatomy of a Chemical Equation

Rightside - This spread is pretty straightforward, and is currently designed without much physical interaction. Students label the parts of a reaction at the top of the page (reactants, products, subscripts, coefficients), state the Law of Conservation of Mass, denote the meanings of several symbols that we use in equations, and then do a couple of practice problems.

A note here – this page is so straightforward because the students are using it as a summary after they have done a couple of days of exploring balancing and thinking about how reactions are formatted. If you want more interactivity, my suggestion for an easy, alternative way to format this page is to do what I call dissecting a worksheet. The classic, excellent balancing worksheet called Balancing Act (by T. Tomm and published on is very easy to divide into sections and paste onto your page as flaps and in pockets. See video 1 that shows me flip through through this notebook for how I do that option.


Leftside - Balancing Equations Activity

Keeping in mind that the leftside should have students interact with the most important concepts from the rightside, I always have this leftside activity focus on balancing. I have used several different activities in the past. There is an excellent PhET sim for balancing, and I also like this Balancing Equations Card Lab. On ChemEd X you can find a Balancing with Legos activity and Balancing Equations with Molecular Models.

After this spread, you have options. For the shorter option, just do spread 2 below. For more in-depth exploration of reactions (especially if you are going to use the Activities Series and/or Solubility rules) consider using some or all of the more in-depth reaction pages listed below.


Spread 2: 5 Types of Reactions

Rightside - 5 Types of Reactions Foldable

Again, this is another pretty straight forward foldable. I have students do a little bit of research to fill this in themselves. The front is intentionally blank so that you can have them label the flaps with whatever terms you like for the various types of reactions. Inside, they use some kind of symbols to fill in the general formula (AB + CD → AD + CB for example), then I have them find a real-world application. On the particle level representation side, you could choose to have them represent the lab data specifically, or go very general with just using unidentified symbols to show how the atoms rearrange.


Leftside - 5 Types of Reactions Lab

I would strongly recommend a 5 types of reactions lab for the leftside of this spread. If you have a handout that you already use and like, remember that it’s easy to use it on the page either shrink it down so it fits onto the page (make a booklet if necessary) or tuck it into a pocket.


Spread 3: Single Replacement Reactions

Rightside - Single Replacement Reactions

This page is a summary of information about single replacement reactions and how to predict the products of these reactions. The top of the page has a flap showing a particle view cartoon that lifts to show a glue down of information about single replacement reactions in general, including how to know (based on the reactants) when a single replacement reaction will occur. The middle of the page is a book foldable, or it can be a glue down or flap, that lists the steps to predicting products. I like to use a book or flap here so that I can add on some additional notes for the students. There is also an activity series that I use as a glue down on the bottom of the page, but it could go anywhere. The final component of the page is a book fold that asks students to predict the products of 4 single replacement reactions. There are statements underneath the reactants that prompt them think about how the metals relate to each other, and they are to use the activity series to do that.


Leftside - Activity Series Lab

On this side, do whatever single replacement lab works for you. A Google search will yield several possibilities. I think this is a great opportunity for students to start the learning by discovering the activities series themselves – they could do the lab first with solids and solutions that contain the same metal/cation, and then have them make a chart that ranks reactivity. If you are short on time, you could also have this be a class activity – assign different groups different combinations to explore and then have them make a group data set and analyze it to discover the activity series.


Spread 4: Double Replacement Reactions

Rightside - Double Replacement Reactions

This page mimics the single replacement reactions page in content and layout. Students make a flap at the top of the page with reaction descriptions, then a book foldable about how to predict products, and a glue down of the solubility rules. I do not have example problems on this page because my students predict the products of the reactions in the lab, and then test the outcome by performing the reactions. Instead, I have a small foldable that introduces solubility vocabulary, linking it to both symbolic representation within reactions and particle view sketches.


Leftside - Solubility Rules Lab

As with single replacement, I would suggest that you do a solubility rules/qualitative analysis lab for this page. There are lots of great options, and my favorite procedure uses a traditional lab updated to be microscale by using a laminated table as a reaction surface that only requires 1-2 drops of dilute solutions. Check out Chad Husting’s post on going small scale, and an even more in-depth discussion of this option in this Journal of Chemical Education article by Bob Worley et al.


Spread 5: Combination, Decomposition and Combustion Reactions

Rightside - Addition, Decomposition and Combustion Reactions

This page again has the cartoon flaps at the top, with details about the reaction types underneath. The very bottom of the page is practice on identifying reaction types. I have students make a hamburger fold with the reactions on the OUTSIDE. They can then open the flaps to see the answers of the classification underneath.


Leftside - Distinguishing Between Reactions Practice

I don’t have an original activity to share for this left page, but I think a sort would work very well. Something that has students think critically about the various types of reactions and distinguishing them from each other. This could also be the final lab in a series of labs on reaction types. A mini-research project or more creative/open-ended activity would also work very well on this output page.

It might be helpful to view video 1 to help visualize what these pages will look like in action.


Video 1: Reactions INB pages, ChemEd X Vimeo Channel, 1/2/2023.


Provide copies of the following for each student. Note that I have grouped the components by page. Please preview them before printing as some pages have multiple copies to minimize paper waste.


Spread 1: PDF icon Formatting Reactions

Spread 2: PDF icon 5 Types of Chemical Reactions (*Printing note: Be sure you print this page using Landscape Orientation.)

Spread 3: PDF icon Single Replacement Reactions

Spread 4: PDF icon Double Replacement Reactions

Spread 5: PDF icon  Addition Decomp and Combustion


*Webinars Referencing Interactive Notebooks: ChemEd X Chem Basics, October 2021 – Chemical Bonding and Naming and AACT , February 2020 – Teaching Chemistry in a Textbookless Classroom

**I have three PLC colleagues that have supported this work as we always review the pages and talk through content together. Many thanks to Tom Jankowski, Lori Young and Mihir Paranjape.

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Comments 4

Lynn Skutches's picture
Lynn Skutches | Fri, 01/06/2023 - 15:23

Dear Nora,  Thank you so VERY much for freely sharing your wonderful interactive notebooks with the world. Your teaching is inspiring, and  you are so very kind to give this to the chemistry teaching community (and our students!).  PLEASE let us know how we can support you/thank you (Buy a Coffee?  TpT store? Other?)

Nora Walsh's picture
Nora Walsh | Sat, 01/07/2023 - 14:51

Dear Lynn,

That is such a nice comment - thank you! Truly, you lifted me up by taking the time to post that. I don't need anything else. I will, however, screen grab this comment as evidence of impact and that in and of itself is really powerful and helpful for me. I'm just really happy to be able to support teachers (and students) by sharing.

Pam Bradford | Thu, 01/12/2023 - 07:51

Thank you for sharing all of your hard work.


Angelica Seager | Wed, 03/01/2023 - 18:16

Thank you!  I was wondering if you had a key for the pages so I guide them to the intended answer.