Why I love teaching with lap books (Plus: How to make your own!)

When I started using lap books with my students, I noticed a real difference in their engagement. They were connecting with the material on a deeper level, and more importantly, they were retaining it better too. My favorite way to use them now is for test review.  Read on to see exactly how I see it up.

What is a lap book?

Lap books are places where students can collect and reference all of the information on a certain topic or teaching area. For example, I use a lap book when I teach my students about US History. Lap books are usually constructed from manila file folders that have been refolded to create a visual learning center for kids. I instruct my students to paste instructional content on all of the different surfaces of the folder. We create a lap book together that we use to review for our year-end standardized assessment. I’m in Texas, so we take the STAAR test, but my lap book could work for any US History state test. My students learn the material as they have to place it appropriately, and then they can use the existing folder as they review for the test.  I really enjoy using lap books with my students, mostly because they make learning easier for all of us.

What are they good for?


Many of my students really need help organizing information, and the lap book does it for them.  The inherent visual nature of the system, which includes pockets for specific content automatically helps them place important factual details into categories. Our brains can retrieve information more easily if we’ve stored it in categories. I also ask my students to organize their knowledge as they are assembling their lap book with history-themed graphic organizers.

US History Lap Book for Review Graphic Organizer

Visual Learners

Images can also be a powerful trigger for recall. That’s why I make sure that I anchor many of the concepts that I teach with visual cues to help students retain and recall important details. I always use images in my lap books and supplement those images with facts, dates, and other content.

Goal Setting

While goal setting isn’t always a characteristic of lap books, I always create an opportunity for it in mine. Goal setting is something that I try to incorporate into most of my lessons because I believe it is an effective way to build intrinsic motivation for learning. I like to put goal setting opportunities on the cover of my lap books so that my students have a visual reminder of the goals they’ve set for themselves.

Fact Collection

It’s funny how excited my kids get about simple paper envelope pockets attached to cardstock. I like to put pockets in my lap books. Sometimes I give my students material that they can stuff in those pockets, and other times I ask them to source their own material. Regardless, most of them love filling the pockets with facts.

Want to make your own lap books? Here’s how!

1. Start with a plain file folder.  Sometimes I’ll make it exciting and use colored folders, but plain manila ones work well too.

US History Lap Book for Review File Folder

2. Open the folder completely and *re-fold* the cardstock so that the outside edges of the folder now meet in the middle, centered over what used to be the main fold. Now you have two “doors” over the main folder area. (See image below.)

US History Lap Book for Review Fold
US History Lap Book for Review Fold Again

3. Run a line of glue stick across the bottom of the folder to attach an additional “fly out” paper. Adding this extra paper boosts your file folder real estate and lets you add a lot more content to the lap book.

US History Lap Book for Review Glue Stick
US History Lap Book for Review Fly Out Paper

4. Fold the additional fly out paper so that it is hidden by the main folder when the “doors” are closed.

US History Lap Book for Review Fly out paper fold in

5. Begin to decorate the outside of your “doors” with content.  I like to put my goal setting material on the left door, so that it’s always the first thing my student see when it’s time to start working. Then I put overview content on the right door, so my students get themselves in the right frame of mind, right off the bat.

US History Lap Book for Review Door
US History Lap Book for Review Both Doors

6. Once you’ve finished the outside doors, open them up and start placing content on the inside of the doors. This is usually where I put those pockets that my kids love so much.  It keeps the information we collect safe and secure so that nothing falls out.

US History Lap Book for Review Pockets

7. Remember that sheet we pasted to the bottom of the folder for extra real estate? Now it’s time to put that to use. For my US history lap book, this is where the meat is.  I use that section to highlight key facts from each of the main periods that we’ve studied together: Reformation era, Civil War, Westward Expansion, etc. I have a graphic organizer that allows students to record those facts, and then an image to act as a capstone for each collection of information.

US History Lap Book for Review Center Section

    8. Don’t forget the back! This is a great place to put extra pockets or highlight a specific theme that’s part of your unit.

    US History Lap Book for Review back

      That’s it! It’s really not all that much work, and there’s a lot of payoff in terms of student learning. Still, we all know that sometimes it’s just easier to print and go. If you’re looking for something you can run with, I have a template for my entire US History Lap Book in my store.  (I even include the key facts, dates, images and descriptions!) Check it out if here if you need a quick solution!

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