Second Generation Custom Exercise Books

I’m sure that some of you remember my post from last year: Print on demand for better Learning, where I explained the thinking behind my efforts to produce custom exercise books for my post-16 Computing students. Well, after a year of use and some very interesting impacts on teaching and learning we decided that it would be worth rolling a tweaked version of this out to the rest of our groups.

As such I have created a custom exercise book that both allows students to take notes in the Cornell style, as well as summarise and mark the notes; all this and target setting, planning, recording and analysis assessment have been incorporated into the exercise book. In short what we’ve got here is a generic, any-subject, any-level exercise book that focuses students and improves teaching and learning.

Please feel free to buy a copy from amazon (only £2.99) or download the PDF versions of all the files to construct your own, remembering that you must credit this site if you are using any of my materials, and then only non-commercially. Anyway, on with the blog post.

Lesson Learned from Version 1

There were a number of things we learned as a result of last year’s trial of the custom exercise books:

  1. Students needed more pages and flexibility for keeping notes
  2. Students needed simpler summaries of assessments
  3. Students needed more structure to planning and evidencing revision
  4. The self reflection and analysis contained too many similar questions
  5. A specific book per unit of work was a little too much faff
  6. We needed room to add marking comments
  7. Students needed a checklist of some kind before hand in
  8. Quality of the books needed to improve whilst cost needed to be reduced
  9. Use fewer explanatory or pre-printed pages as students just didn’t read them
  10. It needed to include the deeper questioning grid to allow use each and every lesson


This year rather than do all that work in Photoshop, illustrator and Word (as I had done last year) I decided to just bite the bullet and use InDesign, I’d been teaching myself how to use it in order to write my tl;dr books so felt pretty adept at this. Using InDesign meant that much of my hard work from last year seemed a bit pointless and crazy as industry standard software is just so much more refined at doing this layout malarky.

I started with going for the biggest size that was still affordable to have printed, selecting the US Paper size which allows more room for content. Working on the cover first and following the style of before, but with more generic content: such as the blank box for lesson, name, etc. on the cover. I then added the deeper questioning grid to the back, reasoning that this on a glossy cardboard surface would allow us to use whiteboard markers on them when using the grids.

ExerciseBookGenericCover  deeperQuestioning Download the PDF

The next step was the front page, because this would be an odd page on its own I decided to use it to hold targets and summaries of assessments. This made the design choices easier and cheaper as I wasn’t wasting resources including an enormous copyright page, the page here holds potential summaries for 8 units which is more than we usually cover in one particular unit of work but allows it to be used by many different groups.

 Download the PDF

The next stage was to get into the nitty-gritty of what I wanted the note pages to look like, in using a larger size this meant that I could keep all the aspects of the previous notes pages that worked so successfully: the lines pages, the Cornell sidebars, the summary areas, date and title sections. In going that extra mile to improve this the new size actually gives us more written space than before. I added a RAG rating to each page for difficulty means that students can, at a glance, see which pages need revising more than others. The top also contains a ‘type of learning’ box so we can identify classwork, project work and homework for work scrutiny purposes. Finally there’s an area to identify if this is self, peer or teacher assessment to engage students with assessment in different ways.

At the bottom of the page we now have a finished-page checklist, so students can check they’ve done everything before they hand in a book for marking, a key for our Literacy and numeracy marking policy and areas for What-Went-Wells, Even-Better-Ifs and a response from the student. Making these a double page spread means that the space can be used more effectively.

NotePages NotePages2 Download the PDF

Rather than doing what I did last year, and trying to estimate how many pages students need per topic, I made it more generic and ‘classic exercise book’ style by sticking in 100 pages worth of this layout, plenty for any student to write notes on most subjects.

The next step was to produce the Revision planning, logging and assessment reflection pages. Again, 8 of these were added at the back in order to ensure that students could go through a complete revision exercise to practice this skill and evidence what they have done. The revision plan was split into a more specific table layout that asks the students to describe the type of revision methodology being used from our standard taxonomy, this was joined by a more generic week planner so students can demonstrate thought as to when and what they’ll revise.

Of course, once they’ve planned revision they’ll presumably go and do it. To check this a page of revision logging is presented, in a new more specific table format that once again uses the revision taxonomy to push the students to revise in an effective manner. At the end we ask the student to summarise and WWW, EBI the actual revision they’ve done so that we can review it after the exam.

Assessment reflection follows a very similar pattern to before, with fewer, more differentiated leading questions and opportunities to force students to reflect upon their achievement and produce a plan of action. Student would then be asked to fill out the overview summary at the start of the book.

AssessmentPrepLogReview AssessmentPrepLogReview2 AssessmentPrepLogReview3 Download PDF

So, one more page to go. Last year the calendar was extremely useful, but if this is to be as generic as possible and be less work to create next year then I can’t have year specific pages. In thinking this through I realised that what students really want is to be able to write down key dates rather than having an actual calendar, thus I went for a much more generic, box based design so that they can be reused year-to-year.

KeydateCalendar Download PDF


If you’ve read my previous article then you’ll know that I’ve previously used to print this stuff, which is great because they allow you to create projects that don’t necessarily have to be for sale everywhere and meet a load of guidelines. However, the quality of their paper is not quite as nice as that from amazon’s createspace and me being a bit of a stationery snob decided that it would be nice to have better paper for the student’s notes. This has benefits and drawbacks: the benefits being that the cost was reduced slightly, now coming in at £2.99 rather than over £3 as before, but because createspace is designed for publicly available books sold through Amazon you need to adhere to a number of guidelines in producing the document. This is the reason the phrase ‘Exercise Book’ exists on the cover as the title of the book being on the cover is a requirement of the createspace process.

However, after all that and getting the samples ordered I ended up with a beautiful exercise book that does all I wanted it to do, then we got the full order in.

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Is it worth it?

Well, I’d say so. The difference we saw in the quality of both notes and revision last year was astonishing; and that was with a first attempt at streamlining the process of students making notes and reflecting on assessments.

It’s got to be better than buying 50 books of lined paper and expecting the students to organise themselves. It’s got to be better than expecting students to make their own plans with no guidance. It’s got to be better than giving papers back and asking them to think about what they needed to do better.

Yes, it’s much more expensive than bog standard exercise books but the beauty of this is that with a small investment of time and a little more money you can have books that are personal and specific to the way you teach, mark and reflect.

If the time investment’s too much for you then please just buy a few copies of mine and give that a go – at £2.99 a go it’s probably not there for the hundreds of people in your KS3 classes but it’s certainly affordable for KS4/KS5. Give it a go!

If you make your own let me know how you got on, I’d love to publish other examples here.

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