Classroom organization ideas are abundant and can add to your workload if you always jump on board with the newest trend. Start with the basics and you’ll reduce your workload and the classroom chaos. You can add the trendy ideas from there.
10 Classroom Organization Ideas to Quell the Chaos
1. Organizing early is one of the best of the classroom organization ideas
It’s wild to consider, but I actually begin organization for the new school year during the last month of school. When my “type A” students finish an activity early, or when they’re looking for something to do during recess, before school, or after school, I ask if they’ll do many of those time-consuming tasks that don’t require teacher monitoring: sharpen pencils, reorganize colored pen boxes, fill glue bottles, organize bookshelves, go through my paper files to make sure there are no strays, etc.
The tasks are almost endless. What better way to conquer the chaos and keep kids happy and focused! I also send home a letter a few weeks before school starts letting the kiddos know what to bring, what to leave at home, and it also lets families know what they can donate. This keeps my budget in line and allows parents and families to contribute.
2. Purge the paper
After more than 20 years of teaching, I have learned to get rid of things I haven’t used in two or more years. About once a month, I take a few minutes to go through a binder or file drawer and review what I have. With the standards in mind, I rethink many of my old projects, hand-outs, and tests. The recycling bin is my best friend during the paper purge! Less stuff = focused mind (at least for me!)
I have a free Close Reading Unit for teachers. Grab it here. I know you’ll use it all year long!
3. Know what you have & keep it obvious
Keep your classroom supplies (office-type goodies) visible and in one place. If I can see it, I know it’s there. As much as I hate to admit it, out of sight, out of mind is truth for me. I have actually purchased items I already own. Consequently, after a “Doh” moment, I made sure all my supplies were in one location. I keep the same items on the same shelf in the same location.
I know exactly where to look if I need something or to send a kid to retrieve an item. To help students find their way around the classroom, I have different posters up on cabinet doors to help identify location. Instead of saying, “Look behind the third cabinet from the left”, I can say ,”Look behind the gorilla poster,” to a student looking for a particular item.
4. The best of the classroom organization ideas: purchase quality items
In the long run, quality purchases will actually save you money, time, and frustration. I got tired of the manual pencil sharpener not working and the cheapo electric ones lasting a few months. I now spend $50.00 on an electric pencil sharpener for HEAVY USE. I’ve had my sharpener for three years! It’s fast, and I don’t have to interrupt my lesson to find an alternate writing utensil for the poor kiddo whose pencil was eaten. Additionally, quality staplers and a quality hole punch are well worth the extra money at the outset.
5. Students help with cleaning
Before students leave for the day, I have them pick up five things off the floor. This number varies depending on the activity we’ve just completed. Having students in charge of this task keeps them aware of their behavior, keeps the classroom clean, and (perhaps most importantly) keeps the custodians happy.
6. Consider a paper filing/tracking system
I assign students a number at the beginning of the year. They write this number after their name on all their papers. The number system allows me to quickly enter grades in a grade book. I have students organize the turned-in papers by number. These numbers correspond to their name and number in my grade book.
Additionally, I have a file with each student’s name and number. Once I’ve graded papers and students have had a chance to view their assessed work (and re-do it if necessary), a student files the homework here. So if they say they’ve turned something in, I ask them to go check their file. I can’t tell you how many times this system has save my sanity. I also have a “secret” file out of student reach for notes from parents and signed and returned progress reports. Again, the number system works here. I file these papers myself or simply keep progress reports clipped by date. Here again, I have found benefit in this system and would recommend you considering this as an organizational tool.
7. Have a teaching station is one of the greatest classroom organization ideas
Mine is really just a small cart on wheels, but it’s my command center. It has my document cameras, post-its, discipline signs/cards for quick response to behavior issues, pencils, pens, timers, a blank piece of paper for covering something I’m not yet ready to show, and a place where I keep frequently-used pages I know I’ll show again. I have a copy of the standards for a three -year span in arm’s reach. I like to show students what our focus is, what they should have learned last year, and how we are building towards next year’s standard. Additionally, my read aloud book is here. My cart is nothing fancy, but it’s the hub of teaching in the classroom. I expect to find my items there.
8. Think about extra copies
I always make about ten extra copies of papers. I have three crates with hanging files. Each crate is a different subject area. For me, it’s reading, language arts, social studies. When students are absent or have lost a paper, I’ve trained them where to find the paper in question. When parents and students come in looking for missing work, I send them to the crates. Talk about a time saver and a half!!
I also have a portion of one crate for the handouts from the earlier part of the year, and I have extra copies of templates I use repeatedly or lists I expect students to have all year. Additionally, I have a small area behind my whiteboard for mid-year new students. I spend a little time before school starts getting the items together that I know they’ll need when they walk in the door in February or April. It’s ready, and it’s hassle-free. I’m always glad I prepared for the eventual arrival of the mid-year new student.
9. Create Templates
I send home a weekly email blast. I have the template on my laptop so I can easily change the information to suit the revisions for the week. I also have a file crate nearby with papers I use on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
There are blank copies of my reading response logs, for example, which I use weekly because they are versatile and span subject areas. Since I need to write new prompts each week, I have the blanks ready to go. Read this blog post about 4 ways reading logs can be a powerful classroom tool.
Here’s my favorite reading response log. It’s versatile and can be used for fiction or nonfiction. Click here to find this time-saving unit!
10. Situate your desk for work, and let colleagues know when you need to focus, not chat
(This is really two tips in one, but here goes.) Near my desk is a bookshelf, a file cabinet, the cart I use to set corrected papers ready for return, my supply cabinet, etc. All my essentials are right there. It’s efficient, easy, and it saves me valuable time.
An imperative for staying organized is setting times for grading, emailing, phone calls, etc. If you have colleagues who love to chat, let them know ahead of time that you’ve designated certain slots in your day for quiet, focused work. You’ll be able to go home at a decent hour and not have enormous amounts of work to catch up on for the next day.
Having taught more years than I can believe (because I love my job!), I’ve learned that organization is essential to keeping sanity in my life as a middle school teacher. (Should sanity and middle school be in the same sentence???)
What are your best tips for staying organized in the classroom?
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