Classroom Organization: The Key to Success!

by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

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I love the feeling of starting a new school year “fresh” and new.  I like to start out on the right foot, and one way to ensure a great year is to begin – from the very first day – with organization.  No matter what age or grade, organization is key. Students need to be prepared for EACH subject EVERY day!

So how do we better prepare our students to be organized?  Teach organization!  “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a saying by which I learned – and now teach – organization.  Specifically, everything should have a place for storage and should be returned there when not in use.  Once I adopted this mentality, the organization dilemma became quite easy to handle and maintain.  Here are some guidelines:

  • Desk/locker organization: In my self-contained classroom, we are very space-challenged, so I’m sensitive to the number of textbooks, workbooks, notebooks, and folders we need to squeeze into small areas.  I always make sure the supplies I give them will fit in their desk and/or cubby.  If necessary, store textbooks on a bookshelf.  Also be wary of ‘space hogs’ like unnecessary supplies or trash lurking in the desks or lockers.  Model what good organization – and bad – looks like.  At the beginning of the year, I tell the students that the “Organization Fairy” visits unannounced and leaves prizes for organized desks and lockers.  I also show pictures of an organized desk (complete with smiley faces) and an unorganized desk (complete with disciplinary points).
  • Subject organization: Be clear on the requirements for each subject (provide a specific list of supplies that you require), and ensure that the students have a place for all papers (color coded folders work very well), including a system for sending home graded papers, and for their everyday note-taking or miscellaneous papers.  This way, there are no loose papers falling out of desks or lockers.  I’m constantly asking the group, “Where would be a good place for us to put this worksheet/assignment/graded test?”
  • Homework organization: Insist on an assignment book for each student, and have an established place on the board for homework assignments.  I tell the students, “When I write, you write” and they know to get out their assignment books when I’m headed to the homework board.
  • Communication organization: If age appropriate, dedicate a folder to “take home information” and “bring to school” communication (parents need organization, too!).  Additionally, set up a Reminder Board (or a section of your white/chalkboard) for daily/weekly reminders to the students.  Each morning, I verbally address the items on this list so the auditory as well as the visual students know about the reminders.
  • Deadline organization: I post my test/quizzes/project deadlines on the Reminder Board (see above) for the week every Monday morning.  The students write these deadlines in their assignment book every Monday.  I also post library book or field trip permission slip deadlines here, as well.  This also prevents the I-didn’t-know-about-that-test syndrome.

Organization is a challenge for students (and adults!), so the more guidelines we give, the better organized they’ll be.  Therefore, in my classroom, the mantra is:  A place for everything, and everything in a place.  Words to live by, literally!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.

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7 Comments

Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor

7 responses to “Classroom Organization: The Key to Success!

  1. Rachel

    These are all great ideas! I think organization is key to a successful classroom! I love your ideas about keeping only the necessary supplies in the classroom so that the room does not become overcrowded.
    One organization idea that I like to use in my classroom is keeping the homework area tidy. Students need to know where they can turn in homework and other classwork without asking. This can be a simple shelf or a set of plastic drawers. It helps if the area is labeled by subject area.

  2. Kristen,
    You are so right.! Everything must have a place and a teacher must consistently reinforce the procedures. I had a desk fairy who showed up on the weekend and left a little treat in the neatest desks. The trouble is, she never visited my own desk! I seem to have mastered how to keep students organized but for myself, things pile up all day long and then I am faced with a real chore after dismissal. I wish I had time to file things right away but that is so disruptive during the day. Any suggestions?

  3. Randi Smith

    Thank you for the great ideas… I have purchased some materials that will definitely help me with organization next year.

  4. Connie

    I like and use many of your ideas in my classroom. Something I did this past year to help with desk organization was to make a small poster showing how the inside of the desk could be organized. I show how books, notebooks, pencil boxes, etc. could be stacked on the right and left side. We clean and organize our desks on Friday. My students would use this poster to help with their desk organization.

  5. Kristin

    Great comments everyone!

    Rachel, like you, I have an organized turn-in station. I use colored wire bins (found in most discount stores) for my homework or classwork turn-in station, and with a short written or verbal announcement of what color bin to place their assignment in, the students keep that area organized for me.

    Kathy (hello friend!), yes, I have some words of wisdom that work well for me, both at school and at home: If it’s in my hand, I put it in its correct spot the first time… I don’t just set it down, only to have to handle it again later. This works well for most everything I touch during the school day. Yes, I realize that there are some things that I can’t always handle with kids in the room (for instance, notes to parents, putting away lots of math manipulatives, or filing away graded papers), so that does have to wait until later, but I try to immediately handle those kinds of tasks during my planning period. If they can’t be handled until dismissal, hopefully since everything else was already put away, those types of tasks won’t take too long. Maybe the desk fairy will be visiting you before long! This mentality works really well at home, too, especially with the daily mail, dirty dishes, etc. I hope this helps! : )

    Randi, good luck with these suggestions… I hope they’re helpful!

    Connie, thanks for the poster suggestion! I like that it would be on display all the time. Since the way I show good (and bad) organization is through a PowerPoint slide at the beginning of the year, the students don’t see it all the time.. I like your idea better! Of course, tidying up on Fridays makes for a great start to the next week, too… I like it!

    Again, thanks everyone!

  6. ecossick

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