Organizing your classroom can take some planning and time. Creating a working system is key to having an organized classroom year round. A good organizer will also tell you that you must first start with decluttering before you create systems.
Step 1 - Declutter Your Classroom
Organizing your classroom should start with decluttering. If you’re reading this at the end of the school year, it’s the perfect time to start decluttering. I like to pull everything out of my shelves, dust, and check out what I have. Usually there are quite a few items that will be incredibly dusty signaling that I haven’t used it all year.
There are many areas and items that could benefit from a good purging. Start with your most used areas first. I find paper to be the biggest culprit in my classroom looking messy. Take the time at the end of each day (or pick a specific day each week) to go through the leftover worksheets. If you feel you need them, keep them in a small letter tray that gets emptied on a specific timeline.
Want more help? Check out this blog post: 6 Reasons to Declutter and Stop Being a Teacher Hoarder
Create a System for Paper
Do you have a way to store and collect paper? Once I found a system that worked for me I didn’t find myself having nearly as big of a problem as I used to with paper clutter. First, I needed to think through what I wanted to do with all my photocopies. How far ahead was I making copies? What makes it easiest to grab them to pass them out?
After answering these questions I was able to come up with a system that works. I like to photocopy two weeks at a time so I needed something that could contain that many papers. I opted for a hanging file container that sits on the edge of my teacher desk. It’s open without a lid as I use it throughout the day. I placed a hanging file for each day of the week and a file folder for each subject inside each hanging file. The copies then are filed into the day and subject.
My next part of my paper system is for how I collect papers. On the other side of my teacher desk I have a small 3-drawer Sterilite organizer. My draws are labeled file, grade, and copy. If the office has given me a memo or if I have received something from a parent that’s important, it goes in the file drawer until I have time to file it. Students place finished classwork or assessments that will be graded in the grade drawer. As I plan and find things I want to copy, I place a master copy in the copy drawer.
Step 2 - The Teacher Area
Organizing your classroom means tackling one of the most important areas - your teaching area. Just like with our paper system, we should think how we use this area. Do you stay in one general spot or do you like to move around? Because of the technology in my classroom I’m confined to the front when I’m using the Smartboard or the document camera. Since I can’t change that, I’ve learned to work with it by creating systems at the front of the class.
First, I knew I wanted to have my teaching manuals and most frequently used read alouds in a spot that was easy to access. I found a long, low shelf that provided the perfect storage for this and best of all it fits right under my interactive whiteboard.
Next, I wanted to store my most commonly used binders and supplies nearby. A metal rolling cart with shelves was the perfect solution. The top contains my binders and the second and bottom shelves are great for extra supplies as students need them. Things like extra tissues, bottles of glue, and crayon boxes are stored under the sink. I have a small table for the document camera with a container of markers. Under this table I have a plastic drawer organizer that holds student folders and paper supplies.
Step 3 - Small Group Area
The last two years I have not had a kidney table for small groups. Instead I have a large rectangle table and I’ve learned to make it work. I actually feel it saves space in my small room so I now prefer it.
I store my small group items in several plastic drawer organizers in front of my teacher desk. One is a small three-drawer organizer for the paper or laminated items needed for my groups. The larger drawer organizers fit supplies such as books or timers that I might use. It’s currently the end of the year and a bit of a mess. My copies for my word study groups also go in these drawers.
If I teach a general education classroom in the future, this is one area that I would need to reorganize to work better. The great thing about organizing is there is never one correct way to create a system but it will take trial and error to find the right system for you.
Step 4 - The Student Area
The last step in creating an organized classroom system is the student area. Having a clear thought as to how you want students to access and use materials throughout the year is key to organizing your classroom.
Start with how you want students storing their materials. Do they have desks or tables? How will you support them to be organized? Are there items they won’t need everyday that can be kept on a shelf?
When I taught overseas my students had tables and no chair pockets. All their books and supplies were kept on shelves and organized by table groups. One person from each table was in charge of collecting items for the table. This eliminated a long line of students waiting and the inevitable fights over pushing or stepping on shoes.
I have had desks for the last 4 years. Most items students keep in their own desks such as their pencil boxes, math books, and whiteboards. Items we don’t use as often, or that can be easily destroyed, are kept in a plastic book bin with their student number on a shelf. When they need the items they grab them from the shelf. The book bins store individual manipulatives (beads for counting, tokens for phonics, playdough), headphones, interactive notebooks, and science notebooks from our curriculum.