August 14, 2012

10 Steps to an Organized Classroom + Classroom Organization Book Giveaway

Read about my classroom organization systems, and scroll down to the bottom to enter to win the book Organizing the Elementary School Classroom: 100 Effective Strategies by Todd R. Tystad!

My classroom is ALMOST finished!  I'm loving how it's turning out--the "soothing" theme I'm going with this year is definitely making me smile.  I will post pictures of the finished room later this week, but first I wanted to share some pictures of the systems I have in place to stay organized.  I'm a pretty organized person, and staying organized in the classroom is so important to me.  I know I am not at my best as a teacher if I'm not organized, and if my classroom isn't organized, I feel that my students aren't at their best!  Keeping an organized classroom helps my students focus and helps us not waste precious seconds locating and distributing materials, etc.  Moving to my new school involved moving into a classroom that is much smaller than my old room, so I knew that keeping ultra organized would be super important in making sure everything FIT!  This leads me to...

Step 1: Purge unnecessary materials and files
Not pretty, but it does the job!
This is hugely important to me for a couple of reasons.  Not only does it take TIME to hunt through superfluous stuff when you're looking for the things you really need, but most importantly, extra, unnecessary "stuff" takes up space!!  My first year I had two 4-drawer file cabinets and 1 2-drawer file cabinet in my room left over from the previous teacher.  I kept them initially because I thought I would need them, and they were also full of the previous teacher's old files.  After a while, I realized that these huge cabinets took up SO. MUCH. SPACE.  I ditched one 4-drawer midway through the year and exchanged the second for another 2-drawer shortly thereafter.  This year, I went through those two 2-drawer cabinets and managed to downsize to one 2-drawer.  To do this, I threw out random old copies from the previous teacher I thought I might used but never did, ditched a few files of class sets of copies, saving only an original, and threw out old transparencies that I no longer have a use for (We are a doc cam district now!  Say it with me--No More Overheads!!).  I also transferred my student portfolio files that had previously occupied a drawer to a file crate that will sit on one of my counter tops.

Finally, I ditched a ton of old math manipulatives that I either had in excess or never used.  I was able to give most of them away to teachers who barely had any manipulatives, and you bet they were excited to get them!  This brings me to,...

Step 2: Designate spaces for materials for each discipline
If I'm in the middle of a math lesson and decide that I need fraction circles, I need to be able to find them IMMEDIATELY without looking in 4 or 5 cabinets.  That's why I set store materials for each subject together.  That seems like a no-brainer, but I also try to limit myself to one shelf or cabinet per subject.  If the materials are overflowing, it may be time to purge!  I have a cabinet devoted to math that holds my tubs of manipulatives, my Everyday Math teacher materials, and an additional tub of math resources and games:
I also have a cabinet devoted to Science & Social Studies which holds my teacher materials for both subjects, a bin of trade books and resources for each subject, my Science leveled readers, and an additional tub of miscellaneous science supplies that I have used for labs and demos in the past and that don't really belong anywhere else.  Finally, I have a cabinet devoted to Literacy which holds all of my Treasures manuals, a bin of my easy chapter books for strugglign readers, two bins of mentor text picture books, a bin of spelling manipulatives, and an additional bin of Language Arts resource books:

Step 3: Repeat after me: "Bins are my friend"
I love bins.  So much.  My absolute favorites are IKEA blue tubs which are only $1.99 each.  I start every year by picking up another stack of these babies--I guess every year I find more uses for them and require a few more!  I also love shoebox bins with lids from walmart which are only $0.99 each.  As you can see in the pictures above, you can fit SO MUCH stuff in cabinets and on shelves when it's in bins versus just stacked side by side.  They also keep materials so much more organized and make it super easy to find things.  I keep many of my recess games in bins.  Before I started doing this, the recess games cabinet was always ridiculously messy.  Now, all smaller games are in ziplock bags and kept in bins.
I also keep things like craft supplies, cleaning supplies, party supplies (plates and napkins), extra notebooks, etc. in bins in my storage closet:
Step 4: Label, Label, Label
If you're going to embrace bins, make life easier on yourself and LABEL THEM!  That way there is no time wasted pulling every bin off the shelf to figure out which one is housing your glue gun.  I love my Brother label maker--I bought it at Costco a couple of years ago and immediately went crazy labeling everything.

Step 5: Use Every Space!
In my old classroom, space wasn't an issue, but moving into the new room I knew I'd need to use every nook and cranny.  I love this idea I got from Pinterest for storing bulletin board boarders:
It was so easy to do, and you can hang multiple clips of boarders on each hook.  Did I mention how much I love 3M Command hooks too??  I also hung two of the big 5lb hooks on the opposite side of my little closet to hang my purse and school bag every day.  I used to shove these things under my desk, but hated how I'd always be kicking them all day long.  Plus, I ditched my big teacher desk for a tiny IKEA desk this year, and there is really no room for anything underneath but my feet!
I also use the space under one of my tables to store my Listen to Reading CD players and books.  Setting crates on their sides makes perfect cubbies, and sticking my favorite blue bins in them was a perfect way to keep materials organized.  The kids pull out the tub they need like a drawer, get their book and CDs, and slide it back in.
Step 6: Have a system for managing PAPERS
This is one of the biggest things I still struggle with, and I know many teachers are right there with me.  It is really unbelieveable the amount of papers teachers deal with on a daily basis.  There is student work coming in, student work being passed back, memos and notices to send home with students, meeting agendas and handouts, homework to copy, etc. etc. etc.  I have posted about a couple of systems I've used in the past already to manage these papers, and while my method this year looks a little different, it is basically the same idea.  For me, it is critical that I have a spot to organize three things: papers to grade, papers to copy, and papers to file.  It is also critical that I have a spot to store copies and materials by day for the upcoming week, as well as a miscellaneous "In Bin" for kids to turn in random things throughout the day.  (I colect homework using these fabulous magnetic pockets from Lakeshore.  I'm obsessed with them.)

This year, I was lucky to get my hands on one of those beautiful standing colored drawer units many teachers have.  I've never wanted to spend the money to buy my own, but one of my new teammates was trashing it ebcause the wheels were wobbly, and I snatched it up knowing my dad could tighten the wheels up.  I am using the top drawer as my "In Bin," the second drawer to store papers to be graded, and below that a drawer for each day of the week, plus "Next Week."

I also have a little standing file unit on my desk (that of course I forgot to take a picture of), which I bought to replace one of the larger three level stacking paper holder thingies I had last year because the vertical design of this one took up way less space.  I am using the front space to store my notebook and calendar during the day, the middle for papers to be copied, and the back for papers to be filed.

Step 7: Have a system for sending home student work and notices
I am a Friday Folder girl.  This means that I save all graded work, office notices, book orders, etc. to be sent home in one big stack on Friday.  This saves me the time of passing back a bunch of things every single day.  I know a lot of teachers who use mailboxes to house these things during the week, then transfer them to the folders on Fridays.  To me, mailboxes have always seemed like they take up a crazy amount of space.  My mom taught me this trick, and I LOVE it.  I keep a small hanging files unit on my counter, and during the week, I have student helpers file the Friday Folder papers into each student's file.  Then, on Fridays, student helpers transfer the papers from the file to the student's Friday Folder.  It works like a charm and takes up less space than mailboxes.  I keep the papers to be filed in a wire bin next to the hanging files, and the student helpers file them as they accumulate during the week.
Step 8: Organize student supplies by team/table
This tip was new to me last year, but I love it.  I noticed that it was taking a long time to distribute my mini dry erase boards, markers, and erasers every time I wanted to use them, and it was driving me crazy!  I decided to separate the boards into a stack for each table, and I started storing dry erase markers, erasers (pieces of fleece), and some regular colored markers in a tote bin for each table.  Then, I set them out on a shelf (or on two empty desks this year) so that when it was time to use them, all I needed was for one student from each table to retrieve their group's supplies.  Bingo!  Last year I also orgnaized my Treasures literacy books and Writing Workshop folders this way too, but I am mulling over some new ideas for those materials...
Step 9: Keep shared supplies together with a place for everything
I know some teachers collect all student supplies, but I have always let the kiddos keep the majority of their art materials (crayons, scissors, glue, etc.).  I do keep a supply of extras on hand at all times.  I use this handy organizer and small plastic bins/pencil boxes to store each supply and label them on the side.  I also label each cubby in the storage unit so they are returned to the correct compartment.  I also have a compartment for "extras" where I keep any extra copies.  This way, if students lose their homework, they know right where to go to find an extra!  Finally, I use one of the slots for "scratch paper," or paper that is blank on one side.  (Usually, when the extras bin is full, the old copies get transferred here.)  This is the paper I tell students to use when they need scrap paper in math or want to draw.

(The blank slots will hold "extras" and "scratch paper")

Step 10: Don't let that Teacher Desk become a BOTTOMLESS PIT
I am still learning this lesson, but I THINK I am finally on top of things in this department!  When I was cleaning out my room in preparation for my move last May/June, I couldn't believe how much JUNK I found crammed in the back of those deep drawers in my teacher desk.  Holy trash.  I found random things I had shoved into those drawers my first year teaching that I hadn't seen since!  For me, the drawers in that desk were just so deep that they were BEGGING for me to fill them with junk.  I may be organized, but aren't we all guilty of shoving things out of sight and out of mind when we have a place to shove them?

This year I downsized to this cute little desk I purchased at IKEA:
Yes, it's missing a drawer.  I couldn't figure out how to put it in...Help please, Dad...
Switching to this desk meant I was giving up an additional file drawer as I used to keep my random "teacher files" in a large drawer in my desk.  I purchased a file crate that I now keep in a cabinet for storing my files of things like staff development notes, class lists, etc.
Well, that's about it!  Now, the giveaway!
I had the opportunity to review the book Organizing the Elementary School Classroom: 100 Effective Strategies by Todd R. Tystad.  Todd is a teacher himself, and wrote this book based on his own practical experience with organizing his classroom in logical, effective ways.  Todd believes in the importance of a well-organized classroom, and in his book, he spells out EXACTLY how to organize materials, communicate with parents, implement systems like newsletters with ease, and keep your classroom running smoothly through clear, consistent routines.

This book is a quick read, and I love the way it is divided up with numbered strategies.  Tystad also includes an appendix listing each strategy by number for easy reference.  As a pretty organized teacher already, I found that I already have systems in place that work well for me when it came to most of Tystad's strategies, but I found a few tips that I will definitely implement this year.  One of these was to create an "Available Activities" anchor chart for indoor recess time.  What a simple idea, and why have I never thought of that before??  I plan to stay in with my class for part of their first indoor recess and take the time to create a chart and discuss all available options.  Tystad also had some interesting ideas for managing restroom breaks, something I continusously reinvent in my classroom.

In my opinion, the only real negative to this book is that there are no pictures.  I am a hugely visual learner and would really have benefitted from pictures of some of the strategies described.  That being said, it is still a great resource and presents a wealth of information.  If you are a new teacher, I think this would be a very helpful read.  If you're a veteran, you still might find some new tricks you never thought of before!  I think this would make an outstanding gift for a student teacher or intern!  Organization is one thing I really think you don't understand the importance of until you are actually in the midst of your first year.  They definitely didn't teach me this stuff in college, folks!
I am giving away a signed copy of Organizing the Elementary School Classroom: 100 Effective Strategies by Todd R. Tystad to one reader.  Here's how to win:
  1. 1. Be a follower of Juice Boxes + Crayolas and leave a comment letting me know that you are. (Mandatory)
  2. 2. Leave a comment telling me your favorite organizational strategy and/or one area in which you struggle with organization in the classroom (+1 additional entry)
  3. 3. Like Todd on facebook (+1 additional entry)
This giveaway will end at midnight on Tuesday, August 21st (my first day with students!). 

BTW, the kindle edition of Organizing the Elementary School Classroom is also available for download on amazon for only $2.99!  A steal!

Legal Disclaimer: I was provided with one copy of this book to read and one to give away to a reader in exchange for writing a review.  I was not compensated in any additional way or encouraged to express a particular opinion.  All thoughts and opinions are my own, of course.


  1. I follow your blog :o)

  2. AMY!
    These are wonderful ideas!
    And you described it all perfectly!
    YOU should write a book--or at least a manual--for new teachers (and even a veteran one like me who still has not found last year's math book! SO impressive... (If you want a big laugh, check out my garage post!)

    I hope that you will enjoy your new school and class, and I am sending you lots of happy wishes for a great year...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    PS My biggest struggle continues to be managing all of those student papers that accumulate all day, all week...

  3. I struggle with keeping my desk clean--it always has stuff on it in piles! I even have a mailbox and I still manage to throw everything on my desk. This year will be better...I hope :o)

  4. Hi there! I'm a long time follower and I love your book reviews! This post was a great one, too- veeerrry helpful.

    I'm not teaching yet (subbing this year- hoping to get my own classroom next year!) but in my student teaching experience, I had trouble organizing my teacher bag! Kind of random, I know! I carted it around everywhere, and it was always a challenge to find things in.

  5. Hi, I love your blog! I'm not teaching yet (still in college), but I love your tip on organizing student supplies by table! I was thinking organizing them by student might be a good idea, but I think yours is much easier and takes up less space than having an individual bag/basket for each student.

  6. I follow your blog. I would LOVE to get rid of my teacher's desk....but I'm a little scared!

  7. I'm already a follower of your blog!

  8. I am coming up on my 3rd year of teaching and any new advice or tidbits would be helpful! I LOVE to use bins! I have also run into problems re: taking over a room and the teacher who was there leaving all of their stuff... it doubles your work load to go through their stuff! Thanks for the great tips!

  9. I follow! I don't have my own classroom yet (on the job hunt now!), so this would help me start out with better organizational habits!

  10. After ten years of teaching, I still could use this book.

  11. I never met a bin I didn't like. I am a follower.

  12. I struggle with purging. It seems like eventually I need it again.

  13. Amy: You've got great ideas that can really make a difference! I've already shared them with colleagues and, like Kim said earlier, you should write a book. Keep up the great work!


  14. Love this post amy - I can't believe it's nearly time to go back to school!

  15. Amy,

    I'm a follower of your blog and all your great ideas.

    I am trying some hanging file folders from Educational Insights or Scholastic. I plan to hang them on my cupboards and get rid of my bulky mailbox. I love the hanging files unit.

  16. I'm definitely a follower of your blog.

    And I struggle with organizing papers of any kind - kids' homework, worksheets, paperwork... it was on my goal sheet for every practicum block in teacher's college!

    One of my favourite organizational strategies is one that I learned from Mrs. Banton, my very own grade five teacher! Every Friday, we had a classroom cleaning time that lasted around half an hour. She taught us how to organize our desks. Chewed pencils were thrown out, good pencils were returned to the pencil jar, duotangs and notebooks were stacked neatly... this woman taught me how to organize my desk as a kid. And the kids who finished with our desks quickly helped stuff folders, return spelling tests, other tidying tasks - and the teacher spent that time organizing too - it was mandatory organizing time for everyone. I've done that with some of the classes I've worked with in my practicum blocks, and it definitely helps.

    And also - I colour code EVERYTHING.

  17. I'm a follower! I just moved to a new school and I am really struggling with organization right now! I just don't have the same "stuff" at my new school, and I can't seem to get it working right.

  18. I struggle most with organizing papers and books. Is it a good idea to level books by difficulty? Sort by genre?

    Overall organization actually. This will be my first year teaching so I can use all the help I can get!

  19. I liked Todd on facebook, and I already follow your blog!

    I struggle with incoming papers all year, but the end of the year is the worst!! Maybe because I have let it accumulate ALL year! :)

    I'm still trying to think of something I do well.....


  20. I follow your blog! I struggle with how to organize files and anything having to do with papers.

  21. I struggle with organizing my copies for the entire week.. I just can't quite figure out a system that works for me.

  22. Love your blog and follow faithfully. This year will be my "year of organization" - well, I do have high hopes of it being that!

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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