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100 Classroom Organizing Tricks

What’s the secret to avoiding art messes? How can you make your room orderly without emptying out Office Depot? Here are 100 teacher tips for creating a beautiful, organized, and efficient environment, from no-mess glitter shakers to one-minute dance party transitions. What could be better?

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

New Uses for Old Things

1. Empty Tissue Box
You always need plastic bags for sending home art projects and wet clothes. Tame that unruly mess that seemingly multiplies under your desk with an empty tissue box to keep bags corralled and ready for use.

2. Post-it Notes
Are the keyboards in your classroom  frighteningly grimy? Run the sticky side of a Post-it between the keys to pick up crumbs and dust. Then finish up with slightly dampened cotton swabs.

3. Address Stickers
Brand anything as yours — classroom library books, rulers, staplers — with a return-address sticker, and they just may stick around.

4. Mittens
Put off-duty mittens to work as scissor guards.  One classroom we saw had a clothesline of mittens to store scissors, dry-erase markers, and extra pencils. So cute!

5. Six-Pack Carton
Transform a six-pack soda carton into a supply tote that's perfect for storing items for group work, tools for outside science exploration, or art supplies for each table of four or six students. Refreshingly simple. 

 

Terrific Timesavers

6. Download It!
From parent letters to IEP progress reports to "No Homework!" reward coupons, you can find dozens of free downloadable templates in the "Forms and Letters" area of teachertools.org. Better yet, each form can be customized for your needs.

7. Number Line
Assign each of your students a number. Then have them write their name and number on every paper. It makes assignments easy to keep track of and grades quick to enter. –Marilyn Ruzick

8. Label Everything
Place labels and photos on shelves and containers. It will make cleanup quicker and you won't have to field a thousand questions a day about where things go!

9. Velcro Your Walls
I use Velcro dots to attach posters to the walls. I attach the Velcro in the same spots on every poster (six inches from the center on both sides). This makes changing posters fast and easy — and I do it far more often. –Doranne Koval 

10. Copy That List!
Make 50 copies of your class list at the beginning of the year. They will be useful for so many things — quick classroom games, a reference for substitutes, notes on behavior during an assembly, or field trip checklists.

11. Traffic Patterns
To start the year, I tape down paper footprints on the floor to teach the traffic flow I want in my classroom. It reduces conflict and saves minutes of learning time every single day. –Shannon McGovern

 

Ingenious Organizing Tools

12-21
You might be surprised at the "free" organizing tools you can find in your attic, basement, or at least at a neighbor's garage sale.

  • Vases
  • Baskets
  • Tackle boxes
  • Silverware trays
  • Muffin tins
  • Oatmeal canisters
  • Photo boxes
  • Cookie jars
  • Old suitcases
  • Metal lunchboxes

 

Rethink Your Room

22. Instant Math Center
So you don't have the cash for Cuisenaire rods and other math tools, but you do have kitchen cabinets. Pantry staples like pasta shells and lima beans are perfect for hands-on math work and patterning.

23. Reflections
Is your room gloomy? Hanging mirrors or even reflective wrapping paper opposite the windows can really brighten things up! –Frankie Frasure

24. Shower Gallery Space
Have an ugly wall? Hang a couple of sheets of shower paneling from a home store and let the kids write or draw! Invite the kids to be creative on a theme you are studying in class, whether it's oceans or Pilgrims. –Christina Vrba

25. Hide It Away
Ugly storage area? Hit the fabric store and look for a bright fabric or remnant. Use safety pins to hang kids' work or to make it into a word wall. –Robin Shaw

26. Color Your World
Every interior designer knows the quickest (and the cheapest) way to overhaul a room is a can of paint. You could ask parents or teens to volunteer to help! –Peggy Collrin

27. That Holiday Glow
I repurposed extra Christmas tree lights by running them along the window sill and around the bookcases in my classroom. I don't light them all the time, but it's always a pick-me-up for the kids when I do! –Mary Jo Pick

 

Just for Fun

28. Quack the Days
I have a huge collection of rubber ducks we use to count the days of the school year. We remove one from the windowsill each day. They add color and some fun to my classroom. –Stacey Telgren

 

A More Peaceful Classroom

29. Soften the Lights
I like to find extra floor and table lamps at junk shops and turn off the overhead fluorescents. It makes my classroom more homey and reduces stress. –Amy Hoand

30. Reduce Clutter
Weed out all unnecessary clutter. Use crates and baskets for those things you want out of sight but handy when needed.

31. Bring Nature Inside
Plants (whether a real indoor garden or silk palms and ferns) add that soothing touch of green. And they're a boon for science study!

32. Collect It
Simple nature collections (stones, shells, pinecones, rocks) engage kids' curiosity and can be inspiration for writing, math, and art.

33. Listen Up
I often play classical music, jazz, and nature recordings in my classroom. We listen to the ocean while we do math, or the cello during reading. –Sarah Kal

34. Lower Your Voice
Sometimes the best way to get and keep kids' attention is to say less and say it very quietly. You set the tone.

 

Free (or Almost Free) Supplies

35-37
Too many teachers spend their own hard-earned cash to outfit their rooms. Here are a few websites you can count on.

  • Freecycle.org: A nonprofit site where you can give (and get) stuff free in your own town. Great for kids' books, extra furniture, even a DVD player. Be sure to let people know you are a teacher!
  • Donorschoose.org: A well-respected organization connects donors with classrooms in need. Any teacher can sign up!
  • Paperbackswap.com: Refresh your library with this book swap site. Give away books that aren't working for ones that will!

 

Tame That Paperwork

38. Paper Keeper
An empty wine bottle carton wrapped in a recycled map makes a perfect mailbox.

39. Start at the End
I have a calendar for the entire year. I take notes on major themes, brainstorm books, then I break down each book into themes and skills. I count the days and work backwards to fit it all in. –Diana Kennedy

40. In and Out Boxes
On a bookshelf by the door of my middle school classroom, I have six sets of In and Out boxes. They are arranged in pairs and labeled by period. Kids turn their work in to the top bin and pick it up from the bottom bin. It keeps the clutter off my desk! –Miranda Wicker

 

Keep Tech Organized

41. Tangles of Wires
Slip wires through two or more empty paper towel tubes to contain them. For an even better look, have kids cover them with colored paper first.

42. Junior IT Help
Assign some tasks to students. They can position equipment, connect the projection device, log in, open the browser, and you're ready to go!

43. Share the Computer Space
Create groups of three students: keyboard operator, mouse operator, and director/recorder. In a crowded area, the director/recorder student can stand behind the other two and give the directions. Rotate roles every 5-7 minutes.


Manage Volunteers

44-53
Having volunteers in your classroom is a great gift, but it's also a lot of work. Here are some quick tips:

  • Be clear about needs
  • Set boundaries
  • Give clear directions
  • Respect their time
  • Schedule in advance
  • Make room for dads
  • Give praise
  • Vary the opportunities
  • Use parents' talents
  • Have kids say thanks!

 

Art Is Messy, So Is Life

54. Tempera
Sure it's washable, but it's still hard to remove from carpets. If you have a spill, first let it dry. Scrape away any loose paint. Next, use a clean cloth to blot the stain with white vinegar. The dye should begin to transfer to the cloth.

55. Instant Art Centers
Have some extra cookie sheets? If not, ask your friends. Nothing is better for keeping cut-and-paste projects contained. The edges keep all those scraps of paper on the tray instead of on the floor. –Amanda Freeman

56. Bingo!
Kids love to paint, but brushes can be hard to control for small hands and the cleanup is extensive. Use bingo stamp bottles filled with liquid watercolor and cleaning is a breeze.

57. Too Much Art
So much artwork, so little wall space. When kids' work piles up, take photographs of their masterpieces and post them on your website, or make them into an inexpensive photo book. (Try shutterfly.com or snapfish.com.)

58. Glitter
Transfer the sparkly stuff into recycled salt and pepper shakers. (Little hands find them easier to control!)

59. Save the Brushes
Extend the life of your brushes by putting them away clean and dry. Have students wash brushes with soap and water and then stand them to dry in jars filled with popcorn or lentils. The jars will catch any drops.

 

Fight Germs

60-68
A five-minute daily clean routine can help keep the germs at bay and your classroom gleaming. Have your helpers of the day use disinfectant wipes to scrub down these hot spots:

  • Desktops
  • Countertops
  • Light switches
  • Doorknobs
  • Keyboards
  • Cabinet handles
  • Drawer pulls
  • Faucets
  • Water fountains

 

Online Organization Tools

69. RemembertheMilk.com: This free personal organization tool works online and with mobile phones.

70. 43things.com: You enter a list of goals you want to accomplish and other users can "cheer" you on.

71. Class Messenger: This free service, powered by Scholastic, instantly connects you with parents, individually or all at once. You can send important notes, post requests, share photos, and track parent responses in one place without clogging your email.

72. Docs.google.com: Google Docs let you share work online and access your documents from anywhere.

73. Mommytracked.com: Dozens of downloadable forms for work and home.


Keep Transitions Fun

74. Ring, Ring
Sounding a small bell or chime brings my class to order much more effectively than me trying to talk over the noise. –Melissa Valencia

75. Time for Talk
I let my first graders have quick "chat breaks" of a minute or two. When it is time to get back to work I count down slowly from five. –Suzanne Gerczynski

76. Attention, Please
I use wooden castanets, a New Year's horn, or a wooden train whistle. They enjoy the surprise! –Ann Trastevere

77. Brain Break
Between activities, have kids take turns acting out a fun or silly thing (e.g., catch and reel in a fish, hit a home run and then cheer for yourself). –Jordan Anderson

78. Downward Dog
If our lesson is longer than 30 minutes, we take a quick yoga break: strike a pose and do some breathing to get the blood circulating. –Heather Burch

79. Dance Party
After a period of intense focus, I transition with a One-Minute Dance Party. We play fast dance music. They know at the end of the minute they need to be ready to do what's next. –Nancy Hodges Barlow

80. Sign It!
I teach my kids the sign language alphabet! If we have to wait outside the music or library room door, we can silently practice our spelling words using the ASL alphabet. Erin Harper


Make Lesson Planning Easy

81. Break it Up
I break my lesson plans into half-hour chunks to make sure we use every minute. –Kathie Gilbert

82. Standards First
Start with what you'll be testing (the standard), then plan how the students will demonstrate it. From there, plan how and what you'll teach them. –Jolene Wagner

83. Sticky Notes
I write my schedule and lesson plan ideas on Post-it notes because nothing goes exactly as planned. This way I can move things around. –Sara Griffin

84. Style Code
I place a letter (A=Auditory, V=Visual, K=Kinesthetic) by each lesson plan idea to keep track of learning styles. –Elena Beehler

85. Math on Monday
Try to plan one subject's lessons for the next week each day. On Tuesdays, plan social studies, etc.

 

Keep Kids on Track

86. Picture It
I write the daily schedule on the board with picture cues. –Laurel L. Wodrich

87. Kitchen Timer
Multipurpose tool of the gods. Use it for transitions, group time, journaling, cleanup time.

88. Tell Kids What They Should Do
Rather than telling them what they should not do, this simple twist on how to give directions may revolutionize how you communicate with your students.

89. Teach Study Skills
Never assume kids know how to study. Teach them how to review a chapter.

90. Morning Mail
Set two trays near your desk, one for money (lunch, book orders) and one for parent notes. Check them quickly during morning work.

 

Organize Your Library

91. Student Librarians
Every year, I have my first graders sort our books according to the categories that they think are important. They always know what books we have. –Jamie Chaffee

92. Library Cards
When students borrow a book, have them write the name of the book on an index card and place it in a pocket chart. Later they can write about the book on the back on the card.

93. Market Your Books
Use bookstore tricks! Front-face books you'd like them to read and try themed display tables.

94. Easy Book Return
Label clothespins with each child's name. When they borrow a book, have them clip their clothespin to the basket.

95. Book Care 101
Teach children how to care for books, use bookmarks, and repair books when needed.

96. Match Up
Place stickers (yellow stars, blue circles) on your baskets and the books inside and they'll be easy to return to the right place.

 

Parent Communication

97. Student Information Sheets
I send home student information forms the first week. On the back of the sheet is a contact log I use all year long. –Kechia Williams

98. E-mail Newsletter
A weekly e-mail that explains what's going on in class keeps parents in the know.

99. Positive Calls
I schedule the time for five positive calls home per week. –Kechia Williams

100. Family Projects
I do family projects each month — quilt squares, collecting food for a food bank, etc. The children love having their parents involved! Diane Gold

  • Subjects:
    Professional Development
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