4 Classroom Organization Ideas That Really Work
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
My classroom isn’t going to win a “coordinated classroom” award. In fact, at various points during the school year, my classroom looks like a bomb — called-28-productive-kids — went off in it. (Check out this old post where I air my dirty, uh, classroom secrets.) This isn’t to say that I don’t try to have a decent looking classroom. But in my very busy teaching world, function always beats form — i.e. creating a new lesson that promotes critical thinking trumps classy, chevron displays. (I know there are plenty of super-teachers who manage both, but I guess I’m missing that gene.)
You may be wondering why this self-admitted messy teacher is writing a post on classroom organization. Well, here’s the deal. I’ve tried — and failed at — lots of classroom organization ideas. So, the tips I’m sharing here are pretty much guaranteed — if it can work in my classroom, it can work anywhere. And I always need organization advice, so share your tried and true tips as well, please!
Organization Idea 1: Let It All Hang Out (Where Everyone Can Find It)
The Idea: I try to create a classroom where anyone can walk in (a colleague, a student from another class, a substitute teacher) and find whatever they need on their own. Why this goal? Sure, I try to be hospitable, but honestly I get tired pointing people towards the scissors or interrupting a lesson to hand out tape. It also helps that classroom volunteers, student teachers, and subs can quickly find the “stuff” they need in my classroom even if I’m not there.
Organization Idea 2: Put Those Kids to Work
The Idea: With over 50 eager (and sometimes fidgety) young hands in my classroom, I put all of that human capital to work keeping our space neat. Some of my students are natural organizers, and they get the complicated jobs (e.g. filing student work, organizing new additions to our library, cleaning up files on our classroom computers). Other students take after me, and organization is an uphill struggle. Of course, organization is an important part of executive functioning, and worth teaching explicitly to untidy youngsters. At least, that’s the excuse I use for having them all pitch in! All of my organization schemes are totally child-friendly so that the students can maintain things on their own.
Organization Idea 3: Put Stuff Where It Will Be Used
The Idea: This one is “no-duh” simple, yet it took me a while to figure it out. I try to keep most of the everyday materials in my classroom within an arm’s reach of where those materials will be used. There’s an aesthetic cost to this — materials aren’t necessarily tucked away tidily — but the inherent logic of putting stuff right where it’s needed means that this stuff also gets put away immediately after use.
Organization Idea 4: Stash Storage Everywhere Possible
The Idea: Am I the only teacher who feels like she’s “outgrown” her classroom? With a classroom library of several thousand books (woo hoo!), materials for hands-on science and math lessons, laptops, iPads, oh, and a full roster of students, it really doesn’t feel like it can all fit! So, I try to eke out storage space from every bit of my classroom. (I’ve become quite creative with storage solutions for the tech stuff too.) For those ideas, check out my “Four Tips for Untangling (Power Cords and More!)”
I’ll trade you these organizational labels I’ve made for some foolproof classroom organization tips. (Just kidding, you can use these labels anyway. Although if you’re keeping a great idea to yourself, phooey!)
Okay, okay, I know this looks “pretty” and I made a big fuss earlier about my functionally “unpretty” classroom. So, caveat: I have time to linger over labels during the summer, and to pretend to be one of those teachers (sigh). Come September? I’m just looking for quick solutions that work!
Lots of Advice from the Experts
There are so many organizing gurus in my own school, whom I turn to when I need someone to help dig me out of my mess and lend a fresh pair of eyes. Of course, I also head here to Top Teaching when I need inspiration or guidance. I’m actually trying to stay away from Pinterest for this stuff — while the ideas are amazing, I quickly get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of creative classroom beauty living there, and it eats up hours at a time.
Fellow blogger Genia Connell has become my go-to source of practical advice and inspiration for pretty much everything. She only spends time on the stuff that is really worth it, which I totally appreciate. Her “Classroom Set Up: Three Hours and Done” movie is about as helpful as it gets.
Ronda Stewart gets down to brass tacks with her blog post “Middle School No Stress Classroom Setup,” also great for us elementary teachers. Thanks for reminding me to update my to-do lists, Ronda!
Meghan Everette wrote the magnum opus on organizing classroom “stuff," in my opinion, and she does it with a sense of humor that keeps it real. I’ve reread her blog post “Classroom Organization: Compulsively Creative Tips” several times now.
In her blog about “Designing Your Classroom Space,” Erin Klein shares tons of creative ideas for classroom set-up and organization that made me hit my forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?”
So, what are your classroom organization solutions? What has not worked for you, and how did you fix it? And does anyone please have a solution for the random letters and paperwork that collects on my counters? Share your ideas in the comments section below.