How-To Guide: Organize Files and Lessons
Some insights for messy teachers (have no shame).
Whether you are a first-year teacher or have been teaching for many years, organization is key if you want to efficiently maintain files and lessons for the years to come.
My first year was a disaster when it came to planning. I originally thought my organized mess of a brain would get me through the year.
Oh no… I might have survived my first year, but organized mess is just as bad as an unplanned mess in the teaching world.
Let’s learn how to be the less messy teacher. 😉
How to Organize Materials and Supplies
Organizing your materials and supplies does not have to turn into an extravagant DIY project unless that’s your aim. I personally love colors and aesthetics, but this won’t matter without:
Reinforce the expectations on how you and your students should take care of the supplies. This is pivotal if you would like your materials to be just as organized as it was from day one.
As was stated before, my first year was a mess when it came to organizing materials/supplies and maintenance. Things “accidentally” broke, were torn, as well as were written on. This year, these issues have dramatically decreased due to setting expectations. If you want your students to take care of classroom supplies, address and model the following:
- Where to find and get materials
- The appropriate time to retrieve materials
- How to handle materials
- How to put back materials
Use supply boxes and label the materials, so your students know where they go. You’d be surprised, but kids really like the order of being able to put scissors back in the labeled scissors box, and the colored pencils in the labeled colored pencil box. Whatever strategy you use, just stick with it. Show your kids that you personally invest in this system, and soon enough, they will invest in this system if they see it’s effective.
Here are suggestions on what to label:
- Colored Pencils
- Calculators (if you teach Math)
- Supply boxes for each table if you have grouped your students into teams
- Other materials of your choosing.
For small teaching materials like paper clips or binder rings, find yourself a storage box. You can find a multi-compartment storage box at Home Depot (home improvement type of stores) and Amazon.You can create labels and glue them on to colorful origami paper to give the storage box some color. Get as creative as you would like.
For your worksheets, print-outs, or supplemental materials, invest in a multi-tray organizer cart. Have each color represent a day in the week:
Monday- Green ; Tuesday – Red; Wednesday – Orange ; Thursday- Blue ; Friday – Purple
How To Organize Lessons
- Before creating a lesson, know which standards (lesson concepts you are required to teach/students are expected to master) are the most essential.
Example ELA standards: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/8/
- Always have your standard and objective posted somewhere in the room. Beyond appeasing administration, this habit personally helps your mind stay on track as well as serve as a reminder to your students about the end goal of the lesson.
- Think holistically when you plan (meaningfully incorporate your essential standards throughout the lesson). Focusing on one single standard is best used for intervention or if the standard is a completely new concept to the students.
How to Tier Your Lesson Through Questions
At the beginning of the year, do a poll/survey with your kids about their interests. In a perfect world, Sally Anne likes nature and Billy Bob enjoys stories that pushes him to think deeply. You may decide to use the story: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. But instead of focusing on just one standard such as finding the meaning of vocabulary words, go deeper. Ask questions such as:
- What is the main idea of the story? (summarize)
- What are the possible themes of the story? (identify)
- Analyze the word choice, vocabulary and dialogue. How do these elements shape the theme of the story? (analyze)
- How does this story relate to our lives? What are example stories and real-life events that deal with the same theme? (apply)
With just 4 questions, you hit a majority of the essential standards that you are required to teach your students. Granted, you may not get to all 4 questions within a 1-hour class period. Getting to analytical and application questions require more time and discussion for students to fully absorb information. However, tiering your questions will allow you to maintain depth and add meaning to your lesson in a logical, organized way.
If you’re stuck on how to organize the lesson:
- Make sure you research.
- Read the story and take notes — think about the four tiers of questioning: Make sure you are constantly creating questions in the process. Use these created questions for class discussion
- If you’re a fan of backwards design lesson planning: remember the objective of your lesson, and build an assessment from it first. Are you focusing on theme? Create an exit-ticket or test that would require your students to find and analyze the theme of another story. Pick a story that in some way relates to the topic you have been discussing in your lessons without it being identical. You can also create an assessment on a totally different topic if you want to give your students a challenge.
How To Organize Lesson Folders
If you do not want to buy a file cabinet or your classroom does not have one, a more economical alternative is to buy a plastic storage box or wooden crate.
There are different ways in which you can organize your files to aid for upcoming years.
I personally organize my lessons by topic (this is contradictory to holistic, but I’m working on it). This year, my goal is to switch to organizing these folders by theme.
Example File Folder Topics (to name a few) :
- Argumentative Writing
- Informative + Expository of Writing
- Standardized Test Prep
- Short Stories
- Traits of Writing
- Author’s Purpose
But sometimes the stack of accumulated lessons and folders can get overhwhelming. Another option to lessen stress: Google drive.
How To Organize It All On Google Drive
If your Google drive is bare, use your Gmail account or create a Gmail account just for teaching.
What’s nice about Google drive is that there is the option to compartmentalize the actual days, weeks, and months for your lesson.
To create a new folder, simply click “My Drive”, the dropdown arrow key, and the option to create a folder will pop up.
In each monthly folder, I create a Google presentation by day of the week (in total: 5 google presentations). I also create my student worksheets/activities via Google docs so that all of my materials are in one place.
To print your materials,save your Google Presentation or Google doc as a PDF file on a flash drive. This will allow you to easily print from a computer or printing device.
Life is Messy
Being organized doesn’t mean that every day will be perfect. For which it doesn’t have to be.
But without a doubt, providing structure for your students will allow them to feel safe and secure in the classroom environment. Your students’ willingness to think outside of the box will be primed in an environment where they know that structure will still be a constant when they get “messy” in the learning process.
Enjoy the messy process of learning. Keep the structure. 🙂