How To Help Students Start the Year Organized

If you are anything like me… you love the organization that comes with the start of a new school year.  New planners, new binders, shiny pens and pencils all start off the year in their rightful place.  However, it does not take long for the shininess to wear off and the disorganization to begin!  And it’s not just me.  Student binders, so neatly organized on the first day, quickly deteriorate into a chaotic mess.  The invention of the zippered binder has unfortunately also led to the birth of the “exploding binder”.  Papers, pens, hair ties, phones, rulers, candy bars and anything else you can think of get shoved into the mess and then zippered in… sometimes never to be seen again. "Exploding binder-itis" seems to have  hit a large number of my students so I have been working hard over the last few years to help students figure out how to stay on top of everything.  

I struggle with how much support to provide students as I don't want them to have to depend on me to do their organizing for them.  There's a fine line between enabling and and supporting.... and I know some students need more help than others!  Here are some easy ways to encourage your students to stay on track!
1. Organization Apps—Most of my students already have a powerful organization tool in their pockets! Their phones offer a wealth of organizational and reminder tools and apps. Programs like Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas, class websites and many more will also help students with stay on top of due dates and test days. is also a great tool to use to send students a text about important dates.

 2. Assignment Log—I like to give each student an Assignment Log copied on bright colored paper 
          (so that it’s easy to spot in their binders).   I keep a running log of assignments and due dates on one whiteboard in my classroom and I encourage students to do the same on their Assignment Log. I also find it helpful for my own lesson planning - I keep a copy of one for each of my classes in my teacher binder.  Not all of my students will use it, but those that do find it so helpful. It's also a great reference for the special education assistants who work in some of my classes. Be sure to grab a FREE copy of the assignment log HERE.

3. Monthly Calendar—As well as providing students with an Assignment Log, I create a monthly calendar and give out two months at a time.  So… my students will get a September / October calendar (photocopied back to back on bright paper) when we start school.  I include important school dates like professional days, term start/end dates, and schedule changes as well as holidays.   Not all of my students will take one, but the ones who do are thrilled and love adding in their own dates to personalize it.  There are many free calendars available online - this ONE is designed especially for school!

4. Student Check-In—I know it’s hard in a bustling classroom, but I try to check in with my students on a fairly regular basis.  Some students need more help keeping track of things than others and when I am circulating my room I like to make sure some of my more disorganized ones are on track.  I've even offered to help students organize their exploding binders at lunch or after school and it's surprising how many have agreed to my help!

5. File Folders— All of my students have a file folder for our current unit of study—it’s made such a difference in my classroom!  It's an easy way to keep track of paper, reduce the number of lost assignments and encourage student pride in their work.  We also use their file folders as a handy reference for reminders about key ideas we cover in class. Read more about how I use file folders HERE.

        6. Literary Terms Dictionary—One of the things I hand out in the first few weeks of school is my Literary Terms Dictionary. As students refer to it throughout the year, it is the first thing in their binders (or in their writing folders) so that it’s easy to access.  The “dictionary” allows students to keep track of important literary terms that we touch on throughout the year.  Having all of the terms in one place has been invaluable when it comes to helping them prepare for their final exam. Learn more about it HERE.

 We'd love to hear how you help students stay organized throughout the year!

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