Forget casual Fridays or free coffee in the teachers' lounge - If my principal really loved me, she'd send in an elementary classroom organization guru to come transform my space. You know, like a Marie Kondro for teachers!
But alas, this will never happen. It's up to me to handle my own mess. Luckily, after 15+ years of teaching, I've figured out a few tricks to keep an organized classroom... most of the time.
Classroom Organization Ideas
Here are some classroom storage ideas and easy tips that you can start using right now to get your space under control:
Organizing & storing school supplies
Are you short on closet space? Well let me share one of my favorite storage solutions for school supplies: an over-the-door shoe organizer! Just hang it on a door to give yourself a ton of extra storage with easy access. If there's no door to use, get a few Command hooks and hang it on a wall.
These things hold so much and the clear pockets make it easy to find what you're looking for. Glue sticks, scissors, boxes of paper clips, math manipulatives, any type of supplies - it can all be hung up!
Card Game STorage
I love using games in my classroom! But one thing I hate is how quickly the little cardboard boxes for card games get destroyed. Then you end up with cards falling out all over the place.
A great idea to prevent this is to pop each deck of cards in its own little plastic case. Soap holder boxes work perfectly for this and you can get them at your local dollar store or Walmart (currently 97¢ at mine). Your card games will last so much longer and you can store them neatly stacked on top of one another. I suggest getting the clear boxes so you can see what's inside and don't need to label them.
storing plastic bags
There's one thing I never have enough of in my classroom: plastic grocery bags. Kid forgets his backpack - put his stuff in a plastic bag. Leaky lunchbox - plastic bag. A pile of books to send to the library - plastic bags. But a pile of bags can get messy fast!
A great way to keep them neatly contained is an empty tissue box. A surprisingly large number of bags will fit inside and the hole is just the right size to pull out one bag at a time.
Organizing your binders
If you're like me, you have a few binders that you use on a daily basis. Things like lesson plans, progress monitoring, parent information, and other important papers need to be right at your fingertips. The problem with binders is that they don't fit nicely together on a bookshelf and the spine label is always sideways (and hard to read). So instead of a bookshelf, why not keep them on stackable paper trays? You can keep them close by, right on your desk, and when you pull one out, the rest don't fall down.
Anchor chart storage
There are so many different ways to store anchor charts. One of the best ideas I've seen is to save the plastic hangers with clips that you often get with a new pair of pants or a skirt. Instead of leaving them at the store, keep them to use as anchor chart hangers. The clips won't damage the paper and you can hang a bunch of them in a small space.
Managing Classroom Materials
Sometimes there's a better way to get things done in the classroom. Here are some great ideas for handling specific procedures and materials...
Tablet charging station
If you don't have a dedicated space for charging your tablets, you can quickly end up with a mess of cords. The paper trays I mentioned earlier make a great charging station!
A tablet will fit perfectly on each tray and the cords can hang through the back where they stay plugged in.
Keep Track of Dice
As I mentioned, I love using games in the classroom. But games sometimes comes with little pieces that can get lost, especially dice. There's an easy solution.
All you need are a few clear, mini plastic containers (condiment size). Pop a couple of dice inside each one and put them in with the game. The dice won't get lost and as an added bonus - students can roll the dice just by shaking the container and looking through the clear plastic. No more rolling (i.e. throwing) the dice across the table or room. I also like to keep a supply of these "dice boxes" in with my math centers.
Using & storing Task Cards
Possibly my favorite organization hack is a way to store and use task cards that I came up with a few years ago. I had tried so many different things that just weren't working (read about them here). Cards still got lost or bent and kids would still write on them when they weren't supposed to.
Then one day, I was standing in my kitchen flipping through a photo album full of recipe cards when I realized - Hey, this is the perfect solution for my task cards!
Mini photo albums usually have 24-30 pages which is more then enough for a set of task cards. Just slide a card into each sleeve and now you
have a portable book of task cards. Students can just grab a set and work through them one page at a time. The best part is that the cards never get lost or dirty and the albums are so easy to store in a little basket or crate.
easy White board erasers
One thing that drives me CRAZY is when my students use their bare hands or shirt sleeves to erase their white boards!
But last year I discovered a way to stop that... face masks. You know all those cloth masks we got for Covid? You probably have tons of them sitting around at school, right? Well, they make the perfect white board erasers/shirt protectors. The kids can just slide their arm through the ear loops and wear the mask on their forearm to erase with as needed. No more black marks all over their hands and clothes!
save paper with page protectors
Teachers spend of lot of time working with small groups. Instead of making 20 copies of the worksheet or graphic organizer you're using, get out some plastic page protectors. You can slide the paper right inside and have students write with dry erase markers. When they're finished, erase and reuse with your next group. It's the perfect way to save on precious copy paper and they are way cheaper than the dry erase sleeves sold on teacher supply websites.
managing brag tags
Do you use brag tags for classroom management? I love them, but it took me awhile to figure out the best way to store and manage them. The easiest and most effective system I found is to use the clear baseball card page protectors. They were a game changer for me! You can see how I use them in this blog post: The Easiest Brag Tag System EVER
Managing student work
Pocket charts are great for so many things - especially unfinished student work! Kids just love to shove any piece of paper as far back into their messy desk as they can - never to be seen again. Then when you ask, "Hey, where's your animal report that was due yesterday?" - they have no idea.
A pocket chart labeled with student names is an effective way to solve that problem! If my class is working on an assignment and we run out of time, the unfinished work goes into their pockets on the chart. I can easily see who has work to do at any given time and the assignments never get lost. If there are absent students, the missed work goes into their pockets too.
handling parent communication
Parents often need to send important things to school like book fair money, permission slips, or doctor's notes. But sometimes they get lost on the way. You can prevent that from happening with zippered pencil pouches. If your students have take-home folders or binders, put a pencil pouch inside for important items. I always let my parents know that if they need to send me a note, money, or any other important item, it should go into the "Parent Pouch" so I don't miss it. It's a great system!
Other Helpful Tricks
Here are a few more good ideas for the classroom that aren't exactly organization tips but will still make your teacher life easier:
saving paint or glue
Here's a tip from my kitchen that also works at school for liquids like glue or paint. Sometimes you pour out more paint or glue than your students end up using and you don't want to just throw it away, right? But getting it back into the bottle is a nightmare.
Try using a zip-loc bag instead. The trick is to place the bag in a cup or glass and fold it over the top edges. Now you can easily pour your liquid in without spilling. Then, just zip it up.
The next time your students need paint, just take the bag out, set it in a cut, and unzip. They can dip their brushes right in. (This is also a great way to dispose of cooking oil at home! Just make sure you let it cool a bit first so the bag doesn't melt and then toss it in the trash.)
Stop the glare
Have you ever laminated something to hang on your bulletin board or wall only to discover that the glare makes it difficult to read? There's actually a simple fix - matte clear spray paint.
All you have to do is lay your laminated items on a protected surface (an old sheet or some newspaper works great) and give them a quick spray. When it dries, your posters will look just the same but without all the shine and glare. So easy!
Be prepared for new students
You know all the important things you have to pass out on the first day of school - forms, student handbook, school calendar, grade level info, all of that stuff? It's a good idea to make up a few extra sets for any new students that enroll later in the year. Just set a few "new student folders" aside and when a new child arrives, you'll have everything ready to go. It's a little bit of extra work now that will save you a ton of time later.
DIY Bag Clips
Chip Clips were a great invention but you don't need to buy them for your classroom. Those plastic hangers with clips I mentioned earlier can be used for more than just anchor charts. Cut the clip part off and repurpose them to seal up open bags of snacks.
DIY air freshener
One of the little things about being a teacher that no one really talks about... smelly kids. It's true, right? They get sweaty at recess, they come back from lunch smelling like the cafeteria, they stink up the bathroom, and those 5th graders don't always realize when it's time to start using deodorant. Whew!
But a lot of schools have banned air fresheners because of allergies. (I, myself, can't tolerate cinnamon-based scents. They trigger a migraine.) Luckily, there are some effective, natural ways to freshen up your room.
Vinegar - Put some in a spray bottle and spritz it around the room and on the carpet. You can also just set out a dish of vinegar overnight absorb odors
Coffee beans - A bowl of coffee beans will help absorb odors too and it also gives your room a pleasant Eau de Starbucks scent
Baking soda - Put 1 tbsp of baking soda in a spray bottle with a few drops of essential oil (peppermint is a good choice). Fill with water and mix for an effective air freshener spray.
Whether you're a new teacher or an old pro, I hope this list of my best classroom organization ideas has given you some new things to try in the upcoming school year.
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