Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Back to School: Classroom Organization FAQ

Well, it's that time of year again... Back to School!  (Teachers in our area go back one week from yesterday. Lucky me, I still have about EIGHT weeks at home with my baby boy...  We still aren't sleeping, so contain your jealousy!) 

A while back, I wrote a post on Classroom Organization that has received a lot of feedback from you all.  I am certainly NOT an expert in this field (trust me, I have my days) but, I learned early on that everyone benefits from a neater, more organized classroom. So, in an effort to help you start your school year off on the right foot (and, honestly, make my life easier when it comes to replying to emails), I thought I'd answer your questions about some of my strategies here.

*Note* This probably won't make a lot of sense without the context from my first post.  You can read it here.

Here we go...

Can you elaborate on your "Yellow Sheet" policy for missing work? 
Do you have a PDF version?

This is, by far, the most popular idea I've shared... Thanks to all your emails and comments on this idea, students all over the world will be doing the "walk of shame" when they miss an assignment this year, and we are one step closer to eradicating the "Missing Work" epidemic sweeping America's schools.  (Ha!)   

Here's how it works...

On a due date, if a student does not have his/her assignment, he/she must fill out one of these yellow sheets and turn it in in place of said assignment.  I call this the "walk of shame" to retrieve the yellow sheet.  Once it is filled out and turned in, I keep it in the stack of assignments that I collected. When a student finally turns the assignment in, I use it to record the actual date it was received and the number of points deducted.  (Our school policy is 10% per day.)  Then, I detach the bottom portion of the sheet to staple to their assignment and keep the top portion for my records.  If the assignment never comes in, a zero is recorded in the grade book and the yellow sheet gets filed. These work GREAT on parent teacher conference day and help to keep me fair.

And, I am proud to post this link to a PDF. You can also click on the JPEG image below to open the full-page version and print. (I'm getting so tech-savy these days!)  Eat your hearts out teacher-dorks. ;)

How do you handle attendance and make-up work?

I keep an accordion file in the front of the room with a tab for each class period.  (Mine is RealSimple from Target.) If a student is absent when I hand-out any type of assignment, I simply put his/her name on the top of it and file it behind the correct class period.  I also keep a clipboard in the front of the room where I take attendance each day; there is a column next to each student's name where I can write down any work that needs to be made-up. (Attendance is done electronically, but I don't always have time to pull it up on my computer etc.  I simply record here and then transfer to the computer system at the end of the week.) Then, at the start of each class period (every day), I check both of these places to make sure that students get their missed work and the work gets made up.  It works like a charm!
What are the signs on the back wall of your classroom?

These are 25 Literary Terms that I think are important for my students to know.  (Example: Plot, Conflict, Setting, etc. etc. etc.) I introduce these at the very beginning of the school year, and we use them to discuss literature for the next ten months.  To make them, I simply typed each word in a large, fun font in Word, printed them out, and took them to Staples to have them copied onto colorful paper and laminated (Staples lamination is not cheap- but it looks A LOT better than what they do at the school for free... And, in my opinion, it's worth it if you are going to use these a lot.  This will be my fourth year with this set.) I am lucky because I have a bulletin board strip across the back wall, so I just tack them up... But, be creative with your display!

How do you manage the classroom couch?  What are the "rules"?  How do you keep it fair? 

I wish I had something good to share about this... But, honestly, my students handle the sofa pretty well.  The rule is, no one is allowed to be sitting on it when the bell rings to start class (we have a minute "warning bell" so that helps).  If you are - you are tardy!  NO ONE sits there during instruction time - with very little exceptions, although sometimes I will use that as a "reward" for winning a game etc. After that, whenever we have group assignments, silent reading, etc. it is first come first serve. Nothing fancy.  Only three people allowed at a time.  No laying down.  Usually, this works out pretty well, and I don't have to worry about it.  There are always a few people each period who seem to be there all the time, but honestly the other kids don't seem to mind. 

I will admit that some teachers look at the couch as "unprofessional," and every once in a while I have to stop a couple from canoodling on it or whatever; but, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.  I always have groups of kids in my room before school and between classes - which I really like. because it allows me to build relationships and really get to know my students.  I also think it creates a positive environment for learning instead of something cold and uninviting.  Just my opinion.
Do you have any tips for traveling/portable teachers?

Sorry I don't have any pictures for this one.  It has been a couple of years since I traveled from room to room on a cart; and, I'll admit that it would be HARD to go back now.  But, it was probably one of the best things for me my first two years teaching because it forced me to be organized.  (My first year I had three preps in six different classes!) Here are a few tips I thought of:

1. Invest in some good binders - one for each prep - where you keep your lesson plans and all hand-outs etc. for a unit.

2. I organize EVERYTHING by class period.  You can't have too many accordion or hanging files in my opinion.  One year I also had everything color coded by period with a folder for each class where I placed papers-to-be-handed-out on one side and papers-to-be-graded on the other.

3.  Label label label.  I keep Staples in business with the sheer number of sticky labels I purchase and print at the beginning of the school year.  Everything has my name and a description stuck to it.

4. Organize classroom supplies in those little plastic stackable things.  That way, you always have what you need in each classroom and everyone knows where everything goes.  I had one for pens and pencils, markers, scissors, glue, colored paper, white paper, lined paper, you name it. 

5. For the love, be neat!  Don't mess up another teacher's classroom, and take 2 minutes at the end of each class period to straighten up your stuff.  It's polite, and it will keep you sane.  (Teach your students to help you with this from DAY ONE.)

6. Try to embrace cart living.  You do save money on classroom decor, have less to clean up at the end of each day, etc. etc.  (Oh, and it helps if you suck up to another teacher and get her to let you put a desk in their room --- at least that way YOU have a home base.)

There are a few pictures and more descriptions of some of these things in my original post.  FYI.

Ok, I hope this was helpful for someone. Sorry it was so long - you know me.  Now, it's back to my current full-time job as a mom where I have thrown all organization to the wind.  Haha! 

Here's to a wonderful school year for all you teachers out there!


  1. I'm not a teacher BUT I am a new mom and I LOVE your blog. I've been following since before you got pregnant. How's the weightloss? I gained like 55 and still have at least 15 more to go at 8 weeks out. UGH!!


  2. I am a student teacher and I love your organization tips! I actually found one of those hanging file totes and can't wait to use it! Thanks for posting these tips and congratulations on your new baby!

  3. As a former cart teacher, AMEN to the labels and the bidners! Here are some other tips that kept me sane while moving from room to room:
    1. Have a good relationship with your host teachers. Be respectful of their space. It sucks to be on a cart, and it sucks to not have an open space during your prep.
    2. Teach procedures! This is important for all teachers, but critical for those on a cart. One example is know how and where you want papers turned in. I had a color coded folder for each class that I would put out in the same place each class, and take with me when I left.
    3. Establish your cart as an off limits zone from students. This was essential for me since I teach middle school and they touch things. A lot.

    I just found your blog through your 30 before 30. I'm a new blogger, feel free to stop on over :)


  4. I love your yellow sheet. However, in order to get it from Scribd, it cost $5. Do you get any of that? I use Teachers Pay Teachers, instead.
    Pam Morganelli

  5. I LOVE the missing assignment sheet! I tried something similar last year, but it didn't work out - I'm going to try this instead - I think it's a much better system. Thank you for sharing! I gave you a shout out on my (very new) blog today sharing it there as well.



  6. I just moved from 5th to 8th, thanks for secondary ideas and reality check, if it looks like a disaster friday afternoon, so will it Monday morning!

  7. did you know this site is linked to a pin on pintrest? i read your blog regularly && when i was on pintrest one of my other teacher friends pinned this. small world!

  8. I found you on Pinterest as well. I am returning to teaching after 12 years. My first teaching position nearly killed me with 6 preps/6 classes and jr. High cheerleading coach plus sponsorships and otherduties! I teach senior English now and loving it. Thanks for the organization tips! I willdefinitely be usingmany ofthem. I wish I had known about your blog sooner!

  9. Where do you file the yellow sheets until they turn them in? I love the idea, but need to figure out what to do with them so I don't lose them.

  10. I just found your blog via pinterest. I'm about to be a first year teacher, I just graduated and signed a contract! So I am loving your blog and all your tips! I think I will definitely be using that yellow sheet!!


Your comments are what makes this thing fun! I LOVE to hear from you and do my best to respond to everyone! THANK YOU!

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