Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Great Organizational Project: storing binders, breakouts, and more

I think that organizing your materials is super, super important. My Great Organizational Project that
I undertook after my first year of teaching was the single best thing I did all year. It has saved me so much time and continues to do so.

There are a lot of folks who write about organizing their stuff in the classroom.  Martina Bex and Angela Watson both really helped me figure this out for myself. But remember- before teaching, I was an opera stage manager, and an exceptionally organized one!
Why I organize my stuff:

  • I mostly teach with a particular curriculum (SOMOS) 
  • I want to spend as little time looking for things or prepping as possible. 
  •  I want to be able to grab what I need (e.g. I have a great follow up reading that talks about that thing that came up in class, or I have a song activity that I found on the interwebs that is perfect for tomorrow because this kid sang it today, etc.) quickly.
  • I want a place to collect things that I find from the internet.
  • I want a place to keep notes about what did and did not work.
  • I want a system to collect reflections.  

Things to consider when thinking about your own organizational system:

  • As you are planning (if you do such a thing), how do you think about your units/strucutures/whatever? Do you group them in your head? This is important for consistency.
  • If you are totally non-targeted, you probably still use movietalks and other digital resources, and you would probably benefit from organizing them.
  • How would you like to keep track of ideas that you find on the interwebs? 
  • How would you like to keep track of homerun activities and stories? How are you going to collect your reflections?  
I decide what to call things FIRST.  My units are called Unit1-Dice, Unit 2-Camina o corre, after the unit titles the curriculum designer gave them.  Everywhere that I have materials they are called the same thing.  It is HUGELY important.  

Materials that I use for paper organization:

  • small lidded boxes (from IKEA) that are big enough to put file folders in
  • binders 
  • page protectors
  • vertical file folders and file holder
  • large zip lock bags
  • Paper copies of the basic outline of activities to write and reflect on.  

In a binder:
Each unit is divided by a labelled, tabbed divider with a pocket.  
Each unit has:  
  • The basic outline of what I am going to do.  Here is an example.  (Feel free to make a copy and use it).  Note that it has a LOT of space to write notes on.  
  • All the handouts that I am going to give to the students for me to have on hand.
  • Directions or explanations for games and activities as needed. 
  • In a page protector (I like the ones that take 25 sheets at a time), all the master copies: things that I want to copy and pass out.  This may be readings, song activities, assessments, etc.
  • A post it note (if I think I need it) to remind me of where I put the manipulatives.  
  • I make a (very, very simple) cover and vertical title to go on the vertical binder edge.  I use the exact same name.  I also made an index. Yes, this took time, BUT the payoff is that I truly know where things are supposed to go.  
Binder cover
Index in a page protector at front

In the vertical file folders  

  • Input based games that involves manipulatives.
    • I make a file folder for each game and call it [Unit name +game name], e.g. "8-Chain reaction".
    • I usually make games and put each set in an envelope or small zip-lock with a label, and then put those in the file.  

In lidded boxes: Novel units 
I found that I needed to do something different for novels because I had a lot more going on for novels, and they usually needed more space than a binder.  This is where large zip-lock bags come in.  I also use lidded boxes for my breakouts.  More about that later.

Lidded boxes from IKEA, with labels
  • Novel sets if they fit.
  • All the manipulatives, by chapter.  Sometimes these are just clipped together by binder clip with a post-it note (but each game set says "Esperanza, cap. 7, timeline" or whatever it is) and sometimes I will keep stuff in a large zip lock.  My naming protocol for novels is [title, chapter, activity name].  
  • If there are special props that I don't want in the general prop box, I put them in the lidded box as well.  For instance, I have a three little pigs unit and those costumes are *NOT* in the general use box because I hand made the wolf costume.  
  • I still have a binder with paper and plans, kept with all my other binders. 

In lidded boxes: Input based stations
If I am going to take the time to create input based stations, which are hard to prep, I want to make sure they are grab-and-go.  I keep stations in large zip lock bags with all the paperwork.
  • Masters for copies that need to be made, in page protectors,
  •  Folders with station materials in each.  

In lidded boxes: Breakouts and Breakout supplies
It took me a while to figure out how to store breakout supplies.  This is what I finally came up with.  Note: When I do breakouts, I create enough materials for teams of kids to compete, so I need 4-6 copies of all the materials, plus pens, tracking sheets, etc. for each team.  This is how I decided to organize it:

  • Large zip lock with small baggies of team supplies: UV light pen and hint cards
  • Large ziplock with envelopes for disposable team supplies: stickers or tickets, tracking sheets, scrap paper
  • Strong bag with locks, ring binders with combos for every lock, divided by breakout, and extra keys.  
  • Extra large zip locks with game folders, labeled by game.
  • Plastic folder with master copies of team tracking sheet, teacher forms, etc., my uv pen
  • Page protector with all combos, all lock directions.
  • I keep the locks inside the box, with a tag of the CURRENT combination.  

Notebooks in Evernote 
You can read more here about how I deal with electronic files.  If you don't want to do so, here is the TL:DR.
  • Dropbox folders: electronic copies of everything  in folders with the same name as I used for the binders, including downloaded videos from youtube.
  •  An evernote notebook to keep track of things that I find around the interwebs that might connect, even loosely (the tag function in evernote is amazing), 
  • Youtube playlist for video resources- all with the same name. 
  • iTunes playlist for "Class songs" by class AND a Master Class songs playlist.  
  • I have not taken the time to be super organized about google drive, because if I find something I love there, I just download it (in a perfect world) and save it to my dropbox.  

  • General games (mafia, circumlocution, etc.)
  • Forms that I use all the time (freewrite form, password collector, missing work form, absent student tracking, etc.)
  • Beginning of the year: Things that I only use during the first weeks of school, like my syllabus, my cuaderno set up instructions, form for parents, personal inventory, etc.  
  • TPRS activities that can be used for any story or text. (these are mostly just electronically stored in my dropbox)

    If you use a mac, look up how to use TAGS.  

  • Frequently displayed: Things that I show often or always have a "frequently displayed" tag in my finder (macbook).  This may be directions for an activity that we do all the time or visuals for a favorite brain break, etc.  (electronic only)
  • Signs and labels (electronic only)
  • printouts for FVR (electronic only)
  • Class lists and info, divided by school year and class (electronic only)
  • Business (PD, budget, documentation) (electronic only)
  • Rubrics that I use (electronic only)

It is, for me, worth it to spend time organizing, because then I rarely get buried under paper or electronic files.  Not that I don't get totally overwhelmed.  I have an evernote notebook called TO FILE ASAP that has 211 notes it it right now, so I have some work to do.   But, I know that I have a plan for what to do with all that information, and I just need to not be lazy, which is easier with a plan.  


  1. This is just brilliant! So helpful. I have some of these things in beginning stages and really need to get my materials together. Now I have some real targets to direct me. Thank you.

  2. I am so glad that this is helpful to you!

  3. Can't wait to further check this out! I am diving into Somos in the fall! :) THANK YOU so very much for sharing!!!