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Project Organization Phase 13: Notebooks

If you are like me, you buy a bunch of .10 notebooks before each school year.  I have about 5 spiral notebooks at each building and just grab one on my way to meetings.  The problem is I don't have 1 notebook for RtI, 1 for CSE, 1 for staff meetings and so on so all of the information is mixed together.  To find notes, I would have to look through 10 notebooks. 

Remember, organization is about being efficient with your time and this is definitely not an efficient system.  This is a simple fix that you can choose to do mid-year or start when the new school year begins.  Gather your notebooks - new or used.  Rip out the used pages if you are starting with used notebooks.  Put the empty notebooks on your shelf.  The next meeting you go to - grab a notebook and label it.  Continue to do this every time you need a notebook - as long as it is an event/meeting that will reoccur. 

Here are some times when I use notebooks:

RtI Meetings
CSE Meetings/planning
Principal Discussions (observations, concerns, anything where you meet 1 on 1 with the principal)
Professional Development Workshops
Staff Meetings
Parent-Teacher conferences
Congruence with Teachers

Project Organization Phase 12: Centers

I know many special education teachers who do not have centers.  What I mean by centers is small group games that have clear instructions attached to them.  The games focus on specific skills.  I am building my collection of centers by creating the games and file folder games.  The problem is organizing them.  There are HUNDREDS of games on, if not thousands!  Organizing these seems overwhelming.  Here is what I'm doing:

1. Center games are labeled with the skill they work on as well as a grade level. games are chunked into K-1, 2-3, 4-5.  Within each group they have Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.  Most of these games I keep in large envelopes.  I re-type the instructions (some of them say "the lower student" on the website so I make them student friendly) and glue them onto the front of the envelope.  On the back, I glue a picture of the game being used (these are on the website so I just cut them out).  I also glue on extension activities.  The envelopes I bought have a sticky close top.  I type up the game title, reading area, and grade level and print it onto colored paper (I type a bunch up at a time and cut them into strips to cover the sticky strip on the envelope).  That colorful strip gets stuck to the envelope and it all gets laminated.  I cut open the pocket and keep the game cards/board inside the envelope.  File folder games are simply labeled with the skill area or game title on the tab: "Multiplication Madness". 

2.  After you have a collection of centers, find baskets that are large enough to hold a bunch of them.  If the baskets are too big they will just take up space.  Finding the perfect baskets may take a while but it will be worth it in the end.  When you find them, buy a lot of them. 

3.  Label your baskets with your group names.  Go through the centers and sort them according to who could work on those skills.  My group who is working on fluency will have a lot of fluency centers but they will also have some phonemic awareness, phonics and comprehension centers as well.  These can change as often as you would like so don't overload the baskets with centers.  I plan on changing mine quarterly.  You can also add "When I'm Done" activities to these baskets. 

4.  Centers that do not fit with any group will be stored in storage containers.

This project will most likely be a ongoing one.  It takes a long time to create these games and find the right baskets. 

Project Organization Phase 11: Class Library

There are a thousand websites out there that will help you organize your classroom library.  Most resource room teachers are in a tiny room and have a fairly small library to choose from.  I have a few group sets of books which I keep together on one bookshelf.  These are books that I use with whole groups and they are usually off limits for students to read on their own (in case I use it with their group later on).  I also have a collection of picture books which I use to introduce topics and teach strategies.  These books are also off limits to my students and they are kept on a shelf behind my desk. 

I have another collection of picture books, chapter books, magazines, and reading a to z books that my students can read whenever they have time.  My group sets and these books are organized by Fountas and Pinnell levels.  My students know their reading level and if they forget, they ask.  They want to read in their level.  I showed my students how to look up their books on scholastic's book wizard.  Back to the library organization...the printable reading a to z books are kept in baskets labeled with the level.  Series books are also kept in baskets (magic tree house, junie b jones, time warp trio etc...).  Any book that isn't in a labeled basket has the reading level written inside the front cover.  They are grouped together.  I cut long strips of construction paper and wrote a reading level at the end of it to mark where each level is.  

I know many teachers have their books organized by topic and genre but since I work with k-5 and I want my students reading at or around their level I chose to organize by reading level.  If you like the idea of using baskets, look at your local dollar store. 

If you are going to tackle this project you need to have a few hours to work.  You will need a computer, a sharpie, and baskets if you choose to use them.  You will also need some way to mark the shelves/baskets with reading levels.

1. Put all your books into piles around your book shelves. 
2. Make your labels - I chose to buy alphabet stickers and made a label for all 26 levels. Make it as creative and complicated or as simple as you want.
3.  Start looking up each book on  When you find the level, mark it on the book and set it on the shelf with it's level label.
4.  Continue to do that until all your books are leveled.  Of course, some books will not be found on scholastic's website.  That's fine, leave those in a pile until you are done. 
5.  Now that most of your books are labeled and leveled, align them neatly on the shelves.  Make sure the shelves are clearly marked for your students. 
6.  Use Fountas and Pinnells books or google to find the levels for your remaining books.  Add them to your shelves as you find them. 
7.  As you buy new books, make it a rule that you level it before it goes on the shelf. 

Project Organization Phase 10: Teacher Books

This is a pretty simple area but it's something that we haven't talked about yet.  My goal is to cover every area of your room.  First, gather all your teacher books.  Next, clear a spot for them.  They should be kept together so if you need to use one as a reference or to make copies you only have to look in 1 spot.  Once you have a space ready for your books, play with how you want them displayed.  Here are some things to try:

1. Line them up according to height. 

2. Line them up according to color - all red books together, then orange.  Within each color, organize them by shade (dark to light) not height!
3. Organize them according to subject.  Writing books group together then reading and so on.

This is a fairly easy task and it's free.  I organize my books by subject/height in my classroom.  At home, I like to group books (and video games) by color because I love the way it looks.  I know what color most of my books are so it's not hard to find them.

Follow Up Board

I was reading other blogs for some crafty classroom decorations and I came across a menu board.  It was pretty and decorated with different scrapbooking paper and embellishments.  I loved the concept and I'm thinking about making one.  It gave me the idea to make a Follow Up board for each building, kind of like the menu board.  Anything I need to follow up on gets written on a post-it and stuck to the board.  Quickly check the board every day to see what things need to be done.  

A few days ago, while walking down the hall, a para stopped me and told me a student needed a new notebook (it's one I make for him).  I had completely forgotten about it because it wasn't written down anywhere.  In the future when I'm stopped in the hall, I can say "Sure, just add it to my follow up board so I don't forget."   

We have RtI meetings every 2 weeks in my district.  For special ed teachers, these meetings become a giant to do list.  When I'm at those meetings, anything I need to follow up on goes on a post-it and stuck to the board.   Sometimes students ask me to do something for them, like help them choose a book they would like.  I can ask them to add it to my follow up board as well.  I feel that this could be an organization strategy that may show students how to organize themselves as well. 

Project Organization Phase 9: Manipulatives and Art Supplies

Math manipulatives can be full of tiny pieces.  I bought a small 3 drawer rolling cart from Target to house my math supplies.  One drawer is for games and flashcards.  One drawer is for counters.  One drawer is for other manipulatives like clocks, snap cubes, fraction tiles, and place value blocks.  I bought dried beans and pasta to use as counters.  I dumped those into ziplock bags.  Other counters I have stored in little plastic food containers.  Nothing is just dumped into the drawers loose.  If I need 5 clocks for my lesson, I want to be able to pull open the drawer and get all the clocks in less than 10 seconds.  I don't want to dig around in the drawer finding each clock.  Students can also easily find what they need this way as well.  If you number the amount of clocks you have on the outside of the bag, you can quickly see if any are missing. 

Art supplies I have talked about in the past.  I stock up on crayons, colored pencils, glue and scissors during back to school sales.  I simply throw it all in my plastic art shoe box I bought from Lowes.  Construction paper is put next to or under the box.  Here is a picture of my art box (this is one I keep at home for painting supplies):

Project Organization Phase 8: Current Student Work

Congratulations!  You have organized areas of your room that are for you.  Now we are going to switch our focus to organization for your students.  Each of my groups has a white magazine file box (I call them "Cubbies").  Each student has a numbered folder (all the same color - I used yellow at one building and green at another - yellow and green are my districts colors).  I know many teachers are against numbering their students because it diminishes them to a number instead of a person BUT I'm not going to create new folders every year.  The only time my students need to use their number is when looking for their folder in their "cubbie".  All the students papers go in their folder and books go in the magazine file "cubbie".  That group and substitutes can easily see where that groups materials are.

I got my magazine files at Ikea but you can find them online or get them for free from Wal-mart and Target.  During back to school sales, big stores use magazine files to hold the folders and notebooks.  Go and consolidate their notebooks/folders and load your cart with the empty boxes.  Ask if you can take them - they always say yes because they just throw them away. 

You could also use mailboxes (like classroom teachers have) and each student gets their own slot.  I have seen classroom teachers keep students work in filing crates around the room so when she needs them to get their reading notebooks, the class disperses throughout the room.  You could use baskets or bins for each group.  Look at the layout of your room and look for containers that you like.  Let that determine what you use.  You want your room to be visually pleasing so try to stick to the same type of container for every group.

Project Organization Phase 7: Future Work

This is an area I struggled with.  If you are like me, as you teach a lesson you see a skill that your students REALLY lack.  You copy some worksheets to help build that skill along with 100 other things and it all lands on your desk.  The piles begin again!  This is my biggest downfall with organization.  It took a while but I think I've figured it out. 

In a previous post I mentioned that I had chosen permanent group names that my students can vote on.  In a crate, I have 2  hanging file folders for each group.  They are labeled with the group name and picture.  I like the permanent group names so I can use my tabs every year. The first set is for work that I'm going to do next with the group.  The second set is for work I'm planning for further in the future.  When I come back from the copy room, I can quickly drop my piles into the correct files - No Piles!  I've seen many teachers do this for every day of the month.  Each file is 1 day of the month.  My students usually work on the same thing for several days so I feel that's unnecessary.  Obviously, every teacher is different so modify this so it fits you and your style.

I started this project by buying pink file folders (<3 pink!).  Then I started printing out little pictures and writing the group names but I didn't like the way the white paper was showing behind the picture.  I remembered I had clear address labels.  Clear labels are AMAZING for this project because there is no white background and I can neatly type all the group names.  It looks so much more professional.  Had I not used clear labels, I would have laminated the folders because the pictures would fall off.  The clear labels allowed me to make the folders in about 20 minutes and use them right away.  That's great because if I can't do a project in 1 sitting, it's going to be put off.