Dear Dr. Shore,
I teach fifth grade and often find myself spending more time helping my students get organized than teaching academic skills. What can I do to help them keep track of their materials?
This is an important issue with many students. The ability of a student to organize himself or herself is one of the key building blocks of school success. Organizational problems can cut across all ability levels. Some of your students may have well-developed academic skills, but get failing grades when it comes to organizational skills. It is especially important that your fifth-grade students hone their organization skills because they will be expected to keep track of their assignments and school responsibilities with little teacher assistance when they get to middle school. Fortunately, organizational skills can be taught. You might try some of the following strategies:
1. Hold students accountable. Let students know the materials you expect them to bring to class every day. Spot check every so often. If a student forgets to bring the proper materials, loan him or her what is needed, but consider requiring the student to give you some "collateral" to be returned when the borrowed materials are returned. If it becomes a pattern, contact the parents or give a school consequence.
2. Show students how to organize their papers in folders. Students might have a folder for completed work, a folder for work to be done, and a folder for parent information. Or they might have different folders for different subjects. By keeping those folders in their desks and color-coding them, they can access their work quickly.
3. Designate a place for completed seatwork. You might designate a box or file divider for that purpose, with individual student folders arranged alphabetically. Or to decrease the chance of misfiling, you could set up color-coded folders for each assignment. In addition, students could check off their names on a list to indicate that they have turned in the days assignment.
4. Have students use three-ring binders. Suggest that students use subject dividers and a pouch for pens and pencils. You also might have them get a binder with pockets or three-hole punched folders and then have them label one pocket or folder as To Take Home -- for homework to be done and notes for parents; and another folder as "To Bring to School" -- for completed homework and notes from parents. A monthly calendar in the binder can be used to record dates of tests, projects, and important school activities. Punch holes in your handouts so students can put them in their binders easily.
5. Solve the lost pencil problem. If a student constantly loses his or her pencil, you might put a piece of Velcro on the desk and one on the pencil. You also might keep a "pencil stubs" box on your desk or near the pencil sharpener so students who forget a pencil do not need to interrupt you.