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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Student Disorganization

Elementary school teachers often find they spend too little time teaching their students and too much time helping them get organized. Organizational problems take various forms, including forgetting to bring necessary materials to class, losing papers, having problems getting started with a project or report, using time inefficiently, not completing seatwork, and forgetting his school schedule. Even such simple tasks as bringing a pencil to class can elude the disorganized student.

Elementary teachers, particularly those in the upper grades, must recognize the importance of focusing on those skills because they will be essential in middle school, when students will be expected to keep track of their assignments and school responsibilities with little teacher assistance. Fortunately, organizational skills can be taught.


Encourage responsibility for bringing materials to class. Review with students the materials you expect them to bring to school every day. Do spot checks periodically. If a student forgets to bring the proper materials, loan her what she needs, but consider having her give you some "collateral" to be returned when she gives back the borrowed materials. You might keep a "pencil stubs" box on your desk or near the pencil sharpener, so students who forget a pencil do not need to disrupt the class.

Designate a place for students to turn in seatwork. Having students turn in their work as soon as they complete it will lessen their chance of misplacing it. You might designate a box, file divider, or file drawer for that purpose, with individual student folders arranged alphabetically. Or you might have color-coded folders for each assignment. You also might have students check off that they have turned in the assignment.

Have students 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 each subject. Keeping color-coded folders in their desks will allow students to quickly access their work. You can help students avoid being overwhelmed by loose papers by having them bring completed work home on a specific day of the week. Let parents know of the procedure so they can help their child sort through the papers.

Give students a container for small items. Such items as pencils, pens, erasers, and scissors easily can be lost in a desk or backpack. You can help students solve the problem by placing the items in a plastic zippered pouch kept in a binder, box, or resealable plastic bag.

Require older elementary students to use a three-ring binder. Students in third grade and above can use a three-ring binder with subject dividers and a pouch for pens and pencils. Suggest they get a binder with pockets or three-hole punched folders and label one pocket or folder "To Bring Home" for homework to be done and notes for parents, and another "To Bring to School" for completed homework and notes from parents. You also might have students place in their binders a monthly calendar, on which they can indicate tests, projects, and important school activities. Punch holes in the handouts you give to students so they easily can put them in their binders.

Provide each disorganized student with a classroom buddy. Select a mature, responsible classmate who can help the disorganized student with classroom tasks when you are unavailable. Another way of doing that is to group students at tables, with students expected to help each other when questions arise.

Teach students memory aides. Teach students the acronym PANTS to remind them of what they need to bring to and from school every day (P = Parent information, A = Assignments, N = Notebook, T = Textbooks, and S = Student). Show them how to make a checklist of school tasks and that they can tape to their desks or binders.

Meet briefly with each disorganized student before he or she goes home. Check to make sure each student has the proper materials and has written down his or her homework assignments correctly.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.