Organization that Takes a Team

Thank goodness my school has tables instead of desks.  I remember my desk in elementary school.  Especially on the day when I was supposed to recite a poem, and I found it crumpled in the back, long forgotten.  Even if my classroom had desks, I’d still put them in clusters and prevent kids from putting anything inside them.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

There are five tables in my room, and the kids at each table are a team that shares supplies.  We have the luxury of being able to provide school supplies for everyone, so no one is allowed to bring supplies from home.  We have what we need, and we’re all equal.  No one can argue they lost their favorite pencil because the pencils belong to all of us.

Every table organizes their supplies in a silverware drawer, which has a much lower profile than other classroom organizers I’ve seen.  The advantage: no one can hide behind a silverware drawer.

Underneath the silverware drawer, each team has a folder with a few important resources such as 100s charts, spelling lists, and Clock Buddies sheets (more about that in a future post).

Now, the system I have for organizing kids’ folders comes directly from one of my mentors, Rachel, who is awesome. I was astonished in her classroom to see that the kids always got their own folders and journals (she didn’t pass them out!), and they put them back in the right spots.  For many of you, this is probably not a new idea, but it sure was for me since I was coming from a classroom where that kind of system didn’t exist.

Magazine holders keep each table's folders, journals, and workbooks organized.

Magazine holders keep each table's folders, journals, and workbooks organized.

How it works is along the edges of the room, each team has a set of magazine holders where they keep their folders, journals, and workbooks for each subject.  In this picture, you can see what one team’s organizers looked like last year.  The organizers are color-coded; each team is a different color.  Atop the colored labels, I put two address labels: one with the table number (1-5) and one with the contents of the box.

Table Organizer Labels 2009-2010 (Word)

Each team's organizers are color-coded and labeled.

Each team's organizers are color-coded and labeled.

The folders are also color-coded for each subject and labeled.

When we need to get out folders, journals, or workbooks for the next activity, one person from each table goes to get the materials, then passes them out to everyone at their table.  This takes much less time than having me pass things out, and it helps students learn what being organized looks and feels like.  That’s a lesson I wish I’d been taught in elementary school.

Reinforcing the labels with packing tape helps them to last all year.

Reinforcing the labels with packing tape helps them to last all year.

Keeping this system going is a snap.  When it’s time for snack, I say, “Hm.  Which table looks ready for snack?  I’m looking at your caddies and at your folders… Wow, table 5 looks great.  Nice teamwork cleaning up your caddy.  Table 5 can get their snacks!” and so on.  It takes about 2 minutes for the whole room to be back in shape.

— a. fox

P.S. In case you’re wondering why I’m writing so much about classroom organization… it’s just where my head is right now.  Soon, my head will be in other places and on to other things.  Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “Organization that Takes a Team

  1. Abbie,

    These organizational systems are gold. Thank you for describing them, providing visuals, and sharing it’s components.

    I am curious what your thoughts are on giving students a corresponding number to there names? I adopted this practice after seeing a 4th grade teacher use it. It came in handy many times last year. For example, to make two even groups: “All the evens and odds line up in two seperate lines”. Also, “if your number is a factor of 15, you can go to workshop”. Lastly, student work coded just with a number becomes encrypted to some degree.

    On a seperate note, I am wondering how you manage your supply closet, islands, cabinet space, and desk hanging folders. Do you have a particular approach, method, and/or thinking process to streamline these necessary systems?

    With many thanks,


    • Hi Rich,

      I definitely see the benefits of assigning numbers to kids. Personally, I prefer to use kids’ names. I like seeing their name labels all around the room instead of numbers. I think those names create a sense of belonging. Of course, there’s lots of ways to create a sense of belonging in a classroom. It’s just personal preference.

      As to other organization systems, check out my earlier blog post on how I organize bins and my closet (including the shoe rack organizer).

      In my filing cabinet, I have five drawers: (1) ELA, (2) Math/Science/Social Studies, (3) General Ed., (4) Student Folders, and (5) Office Supplies. I think it’s a best practice to file important papers as soon as you get them. Periodically, you also need to go through your files and throw away outdated materials.

      For more on filing, I highly recommend the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. It will also help you as you learn how to use OmniFocus.

      By the way, although I use and love OmniFocus, I hear that some people feel like it’s just too much. I think it’s perfect, but that’s just me, and we’ve already established that I’m crazy. Friends of mine really like Things, another task management application for the Mac.

      — a. fox

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