Teachers make many decisions about instruction, beginning with how to organize their classroom space. This lesson outlines methods of effectively organizing classroom materials to support learning, teach autonomy, and prolong the life of objects.
Mary is an organized teacher who works hard to make sure her student’s needs are met, so she was surprised with her evaluation last year when she had points taken off for her classroom organization. Her principal told her one of the qualities of effective teachers is to have strong organizational skills. This consists of managing the classroom, organizing the environment, and setting clear expectations for students.Managing classroom materials and having a plan for their use is good classroom organization, or the techniques teachers use to keep their classrooms humming smoothly along.
Before Mary can start the process, though, she needs to determine her goals. What purpose will her classroom materials serve? How often will they be used? Will students have free range access to them? This and other information is necessary for Mary to know before she sets out to organize her classroom materials. Let’s take a look at some keys to organizing.
Mary’s review shows she wasn’t good at one of the three qualities of effective teachers – organizing classroom materials.
Mary is very good at managing her student’s behavior and communicating clear expectations, and she thought her class and learning environment were organized as well. Desks were in neat rows and the floors were always clean. So where did she go wrong?In the same way that the rules Mary established helped set routines and in turn fostered student behavior and an atmosphere of learning, so does the actual physical makeup of the classroom. In other words, the way Mary’s classroom is organized – from student desks to educational materials – influences student leaning. An organized classroom environment actually supports learning. What does this look like? Let’s take a look.
Organizing Classroom Materials
Mary visits the teacher next door, June, who has been a teacher for a long time. June has several tips for Mary on methods of organizing her classroom materials, ranging from color coding to putting materials in individual bins.
One easy way to keep materials, like folders and books, organized is to color code them. June arranges her desks into pods and assigns each group a color. The students then use materials with that same color: the blue group has books with blue covers and folders, the red group uses red scissors and rulers, and so on. This way the students are able to self-monitor their supplies on a small scale basis and are responsible for keeping them in tip-top shape.
She can also color code on a larger scale – all homework folders are green, or all students in one reading group have red tubs. Color coding can take any shape a teacher determines.
June also has a plan for all paperwork in her classroom. Homework is placed in a basket marked ‘Return Work.’ She uses mailboxes to return paperwork to students and has students who are responsible for delivering mail every day.
She also keeps important papers, such as permission slips, lunch count forms, attendance, and parent notices, in file folders on her desk. This way they’re available at her fingertips easily.
Mary notices that in addition to having desks arranged in pods, June also has materials and furniture arranged in a way that allows students to work in small groups, with partners, or individually. There are clear pathways for movement and places for comfortable reading or work. Placement of materials, like the pencil sharpener, mailboxes, trashcan, and cubbies, is intentional. For example, the pencil sharpener is tucked away from high traffic and work areas in a place where students won’t congregate and get off-task, and there’s a small trash can nearby so students can empty the sharpener when it gets full without tracking across the room. Arranging her room in this way allows students can to easily throughout the room, and June can walk about as she teaches, monitoring her students and checking in on learning.
Small Space Storage
One aspect Mary struggled with last year was keeping track of and organizing her small space storage materials, such as pencils, crayons, scissors, and other supplies her students used on a regular basis. She began the year keeping these supplies out in open, unmarked containers but this soon became a mess. Then she kept them behind her desk and students had to ask her to use them. This cut down on work time and interrupted her often.June had several suggestions. Mary could keep materials for each seating group in a tub at their pod.
This way four or five students share responsibility for taking care of and using supplies like pencils and markers. Mary could also use a bookshelf and tubs of differing colors to store materials. Students could bring the scissor, glue, and marker tub to a workspace when necessary. For some students, it may work best for each to have a container with their own supplies. Finally, Mary could stock different areas with one supply tub containing all necessary supplies.
For example, in the science area, she could have a tub with several pairs of scissors, glue sticks, pencils, and other materials. When students working in that area needed them, they simply take the lid off the tub and get to work.
Mary leaves June’s room feeling much better. She understands that how she organizes her classroom materials works with her other classroom management techniques to build a strong community of learners. She can use several strategies to organize her room, like color coding, keeping paper work readily accessible, and arranging desks and work space with students’ needs in mind.
She can also use storage bins in several ways to keep supplies organized, either for working at seats in groups or working in specific areas. Mary now knows that organizing her classroom materials is more than just a clean space – it includes how she designs her room to create a space that supports all her learners.