Student organization sounds like an oxymoron right!!!
It doesn’t have to be. After trying all sorts of student organization methods, I have to say that, hands down, binders for organization are the clear winner in my classroom!
What I like best about binders is that they’re a simple everything in one place solution to the organizational challenges many middle schoolers face.
Join me, will you, for a quick tour of my binder system.
Any student organization system has to address the note storage issue first and foremost.
I’m a paper based teacher. I’m not anti-technology by any means, but how can we say it’s bad for a student to spend hours on a screen watching videos or playing games, but it’s okay to spend an entire day on a screen at school? And don’t even get me started on trying to manage the “extra ” tabs open for non academics!
I’m fine with reading articles on tech as they can be full color and full interest. But we all know how hard it is to shift back and forth between reading a passage on one document and taking notes or answering questions on another document. I have two screens to help me along. Students don’t.
So cutting and pasting becomes the most efficient and least effective way for students to complete online notes. You may say, “well my students just copy word for word onto their written notes.” And I say there’s at least some thinking going on while that writing is happening.
And if you have students who benefit from highlighting and annotating text, then print is definitely king.
I can easily scan my classroom to see who’s reading and writing and who’s not. I don’t know about you, but I can’t study from a screen. I just can’t. And I am someone who spends my entire day researching and writing on a screen.
So this all leads to paper notes. I copy notetaking sheets for an entire unit and have the copy machine 3-hole punch and staple them. Students put them in the appropriate tab(s) in their binder and we’re done. And I mean done.
There’s no time suck cutting and pasting booklets for an interactive notebook. Mind you, Interactive notebooks are visually interesting and I use them at year end for a change of pace. But they’re a ton of prep work and lost instruction time cutting and pasting.
And the composition books most teachers use become so thick with those extra paper layers that they stand up on their own like an accordion before the end of the first quarter.
I like to use half-fold books for variety (see photo above!). Some get handed back to me for next year and some stay with the student. Easy to hole punch and store in a binder. And they don’t get lost.
And they don’t get lost.
Yes, I meant to repeat that.
After several years with binders we found that even the most organizationally challenged students rarely lost or misplaced materials. If everything goes in the binder, it’s there.
Pages get ripped out of notebooks. Files aren’t saved or are misplaced online. Trapper folders become black holes of crumpled paper. Student organization suffers!
Best of all, binders are easily cleaned out after each test. Gone – taken home or recycled. While these materials may have a special place in our teacher hearts, they generally don’t for students.
Test taken – let’s move on and have less to keep track of. That 1 1/2 inch binder stays lean and mean!
Plastic Page Protectors
are your new best friend. I start each ancient culture by having students color and label a map of the region we’re studying. We then spend the next two weeks memorizing the countries, major landforms and water bodies, along with selected capitals.
To facilitate this, I provide students with an identical blank map to the one they colored (which is now their answer key). They slip the blank map into an already 3-hole punched plastic page protector in their binders.
Bell work for the next two weeks is to enter my classroom, sit down, and open their binders to the blank map in the page protector. Students label the map from memory with a dry erase marker from their own pencil pouch. (More on this later!!) We review the map as a class. Then students use a dry tissue to erase the map and they store the tissue in the page protector.
Students can practice whenever and wherever they want. And it’s a perfect no extra work activity for your early finishers.
I collect the blank maps after the map test to use for next year. Students keep the page protector all year to use over and over.
As an aside, I also taught math to my students. Slip a piece of white cardstock into a plastic page protector and you have a portable white board. Draw a coordinate plane on a piece of graph paper and slip it on the back side of your card stock for easy graphing!
My students make vocabulary flash cards for each culture we study. If I know there are 25 vocab words, students take 25 3×5 index cards from my stash (which they provide at the beginning of the year). They punch a hole in the corner and hold them together with a book binder ring I provide to each student at the beginning of the year. Flash cards store beautifully on the center ring of student binders and are purged after the test.
My students use one binder for all subjects, including specials. Each tab is a different subject. I use the online binder tab template that comes with the package of tabs to type out each tab name. Assembling binders makes for a perfect first day activity.
Keep supplies handy with a 3-whole punch pencil case right in the binder. Pencils, pens, highlighters, scissors, colored pencils are stored for easy access. No forgetting supplies for coloring maps!
12-inch rulers don’t seem to easily fit into any supply pouch. Just have students buy a flexible 12-inch ruler with a predrilled hole and store in along the back cover of the binder.
Full year assignment planning books are a dark hole for most students. Most students open to any random page to write down today’s assignment and then another completely different page for the next period’s assignment. That is of course if they remembered to bring the planner to class.
I copy 4 student organization planning pages per student for each week. No HW rule on Friday at my school. Every Friday, used planning sheets are discarded and clean copies inserted for next week. If you use a monthly planning calendar for projects, add that as well.
Copy each student’s schedule and have them place it in the front of the binder or slip it in the plastic sleeve on the cover.
I always have coloring pages handy in my room for students to grab. Makes for an attractive personalized cover when slipped behind the plastic cover sheet of a binder.
I also have students make name tags on the first day of school to put on their desks until I learn their names. It slips easily alongside their coloring page.
Purge, Purge, Purge
After students take the test (and every Friday) we purge materials that are no longer needed. Students are welcome to take them home or recycle them, but they are out of the binder. We’re easily making room for the next unit and preventing a massively heavy and disorganized binder by mid year.
Have I convinced you yet?
Binders for student organization are really the way to go in my world and maybe in yours too! Why?
- All-in one location for papers and supplies – Staples 1 1/2″ Better Binders are my favs – they are sturdier than most other binders we’ve tried
- Sturdy binder cover protects papers and supplies from ripping out
- Flexible with all types of materials – maps, booklets, and makeshift whiteboards!
- Can’t run out of pages
- Great even when the internet isn’t working
- Prevents heading to off task computer tabs and apps
Student organization can be had!
When you embrace binders for student organization, it’s no longer the oxymoron you thought.
I use the GRAPES structure to organize my Ancient Cultures. Read about GRAPES HERE!