Sunday, January 26, 2014

Classroom Organization: Proven Strategies for Workflow Management

*Welcome everyone who has come to the blog via Pinterest! You can follow my daily adventures in teaching and life on Instagram, too! This is the first in a series of posts about organization in the secondary classroom. You can read more about how I lesson plan here, see a tour of my classroom here, and read advice to new teachers here! Thanks for stopping by!

I recently had a fellow teacher/blog reader email me asking for any tips and strategies I have for managing the wide array of papers coming and in out of my possession. With over 100 students at one time, the amount of papers coming in and going out can be overwhelming! In my 10 years of teaching at the high school level, I've learned that managing my workflow is key for two really important reasons:

1) It keeps me sane...the classroom can be a chaotic place so keeping my materials organized helps give me a sense of calm and control!

2) It keeps my students honest...if they know I've never lost a paper and I diligently keep track of what comes in and when, they don't try to pull the 'well I passed that in but you must have lost it' routine!

Although I've tried various strategies throughout the years, the ideas I'll share here I've used with great success and am proud to say that I have NEVER lost a student paper yet! So, let's get started...

Classroom Organization Managing Paperwork

The Daily Box
On one corner of my desk I have a 'daily box' which is a set of three stackable black trays. This is the place that sees the most 'daily action' in terms of papers coming and going. It's also an 'interactive' box that my students know to go to when turning in ANY paper.

-The top tray is where papers are passed in during class. If a homework assignment is due and I ask kids to turn it in they place it here. If we are taking a quiz or exam, students are instructed to turn it in here when they are done. I find it helps to have just one place that students are consistently asked to submit work so that a routine is established early on. At the end of class, I collect whatever has been submitted, clip the pile, and place it into my 'In/Out Box' (more on that below).

-The middle tray is where I put all late work from the day. Any 'rogue' papers that are submitted either as late or from a student who was absent goes into this box. At the end of the school day, I go through all the papers and mark 'absent' or 'late' with the date. Then the papers get filed with the assignment pile they belong with that are waiting to be graded in the 'In/Out Box'. It's important to empty this basket at the end of every day so I don't forget how many late points need to be taken off, if any!

-The bottom tray is where I keep my lesson planner/plans for the day and other random items. I use large binder clips with paper labels taped to the top of each to clip onto each box. This is a really easy way to clearly identify the purpose of each box and the clips can easily be moved when necessary.

The In & Out Box
 On the other corner of my desk I keep a black plastic storage box that has several color coded hanging files, each labeled with one of my 5 classes.

-The red folders are for any work that has been passed in and needs to be graded for each class (red means ' must grade' ha ha!). I always take the work from the 'Daily Box' and put it into the appropriate red folder at the end of every class. Each folder is labeled with the class period and the word 'INBOX'.

-After the work has been graded, it gets moved into the green folders and can be passed back (green means 'go'!). Each folder is labeled with the class period and the word 'OUTBOX'.

-I have yellow folders at the back of the basket for quizzes and assessments that absent students need to come in and take and any handouts that need to go out to my homeroom students.

Absent Work Bin
In the picture above, I have blue 'absent student' folders in the bin. These folders have since been moved into their own separate box, located on a table in the back of the room.  Students know that when they've been absent, they are to look in the bin for the folder with their class name, in which they will find any work they missed.

-At the end of every class (or sometimes at the end of the day) I go through my list of students who were absent that day and put any handouts and directions they missed into the absent work bin. This makes it so much easier to keep track of who missed what and avoids the mad rush to speak to me about everything they missed at the start of class. It puts some responsibility on the students' shoulders, too!

With over 100 students and 3 different courses to prep for, having a place to keep the papers that I hand out is essential! I took the covers from WB Mason paper boxes, spray painted them a fun green color, and placed them on a table in the back of the room to hold all my handouts. The handouts are placed in the box after I've copied them and stay until I give them out to the kids. Then, any extras left over are placed back in the box, too. I have a box top for each of the classes I prep for...this semester I'll be teaching three different courses so I'll have three box tops on the back table.

Items to File
I brought in a cubby type shelf from home to place behind my desk since my classroom doesn't have any open shelving. Here is where I keep another set of black file trays...the top tray is my 'to do' tray...any papers that need to be copied or filled out in the immediate future go there. Then, I have trays to place the papers for each course I teach that need to be filed into curriculum binders. These are usually the master copies of the notes and handouts I use to make copies for my students. I don't often have the time to file everything immediately after I've used them, so after I've copied the papers, I place them in the tray to await filing.

Curriculum Binders
For each course I teach, I have a separate curriculum binder. I take the papers from the 'to file' trays and file them by unit into the appropriate binder. These are the originals I use throughout my units to make copies or to simply remind myself of the lessons and activities I use for each unit. I also have binders for general professional development items, for my attendance rosters (which I'll share in another post), and for the Class of 2017, for whom I am the advisor.

It's tough to keep up with managing the thousands of papers that come through my hands within any given school year but using these organizational strategies on a consistent basis has really brought me a sense of sanity. Ten years into the profession has brought me the knowledge of what works and what is good in theory but just doesn't jive with day to day operations!

Classroom Organization Ideas Managing Workflow

I would love to hear what other organizational strategies work for teachers out there! 
Leave a comment and let me know!

I've written a post all about LESSON PLAN ORGANIZATION for secondary teachers that I hope you'll find helpful, too!


  1. I'm in awe!! Come do my art classroom! :D


    1. Art classroom?! That would take organization to a whole new level what with all the art supplies that would need to be organized! One of my good friends is an art teacher and she spends a ton of time in her room just organizing paints, brushes, papers, etc! Thanks for stopping by the blog! :)

  2. I am new teacher and this post is exactly what I was looking for in order to organize my classroom! Thank yout

  3. Many of these are similar to how I organize my HS English classroom. I have a tray for each hour of the day where students turn in their papers. I have a separate tray for any late papers. Students have to fill out and attach a "late assignment" slip to the front of anything not turned in on the original due date. Except for extenuating circumstances and absences, I don't accept late work, so this stops students from trying to "slip in" a late assignment. They have to give the date it was originally due, when it was turned in, and why it was late. I also have a file for each day of the week for each class for Missing Assignments (similar to what you do). Students are to go there for any missed work. I also have folders where I put assignments that have been graded for students to pass out. Unless it is a big assignment, I just put it in their folders and students will pass them out as time allows. I have my units in 3-ring binders with all my originals in page protectors. I have trays and binders for everything. I am known for never losing a student's work; in 8 years I know of 2 times where I saw a paper (so I know it was turned in), but couldn't locate it afterwards, and they were late assignments that were not turned in correctly. I have thought about making extra handouts available, but I have too many boys who do not even bother to bring a pencil or paper to class and leave their handouts in the room when they leave. They would just end up relying on the extra handouts; there would never be enough for them! I do envy that your room looks a lot less cluttered than mine. I can never seem to find enough space for all the stuff in my room! If it wasn't for my trays and binders, I would be lost!

    1. Sounds like we have similar classroom organization/management techniques! I can totally relate to the students who barely even bring a pencil to class...I have a strict 'one copy only' policy as they are expected to keep and maintain three-ring binders! My 'extra copies' boxes are for my use only...the kids don't touch as they know they only receive the one copy. I do upload digital files of all the paper copies I had out so if they were to misplace theirs, they have to go through the trouble of downloading and printing their own additional copy!

  4. I just finished my first year teaching and had to unexpectedly switch classrooms at winter break, so my organization ended up being nonexistent. One of my students, who will be my TA next year, was always horrified at the mountain of paper on my desk and informed me that I "need to come up with an organizational system by the time we come back from summer." I'm going to forward this post to her - she'll be so excited. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Awesome!! An organized desk keeps me nice and calm, which my students always appreciate! Ha!

  5. Best one I have found for secondary. Love them, will be reading more. Thanks for sharing!

  6. How do you make and afix that great lettering to your curriculum binders?

    1. Hi Krisha! I just printed the words onto plain white cardstock then cut the strips to fit between the clear plastic cover and the spine of the binders! Hope this helps!

  7. What a great classroom! While looking for pictures of organized workspaces for an assignment for my Executive Functioning skills class, I came across your blog. I love the organization, but the colors and decorations are great too! Your students must love coming to your class. I will submit some of your photos to my professor, but will give you photo credit.

    1. Thank you, Cindy! I'm glad to hear you are finding some of my organizational strategies helpful! And yes, my students do really like all the colorful decor and inspirational quotes I have all around our classroom!

  8. I'm so excited to find this blog! Organization is oNE of my downfalls, and I'm so excited to use some of your techniques. I was wondering if you could email me a copy of the form you use to attach to absent work? I would like to make one similar to yours. Thanks for the ideas!

  9. Thank you for the organization tips! This is exactly what I was looking for as a new teacher. I plan on using the in-and-out box so I can keep more organized and on top of grading this year. Last semester was not pretty! Also, thank you for the 3 free poster downloads. I printed them at Staples for dirt cheap and they are now hanging on classroom walls! So cute!

  10. I don't always get to record grades the second I finish grading them, so I adapted the grading box just a little. I kept red inbox, but changed yellow to record (keeping with your stop-go analogy, yellow means "not quite yet!" for me. :) and kept green as outbox.

    Thank you so much for this system! It is gorgeous and works like a dream!