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Get Your Writers Organized!

Learn how to make your own writer's folders.  Super simple and super effective way to help writers stay organized.

Using writing folders saved my writing block.  It's so frustrating (for me and the students) to be in the middle of a writing project, only to have a student say, "I can't find my paper."   Writing folders have helped us all stay on track and organized!

In late summer, as soon as Walmart and Target stock their Back-to-School aisle I look for their specials on pocket folders.  I can usually find them priced at 10 for $1.  That's when I put my writing folders together. They are a super handy way for students to keep their writing projects organized.  Putting two folders together gives you 4 pockets, which is perfect for the steps in the writing project. 

What I love the most about these folders is they are so easy for the students to use.  Whether they're working on their pre-writing with graphic organizers, drawing a picture, or working with a partner during the revising stage, they can store all of the pages they need in a writing folder.  

The pockets hold everything they need as they work through the writing process.  The first pocket holds the writing prompt, organizers, sketches, or anything else they need to begin planning their writing piece.  

The second pocket holds the pages they use for writing the first draft of their writing.  This pocket can also hold any notes or special instructions they need for a particular writing assignment.  As they move through each step of the process they move their paper to the next pocket.  

Writing folder.  A pocket for each step in the writing process - prewriting, drafting, revising/editing, and publishing.

The center of the folder (between pocket 2 and 3) is a great place to affix any writing tips or lists the writer may need.  I like to include characteristics of the traits of good writing, along with common synonyms and homophone lists.

Writing folder, the center holds writer's tips and lists.

The third pocket is where students keep their writing as they work on revising and editing.  The pocket can hold any checklists the writer needs as they work on improving their writing.  

Writing Folder,  pockets for revising/editing and publishing

The fourth and final pocket will hold whatever the student needs as they work on publishing their piece of writing.    After the final copy is finished, either rewritten by hand or printed from a computer, it can be placed in this pocket.  The students turn in their entire folder when it's ready to be evaluated.  It's nice to see all of the parts of the writing process as you evaluate their final writing.  

Once this writing project is completed, the pieces of work for this writing process can be stapled together.  It's a great way for students to see how their writing grew and improved throughout the writing process. This completed packet can be kept in a portfolio until the end of the year.   

The folders can be stored in a box or basket. Storing the student writing folders in a central location makes it convenient for both students and the teacher.  I often look through the folders to check on a student's progress.  One of the best things about these folders is fewer students mysteriously lose their papers through the writing process. 

Making the Writing Folders

To make the writing folder you need:
  • 2 pocket folders without the center prongs.
  • long-arm stapler
  • pocket labels for Pre-writing, Drafting, Revising/Editing, and Publishing.
  • Optional for the center,  writer's tips and word lists

Writing Folder,  Using two pocket folders and a stapler you can easily make folders that will keep writers organized all year!

Open the folders and put them together with the pockets facing each other.  Staple along the fold, from the outside folder.  That way, the staple ends will be on the inside of the finished folder.   The folder should open up so you see two pockets, then the blank center section, and finally, two more pockets.

Now you can add a cover, the pocket labels.  The blank center section is a great place to add any word lists or writer's tips your students might need.  These references are handy for your students to use all year.

Writing Folder, printable labels, cover and writer's tips and lists

Another option is to laminate the pocket folders before you staple them together.  If you choose to do this, make sure you add the labels, cover, and writer's tips and lists before you laminate.  After you laminate them, staple the two folders together. You may be able to use the laminated folders for two or three years.

The printable labels, tips, lists, and folder covers are included in my Writer's Folder and Checklists resource.  It has lots of choices for the cover, plus checklists your writers can use when they're revising and editing their work.  

Writer's folder with Checklists

Find out how you can keep your writers organized with these easy-to-make folders.  All you need is two pocket folders and a long-arm stapler.  The four pockets are great for holding all the papers student writers need as they work through the writing process;  prewriting, drafting, revising/editing, and publishing.  Your students will be so organized they'll be able to complete their writing projects on time!

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Would You Rather Daily Question

I love the first week of school because it’s a clean slate.  The room is clean and perfectly organized, the year-at-a-glance plans are written, name tags are on the desks, and your supply cabinets are filled with unbroken crayons. 

Now the butterflies in your stomach begin to flutter madly.  What do you actually do with your kids during the first week?  Getting to know your students and establishing a kind and caring community is a must for the first week of school.  I have a few ideas to share with you in the next few weeks that will help tame those butterflies.  

Daily Would You Rather Question

Here's a quick and fun way to get to know a little about your students.  You've probably heard of the game Would You Rather.  It's a set of questions that ask the player to choose between two items.  Sometimes the choices are two things you'd really want and sometimes they're things you don't want at all!

My version of the game asks kid-friendly questions.  They're meant to get kids engaged in interesting discussions as they get to know each other.

Preparing for the activity:

On the first day of school, take a headshot photo of each student.  (These photos will come in handy for many projects throughout the year.) Then digitally crop the photos so just the head and shoulders can be seen.  I like to crop them into a circle before I print them.  You can laminate them before you cut them out.  That way you can use them for other projects.  If you plan to use them on a magnetic whiteboard, you can attach a magnet to the back. 

Now you can get your display ready.  I created a set of labels you can download and print for your display.  This is a PowerPoint file, so make sure you have that program before you download it. 


Would You Rather Freebie

This file not only has the editable labels, but it also has a few Would You Rather  question cards you can use with your class.

Ready to go!

Now you’re ready for the question.  I like to use questions that help me get to know my students and lead to spirited discussions.  The questions should not have right or wrong answers.  It's okay if the kids have a hard time choosing just one response.  Making difficult choices really gets the students to join the discussions.

Have the question displayed and the two choices on the Would You Rather board.  After you introduce the question, let students place their photo on the side for their choice.

Would You Rather Daily Question Display,  Great way to get to know your students during the first week of school.

This type of question is also an excellent writing starter.  You can have students explain their choice in their writing journal.  Or, assign it as part of your homework for that week.



If you'd like to have more Would You Rather cards and other back-to-school ideas, check out this Ultimate Resource Bag.  It has 10 activities to use the first week of school to get to know your new students and begin setting the tone for a kind and caring class.


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This is the Writing Game Your Kids will Love!

The Sentence Game
The Sentence Game,   Kids love playing this challenging sentence writing game.  Great way to practice grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

Let’s face it, writing is hard.  It takes lots and lots of practice to master the many skills a writer needs.  But practice can be boring.   Not now!  I’ve created a sentence writing game your kids will love.  With this game they’ll write sentence after sentence without complaining, because it’s a game.

It’s very simple, but practices very essential skills- capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and spelling.

The Sentence Game,   Kids love playing this challenging sentence writing game.  Great way to practice grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

The game can be played with 2 or more players.  There’s even a way to play it with your whole class.

Each student needs a word grid and a sentence/scoring sheet.  Each set of players will also need one die and a scoring guide.

Here's how it's played:

Each player rolls the die.  The players then circle that number of words on their word grid.  They circle the words down the first column, in order.  Words cannot be skipped.

The Sentence Game,   Kids love playing this challenging sentence writing game.  Great way to practice grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

Now each player writes one sentence, using as many of the circled words as they can.  If two sentences are written, only the first sentence will be scored.  All of the circled words do not need to be used, but players earn one point for each grid word in their sentence.  The words from the word grid cannot be changed. (ie.  quickly cannot be changed to quick.)  Important:  After writing the sentence, players underline the grid words they used.  This makes it easier for the checker to check the grid words.

The Sentence Game,   Kids love playing this challenging sentence writing game.  Great way to practice grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

Once all sentences are written, players pass their sentence/scoring sheet to the right.  These players score the sentence and write the score in the box on the right.

To play with your whole class, simply roll the dice once.  Every student in class will use that number to circle the words on their grid.  Once all the sentences are written, students can exchange their sheet with a partner for the scoring.

After your students understand how to play you can play a round anytime you need a time filler.  Students can keep their word grid and sentence/score sheet in a folder or their binder so it’s always handy. This game also works very well in a literacy center.

Click on this image to download The Sentence Game.

The Sentence Game,   Kids love playing this challenging sentence writing game.  Great way to practice grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

Happy writing!

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Why You Should be Using Student Binders

Helping your students keep everything organized is so much easier with binders.  Being organized is an important life skill that needs to be taught.  Showing kids how to set up and maintain a binder isn't difficult, it just takes a little time.

Are you tired of students not being able to find that math paper you started yesterday and want to finish today?   Then you should be using student binders.  I can't say my students never lose a paper anymore, but it's pretty rare. 

In my classroom, organization is a priority.  I keep my desk and materials organized and I expect my students to keep their things organized, too. That’s why every student uses a binder to keep their papers organized. Most of the time, coming into third grade is the first time they’ve used a binder.  So, one of our first tasks is to set up our binders.  Here's how I do it.

Binder Choices
I’ve found that 1 or 1.5 inch binders are a good size.  If you go much larger, they take up too much space in the desk.  I like the binders with a clear pocket on the front so we can slide in a cover.  I'm able to order binders from our district warehouse, so every student got the exact same binder.  But you can also stock up during back-to-school sales, or put them on your class wish list.

If you have students bring in their own binders, I suggest you do not allow the Trapper Keeper binders.  These binders are set up to hold pocket folders which are actually more difficult to keep organized.  Papers need to be clipped into the three rings of a regular binder.  If they're put in folder pockets, they get wrinkled, torn, and can fall out. 

Binder dividers are the key to organizing the materials inside.  This set has a printable page.  You can print a set for every student so they all have the same tabs.

The dividers with plastic tabs that let you slide in a label work best.  The slide in tabs come with a sheet of blank tabs that can be put through a printer to customize with the labels you want.  

These are the tabs I usually have in my binders:
--V.I.P.   Very Important Papers.  This section holds pages with the class or school information.  The papers in this section usually stay all year long.
--Subject tabs    There is a tab for each subject area; reading, language, spelling, math, science, and social studies.

The packet of dividers usually has eight dividers.  That should be plenty to set them up the way you want.

The pockets inside the front and back cover are used for the communications sent home and then returned to school.  The front cover is labeled Home and the back pocket is labeled School.  So, anything that needs to be seen by parents is put in the front pocket.  Anything that needs to be returned to school should be placed in the back pocket.  To tell the truth, the back pocket is often ignored and all papers coming back to school are usually put in the front pocket.  I don't get too picky about that, as long as the papers get back and forth safely.

Using the Binders
Once you have everything ready, it’s time to show your students how to use the binders.  Don’t be surprised if this is the first time your kids have actually used a binder.  In fact, you will probably need to show them is how to open the rings.  The best way is to press the top and bottom openers (I don’t know the official name for those things!)   If they pull the rings apart, they will eventually become misaligned and not close properly.  

To save time I usually have the dividers already in the binders before I hand them out.  This way, I’m sure all the dividers are put in correctly so the divider with the first tab is on top.  But, I let the kids slide the labels into the tabs.  Most of them can do it, but a few will need extra help.

As they are adding the labels, explain that papers for each section go BEHIND the tab.  They must “open” the section by holding the tab and moving it from the right side to the left side of the binder.  It’s just like opening a book.  You open a book by moving the cover to the left.  For some reason, this is very confusing for some students.  During the first couple of weeks I go around and double-check that the paper I've just asked them to put away is behind the correct tab. 

I created a set of binder covers for you!  There are five designs, both bw and color. There's also a template for printing the tab labels.  (Click on the image)

 Set of binder covers, both color and bw.
Click on the image to download this set of binder covers.  This is a PowerPoint file which is editable when it's open in PowerPoint.  (IT IS NOT EDITABLE WHEN IT OPENS IN YOUR BROWSER.)  

Daily Use
The main reason for using a binder is so students can keep important pieces of paper and find them later.  For example, If we start working on a reading assignment and don’t have time to finish, students put it in their binder and we get it out the next day.  Binders drastically cut down on crumpled, torn, or lost papers.  

Students don't keep every paper in their binder.  If we did the binder would soon be stuffed so full it wouldn't close!  My general rule is to keep ongoing work, reference pages we'll use again, and graded assignments.   Practice pages we don't need anymore go in the Home pocket and hopefully are taken out at home.  

I require that all graded papers stay in the binder until the end of the quarter.  That way, parents can see them and if there is ever a question about a grade, the assignment is right there.  It's also handy for student to look back at their work to see their progress.  

-Make it a routine to tell students where to put papers in their binders.  If you want a math paper kept, tell them to put it in the math section of their binder.  If it's just a practice paper that doesn't need to be kept, tell them to put it in the Home pocket to be taken out that night.  Don’t assume they know where to put something.
-Check frequently to make sure students have cleaned out the home/school pockets.  You don’t want to miss any notes from parents. Some parents don't take out the class or school announcements or flyers that are meant to be kept at home.   
-Depending on my desk arrangement I had table or row captains.  One of their jobs is to check to make sure all students in their group have placed a paper in the correct place.  It saves me a lot of time.  Plus, kids love to help each other.
-If I have a student who is especially challenged with staying organized, I assign a buddy to help him/her.
-Have a thorough cleaning out and reorganizing at the end of each quarter.  I have students take out everything we don't need anymore.  The graded papers can be stapled and sent home.  This way you'll start the new quarter with a fresh binder.

Do you have any special ways to keep your student binders organized?  Share your fresh ideas. 

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How to Avoid Messy Desks

Students need to be taught how to be organized.  The first step is to show them how to store materials in their desks.  This simple system will help keep them organized all year!

Organization does not happen by itself.  Your students can be organized, but you have to teach them. 

I can’t tell you how many times my lessons and class activities have been delayed or interrupted because a student can’t find the paper, scissors, glue stick,  or other supply he or she needs.  

Organization may take a little extra time , but it will save so much time and so many headaches later.

The first organization I teach my students is how everything should be stored in their desks.  I’m a real stickler and require that everyone follow the same desk arrangement.

I have a specific way student binders, softbound workbooks, spiral notebooks, hardbound books, free-reading books, and a pencil box are placed in the desk.

One key is to keep the softbound workbooks and the hardbound books separate.  Those soft workbook covers will quickly be destroyed when heavier hardbound books are slid on top.

The binder has to go on the right because of the slant.  You want everything that's put on top to slide to the side of the desk and not to the middle of the desk.  On top of the binder, students put all of their soft bound workbooks and spiral notebooks. If they have a paperback-free reading book, it goes on this stack, too.

On the left side, students stack any hardbound books.  Their pencil box goes on top. 

Students need to be taught how to be organized.  The first step is to show them how to store materials in their desks.  This simple system will help keep them organized all year!

With this arrangement there is less of a chance that books will be damaged when they are taken out or put back into the desks.

-Give your students time, once a week, to empty, clean and reorganize their desks.  This will cut down on the papers and trash that gets shoved to the back of the desk throughout the week.

-Let students keep two pencils and an eraser in the small pencil tray in the desk opening.  All other supplies should be in the pencil box.

-Only keep the textbooks they use every day in their desks.  Store other textbooks on a shelf and work out a system for handing them out and collecting them for your lessons.

-If a box of crayons is too large to fit in the pencil box, it will probably fit between the two stacks of books.

-A book baggie to hold paperback books from your class library will help protect these smaller books. 

 Keeping small, paperback library books in a plastic bag helps protect them as they go from desk to backpack.

-Give students enough transition time to put things away where they belong. When you're in a rush it's hard to stay organized. 

-Praise students who have neat and organized desks.  You may want to give random notes of encouragement when you see a well-organized desk.  My room has a Gnome Patrol.  The patrol is usually me, but sometimes I assign students to be the Gnome Patrol for the week.  At random times, without an announcement, the Gnome Patrol will leave a card in an organized desk.  Students love finding this little card in their desk.  

Kids love it when the Gnome Patrol finds their desk neat and organized!  It's a fun incentive for kids to keep their desks organized.
The Gnome Patrol cards are included in my SPARKLE Positive  Behavior Toolbox.  Click here to check it out.

What tips do you have for keeping student desks organized?

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