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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Homework, Yay or Nay?

Homework has been a tradition in our schools for decades.  But, is it a tradition that needs to be retired?  At the very least it's time to evaluate your homework policies.  

Research shows homework is not all bad, nor is it all good.  Like everything else there are pros and cons.   

-Homework gives students time to practice the academic skills they need to master. 
-It gives parents a way to be involved in their child’s education.
-Having a homework routine helps students learn time management. 
-Homework can encourage self-discipline and independent problem-solving skills.

-Homework can lead to a negative attitude toward school.
-Homework cuts down on the time kids have to be active and play.
-Homework is often busy work the student really doesn’t need.
-Not all homes are created equal.  Completing school assignments at home can be a burden for some kids.

What most studies have found is that homework can be beneficial, but teachers need to make sure to minimize the negative effects of homework. 

Homework can be an valuable part of a child's education.  The cons don't necessarily outweigh the pros.  But, before you implement a new homework program these are some of the questions you need to ask myself. (Not listed in any particular order.)

1.  Will this assignment help my students grow academically?
2.  Is the assignment at the student's independent learning level?
3.   How long will it take the average student in my class to complete the homework assignment?
4.  How can the assignment be modified to meet the varied needs of my students?
5.  How will I manage the homework system I put in place? 

One way to think outside of the "homework box" is to give kids more choices.  Too often one assignment is not the best for all students.  Giving kids a choice may also avoid the negative attitudes toward mandatory homework. 

Choice boards are used with literacy studies, learning centers and for research projects.  Why not use a choice board for homework? 

I've put together a homework choice board that can be edited to meet the needs of your students.  This is an editable PowerPoint file.  When you click on this link it will open in your browser.  It is not editable in your browser!  You'll need to download and save it first.  Then open it in PowerPoint.  You may also need to click on Enable Editing in PowerPoint.   

Give your kids a choice for their homework.  These editable choice boards are the perfect way to differentiate your homework assignments.

I hope you find these editable choice boards helpful in setting your homework system this year.  I'd love to hear how you use them.  Share your pictures on Instagram and tag me (crockettsclassroom) so I can see, too. 


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Light up Your Room with a Lightbox

Light boxes are a fun way to make a statement in your classroom. You can put up an inspirational quote, make class announcements or use as a sign for a special area of your room.

I started my lightbox collection with a tiny light box I found in the Target Dollar Spot.  It was only $3.00 and is a fun way to add a little spot of brightness to a small space.  Then I purchased a mini lightbox from Michael's Craft Store.  It's made by Heidi Swapp.  

With these two lightboxes I needed to find a cheap way to add my own sayings.  I could use a purchased set of letters, but sliding in all of those individual letters sounded like too much work.  Plus, I like using lots of different fonts and colors.

So, in just a couple of minutes I created a template in PowerPoint.  Now I can create any saying, in any font, in any color.  I can also add graphics to make them extra cute!

You can download this simple template here.  The template is for a mini-lightbox (6.5 X 6.5)  Complete directions are included.  You'll also get the You are Awesome! inserts like you see in the picture above.  Once you click on the download you will need to save the PowerPoint file to your own device.  In order to edit the file you need to open PowerPoint on your computer and then open the file from there.  I have set the file to download as a "view only", but you will be able to edit it when it is in PowerPoint.  You do not need to request permission to edit.  

Have fun!


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Easy, Inexpensive, and Efficient Ways to Organize Literacy Centers

Organization is key to running efficient literacy centers. Find out how to get your literacy centers organized quickly and easily.

Organization is key to running a smooth and successful literacy block.  When your materials are organized and students know how to maintain the organization you have time to focus on your lessons. 

First you need to think about your space.  What type of storage area do you have?  Do you have 
  • counter top space
  • shelves
  •  cabinets
  • none of the above
I've been in classrooms with amazing cabinets and counter top space.  And then, other classrooms with only a few open shelves.  (Don't you wish they would hire a teacher to help design classrooms!!)  If you don't have adequate storage space you may want to add furniture to your classroom.  Since most schools don't have the budget to buy more furniture, you may need to go shopping for yourself.  Second-hand stores, like Goodwill,  are the first place I look.  You'll be amazed at what you can find that just needs a little bit of cleaning or a coat of paint.   Garage sales can also turn up great treasures, but it can be time consuming driving from sale to sale. 

Next, what will hold the materials for each center?  Tubs, bins, file drawers, or a cart are great for organizing the specific materials for your centers.  The books, papers, pencils, crayons, game pieces, etc. for each center should be kept together in one container.  It’s also easier if the center containers can be removed from the storage area and taken to a work space.

Tubs or bins work well if you have a cabinet or shelf storage area. Tubs and bins can also be kept on a counter top.  When choosing this type of storage look for a set at least 10” by 12” so they will hold regular sheets of paper.  You also want it deep enough to hold the other materials needed for the center (pencils, scissors, glue, crayons, etc.) Check out the lid for the bin.  Make sure it closes securely and is easy to get off and on.  Another important feature is their ability to be stacked.  Many have lids that are designed to be easily stacked without sliding off of each other.

Easy and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers without breaking the bank!  

If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.

The bins in these photos are by Sterilite.  They're 11" by 14" and 2.75" deep.   I like the way the lid clamps on.  Being see-through is a plus because I can see what's inside without taking off the lid.  And, the lid is designed for super easy stacking.

Drawer Sets are an easy and inexpensive way to store your centers.   These drawers are 9" by 12" and can be removed so students can take them to their work space.  That's large enough for regular size paper and a few supplies.  They do not have a lid, so kids have to be careful when moving from place to place.  Two sets can be stacked on top or beside each other.
If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.

File drawers are a convenient option because most classrooms have a file cabinet.  You can use file pockets to hold the paper materials for the center and a separate box for the other materials.  The file pockets aren't as durable, but they're easy for students to take out and then return.  

Carts with drawers are great if you have limited storage space in your classroom.   Wheeled carts work well because they can be brought into a work space during center time and then put away later.  Look for a cart that is sturdy and not wobbly when wheeled around.  You can usually find these carts at craft and hobby stores.  Keep your eyes open for back-to-school sales or their coupons.  I recently found these two at Michael's Craft store.  

If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.
The cart on the left has 10 drawers with a light metal frame.  The cart on the left has eight drawers and is a little more expensive. The drawers are larger and the cart much more sturdy.  

Materials caddies or boxes can ensure that students have everything they need at their work space.  These little boxes can be filled with crayons, pencils, scissors, and glue sticks.  Including a picture of the organized box will help students know how to repack the box. 

Keep everything organized with these easy and efficient ideas for your literature centers.

Labels are a must!  You should label the bin or box with the name of the center.  Make sure the lettering is easy to read.  If possible, color coding the label and the materials inside helps kids know which materials go into each container.  A materials list will also help the students know if they've returned everything when they're cleaning up.  A picture of how the contents should look will help if there are lots of materials and they fit in a certain way.  All of this helps students know the high expectation you have for taking care of the materials.

To help you get started with your labels, you can download this free set of editable labels to use on your containers.  I designed them to be printed on whole-sheet (8.5 X 11) shipping labels.  This way you won’t get frustrated when the label design doesn’t fit exactly on the label.  You do have to cut them out yourself, but I’d rather do that than throw out a whole page because it didn’t feed through my printer perfectly. Plus I can make the labels any size I want and not the ones predetermined by the label companies.

 Editable labels to keep your literacy centers organized

You can download this free set of editable labels to begin organizing your literacy centers.  Click on the picture above to download the PowerPoint file. 
Important:  You must download and then save the PowerPoint file to your computer or device before you edit.  Once you've downloaded and saved the file, start your PowerPoint program and open the label file from there to begin editing.  

Happy organizing!

Organization is key to running efficient literacy centers. Find out how to get your literacy centers organized quickly and easily.


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