Friday, January 2, 2015

Get your classroom organized in the new year!

It's been a LOOONG time since I've stopped by my little blog!  But I had a good reason.  I had the chaos of Christmas, getting gifts packaged, preparing for a 10 day trip to Florida, report cards, and not to mention that I had to get ready to track out (I'm at year round and our breaks are called "track outs").
One of the things that I love to do is organize my classroom and find solutions to situations that are keeping things from running smoothly.  I often have teachers that come into my room and ask how I organize this or that, and I'm flattered that they would want my advice!  So I thought maybe I'd take a series of pics to (sort of) highlight some things that have made my teaching life a little easier :)

Headphones and Listening Centers

I stankin' HATE headphones.  They are constantly getting tangled.  I have 6 iPads in my classroom that my students use for Word Work for Daily 5 and they also use them for a math tub rotation.  They need headphones for the iPads.  The iPads have to be neatly stacked at a station and the headphones have to be unplugged.  Where do I put the headphones???  I had this rack (I think I got it at Wal-Mart).  I also have a tall cabinet in my classroom that's easy access for my friends.  I used a command hook and attached it to the INSIDE of the cabinet door.  That way, when the door is closed, I don't have to see headphones.  But the cords were still getting tangled.  And then I would hear..."Mrs. Johnson!!!!  I can't get the headphones!!!  The COOORRDS!!!"

Ahhh....I don't hear my name anymore :)
I found these little bags at Michaels.  I had to show my friends how to first wrap the cord around their hands, then tuck the cord in, then tuck the headphones in upside down.  Very technical.  But it works like a dream.  And they seem to enjoy the sheer organization of it all.

Now, other than the iPads, my students had to get the headphones to plug into the tape players.  So after they would yell about the cords being tangled, then I would hear, "Mrs. Johnson!!!  Which HOOOLE????"
So, to make that little part of my life easier, I took white out and colored the outside rim of the hole for the earplugs.  I should have taken a picture of the buttons but I forgot.  The play button is colored green.  The stop button is colored red.  And the rewind button is colored yellow.

But then, sometimes, I use CD players.  (I know.  My poor students and their confusion.)  And I would hear, "Mrs. JOOOOHNSON!!!  Which Buttonnnnn?"  I took permanent markers, like above, and colored them. 

Now keep in mind that I didn't throw all this at them at once.  I started with the tape players and trained them to use those first and then once they learned how to use those I trained them how to use the CD players.  (The CD players are actually a lot easier to use.)  I have also trained them to put all materials away, headphone cords rolled up and bags put back.  It just all flows so nicely now!

CD/tape players are kept in bags on the walls.  They have a choice between taking a bag and listening to the book provided or listening to a book on the computer.  I switch out the books every 2 weeks or when a student asks me if I can change them.  Sometimes they like the books in the bags so much that they don't mind listening to them over and over!  
(And yes, I have bags for every season.)

Papers, Papers, Papers!

I have my students turn in ALL their work into 2 "turn in trays" in the front of the room.  I used to have them keep a folder in their chair pocket that had "Finished" work and "To Do" work.  It was an utter disaster.  There was always paper everywhere!  And they didn't know what was what.

I taught my students that when ANYTHING is completed and you have no more to do, then it goes in the turn in tray.  If it's not done, it goes into their "Classwork Folder."  That folder holds anything they haven't finished.  Every few days, I'll go through the turn in trays.  Anything they completed at Daily 5 is considered practice so I mark it with a "P."  I only have 2 Daily 5 centers that actually have "paper activities" so it's not usually that much.  Also, if I see a student is struggling with independent work, I can use that work to show to parents.

Click on the picture below to get this poster!

After I've marked everything, I, or my TA, will file the papers.  I have a file for every student and I just sort as I get things checked.  

Once a week, those papers go home.  The papers get taken from the file and put into the student's Monday folder.  The parents have to clean out the folder, sign the behavior and work habits chart inside, and send it back in.

On Tuesday, they bring back their Monday folders and put it in the drawer!  This process keeps everything streamlined and I don't see papers all over the classroom!

Now where do I put the papers that I haven't gotten to yet?  
Once the week has been planned, I keep all papers, manipulatives, activities, etc. in these boxes.  They are labeled with the days of the week so I can just grab what I need and go.  I got them at Wal-Mart and were well worth the investment.  My guided reading table is right in front of these drawers so I can also turn around and grab what I need for groups.

Other Odds and Ends that make my life Easier!

At my school, students are not required, but encouraged, to visit the media center every day.  They are also encouraged to get at least 3 good fit books.  Each student has their own library card with a bar code and have to take it to the library to scan their books.  At first, I put a magnet button on the back and they would grab their card and go.  But then they would leave the card in the library because they put it down somewhere.  
So then I decided to thread a rubber band through each card and hang them on a hook. 

The students sift through them, find their card and put it on their wrist, like a bracelet.  They don't even have to take if off to scan it.  It stays on their wrist until they get back in the classroom where they hang it back up.

If you do Daily 5 or even have your students on reading levels, then you'll know the frustration when a student comes up to you and says, "Which books do I pick again???"  I bought these bins from Dollar General waaaay back during my first few years of teaching.  This is my 10th year, and they are still going strong.  What does that tell ya??
Each bin is labeled with a reading level.  The books inside have been leveled and also have the reading level in the top right hand corner.
I keep each students reading levels on the front of their book boxes.  I usually have them reading books ON their level, and I have them choose a level below and a level above.  I don't know if that's even the correct way to have a student choose books, but sometimes I find that they can actually grapple through the harder books.  Once a student moves up a level, I just cover up the old one with a new dot.

Trash: It always seemed to be all over the place.  And my students were always up walking around finding a can.  And then they would lose their papers that they were working on.
  Until I put a little bucket in the middle of each table and said, "Here!  Throw it all away in there!"
I usually have a little friend pass them out (they call them miniature trashcans) and that same friend will dump them once the activity is complete.  I think I got these at Dollar Tree and they are that "bendy" plastic so they'll probably last me forever.   
SO what to do about activities that aren't complete???  I saw this on Pinterest and it works like a charm.  Just glue an envelope to the back of their notebook and it holds all their loose papers.  First thing in the morning when they come in, they get it out and finish the activity from the previous day.
Organizing math manipulatives has made my life so much easier.  We no longer scream because a bag is ripped.  We no longer scream because the bag we got only has three manipulatives.  I plan on doing this with ALL my math pieces.  I got these at Wal-Mart.  They come in packs of six for I think like, $4.

I got this idea from Greg Smedley (Smedley's Kindergarten Smorgasbord).   I didn't think it would really work.  But I eventually got tired of hearing everyone scream about there not being any glue sticks, there not being a lid to the glue, or no glue to the lid.
Glue Sponges.  Best.  Idea.  Ever.
Just wet a sponge.  Pour glue over the sponge.  Close the lid.
I bought these containers for easy stacking at the end of the day.

Speaking of screaming...
Oh yeah.  We don't. :)
Not with these little babies...
Now keep in mind that these little Quiet Critters did not work at all with my friends last year.  I would find pieces of Quiet Critter all over the room where a student had dismembered it.  But the year before that, my Kindergarteners would pet them and treat them with tender loving care.  I decided to pull them out this year and give them a try...
Silence.  They.  Really.  Work.
I tell them that if they talk, it frightens the Quiet Critter and they have to go back to their nest.  If they still have their Quiet Critter at the end of Daily 5, I give them a little treat.
My next project is to make new Quiet Critters.  Some of my friends this year are disappointed when they get one with one eye.

I know this post was SUPER long but hopefully you got some ideas on how to keep your teaching life SANE.
You can read some other ORGANIZING posts HERE, HERE,  HERE and HERE.

Happy New Year, Friends!


  1. I love the idea of the quiet critters. I am going to have to give that a try! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Hey Mica!
      I went to Target yesterday and in the Valentine section they have little bags of the puff balls, hearts for feet and ears and eyeballs! It's a Quiet Critter in a bag! Well, it's actually a "Valentine Critter" but who's gonna know?

  2. I don't know why I've never thought of storing math manipulatives in this way but I am definitely needing to try it out!

    Paiges of Learning

    1. Hey Paige!
      I'm going to end up doing ALL my manipulatives like this. It has made life SO much easier!

  3. Ok loooove the math manipulative idea! I'm going to need to do that!

    Also am thinking about implementing your quiet critters. I was wondering what sort of reward you provide for kids who still have their quiet critter at the end? I'm a new teacher and need ideas!!

    1. Hi Kellie!
      First year teacher, bless your heart! Okay so there are things my students can earn throughout the day. I ALWAYS keep a bag of skittles (smartie skittles), or a bag of gummy bears (good work gummies) or a bag of swedish fish (focus fish) - you get the idea. We have 4 rounds of daily 5 - 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. When they are done with the 2 rounds of daily 5 and have not had their quiet critter taken away, I give them ONE treat. You would be VERY surprised how hard they work for ONE little skittle. And the same goes for the afternoon. They have to complete 2 rounds and not have their quiet critter taken away. I also use the treats during, say, guided reading. If I have a little friend fooling around during guided reading, I make note of it and at the end I'll give focus fish but I'll tell that little friend, "Oh I'm sorry. You were not focused with the rest of us." They learn REAL quick what it's all about. And you can't feel bad about not giving a treat to the ones that fool around - they gotta learn! If you have ANY other questions or need resources you can email me at