In this extra credit episode, we are going to talk about arranging paper in your classroom.

Simple Systems for Classroom Paper Clutter Transcript

Welcome to the simple systems are the same podcast. Here’s our extra credit episode where we’re talking about arranging papers in your classroom. 

We’re going through the spring cleaning acronym. And for “A”, we are talking about arranging things. 

There is one question that I do get pretty often, and it’s about papers in the classroom. 

There’s three different things that I want to kind of give you as a system you can implement to simplify some of the paper items that you have in your room. 

Arrange Paper Turn-In for Students 

The first thing I want to talk about is the whole paper turn-in and return process to students. Because I feel like this is the one where there’s so many options and you can overwhelm yourself really easily. 

The first thing that I did was try to create a separate bin for each class. But my first year I had seven preps, and that was just too many different things going into different bins. I just lost track of everything so much. 

Last year, I went down to a single bin system, where I had one turn-in little bucket. And at the end of each class, I would throw down a laminated colored sheet of paper. I have color coded in my classes. 

So the first hour is always red, the second hour is always orange, and so on and so forth. 

I would laminate those sheets of paper. And in between sections, I would go ahead and just put that paper down. I didn’t do anything with them. That was still my turn-in tray. That’s what I needed to go through. But it was already separated out by class. 

For me, it’s also a nice way to catch people who try to sneak in late assignments back where they shouldn’t be. 

But then this year, I actually had too many students to be able to do it with one tray. So now I’ve broken it down by prep. 

I still use my paper system for my freshman classes, where I have four sections of the same type of class. That is able to keep me organized, and a little bit more sane as I go through it. 

Once they are all collected, I will grade them and put them back into a colored folder that matches the color of the class. That way I can grab that folder really quickly and hand out papers so easily. 

I just have this pretty stack of rainbow order folders over by the side of my desk. 

Arrange Unit Papers and Unit Supplies 

The next thing I want to talk about is how you organize unit papers and unit supplies. Because that’s the other thing that tends to build up is excess copies of worksheets of notes that you may have completed. We just kind of hoard them a little bit too much. 

So what I want you to do is, go through and get rid of all of your extra copies. You probably need two copies. And the second one is only if you don’t have an answer key that you can go back through and do an answer key on the second one. 

You need a blank, original and an answer key. That’s it. 

You may want to also see if it’s more of a creative project. If you can keep some student examples for the future so that you can always use it as an idea of what the project could be. I love to keep my one pager movie summary examples from some of my upperclassmen. They got so creative with this documentary that we watched,

and how they filled in all the spaces and covered the material. So I like to put three of those up and say these all are A+ papers. They all did it so differently. 

Here is where you can let your creativity out. Once you have that, you’re going to stick that whole set into a sheet protector. Yep, those plastic sheet protectors where you can get 100 for like $1. Those things are my best friend. Do they fall apart? Eventually. Are they cheap enough to replace? Yep. But they keep you from having things loosely in folders, or in files. I hate files. I never want to open a file cabinet for the rest of my life if I can help it. And they are able to not be hole punched so that they don’t fall all the way out. 

Instead, it’s just held nice semi securely and it can be taped back up if it does fall apart. 

Once you do that, one great system to do is if you know that after you’ve done a worksheet, or you have an answer key, or you want it to mix something up with it, go ahead and just write a post it note and stick it on the front of that sheet protector. That way the next time you go to get it you have a note for what you might need to modify. 

If you don’t have a digital copy, go ahead and scan those in really quickly. Use the naming section that we did in Episode 55, where we talked about how you can find your files a lot easier with what sounds like a complex name system, but it’s really not. It’s gonna save you so much time down the road. 

Storing These Papers

So now there’s two ways that you can store all of these papers. 

The first one is unit by unit in a scrapbook box, the 12 x 12 Michaels plastic scrapbook boxes that have become a staple in some people’s classrooms. I love to use these for math because every time that I had manipulatives, or if I had a card sort, or something that I knew I would want to reuse year after year, I could keep either all of the copies of it in here. 

Or I could keep just one sample copy so that I knew the types of things I was looking for when I needed to go back and sort through my cabinets to find what was going on. 

This is great for some of those bulkier units. Or also if you do something with an interactive notebook, and you have a copy of the notebook in that container. 

The thing that gets tricky with it is though, it gets very expensive very quickly. Especially if you have multiple preps. So the year I started that and I had seven preps, it was not in the cards to be able to continue it for all of the units the entire semester, let alone the entire year. So instead, I moved over to the binder system. 

I just use a little one and a half inch binder, I label it with the class name, and then I print off the pages from my unit plan kit. This is like the sneakiest, best way that I’ve organized in my entire planning game. 

I just print off my lesson plan page, and I fit it all to one page if I can help it. It’s got everything you might need on it. The lesson topic, supplies, assignment category for the assignment, the due date points, any reflective notes, and then you can have outcome statements or you can have a standard as the last column. 

I print that out so that I have a huge overview of what I did the year before for that unit as I’m going to map it out for the next year. 

What’s nice about the digital file version is I can add in all of the links. So when I talk about digital file organization, having the naming down is really helpful. But this is really how I do my digital file organization for classes. I use that spreadsheet and I link anything and everything I can. Whether it’s to another file in my Google Drive, or it’s a video link that I need. It’s all in one place. And I can just go back and open that unit from the year before, and I have it all ready to go. 

Everything else can be a mess, as long as I know what is in my unit plan kit file. 

From there, it actually auto populates some other sheets that I think are just so helpful to have. 

The first one is an assignment checklist. It lists out all of the assignments that you’re going to have and need to grade for the entire unit. It’s great to give out to students who might struggle with having organization, or also sent home with parents so they have an idea of what’s coming up. 

A supply checklist by lesson. The things that you need to prepare as supplies for those lessons as they come up or are assigned to a TA so they can pull for you. 

And then any reflective notes and thoughts that you had based on the lesson. 

All of these sheets are things that I print out and I put at the very beginning of the lesson in the binder. That way, it’s all at my fingertips. 

I can go through digitally, but I am much more of a paper planner type of person. 

Then I’m going to organize the sheet protector pages behind it with everything I need for the unit. I can organize it with all of my notes in one section, I can organize it with all my assignments, my lab papers, maybe my tests and quizzes. But however you organize it, you just need it to work for you. 

I wouldn’t suggest going chronologically through the unit because that’s probably going to change, but adding a little tab sticky note on the end is going to make another world of difference when you’re going back through. 

You can usually fit two maybe three units into a simple one and a half inch binder so it doesn’t take up a ton of space. 

So those are some quick tips for how I paper organize in my classroom. I hope to see you over on Instagram @engineerdoeseducation. If you’re on the podcast, but you might want to check out the YouTube version instead, look for Engineer Does Education on YouTube. Until next time

Related Episodes:

49: Spring Cleaning Series, Part 1 – Clear, Classify, and Categorize

50: Extra Credit Strategies for Spring Cleaning Your Counters

51: Simple Steps to Letting Go and Decluttering for Spring CLEANing

52: Extra Credit On How to Start Decluttering

53: Reevaluate your stuff, schedule, and more for Spring CLEANing

54: 5 Simple Meal Planning Tips for Busy Teachers

55: Make it Easy to Find; Spring CLEANing your Classroom, Home, and Digital Files


Movie Summary One-Pager

Scrapbook Boxes

5 Steps to Simplify Your To Do List

Focus Blocks

Productivity Planner

Unit Planning Kit

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