Summertime for teachers is not what one may expect, it often involves preparing for the upcoming school year. As August approaches, it becomes time for many to begin gathering supplies, prepping materials, and getting organized!

A key component of a smooth-running classroom is the organization of student materials. Students must be able to find and access their materials to use their time efficiently. At the start of the school year, it is beneficial for teachers to identify zones around the classroom where students will find materials. For example, where will students locate whiteboards? Clipboards? Reading bins? Math manipulatives? These are items that students may need to grab at a moment’s notice during instructional time; a time when teachers may not want to pause and answer multiple questions about where materials are.

I have not yet met a teacher who does not appreciate a way to minimize prep time at the start of each day. Math is a subject where hands-on learning often takes place and requires many manipulatives. Instead of counting out math manipulatives at the beginning of each period for all students, consider creating “Math Toolboxes” kept in a designated area that students can grab during instructional time or work time.

Items in a Math Toolbox may include:

  • Linking cubes
  • Whiteboard marker
  • Whiteboard eraser
  • Small Ten Frame
  • Dice
  • Number line
  • Double-sided counters

Students work at different speeds, and because of this decide what students should do with their finished and unfinished work at the end of the work time. In my classroom, students have two spaces where they can place their unfinished pages. The first spot is on top of their pencil box. The second is in their table basket (which is an under-shelf basket), each table is equipped with two baskets for students to share with the person next to them.

Other unfinished work ideas:

  • Student mailboxes
  • A community unfinished work basket
  • Individual unfinished work folders
  • File Folder Wall organizer; write a number on each folder that corresponds with a student’s number.

Finally, at the start of the year, consider what these students should do during their “idle time”. This “idle time” is the time students have while they are waiting for others to complete their work or for you, the teacher, to be ready for the next activity. Students need to know what materials/activities are open for use, in my classroom crayons, unfinished work, and books. My students know exactly where to find these materials to use during their free time. To help my students navigate what is “open”, I have set tasks for students to complete with a corresponding list or visual that helps each student self-monitor their free time. Below is an example visual of what my kindergarteners are allowed to do while they wait.

Displayed: morning work (bell work), unfinished work, read their Small Group book, then choice of read to self or coloring.

The beginning of the school year is a fast-paced time of year, to ease the pace of this time teachers must prepare in advance. By thinking through how to organize frequently used student materials, you can help your students confidently navigate the classroom and free up your own time to support more learning! When you are ready to get thinking about going back-to-school again, I wish you luck as you get your “head on straight” and start to organize!