Helping Students Manage Classwork

“I can’t find it.”  “You didn’t give that to us, Mrs. Harvey!”  Can I get another copy?”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these and about a hundred other excuses when asking students to take out a handout I gave them in a previous class.

Managing their materials is actually a life skill for students.  (Think about the mail nook [messy pilethat most of us have in our homes, and you’ll see what I mean.)  Students are notorious for being disorganized.  In fact, most adults have the same problem. According to, “43% of Americans categorize themselves as disorganized, and 21% have missed vital work deadlines. Nearly half say disorganization causes them to work late at least 2 or times each week.”

You can use these tips to help set your students up for success.

  • Plan ahead – Think about what you may want your students to keep.  Will you be giving out handouts that they’ll need to refer back to later?  Are you going to have students create foldables (student-created graphic organizers) which they’ll need for remembering vocabulary or math strategies?  Do you tend to sketch items or write things on the board for students to copy?  Try to anticipate the many ways that you will be sharing and/or requiring your students to manage information, and then think about how they will need to keep up with those items.  For example, flash cards and foldables may require pockets in the binder/folder.

laptop      Handouts that are on your computer could be shared electronically with students via a flash drive or shared network on your school’s server.  Electronic notebooks are also a great idea, but remember that students will have to be provided with a means to access them during class if needed.

  • Brainstorm your supply list – Based on the types of information your students will need for class, create a supply list.  You want to be sure and get this to students as soon as possible, either as part of the list your school sends before school starts  or on your teacher website.  Are you willing to provide supplies?  If not, try to keep the supply list generic and allow for flexibility.  Insisting on fuschia colored plastic folders with prongs and pockets may result in a huge amount of frustration for you, the students, and the parents who end up driving to every Wal-Mart within a 50 mile radius of their home to find them…  (Sorry – I was having a flashback – I’m back now!)
  • Create and teach a procedure to manage notes – Procedures aren’t just for elementary school.  Assuming that your middle and high school students know how to manage their materials could be a big mistake.  Spending a few days at the beginning of the year on this can save you lots of time later in the year from recopying and redistributing items.  Be sure to clearly define your expectations for the notebook.  Provide students with a simple rubric so they’ll know what each section should contain.  This example of a Physics Lab Notebook shows not only what the teacher requires, but what a page in the notebook should look like.  I also like Barbara Robeson’s Pinterest on Reader’s Notebooks.   You can modify this to fit your grade level and subject area.  These Pinterest Establish a periodic notebook check, or tie the notebook into the grades for added accountability.  Decide if the materials can go home, or if you’d rather students keep them at school.  Prepare for storage of notebooks kept in class, and teach students how to retrieve them at the beginning of class and return them before they leave.
  • Create a sample notebook – This should be created based on your rubric.  Having a sample will allow your students to have a visual of what you’re looking for and cut down on misconceptions.

laptopIt could be a hard copy or an electronic version like those used in OneNote  a Microsoft program that allows you to maintain your ideas in virtual notebooks.  You set up a notebook, and assign tabs with page inserts just like you would in a real notebook.  Read this article to learn more about setting up a new notebook in One Note –

  • Teach note taking skills – You can model note taking for classwork, for tests/exams, etc  while teaching your lesson.  Simple think aloud statements like, “This is something I would write down to help me remember (fill in the blank)” can serve as verbal cues for students who aren’t sure what to capture.  Be sure to provide examples for different learning styles.  In the book Differentiated Literacy Strategies for Student Growth and Achievement (Corwin Press, 2005), authors Gayle Gregory and Lin Kuzmich cite these research-based summarizing and note taking strategies that resulted in 34% percentile gains on standardized tests:
    • mind maps
    •  concept webs,
    • jigsaw activities
    •  reciprocal teaching, and
    • templates/advance organizers.

laptop Websites like Edutopia and  teAchnology are great places to learn more about these.

(BTW, I initially entitled this post “Helping Students Manage their Notebooks” but when I started researching  tips online,  approximately 90% of them were about managing laptops!  Boy, have times changed!)

Happy Teaching!