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Notebook Line Up: Keep your students' notebooks organized

5 small steps you can take to make sure your students' work stays organized.

By Maia Heyck-Merlin

November 2, 2012

We all have grand ambitions at the beginning of the school year to keep our students organized. We diligently mark notebooks, binders, and folders... we use our best markers and our biggest labels... we buy a fancy 3-hole punch for the writing center. This year, we tell ourselves, it will all be different!

And then, slowly but surely... November arrives. And those loose papers, crumpled-up writing drafts, and scattered worksheets still creep into, out of, and onto desks, lockers and backpacks.

It happens to the best of us.

To figure out some simple but surefire ways to avoid the paper creep, we travelled back to Ariel S.’s middle school Language Arts classroom in Brooklyn. We love what she’s doing to keep student notebooks primed for learning, and surface areas clear of messiness.

Check out the small steps Ariel took to make sure notebooks supported student learning AND an organized classroom. Ariel teaches four sections, so she has a lot to keep track of!

1. Ariel dedicated a specific area of her classroom for notebook storage. Note that this area is not crammed behind her desk, balanced precariously on top of her overhead projector, nor hidden underneath a pile of student lunches. Ariel instead stacked some plastic crates to make easy-to-access shelving. There is a colored dot on each shelf for each class section. This makes it even easier for students to pick up and return their notebooks.

2. Ariel ensured each notebook was clearly labeled at first glance—no flipping through the stack required. This step SEEMS small, but it allows students to see and grab their notebook without commotion.

3. Ariel labeled again. The notebooks are also labeled by student name and class on the front cover. No confusion here about what belongs to who, or what shelf it needs to be returned to. Clarity = sanity, people!

4. Ariel set expectations for organization inside the notebooks. Too many of us are guilty of just saying to our students, “Write this down in your notebook.” No wonder things get lost and assignments get forgotten! It’s always better if we can be incredibly explicit in our instructions to teach students how to keep themselves organized in later years. Check out this table of contents that Ariel’s students build with each new lesson:

5. Ariel made certain her students could find what they needed in their notebooks. Her expectations were also clear for how each page was to be labeled. This meant students could find their notes and use them easily.


What we love about Ariel’s organization system is that it is functionally organized, not beautifully organized. Too many of us fall into the trap of spending too much time making perfect labels and not focusing on the “real work” of teaching our students the organization skills that will help them throughout school and beyond. Ariel spent time thinking about her system and its function, without wasting her precious time (or her students’!) on formatting, printing and beautifying.

Thanks for the inspiration, Ariel!

How do you keep students organized?

This post originally appeared at The Together Teacher.