Optimum Organization Linky - I'm in Heaven!

Tips, tricks, and must-haves for organizing your classroom

I'm linking up with two of my favorite bloggers for their Optimum Organization linky party! I LOVE organizing. It makes me feel accomplished and efficient, even when I don't feel like I'm being an effective teacher. Other teachers often come to me for organizing advice and help. I may be the only person who registered for (and received!) a label maker for my wedding.

I'm going to share some of my favorite techniques and tools for organizing your classroom.

First off, I DETEST filing cabinets. Pages sag and curl up. Things get out of order. Pages end up facing different directions in the file folders. In my opinion, the only thing that file folders are good for are lapbooks.

So I put practically everything in binders.
Binders with clear pockets on the front and spine help you find exactly what you're looking for.
I prefer the ones with a clear pocket on the front and spine. That way I can make an insert and quickly see what unit it is. I also prefer the ones that have the rings attached to the back cover instead of the spine. I think that helps protect the punched holes. And I prefer several smalls binders as opposed to one large binder. I think that the larger binders start to rip earlier because they are used more often. Half-inch and 1-inch binders are about perfect for every unit that I teach. Last summer, Costco had a pretty decent sale on packages of binders.

Click on the picture to go to Amazon - affiliate link
I have also found that I'm picky about how I three-hole punch my papers. Not all punches are aligned the same, so I bought my own. Then that one jammed a lot because I was also punching transparencies. I think that the punches were getting dull. So I bought one just for punching transparencies so it stays nice and sharp. This year, my coworker rocked my world by telling me that a parent bought him an {electric three-hole punch - affiliate link}. Guess what went on my Christmas list! I'm pretty sure that my family had a good laugh about it, but that wasn't the first office supply that appeared on my wish list. I love this thing. It has made assembling my binders easy. It has also helped with the four different notebooks that each of my 65 students assemble.

For each unit, I made a coordinating tag to stick on a Sterilite tub or two. I like how these are clear and I can see the contents. I usually have one tub for books that I have out for students to read and another tub for my review games, bulletin board stuff, and things like that.
Plastic tubs hold bulky books and materials for your units.
To make the labels, I printed them out on a patterned cardstock, cut them out, laminated them, trimmed them, then ran them though my sticker maker so I could stick them neatly to my tub. These two wonderful products, in addition to my electric three-hole punch, are the inanimate loves of my life. I should really name them, as they seem like part of the family. I will be adding the the family with the new {personal binding machine} that I just ordered! My coworkers think that I am a little crazy, until they need to borrow them...

Last summer, I also took a few canisters (formula and Pringles) and Mod Podged some scrapbook paper onto them. The shorter formula ones I use for random things - remotes, tickets, Ziploc bags to be used again. The tall ones I use for rulers.
Use scrapbook paper and Mod Podge to repurpose formula containers and chip canisters.
My crate seats double as storage for writing journals and social studies interactive notebooks. One class has red folders that go in the red seat, one class has blue, and one class has yellow.
Crate seats provide extra storage.
These cans work perfectly for holding sharpened and unsharpened pencils. The cute black and white labels came from linky hostess Kristen :)
Metal cans labeled to hold sharpened and unsharpened pencils.
Still reading? Great!

If you want to know more about how I made any of these projects, check the sidebar for my most popular posts, as most of them are included in my top five.

Last year, I started using Sterilite drawers to store assignments and materials for the upcoming week. These replaced pocket folders for each day. Although the folders were cheap and simple to use, I found that they weren't always big enough for what I wanted them to hold. And of course, they started to rip and tear and wear thin after twelve years of use!
Sterlite scrapbooking drawers organize papers and materials for the week.
I have two three-drawer Sterilite sets stacked together. I made the labels in the same way that I did for my tubs. I really like them. Each drawer is 12x12 and 2 1/2 inches high, so they can easily hold anything I need for the day. I made the bottom drawer to hold papers for upcoming weeks, in case I get ahead on my planning ;)
Assignment cover slips help with assignment management.
My last organization tip is for collecting/grading/entering assignments. I used to put my kids in numerical order and have them write their numbers on their papers. Eventually I would learn their numbers and would be easily able to figure out who had missing assignments. Since I have three different classes this year and an associate does a lot of my checking, I developed a checklist cover slip. For each assignment, I create a key and paper clip it to the assignments. I put a cover slip on top noting the assignment name, due date, and points possible. In the first column, the associate or I can check off who has handed it in so I can figure that out quickly if the assignments won't be checked right away. I also note if someone was absent or handed something in late. In the second column, the associate or I will write the score after checking. When I go to enter it online, I can quickly type in the assignment information and scores because they are already in order. I can also keep the cover slip and hand back the papers before entering them if I want because all of the information I need is on the slip. I keep a little basket for the entered cover slips and rubber band them together and stash them at the end of the quarter.

UPDATE 7/22/14 - Due to the popularity of these cover slips, I have written a more detailed post on how to set up your cover slips {here}.

Wire baskets for papers in various stages of grading.
This is what my baskets look like for papers that are ready to grade and papers that have been graded. Sometimes the bottom basket will just contain the different cover slips if I decided to return the papers before entering the grades, like for a test.
Wire baskets keep different sections of papers separate. 
These are my hand-in baskets by class. I still get a ridiculous amount of no-names, so I need to separate them by class to help figure out from what class they came. We also enter grades by class, so it makes sense to collect assignments by class.

I look forward to seeing what other organization techniques work for you! I'm looking to getting some ideas for some fun summer projects!

And I'm also going to link up with Sabra for her Must-Have Monday (even though it's Wednesday). So, to summarize for her linky, you must have:
  1. binders
  2. a personal laminator
  3. an electric three-hole punch
  4. a sticker maker
  5. Sterilite tubs

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Tips, tricks, and must-haves for organizing your classroom

Disclaimer: Fifth in the Middle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


  1. OMG what a fabulous post with loads of details and great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think I just pinned everything from this post-I hope I didn't miss anything - fabulous post. Super inspiring for next year!!

  3. I'm moving to Serlite containers for my handouts next year too. Folders just aren't sturdy enough to hold my 90 copies of each handout, especially when I have multiple per day.

    I like the idea of using cover slips because I can keep them for proof of why grades were low (submitted late) since our grading system doesn't allow for comments.

  4. Great post! I'm so excited to work on implementing these for my own classroom!

  5. No need for a LIKE button, I LOVE it!!! Pinning now!

  6. You have some great ideas! I'm a binder person as well, although I've colored coded the binders by color (SS is light purple, Reading is teal, etc.) I like looking at all the pretty colors :)

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  7. Fantastic ideas! I loved your detailed post. I am also moving out of the file cabinet and organizing my subjects into binders! It is so much easier to find things this way!

    The REAL Teachers of Orange County

  8. Love all of these organization ideas! What did you use to make the seat part of your crate seats??

    1. If you look on my sidebar at my popular posts, there is a post called Finally! Milk Crate Seats :)

  9. I love all of your organization ideas! What do you have as the covers for your crates?


  10. Love, love, love all of the tips and ideas. I'm totally with you on the must have items, too. I love your system for grading papers. Awesome! Thanks for linking up :)


    Fun in Room 4B

  11. Oh Diane! I adore you!! Thank you for linking up and for such a detailed post. I am with you on binders vs. filing cabinets. Your binders are gorgeous and I love how you coordinated the containers! I am coming back to read this all again so I can soak it all in again ♥ ♥ ♥

  12. Okay...I THOUGHT I was organized until I read this post. Now I need to get my stuff together! I do some of the same things you do, I use binders instead of file folders, etc. But I definitely end up with stacks of papers everywhere still. I like the idea of having a drawer for materials for each day of the week.

    Now I feel compelled to go to work tomorrow and start cleaning up my room!

    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason

  13. Wow! You are super organized! I wonder if there is a prize for this linky. ;)
    Brandee @ Creating Lifelong Learners

  14. LOVE LOVE LOVE all of that! I thought I was the only one who cared about the binder rings being on the back as opposed to the spine, lol :o) Thanks for linking up and sharing those great ideas!

    Teaching with a Touch of Twang

  15. Umm...sticker maker?? I think you have just unleashed what could be another gadget that I MUST have! Seriously, how do I not have one of those?
    It is funny what you said about file cabinets! I put a lot of my filled binders IN my file cabinets because that is the easiest place to store them. I have some serious cleaning to do this summer in my room though. Heave and ho!
    This is such a great post with so many ideas! Thanks for sharing!
    Fourth Grade Flipper

  16. I use the same type of cover sheet for recording grades with my third graders. The big difference is that it is printed on plain white paper, and when students turn in their work they highlight their name on the list and then on their paper. It has really cut down on 'no-name' papers, and it's quick and easy to see who hasn't turned in an assignment! I blogged about it here: http://third-grades-a-charm.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-rockin-resources.html?m=1

  17. Girl, you are a professional modge podger. I need tips. Everything I do turns out all bubbly and heads to the garbage can. Love your binders. I hate filing cabinets too! I haven't had one for four years. I think the binders work way better. Love your covers, too!

    I Teach. What's Your Super Power?

  18. I think I found my teacher soul mate :) I also use plastic drawers for my weekly handouts and have fun labels on them (mine are polka dots). I am also a binder person! I only use the view binders so I can slip in (color-coded) labels for easy finding. So now I have to ask - what is this sticker maker you speak of? I have never heard of that! I have copied onto sticker paper in a regular copier but it can be a bit of a pain. I love that idea! I need to know, so the stickers come off easily if you take them off or are they difficult to get off? I am slightly particular :)

    1. I think that I will being doing a separate post about the sticker maker since it has generated some interest :)

    2. Please!! Link it up to Amazon where I can get my hands on one!! :) I just bought the same laminator and LOVE it!
      Pinkadots Elementary

  19. Great post! I also use a class list to check off assignments. It makes entering grades in the gradebook so much faster!

    By the way - who did your blog design? I LOVE it!
    ❤ Karen
    Flamingo Fabulous in Second Grade

  20. I am so happy that you left a comment on my blog, because now I have a new, FABULOUS blog to follow. I am learning so many wonderful things from your post. I don't want to admit how much time I have just spent reading your blog. I love your organizational skills and totally agree with using binders instead of file folders. I purchased a box of 12 binders from Sam's Club last summer for a great price and plan to buy another set this weekend. I just added a electric three hole punch to my shopping list. Do you mind sharing which book binding machine you ordered? I thought about getting one last summer, but I wasn't sure which one to buy. I am looking forward to hearing more about the sticker maker. Thank you for sharing so many great ideas!

  21. You're crate seats are just AMAZING and what a perfect idea for seats AND storage! Brilliant :)

    Liz - BaysideMathTeacher

  22. The different color lists match up with our organization curriculum. Social Studies, Science, and Math are color coded. The lists match what the homeroom teacher teaches.

  23. Thank you so much for such wonderful ideas!! I will have three classes this coming year and your ideas will be so helpful!!

  24. Love your blog! The ideas will be used as I build my new class room this year. BUT- how did you make your crate seats????? These would really help my storage and space issues.

    1. You're a no-reply blogger, so I hope that you check back. They're here - http://fifthinthemiddle.blogspot.com/2012/08/finally-milk-crate-seats.html

  25. My favorite organization item is the 12 drawer rolling cart (I bought mine probably 10 years ago at Costco). It has 2 columns of 6 drawers (I am a middle school teacher and teach 6 periods so it's perfect). Top left hand drawer is for 1st period students to turn in papers and top right hand drawer is for 1st period graded papers (so I can get them off my desk and they can store for as long as I need to before I return. Each of the drawers have a period and a turn in or graded sticker on them.

    Here is what the drawers look like. I don't remember paying that much but even it I did 10 years (and counting) of organizing 180 papers is worth it.

  26. I love being organized and I think I just did a happy dance after reading this post. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Wow, I just read this and it is simply amazing. Just curious though, you were saying you often hole punch your transparencies. I have a big box of them but am not sure what to do with them, what do you use them for?

    1. Back in the day, when I had an old school overhead projector, I used to make overhead transparencies of every workbook page or activity that we did together. Since I no longer have a projector like that, I haven't used a transparency since...


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