As educators, we all have experienced asking a student for an assignment and proceeded to watch them dig through their backpack, unfolding crumpled papers, and dumping out folders in what appears to be a haphazard archeological dig. If you’re lucky, twenty minutes later they eventually stumble across the buried treasure you were inquiring. If Lady Luck was not on your side, the search expands to the locker, which we all know (though scientists have not yet confirmed) is a black hole. What if students had a treasure map of sorts, that would allow them to expeditiously find their academic valuables at the exact moment of need? The hunt would be eliminated, and time in the classroom could be better spent.

Spending some time upfront helping students to develop the executive functioning skills that they need to be self-directed learners can pay off in dividends.

Executive functioning skills are the self-regulating skills that are used everyday and help with planning, organizing, decision making, shifting between tasks or situations, controlling our feelings and learning from past errors. Students with poor executive functioning skills may be disorganized, become overwhelmed, have difficulty managing time, lose materials, and take a long time to do everyday activities. Some students are, by nature, organized, others can be successful if they can put a routine or system into place to help them. Modeling and explicitly teaching students how to organize their work in a binder or how to set up their notes can break down these executive functioning barriers and set them up for success.

How can we help students to develop their organizational skills?

We must first be organized ourselves.

    • Students learn how to be organized through modeling. The more organized the adults are in a student’s life, the more they can see the benefits of organization.
    • An organized classroom environment allows students to focus on the learning and task at hand, rather than trying to find where the rulers are.

Establishing a Routine

    • Routines, over time, allow students to develop good habits.
    • The routine of ending class 5 minutes early to have students put away their materials and to write their homework in their planner sets them up to develop the habit of scheduling and writing “To Do” lists as they transition from one situation to another.
    • Visual reminders can be helpful to get students into a routine.

Sorting Through the Clutter

    • Sometimes there is just not enough time to organize everything in the moment. Students need to understand that if something prevented you from organizing in the moment,  it doesn’t mean you give up on organizing it, you just organize it later.
    • Having students regularly sort through their back packs and organize the material they find can get them into the habit of doing it on their own later on.
      • Dump everything out and make two piles “Keep” and “Throw out”
      • Sort the “Keep” pile into subject areas including an “Other” pile

Establishing a System

    • A system for keeping school work organized is important to success. If students do not know how to do it themselves, having them set up their binders or notebooks in the beginning of the school year (or semester) with a teacher established system.
    • Students should have separate sections or notebooks for each course they are taking, inclusive of a folder or other method for keeping loose papers.
    • Color coding items related to the same course can be helpful, providing a quick classification of an item at a glance.
    • Systems for taking notes like two column notes or interactive notebooks allows students to organize their notes not only with dates, and titles but with their metacognitive notations as well.

Explore Different ways of Learning

    • We know that all students learn in various ways, or have different learning styles: visual/spatial, kinesthetic, auditory, linguistic, logical, social, solitary, or a combination of thereof.
    • Allowing students flexibility in learning techniques that they use, can play on their strengths.

Spell out the Rationale

    • When students are learning a new skill, they must understand the reasoning behind it. If students do not understand the reason behind developing a new skill, it will feel like a waste of time and energy.

The older the student is, the more important this may be because they are already set in their ways, making it more difficult for them to understand why they might have to make an adjustment. “They’ll say, ‘This is what works for me,’ even if their method really isn’t working,” says Dr. Matt Cruger, Director of the Child Mind Institute Learning and Development Center in New York City. Explaining the rationale behind a particular strategy makes a child much more likely to commit to doing it.




ADDitude Editors. “School Organization 101: Clutter-Free Backpacks and Bedrooms.” ADDitude Magazine. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Bear, TC. “Tips for Classroom Organization – Teacher Created Tips.” Teacher Created Tips. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Ehmke, Rachel. “Help for Executive Functions.” Child Mind Institute. Web.19 Feb. 2017.

Hayck-Merlin, Maia. “The Together Student, Part 1: Good Binders Make Good Students.”The Together Teacher., 03 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

“Overview of Learning Styles.” Overview of Learning Styles. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.