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I love a good teacher hack! Over the years, I have spent hours on Pinterest looking for ways to make my job easier. I bet that you have, too. In this blog post, I am sharing 19 best teacher hacks that will save you time and sanity.
1. Use clothespins on your bulletin boards
I love displaying my students’ work on my bulletin board, but I hate having to take their old work down and put the new one up. It just takes way too long, and I don’t have that kind of time. So instead of dealing with staples, I hot glued clothespins to a piece of border and used that to display my students’ work. I can have all of their work up in less than five minutes. I can even have some of my students do it for me. Game changer!
2. Use Sterilite drawers to manage paperwork
I hate paper clutter! In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about how I manage paperwork in my classroom. The biggest game changer for me was using Sterilite plastic drawers to organize my copies and student work. I use these labels to help me keep track of what goes in each drawer. I have some drawers for my copies for each subject, and some drawers where I keep the work I collect from them. One of my best teacher classroom hacks for sure! I will never, ever, use a different system.
3. Use slides with timers for time management
I use timers in my classroom all the time. I also use slides to put up directions for my students when they are working independently or with a partner/group. Combining these two things made my life so much easier. In my classroom, I use these slides with timers to help my students stay on task and finish their assignments on time. I love that I can put up instructions on the board every morning, so when they walk in class, they know exactly what they should be doing. It is also super helpful during small groups because my students can keep track of time and start cleaning up just before the timer runs out. Amazing!
4. Purchase a decor bundle
I know decor bundles can be pricey, but hear me out! Instead of spending hours looking for the things you need to decorate your classroom, you can purchase one resource that will have everything you need. From inspirational posters to slides with timers and drawer labels, all you need is in one file. And the best part is that it is all designed to go together, so your classroom looks cohesive. So worth the money. Besides, most bundles are discounted making them a great way to save you mine. (Any hack that helps teachers save money should make the list of best teacher hacks, am I right?!) Here is a link to my favorite decor bundle if you want to check it out!
5. Use a file rack to organize clipboards
I have a love/hate relationship with clipboards. I love using them in my classroom, especially with flexible seating. But storing clipboards can be a pain in the neck. The best solution I have ever found was to use metal file racks (like this one). I teach my students to store two clipboards per slot, with the clip part facing in opposite directions. Works like a charm!
6. Make centers “portable”
When I first started teaching, I had different areas in the classroom for each one of my centers. My students would go to that area to complete their work. But then I moved to another school, and my room was much smaller. I just didn’t have the room to create different “center areas.” That’s when I started using caddies to store my centers’ materials. I like these caddies because they are large enough to fit everything we need for each center inside. Clean-up time is also super easy. All my students have to do is put their center materials back in the caddy and move them back to the bookshelf where we store them. To keep my centers organized, I use these editable labels. They are word wall labels, but since they are editable, I can create labels for my centers, too.
7. Create “year-long” literacy centers
Talking about centers, one of the best teacher hacks I could possibly ever share is to make your literacy centers easier to manage by making them last all year. Wondering how that works? It’s simple! Come up with centers that can work with any type of text. The activities stay the same all year. But because students are reading a new, self-selected text every time, the answers will always be different. This will save you time not only setting up the centers but also during your instruction. Every time you set up a new literacy center, you have to take time away from instruction to teach and practice it with your students. But if your centers never change, you only have to do that once.
Won’t the students get bored? Not if you give them some options within each center! For example, in my classroom, I have a reading games center. There are a few games my students can choose to play. I have a tic-tac-toe game, a traditional game board, and a Diamond Hunter game (think Minesweeper and Battleship’s love child.) Whenever my students go to the reading games center, they can choose which game they want to play. They can also choose the text they want to read. I like to give them an assortment of classroom magazines, and they can choose any text from it to read.
8. “Hire” help
Don’t worry! This won’t cost you a cent. Find students in your classroom who excel at certain tasks and “hire” them to perform those tasks all year long. I am not talking about your traditional classroom jobs (door holder, clean-up crew…) I have those traditional jobs in my classroom, too. But there are certain tasks that are so essential to the classroom, that I don’t trust just any student to do them. These jobs require specific skills and availability.
For example, every year I have pencil managers in my classroom. Their job is essential because I don’t want to deal with pencils. Every morning (without me having to remind them), they come in early, sharpen all the pencils, and make sure everyone has two sharpened pencils for the day. Whoever gets this job, keeps it for the whole year. Why?
1. Because I can trust them to use my pencil sharpener without breaking it;
2. Because they don’t need reminders and direct supervision to get the job done;
3. Because they get to school earlier than most students.
So, think about essential tasks that your students could complete instead of you and start “hiring” help.
9. Use printable anchor charts
This is one of my best teacher hacks for sure! I am terrible at creating anchor charts by hand. They always look crooked and ugly. Such an eyesore! So I decided to start using printable anchor charts. It was life-changing!
I print my anchor charts ahead of time and laminate them. My anchor charts have “fill in the blank” spaces, so they are still interactive. After all, it is not an anchor chart if your students are not helping you add to it. Once they are laminated, I can fill them out with my students using an Expo marker. At the end of the school year, I erase the Expo marker and store the anchor chart for the following year.
If you teach upper elementary, check out my reading anchor charts. I have them available for fiction, informational, poetry, and biography in English and Spanish. I have also included interactive notebook pages for each anchor chart (interactive notebooks are another one of my best teacher hacks. You can read more about them below.)
10. Use interactive notebooks
I always want my students to take notes in class. I find that my students are much more engaged in the lesson when they do that. However, notetaking is a skill that upper elementary students have not mastered yet. That is when interactive notebooks come in.
I create my interactive notebook pages to match my anchor charts. Every time I am introducing a reading skill, my students and I work together to create an anchor chart. As we add information to our anchor chart, they copy the same information into their notebooks. This helps solidify their understanding of the concept we are learning, keeps them engaged, and is a great record of their learning.
11. Say “goodbye” to desk caddies
Instead of desk caddies, try individual supply bags. To start, buy an over-the-door hanging shoe organizer. Number or label each pocket, so each student in your class has a pocket assigned to them. Then, create individual supply bags using ziploc bags. I like ziploc bags because they are cheap, and I can see what is inside each bag.
In each ziploc bag, place the supplies you want your students to have access to each day. In my bags I have:
👉 Dry erase markers
👉 A piece of cloth (to erase their whiteboards)
👉 Box of crayons
👉 Red pen
👉 Glue stick
When my students come into the classroom at the beginning of the day, they are responsible for grabbing their bags and checking to make sure all supplies are there. At the end of each day, they must put the bags back in the shoe rack with all supplies inside. A classroom helper quickly scans each bag to make sure all supplies were returned each day. If they notice something is missing, they ask the owner of the bag to go get the item and add it to the bag. Missing supplies cost my students $1 dollar (we have classroom money.)
This is so much easier than caddies because students are held accountable for having their own supplies every day. And because they don’t want to use up their classroom money paying for the items they lost, they keep track of their stuff. It’s glorious!
12. “Hang” your anchor charts for next year
Like I mentioned previously, I use printable anchor charts in my classroom. I laminate my anchor charts, so that I can use Expo markers on them. But that also means that I can reuse them for a few years.
When I started using these printable anchor charts, I knew I needed a way to store them whenever they weren’t being used. I had a closet in my classroom with a hanging rod. That was the perfect spot to store my anchor charts. I purchased these hangers and used them to hang the charts in the closet. This made it so easy for me to find the charts I needed the following year.
13. Keep emergency folders by the door
There is nothing worse than being unprepared for an emergency. This is a simple hack for teachers but so important.
Hang a folder pocket chart right next to your classroom door to store your emergency folders. In case of a drill or a real emergency, you can quickly grab what you need before walking out the door.
14. Create a pencil system using a pocket chart
I feel like some of the best teacher hacks involve a pocket chart! For years, I struggled with my students losing pencils every single day. I seriously don’t know what they did with them. But once I implemented this pencil system, I never had to worry about missing pencils again.
Here is how it works:
👉 Choose two responsible students to be your pencil managers;
👉 Get a pocket chart with multiple small pockets, and put your students’ names or numbers on each pocket. I like this positive reinforcement 30-pocket chart because the pockets are deep enough to hold pencils.
👉 Place two sharpened pencils in each pocket;
👉 Hang the pocket chart in a place in your classroom where students can easily access it.
👉 Every morning, your pencil managers come in the classroom a few minutes earlier and check the pencils. Their job is to make sure that there are two sharpened pencils in each pocket. Teach your pencil managers how to use your pencil sharpener, so you never have to sharpen a pencil again.
👉 As students enter the classroom, they grab their pencils from the pocket chart.
👉 At the end of the day, students return their pencils to the pocket chart.
👉 Before leaving for the day, the pencil managers check the pocket charts to make sure all pencils have been returned.
You will need an appropriate consequence for missing pencils. In my classroom, I use classroom money to reward my students. If they lose a pencil, they have to give me one of their classroom dollars back. You could also choose to reward the students who always return their pencils instead.
15. Enforce the use of hand signals
Most of the best hacks for teachers involve classroom management, and this one is no different. There is nothing more frustrating than having your lesson interrupted because a student raised his hand to ask to use the bathroom. Instead of the constant disruptions, teach students to use hand signals. Hand signals allow your students to tell you what they need without interrupting the flow of your lesson.
I find that hand signals are especially helpful during small group instruction. They allow me to communicate with students who are not sitting at my small group table without saying a word.
To make hand signals work in your classroom, you need to stay consistent. For example, if a student comes to me to ask to use the bathroom instead of using the hand signals, I nicely remind them that they need to use the proper signal to ask to leave the classroom. This reinforces to all students that hand signals are “non-negotiable” in my classroom.
16. Practice your centers rotations
I often speak to teachers who hate centers because they feel like it is the most chaotic time of the day. Whenever this happens, I always follow up with, “Have you practice centers time with your students?” The answer is usually no. We can’t expect students to know what to do if we haven’t practiced it with them. This is why we have fire drills! Center time is no different.
At the beginning of the school year, devote some time to practice each rotation. Explicitly teach students how to gather their materials, how to find a spot in the classroom to work, how to work with a partner, how to stay on task, how to clean up at the end of each rotation… Every single detail must be explicitly taught and practiced. Sometimes, more than once!
Taking that time at the beginning of the school year to practice each procedure will save you hours throughout the school year. Also, remember to keep things simple (read best teacher hacks #7!)
17. Use foam dice
This teacher hack is so simple but so great. If you often use dice in your classroom, invest in foam ones. Foam dice are great because they don’t make any noise. Enough said!
18. Stop worrying about “early finisher” work
Instead of wasting hours looking for “busy” work for early finishers, come up with a go-to activity that your students complete while they wait for the rest of the class. In my class, our go-to activity during reading class is independent reading. I don’t have to say anything.
My students know that if they finish their work early, they must take out a book and read. During writing workshop, they know that they have to either finish their morning journal entries or work on an independent writing piece. During math, let students practice fact fluency with flashcards or an online game.
Whatever you choose to do, keep it easy and consistent. I don’t have to come up with early finisher work throughout the year because the procedures I have implemented don’t require anything from me. It is all on my students. Practice the procedures, so they become automatic.
19. Use Plickers for exit tickets
I love exit tickets! They are a great way to get a pulse on my students’ understanding of the material we just covered. They are also a great way to get a quick grade, making them one of the best teacher hacks out there. But you can make exit tickets easier and self-grading with Plickers.
To use Plickers, you will first visit their website and enter all your students’ names into it. Each student will be assigned a specific number that corresponds to their unique Plicker card. You will then print each Plicker card and hand it out to your students. Make sure the right kid gets the right card. Students will use these cards to answer questions.
Type any multiple-choice or true and false questions you want to ask your students on the website. Students will choose their answers by holding up their Plicker cards. Each side of their Plicker card has an answer choice (A, B, C, and D.) Students answer each question by rotating their cards to have the correct answer choice facing up. Each card also has a black-and-white image in the center that looks like a QR code. The teacher, using a phone or tablet, scans the image on each Plicker card to record the students’ answers. As you scan each card, you can see which students answered the question correctly. Once we are done, I can print a report that shows me exactly how each student performed (hello, easy grade!)
To make using Plickers even more effective, have students glue the card inside one of their notebooks that way they don’t lose it.
Save time and sanity with these best teacher hacks!
There you have it! 19 best teacher hacks that will help you save time and sanity every day. I would love to hear about your best teacher hacks. Let me know in the comments!