Seven simple solutions to help you manage paperwork in the classroom 

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I hate clutter! With a passion! It is like an itch I can’t scratch. Just picture Leonard Hofstadter from the Big Bang Theory wearing his itchy red sweater. That’s me around clutter! And I especially hate paper clutter. As a teacher, I manage paperwork all day long. That made me quickly realize that I needed a simple system to organize paperwork in my classroom, or I wouldn’t be able to function. In this blog post, I am sharing seven simple solutions that have helped me manage paperwork in my own classroom. I hope these tips can help you as well. 

But before we dive into this week’s blog post, have you seen my FREE set of reading graphic organizers? I have included ten graphic organizers in English and Spanish that work with just about any fiction or nonfiction text. They also come in digital and printable formats and are perfect for upper elementary. You can click here to get your FREE copy! You can thank me later! 

Why is it important to manage paperwork in the classroom?

If you are anything like my husband, paper clutter does not bother you one little bit. Seriously, how? I envy you! So you may be thinking that this blog post is not for you at all. But hear me out! How many times have you spent hours looking for paperwork because you don’t have a good organizational system for it? 

Being able to manage paperwork in the classroom is not just about feeling good. It is also about being efficient. And I bet any teacher wants to regain some of their free time. But if you have to spend precious time looking for papers because you don’t know how to organize paperwork, then you are not using your time wisely. So here are seven simple ways to manage paperwork in the classroom and regain your time and sanity. 

Picture of a disorganized desk with text overlay, "How to organize paperwork in the classroom."
Are you tired of the piles of papers cluttering your desk? In this blog post, I am sharing seven simple but effective tips to help you organize paperwork in the classroom and avoid all that clutter!

How to organize papers in classroom

1. Ditch the “unfinished work” student folders 

One of the worst things for paper clutter is the dreaded unfinished work folder. They don’t work for you, and they certainly don’t work for your students. If you have managed to use these bad boys in your classroom successfully, I salute you. I have never found them helpful. In fact, my third grader showed up home with over thirty pages of unfinished work at home on the day before the last day of school. She sat frantically all afternoon trying to finish as much as she could. I knew they wouldn’t be graded but figured she needed to learn a lesson on responsibility – don’t judge me! The point is, how many kids are having the same type of anxiety because their unfinished work folder just keeps getting bigger? Just some food for thought! 

Instead of allowing my students to keep their unfinished work in a folder, I collect any loose papers that I plan to grade at the end of each lesson. Even if it is not finished. This signals to my students that the work must get done within the time I have given them because they might not get another chance to finish it. If most of my students haven’t finished the work, I give it back to them the next day during center time, morning work, or independent work time. And then I collect it again. This allows me to keep all those papers together, which helps me when it is time to grade them. It also helps me make sure that no one misplaces their work and has to start all over.

If I have a few students who worked really hard the entire time but couldn’t finish the work, I adjust my grading for them accordingly. I don’t count the questions they didn’t get to, so they can still get a good grade even though they didn’t finish. 

2. Use labeled plastic drawers to store all. the. papers! 

During my third year of teaching, I started using the Sterilite plastic drawers to manage paperwork. I have never looked back. 

In my classroom, I have multiple 3-drawer sets. I use two sets of drawers for copies. I use these labels to help me know what is in each drawer. Although I like to divide my copies by subject, they could also be divided by days of the week. 

I use one set of the Sterilite plastic drawers to store my students’ work. In the first drawer, I store the work that needs to be graded. I use the second drawer to store the work that has already been graded but needs to be entered in the gradebook. In the third drawer, I store the work that is ready to be returned to them. 

I have one more set of Sterilite plastic drawers that I use to manage paperwork that comes from the school or district. That includes papers that I need to fill out and return to my administration and papers that need to be sent home. 

If you are looking for cute labels to help you organize your classroom, don’t forget to check these out! 

3. Go digital! 

The best way to manage paperwork in the classroom is to avoid it as much as possible. I do that by making sure I am saving digital files in a neat manner on my computer. This allows me to discard the hard copy because I know I can still easily access it on my computer. 

Files on my computer are organized into different folders. I have one folder for each subject. For each subject, I have one folder for each topic. For example, I have a folder for reading and a folder for plot. Within each topic, I have different categories of files. For example: centers, graphic organizers, assessments…

Knowing that I can access these files digitally means that I can discard the physical copies once I am done using them. Even if I have to reprint something later, it is better than saving it in a huge, messy pile of papers. 

I also use digital records to keep anecdotal notes during small group instruction and writing workshop. I create different folders for each subject with subfolders for each child. As I work with my students in small groups, I open up their personal folders and type up what I observe. Personally, I use OneNote for that, but you could use Google Drive. I love that no matter where I go, I have my notes with me. 

4. Throw away papers you don’t need immediately

The next tip is so simple, but honestly… most people don’t do it! I see this with my husband every single day. He will save every little scrap of paper, even though he never needed it or will ever need it again. It is the simple fact that he refuses to throw it away immediately – as soon as he realizes that piece of paper is not important. It drives me nuts! 

I see that with teacher friends too. Instead of discarding papers they no longer need immediately, they push it aside. Next thing you know, they have buried those notes under a pile of other useless papers. Now, they can’t just throw the entire pile away because something important could be buried there too. 

Repeat it with me, people! THROW PAPERS AWAY THE MINUTE YOU REALIZE YOU DON’T NEED THEM! This will save you so much time and energy in the future. 

Picture of a cluttered desk with text overlay, "Managing paper clutter in the classroom - classroom paper organization ideas."
This blog post includes simple but effective classroom paper organization ideas to help you have a clutter-free classroom.

5. Have a “substitute work bucket”

This “hack” took me a while to adopt, but once I did, it made me realize that “old papers” can have a purpose. Here is how it works. 

I often make copies of activities that we never actually get to complete. I always over-plan! That means that, sometimes, I will have full sets of activities copied for my students that we never get to actually work on. 

Before I used to throw those extra activities away immediately. But now, I save those activities in my “substitute bin.” If I am ever in a bind and need to plan quickly for a sub, I can look through that bin and pull out activities that my students can work on. It works great because I know that whatever is in that bin is covering a topic we already learned in class. So I don’t have to worry about my students not being able to do the work. If you choose to do this, make sure you are only saving class sets. Don’t save activities if you don’t have enough copies for everyone already made. 

6. Take pictures of important information 

I hate all the papers we get at PDs and staff meetings. I understand they are often necessary, but the truth is, they often get stuffed into a drawer and when you actually need the information in them, you can’t find it. 

Instead of saving those papers, a great way to help you manage paperwork is to take a picture of them on your phone. This means you can discard the paper while still holding on to the information. Best of all, you can easily access it on your phone when you need it. Go ahead and create a folder on your phone, so you can save all those pictures in the same spot. No more paper clutter!   

7. Use binders 

If you are like me and prefer to have physical copies of lesson plans, student information, and data, binders are your best friends! I have a binder for lesson plans, a binder for guided reading, a binder for data analysis, and a binder for parent communication. This makes it super easy for me to find exactly what I am looking for. Binders are also easy to store and sturdy. To top it off, I can easily add pages to my binders and reorganize them as needed. 

I have created some super cute editable binder covers that help me stay organized. I have a Boho Rainbow set and a Boho Desert set. Each set comes with fifteen cover options and matching spines. You can easily edit them using the editable PDF file or the editable PowerPoint file. Easy, cute, and effective! 

There you have it! 

Seven simple solutions to help you manage paperwork in your classroom. Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments down below. 

Before you go, don’t forget to download my FREE set of reading graphic organizers in English and Spanish for upper elementary. It’s a must-have. Click here to get it sent directly to your email. 

Happy teaching! 

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Hi, I'm Rebeca!

I help upper elementary dual language teachers with resources and ideas that promote bilingualism and biliteracy.  

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.

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