Organizing the Elementary Classroom!

It’s a well known fact that elementary age classrooms require lots of resources.  I’m not talking your average cabinet load.  I am talking fill up the entire garage and one bedroom at home amount of materials that make your family question whether you need an intervention.  Oh…that’s not the end of it.  Every shopping trip for groceries or a birthday gift ends up as a teacher related shopping trip because we can’t shut it off.  There’s always next week.  There’s always a season change.  It’s truly never-ending.  18 years in the classroom, and I am still guilty of leaving half the shopping bags in the back of the car because they need to go straight to school.

If you know me then you know I am a stuffer.  I start the year perfectly perfect as you see in my classroom photos.  I go through a process I like to call “The Summer Sort”. Throughout the year though I begin to have piles and stacks that threaten to ruin my happy classroom.  I open cupboards and find places to shove and stack until my next summer sort.  That’s how it goes year after year.

During last year’s summer sort, I desperately wanted to find a system that worked well with my shoving and hiding tendencies.  I also wanted to reorganize my activities by skill rather than season.  Did I mention that I also leveled my entire classroom library?

To start, I went to my classroom during the summer and pulled all the boxes of materials (centers, activities, file folders, EVERYTHING) to the middle of the room.  Then I almost gave up and went home.  Next, I had all the student desks in a long side by side in front of me.  I pulled out one activity at a time and began making stacks of like skills.  After the first few hours, I felt like I was crazy for taking on the task and wanted to just cry.  I had a mountain before me and I was pulling one little thing at a time.  It felt like I had hardly touched the piles of activities.

After day two of pulling activities out one by one and placing it in a pile by skill, it became much more clear.  I had many of the same types of activities and my groups were becoming easier to define.  On day three I finished the mountain.  Now I had at least 20 smaller piles all around the room by skill.  I found my boxes at IKEA {here} and based on how much room I had on the shelves and how much each box would hold, I began grouping the skills that went well together or that I taught during a certain time of year.

This is what I showed you, my favorite teacher friends when it was all said and done!

 The perfect picture.
You can bet I wasn’t snapping pictures during the actual ugly process.  I was too busy crying, eating chocolate, and sipping a giant sonic drink while blasting music in my empty classroom.
Here’s a close-up of the boxes 8 months later.

I was asked if I would show what is inside.  So from one stuffer to {possibly?} another….

Here you go!


This is one addition and subtraction box 8 months after the perfect sort.  I have used most of the activities in here in either math tubs or small group math time.  I do thumb through when I am in need of something but the system is working!  No piles to sort.  It is all still here!!!

The box above is ALL sight word fun!  It’s one of my favorite boxes.  We use something from it every week!  It could be a center, word work, a group game,  guided reading lesson, or a fun seasonal activity!  It’s all here!

 Below are my groups of sight word sticks. {only one bag shown} I keep them by the words we need each quarter and/or spelling pattern. Then we just reload it each week with the sticks we need.  My students love the sight word stick games so they beg to reload on Friday afternoons.

I have my sight word stars grouped words for my guided reading groups too.

Then I also keep all the sight word games and centers from my literacy center packs in here too.

Here’s an example of a sight word activity we played this week during our morning meeting.  Our morning meetings consist of 4 components.  The group activity component is my students’ favorite.    This is where we play a game, sing a song, read a chant, or just plain have fun for a couple minutes.  Here, we are using our 4th quarter sight words to play tisket tasket.

 Here’s a video of a couple rounds of the cute little activity









Our weekly spelling patterns also have boxes. We begin with this one in first grade.

I didn’t show the box for vowel teams which is where we are working from now, but each week students collect all the extra copies of our word work activities and bag them back up for me.  We started putting the sight word sticks in there too at some point.  Then I stick the whole bag into the vowel teams box and grab the following week!  Done and done!

As my groups are ready for more in guided reading, I go to this box full of reading comprehension fun!

I love that I have it by skill rather than season.  My students don’t mind at all when the turkeys come out in March. 🙂  It rarely happens that I miss a seasonal activity but when I do they crack right up!

This weekend I finished up a unit that I have been working on since the end of January! I could not get myself to focus on this until it was time to actually teach it!  Nothing like needing it on Monday to get myself motivated!
 Here are some of the fun activities included.




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  1. You totally described me! I shove all year long and wait for summer to put it all away. Amazing organization! Where did you get the shelves? The boxes fit on them perfectly! The trouble I have is when I buy storage boxes, they don't fit in/on the cabinets or shelves; too tall or too long.

  2. Love this! I've been in the classroom about as long as you & each year get some organized, but never all the way. Brought about half home last summer, and we're getting new flooring in classrooms this summer, so the rest will need to come home too. I feel better after you pointed out it truly takes DAYS to get it sorted, much less all pulled back together. Last year I got all the sort boxes made, but only through about 1/3 of my stuff before I had to put things away. This is definitely motivating me to finish!
    Please share where you got the DEEP shelves…this is what I'm missing. I always end up getting cheap shelves, but only 10in deep…I need file box length deep. Lol

    1. Hi Christie,
      My shelves are standard sized. The boxes are not file box length. They are a cube shape. I like that they were deep enough for the large manilla envelopes. I had to take one shelf out in order to fit the height of the boxes.

  3. Wow! I've got my plans for the summer, now! I just went through two big moves at my school and have sorted and purged and purged and purged! Now this summer, I need to really take it all out while I have the time and sort and organize and label! I love your shelves and boxes! Thanks for the inspiration, yet again!
    Friendly Froggies

  4. I love the bright cheery flowers atop your bookcases. They really pop against the black. And as others asked, where did you find your bookcases? Are the flowers and bookcases from IKEA as well? With just 7 weeks of school left and because we can't get into our rooms until just a few days before students return, I've already made a pack with myself to pack smart before I close up my classroom at the end of May. Great and timely post!

  5. I sympathize with you. I got tired of remaking things I knew I had but couldn't find. I also had organized by time of year and it wasn't working. I bought the IKEA file boxes and sorted through all of my math and reading center/skills. I even numbered some of them so I kept them in the order we use them. I LOVE it I open my uncluttered closet and pull out my box, use it and put it back when I'm all done. It has made planning a lot easier too. My teammates want to borrow my box because everything is ready and organized. Thanks for all of your tips!

  6. Without organization you have a chaotic classroom. For many teachers this could be a stressful process, but I think its all worth it once everything is put away and finished. It makes it easy for you and your students to know exactly where things are located at. I love the idea that you decided to organize your bins by skill rather than season. I'm currently studying elementary education and I find myself organizing and color coding things for my certain classes. I also found your activity sheets really helpful.

  7. Thanks for sharing!! I loved you before this post, but knowing that you too are a stuffer makes me love you even more and gives me hope for an organized future. I am a second year teacher and little by little, I am becoming more organized. : ) Thanks for inspiring and encouraging me.

  8. I'm in the middle of rearranging resources by skill right now! As a matter of fact, one of your place value centers with Christmas lights and place value pictures (Big Bundle of Math Centers) made an appearance this week!