Organization is key to any teacher’s sanity, regardless of grade taught, and especially as the year progresses. One thing they DON’T teach you in your certification program is what method of organization will work best for you. A) they don’t have time for it and B) every teacher will prefer a different system, and it might change it over time based on what they teach and the specific group of students they have.
When I student taught I just copied my cooperating teacher’s method: a file folder for every topic in a hanging folder in a filing cabinet. I knew within just a few weeks that that system didn’t work for me. It felt too cluttered, it was too easy for me to misfile a master copy, and it was really inconvenient to do work at Starbucks with a bunch of manila file folders. This system worked for my cooperating teacher was because she had spent 28 years fine tuning it in the same school, only changing classrooms once! So the file cabinet system worked for her.
When I finally had my own classroom, I decided on this binder method for a variety of reasons not the least of which was that it kept everything contained and was easily portable. Also, with my husband being in the military, having one binder for every subject I’ve taught is a heck of a lot easier to move every few years than filing cabinets full of manila files. So I have a binder for US History, World Civ, Medieval History, Geography, and a binder for activities I would use in BOTH World Civ and US History (really that’s just WW1, WW2, and Cold War stuff, but when I teach both subjects in the same year it’s a lot easier to have one binder for the things that overlap so significantly).
In each binder I have a divider for every topic (organized chronologically). I have a plastic see through sleeve (with a tab on the outside where I write the unit name so I can open the binder to the unit I need instantly) for every lesson plan/activity/test/project, and in that same plastic sleeve I have an answer key (if appropriate) and a paper with notes of what worked well the last time I used the item and what I should modify.
Of course I have digital files of everything too, but this is what I keep in the classroom during the year. It is SO much easier to flip through the binder and see what I think I want to do the next few days than browse my digital files, having notes from the previous year to refer to has been a life saver, and if it turns out I need to make more copies I just pull it out of the sleeve and make copies!
Another great feature of these binders is how easy they are for subs to maneuver! I unexpectedly needed a sub one day so I put put a gigantic note on the desk that the sub couldn’t miss, I wrote something to the effect of, “Please open the blue binder to the purple sticky note and make 38 copies, and open the white binder to the yellow sticky note and make 112 copies. The answer keys are behind each activity.” The sub was able to give the kids their respective map activities and the day went well.
One thing I’ve recently started adding to the binders is a few examples of student work in the binder in the sleeve specific to the activity. For some visual learners this helps them get a much better understanding of what is expected, and for other activities it helps give the kids a creative direction to go in if they can see previous examples. So everything I would need is contained in a labeled binder: lesson plans, activities, tests, projects, answer keys, samples of student work, and notes to myself about what has worked well in the past and what would benefit from modifications. To read about my organization system for absent students and work that gets turned in click HERE.