Help Students Keep their Desks Neat

Does helping your fourth grader learn organizational skills ever feel like a losing battle?  For years I have felt that way.  I have color coded folders, notebooks, Catch Up folders and a list of "items you may keep in your desk."  I have a dedicated whiteboard that details what paper belongs in which colored folder at any given time. 

And yet when I tell students, "Put this paper in your yellow writing folder," there is always a handful that decide to use the transition time to chit chat and pop the paper in their desk instead of making the effort to take out their yellow writing folder. Which the next day results in, "I can't find my paper; can I get another one (not to mention the implied, "Can I also have another half hour to catch up")?  What's a teacher to do?

In the past I've been able to help those kids who need extra time to clear out a desk they did not organize with the rest of the class; I just stayed in the room with them during recess time.  However with changing duty schedules, I no longer have that luxury.  Therefore I had to develop a system to scaffold this organizational process.  My solution to this problem was to create a mini instructional manual:  "How to Clean Your Desk."

The instruction manual includes step by step directions for how to clean out a desk that needs some work (dump all your stuff all over the floor is not one of those steps) as well as a photograph of what a neat desk looks like.  I double sided this resource when I printed them off so that the result looks like a card (I also edged it all in Washi tape to make it look more attractive and less like a punishment). printed 4 of these instruction manuals, (they come 2 per page) and before I go home each afternoon I check a single group of desks.  If a student has any loose papers, I leave one on their desk.  Then when they come in the next morning, they need to clean their desk out.  It might be worth missing Morning Work some days, other days they will need to miss Morning Meeting (which includes a game, so of course they are motivated to get organized more quickly).  The result is every group gets checked once per week, so no one ends up with a "black hole" by the time midterm rolls around.

If you are interested in this resource I'm making it available for free for a limited time!  You can download my How to Clean Your Desk Instruction Manual here.  It's a great little companion to my Organizational Tools Bundle. 

The instruction manual has been a hit in my room this year.  How do you help keep your students on track? 
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This was originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary.

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