Keeping Students Organized With a Binder Organization System

I’ve often discussed how I dislike interactive notebooks. As a result, teachers often ask me what organization system I have my students utilize instead. My method of student organization focuses on a binder method of organization.

My Binder Organization System

Very simply, my students organize all classroom handouts into a binder. I store the binders in my classroom on a back shelf. Students keep materials for the current unit in a folder, and when that unit is finished, the materials are added to the binder. Most days, students don’t remove their binders from the shelf. Therefore, the binders stay in pretty good shape. I’ve worked very hard to make sure that my binder organization system is as easy as possible.

I used to require students to keep their binders in their lockers. As a result, binders often fell apart or they were lost by the end of the school year. They were crushed with the weight of 14 sweatshirts in the locker or students picked at the plastic seams until they inevitably came undone and were reduced to a pile of plastic and cardboard. I actually saw a student use his binder as a skateboard once! I spent too much of my time fixing binders and tracking them down and I realized that I just didn’t have the energy anymore. Having the binders stay in my classroom has saved so much of my time, and I can focus on more important issues during the school day.

To ease the process of adding materials to the binder, each lesson is labeled with the Unit number and the Lesson number in the top right corner. Before I allow students to grab their binders from the shelves, I have them put the materials from the Unit in order. I always remind them that their binder should read like a book – all of the Units and lessons read chronologically. I have students write their names on the spine so that their binders can be found very easily.

The students also add five dividers to the binder. I change this a bit from year to year, but essentially, the rubric goes in the very front (ahead of the dividers). Then, I have a section for grade reports. The three middle sections are labeled Units 1-4, Units 5-9 and Units 10-13. The last sections holds student assessments. I think I might have students place assessments in the front this year. When they figure out quarterly grades, (We do standards-based grading), it will be easier for them to find their assessments.

I work in a school district where most students have the means to provide their own binders. I do collect binders each year to provide to those students in need. As my binders stay in the classroom, they’re often in very good shape at the end of the school year. To remove sharpie from a binder, just color over the sharpie with an expo marker. The sharpie and the expo marker will just wipe away and leave the binder shiny and new. I often have at least 20 binders to give away each year.

Obviously, my binder organization system is not perfect. Do my students still lose materials? Absolutely. You will always have students who will lose anything. However, I’ve learned that most of the students losing paper these days are the students who don’t want to do the work in the first place. It really has nothing to do with their organizational ability, and much more to do with their willingness to participate in school. As that is really a motivational issue, I deal with that separately.

I love my binder organization system, however, that doesn’t mean I’ll stick with it forever. I’m always looking to improve my classroom, and if something better comes along, I’ll consider changing the status quo.

What organization system do you have for your classroom? 

17 Responses

  1. Hello! Thank you for sharing your method of organization in this post. I would like to implement something like this as I am planning on moving away from interactive notebooks next year. I do have a question. How do you store the binders in your classroom? I’m assuming you have over 100 students; do you use bookshelves or some sort of cabinet system?

    1. Yes, there are built-in shelves in the back of my classroom that hold the binders. I’ve seen other teachers use a library cart or a separate bookshelf.

  2. Do students have a binder AND folder? Can you please share in more detail how and when you use the folder? How often do they move materials out of their folders and into their binders?

    1. The folder is just a pocket folder. Students bring the folder to class, put any current handouts in the folder, and then take it with them. It can be taken to another class, stored in their locker, or taken home if needed. We clean out the folders at the end of each unit.

      1. This is a great idea. I’ve used binders in high school Social Studies classes but the constant travel between classes and home and school often leaves them heavily damaged. I’ve struggled with getting students to store the handouts I give them properly (in order like you state) but having them only carrying a folder around during a unit and THEN store it afterward in the classroom during a given period might help with this. Thanks for the idea and explanation.

  3. I attempted to have my students hold onto their papers and keep the folders in the classroom. They do not like that and end up taking them with them out of the room. I have a tray for kids to pick up their papers after they are graded but a lot sit in the out tray and never get picked up. I would love to implement a system where they keep all their work organized. I am just unsure of the how. I teacher middle school and have 3 preps.

    1. My student put their papers in the folder for the current unit and take those with them. We organize binders at the end of each unit. They know that they will need their work for whatever summative assessment I assign, so most hold onto them until the unit is over. I divide papers between students and have them pass them back, or I pass them back when students are working. Middle school students will not remember that they turned something in, let alone remember that they need to check a bin a week later.

  4. Will like to implement an organized binder with my middle school…do you have something printable?

  5. For what purpose are the binders used? Is it to make your grading easier so you aren’t collecting papers daily or do students have to pull them to use as a resource during in class assignments/assessments? I’m just wondering because typically binders are used for students to stay organized and to take home to review material. Thanks for your time in responding.

    1. Hi,

      The students keep current work in a folder. The binders store previous work from the school year. Students have a final at the end of the year, and the binders keep their notes for review.

  6. Do you have a picture of one of your worksheets of where the unit and lesson number is written? Do you print those ahead of time or do the students write it?


    1. Hi! It’s pretty simple. I have a heading on each page of the lesson with the Unit and Lesson number already printed. I don’t make the kids write it in. (Except for last year when I made a few mistakes teaching a new course – lol.) I have the same heading on the curriculum in my shop – in that case, I just don’t include the Unit and lesson numbers… I know that some teachers may organize the lessons in a different order. When the unit is over, I just hang all the worksheets on the front whiteboard to help students organize.

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