How to Help Students Get Organized

Three Methods:Consider the Ages of your StudentsBy Giving an IncentiveBy Giving a Disincentive

As a teacher, it is irritating to see a child hindered by his or hers' lack of organizational skills. They will lose their homework, forget their assignments, and carry a stack of jumbled papers. Fortunately, you can remedy this with time and patience.

Method 1
Consider the Ages of your Students

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    If you have younger students, lower your expectations and think of creative rewards for the entire class. It isn't reasonable to expect a first grader to be perfectly organized, although it is completely fair to expect them to try. Younger students typically love the idea of a star chart or prize box. They are generally not influenced by the threat of a bad grade. It's generally easier to try to instill neatness as a habit into elementary school students. Remember not to single out any very young students for being messy, as they (generally) are not very successful at taking constructive criticism.
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    If you have older students, raise your expectations for their own good, talk to students individually, and explain disincentives. Academically motivated students in High School or Middle School are typically organized: They have realized that being organized makes it easier to study and boosts their grades. For students who haven't figured this out, you need to talk to them and explain why it is important to be neat, and then you need to follow through and show that you expect them to be neat. This habit will really help them, so don't feel bad about it-its for their own good. At this age level, students won't organize their binders for a cheesy incentive like a prize box. They need some kind of disincentive.

Method 2
By Giving an Incentive

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    Offer extra credit or other incentives for the class as a whole if they show that they are organized. Do not, however, reward specific students with bonus points for being neat. This is academic favoritism and can be interpreted as very unfair.
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    Track their progress and offer rewards at checkpoints.
    • For example, do a 'notebook check' once or twice a week. If a student has obviously made an effort, give them a star to put on their chart. Once they have reached a certain number, have them pick something out of a prize box. Or, if the whole class is organized a few times in a row, throw a little party or have a day where they can wear their pajamas to school; something fun like that.

Method 3
By Giving a Disincentive

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    Having organization be a part of their grade or give graded 'notebook checks' to make sure their binders are neat. If you do this, have reasonable expectations based on age, and grade evenly across the board.
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    Instead of lowering their grade, keep the student inside for recess or give detention. This works with limited success, depending on the amount of students and whether or not they care. If the whole elementary school class continues to be messy, tell them that they will miss recess - the whole class. Detention may or may not prompt the student into action.
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    Tell the student(s) that you will call home and expect their parents' to punish them accordingly. Follow through. Explain the situation to the student(s) parents' and ask that they help in your mission to help their child get organized. Use good phone manners and don't blame the parents.
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    If you can't read their handwriting, lower their grade or give them no credit. Once again, this depends on the age. Children just learning to write cannot have perfectly legible calligraphy. Once students get into Middle School you should expect to be able to read their writing.

By Talking to the Student

  1. Try to instill some common sense. Explain the advantages of being organized. Yet again, depending on age, you can explain how it will make studying easier and boost their grade. If they can never find anything, talk about how much easier it would be to be neat.
  2. If you find that a particular student is making little to no progress, work with them to define a list of checkpoints with realistic expectations. It is very overwhelming for a student to completely turn around and get rid of the habits that they have carried around for so long. By working with him or her, you can eventually help them defeat their 'chronic messiness'.


  • Set aside some class time for a particularly messy class to sort through their binders. Yet again, apply this to appropriate age groups.
  • Remember to set a good example. This is both a matter of respect and of ethics. Students will call you hypocritical if you ignore your own guidelines, they will have no respect for you. Show that you intend to defeat your own messes as well, and you too will be amazed at how much easier it is to find everything.
  • Work slowly and be patient. They cannot turn around all at once, it will take some time before they are totally organized. For elementary school students, it could take a month or more. For high school students, they can take matters into their own hands within a week.
  • Chart their progress.This will show them how much they have improved and show you that you are actually effectively changing their bad habits, creating some happiness for both parties.
  • Consider sending out a mass e-mail or letter to parents explaining your intentions.
  • Show them that you are proud of their progress. This makes it more likely that they will continue their good habits into the future.
  • If a handful of students refuse to improve, have a teacher-parent conference.

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