As I organize my tenth grader for back-to-school, I’m realizing that we’re still missing some important items. One of my passions as an educator is helping non-traditional learners succeed in school. Whether they have a learning difference or ADD, I believe that if we work with kids, we can help all of them succeed.
Judith Kolberg’s Conquering Chronic Disorganization is one of my favorite books, but there are others that have also helped me come up with the following tips. And here’s an important point: while the items discussed here will help kids succeed all year long, your ongoing job is to be a consultant of sorts and help students know how to use them.
Let’s talk about learning styles and some organizational tips for each type of style. The thing we have to remember is that if a student LEARNS in a certain way, they should also ORGANIZE in a certain way. As I share these products, remember that you can pick them up from Staples — they always keep all of these things IN STOCK.
Also remember, that none of us is any “one” style. Whatever your thoughts on learning styles, using these methods can help anyone become better organized. (I use transparent folders myself and it helps me.)
An Essential Sense-Making Tip for kids: Theme the System
Come up with a theme for your child’s organization system. The problem with many children is that processes and procedures don’t make sense to them. They don’t bring papers home because they don’t know where to put papers to make sure they get home. And after Mom signs the paper at home, kids don’t know where to put them to make sure they get back to school.
You can help students succeed by theming how they’ll organize things like test review materials, homework, things that come home, things to return to the teacher, things for other students, etc. Then, for example, if your child loves football, consider the following system:
- Test Review Items – A folder with a football goal on it (Their goal is to do their best.)
- Homework Items – A folder with a football on it (Tests don’t happen as much, but they have to keep playing the game even if it isn’t time for a test.)
- Take Home to Mom – A cheerleader folder
- Return to Teacher – a coach folder
- Things to Give to Other Students – A team folder
- Planner – their playbook
Or, if your child loves to dance, you could have a system like this:
- Test Review Items – recital folder
- Homework Items – dance shoes
- Take Home to Mom – audience
- Return to Teacher – dance teacher
- Things for Other Students – dance troupe
- Planner – dance program
The key is to have visual reminders for each part of the planning system. Then, when you’re talking to a child who doesn’t really like homework, you can say, “Go get your playbook” or “Go get your dance program,” and you’ve got a positive anchor that they can understand. Use this system to organize their backpack as well.
My favorite way to make this system work is to purchase sticker paper. Then you put whatever images you want on sturdy notebooks, folders, and planners.
Other Tips to Help Every Student Succeed
- Make sure they have a paper planner/calendar that fits their style. I recommend letting students pick one out. You can also purchase Happy Planner stickers to customize their planner and make it their own.
- Color code their classes by coordinating supplies for each class. For example, cover the math book in a blue cover and get a blue binder. For literature, you could cover it in red and get a red binder and a small red plastic box for index cards. You get the idea! Then use that color to highlight the class on their schedule. For each class, they’re ready to grab and go based on color! (You could go one step further with a multicolored pen that lets students write on their calendar in the color of the class.)
- A sturdy pencil bag can hold pens, markers, crayons, a small ruler, a calculator, and possibly their planner.
- A jump drive / memory key is important for older students who need to take computer files with them.
Now, let’s dive into specific things for unique learning styles. Remember that many of us learn with a mix of these styles, so you may find ideas in several categories that work for students.
These are hands-on students who learn by doing. But the struggle is that often the notes and other traditional organizers may not work for them. First, remember that a clue to bodily-kinesthetic types is often their use of action verbs. Use this to their advantage.
Tip: Buy a Clipboard Box
Bodily-kinesthetic students may prefer clipboards to binders. I like clipboard boxes. Students can keep their planner, sticky notes and some pens inside. My tenth-grade son has a Saunders Redi-Rite Clipboard with Calculator, which is metal, but for safety, I recommend that younger kids have a plastic clipboard box.
Tip: Use Action Verb Sticky Notes
As a student is given a paper by a teacher, teach them to get out a sticky note and put the action on the note on the front of the paper. You can even color code it. Think action and types of activities, and file these papers inside the clipboard box if they need to be done later in the day.
For example, green sticky notes could be for homework with the message “Read this” or “Answer these questions.” Pink sticky notes could identify a destination, such as “Put in math binder” or “Give this to Mom.” Anything that needs to be handled this class period can be clipped on the front of the clipboard.
Tip: Sticky Note Organizing Center
Use the inside of the clipboard box or a folder to create areas for organizing tasks. For example, students can have sticky notes with action verbs for each thing that is to be done. Students can move their tasks between “now,” “tomorrow,” or a specific date. Just make sure that you use the super-sticky notes for this kind of organization system. Many bodily-kinesthetic and tactile learners love being able to move around their list and reorganize it without rewriting things.
Tip: Help Students Build Habits
These methods won’t work if students don’t go through their papers consistently, so help these kids build habits. For example, teach them to go through their papers and put them in the appropriate places at the beginning of study hall or when they go home. You can make a checklist on a sticky note that they check off each day.
Tip: Help Students Create Action Centers
Stock areas with supplies for taking certain kinds of action. For example, the math action center would have graph paper, rulers, and calculators. These items could live in a transparent envelope that they can grab when they’re ready to work on that subject. (A note here, I love the Staples Poly Envelopes and pick them up for me and my son.)
Group all items together by courses. For example, if they need index cards for vocabulary, include index cards and sharpie markers in their vocabulary action center.
Other Tips for Bodily-Kinesthetic Learners
- Organize papers in three-ring binders (remember to color code).
- Build in release strategies. Bodily-kinesthetic learners often need to get out their energy. If they can’t have wiggle stools or special ways to sit, make sure they have a stress ball or something to squeeze and let out that extra energy. (You could go for a fidget spinner if your school allows it, but check with them first.)
- If your student just can’t use a planner, you could get Legos of different colors (matching the subject areas). With labels and FriXion erasable pens, students can write the homework for that subject on the colored lego. Erase the work as it is done and start over. This may sound kind of “out there,” but I’ve seen in work.
Auditory learners like to learn by listening. Sometimes the written word can be a challenge for them. Work with students and their teachers to help auditory learners set up an auditory organization system.
Tip: Keep a Running Recording of Assignments
Make sure students have a good pair of headphones (perhaps even with a mic included). Make a notebook page for the day in OneNote or Evernote. Let students record quick reminders throughout the day about what has to be done. When they get home, they can play it back to remember what they need to do. Share this system with teachers so that they can help auditory learners quickly record these verbal notes in a way that doesn’t disturb the class. You could even use a digital recorder.
Because using audio and video may drain the battery of a smart device, you definitely need a rechargeable power bank for whichever device these students are using.
Tip: Record Teacher Review Sessions
Auditory learners benefit from listening to teacher lectures and review sessions. Make sure they know how to record and organize these for later listening.
Tip: Learn How to Voice Type
While Dragon Naturally Speaking is the top of the line, students can use dictation on their smartphone devices. I often record on my phone and run it through the Dragon transcription service to have articles typed or me. Auditory learners often express themselves better by speaking, so learning to dictate papers versus writing them by hand may be a benefit.
Other Tips for Auditory Learners:
- Use timers and reminders.
- Talk to yourself as you go through steps of a process.
- Become a master at recording and quickly retrieving audio from your classes.
“Out of sight, out of mind” applies to visual learners. They can sometimes forget all about an assignment if it isn’t written down. But also remember that being able to scan and see things quickly helps these students.
Tip: Organize Visually
These students may benefit from their homework station being organized visually on a wall. The Martha Stewart Wall Manager system is a great example of this style of organizing.
Tip: Use Transparent Folders
“Don’t conceal, reveal” is a tip from Judith Kolberg in her book Conquering Chronic Disorganization. Visual learners must be able to see things. So putting papers into a file folder is like hiding them from the student. For this reason, transparent file folders and envelopes can help students remember what they have to do.
Tip: Use Sheet Protectors or Clear Dividers
Sheet protectors and other clear items can be used to help students organize in a visual way so they can see the work that needs to be done. Try not to hide things. Sheet protectors are a great holder for commonly used forms, graph paper, and other items. The easier something is to scan and find, the happier a visual learner will be.
Tip: Clear Stackable Boxes
Scanning and finding can be challenging for visual students, so using clear, stackable boxes for supplies can help. Also, by grouping supplies for one class, you’ll make it faster for them to get their work together for class.
Organizing is an Ongoing Process
Whatever a student’s learning style, parents, and teachers can become “organizational consultants” by using these tips to help every child organize for learning. If you’re able to take a child shopping, sometimes they’ll find items they love to use. This helps. But realize that organizing oneself doesn’t come naturally. It takes time.
The biggest thing that I’ll ask is that if a child consistently doesn’t have homework or can’t bring papers home, and if you know that the support structures are in place, help the child find an organizing system that works for them. As a mother of three (and two with LD’s), I’ve turned organizing into a lifelong pursuit and challenge. The more a child is challenged to learn, the more they are naturally disorganized. But when you find what works, it makes all the difference in the world.
So get out there, stock up on some of these items, and see what works. And thanks to Staples, our sponsor of this series, you can find all of these products in stock throughout the year!
Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored blog post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)ed