Saturday, October 8, 2016

3 Easy Tips For Organizing Classroom Supply Cabinets

I recently snapped the picture below of one of my supply cabinets after my students finished a microscope lab. The students got their own materials out of the supply cabinets, including the microscopes, and put them away after they were finished.

I didn't touch the cabinet after they put the supplies away. No extra cleaning up. And I wasn't even standing over them while they did it!

A few years ago, I would never have trusted my students with putting their supplies away like this. I would have spent time before class setting up each microscope and walking back and forth from cabinets to tables setting everything up perfectly. I might have asked students to do things like wrapping up the cord on their microscopes, but other than that, I would have cleaned up everything too. Last year, I decided that I was done babying my students. I don't want them to wait to learn these basic lab skills in college! I've come up with three super simple ideas to give your students the same independence in your own classroom. It will take some time to set up, but once it's done, it will run itself!

Tip #1: If you can put it in a container, put it in a container.

Having supplies in containers seems like a small thing (and it takes a lot of containers!) but it makes things so much easier! It's hard for students to stack supplies neatly in cabinets. It's easy for students to put things in bins or buckets. It also makes it easier on you- if students need to use bingo chips or dice, you can pull the whole container out and they can get what they need.

Things that take up more space should be in bigger containers. This sounds simple, but sometimes we try to make things fit. If something only fits in a container when it's put in a certain way- your students won't be able to keep up with it. For example, I have a million Ziploc bags that students borrow. I could probably fit them all into a much smaller container than the large crate on the 4th shelf- but my kids will never fold them neatly back up. Putting them in an easy access bin makes more sense.

Tip #2: Double-label EVERYTHING.

Labeling containers is great. Labeling shelves is great. But having matching labels on the shelves and on the containers is where the magic happens. My students might not recognize what the "cell membrane model" looks like. Having a container labeled "cell membrane model" means nothing if they don't know where I expect it to go. But when they can match a label on a container to a label on the shelf, even the most difficult student can't claim they don't know where it goes!

This system also makes it easy for students to locate supplies on their own. For example, if I tell them they can get a plastic bag out of the cabinet and point them to the right cabinet, they know exactly where to go.

The shelves lower in the cabinet get labels on the top of the shelf because they're easier to read than the side of the shelf!

Tip #3: Make sure everything has a place.

"A place for everything, and everything in its place" sounds cliche, but it's true. When everything in your room has a place, everything can go in it's place. I have exactly one container labelled "Miscellaneous Supplies" in my classroom, and it has things that truly are miscellaneous- a half container of chalk, a single piece of charcoal, a few stray pipe cleaners. Everything else has a place, either in my cabinets or in my storage room. Even my glassware is sorted by size. This means that when it is time to put something away, students KNOW that there is a place for it- there has to be, because there's a place for everything else.

Now, I used to look at posts like this and think "wow, look at that super organized person. They have it together. I could never be that organized." The truth is...I'm not very organized at all. I put these systems into place because without them, I am disorganized and crazy, and I hate letting my students see me frazzled. My students putting their own supplies away is just a bonus!

Do you do any of these things? Do you have any other ideas for organizing supply cabinets? I'd love to hear your ideas!

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