Organizing Twelve-year-olds

I know, it sounds like an oxymoron.  And it kind of is, but I’m always looking for ways to help my students be organized enough to get the work they actually do handed in so they may receive credit for having done it.  We do almost all of our work in class.  I rarely (okay less than rarely, almost never) assign homework.  Does that make me a not-so-rigorous teacher?  Maybe.  But what I have learned in these last twenty years is that less than half of my students will ever manage to do the homework I assign.  So it becomes one more thing that drags their grade down in my class.

I have come to the realization that seventh grade is such a transition year, from childhood to adolescence. It is an important piece of their future success and, I believe, is the year for them to learn strategies for school success that will take them forward through to high school and college.  Hence, my focus on organization, because they sure don’t have it!

Anyway, here is how I’m trying to help my students be a little more organized and in charge of their own achievement:

1.  Every student has a file which is kept in a file cabinet that they have access to.  I used to just tell them they could put their work there if they were afraid of losing it.  Now we hand the folders out at the beginning of every class period.  As we do the day’s work, they put it in their folder.  The folders are collected at the end of the period.  At first I alphabetized them but when they are handed out each day, their order in the drawer doesn’t really matter.

2.  On Friday, I hand out a cover sheet of which a copy is placed on the Elmo, with all the week’s assignments listed, along with the number of points I have decided each assignment is worth.  They copy the assignments, and then take them from their folders and put them in order.  They write a reflective paragraph at the bottom of the page and staple it all together and hand it in.

3.  They sometimes have earned some extra credit, either by a word game I have offered as a closing sponge activity, or a “Success Ticket” they have earned by giving a correct answer or perhaps just being on task at some random time.  They can also earn extra credit (as long as their other work is done) by completing a poem analysis or a book preview on some sheets I devised.  Evidence of their extra work is attached to the packet.  They receive ten points for doing the cover sheet completely, including writing the paragraph.

We do this every Friday, even if we only have two or three things to hand in that week.  It is the consistency that seems to make it work.  They can now copy the list, organize the work and hand it all in within about fifteen or twenty minutes.  I take home a pile of sixty two packets rather than random piles of separate assignments.  I grade and enter their work on the weekend and return it on Monday, with a number and letter grade marked on it.  They have come to count on this process, and it’s so much more efficient for me to process than the old way of piles and piles of different assignments.

I’ve been doing the packet organization all year, since my daughter created the packet cover and began to use it last year.  I tried it then, but only had them hand packets in when we had a substantial number of assignments to make it worthwhile.  This year I’ve recognized the importance of the consistency of weekly submissions, no matter the amount of work contained in each packet.

The new part for me is handing out the folders every day, so no assignments ever go astray.  In addition, I made up a “Packet Log,” which is taped into the back of their folder.  It lists each packet, the number of points it was worth, the points they received and their letter grade.  There is also a column for “Work Made Up.”  If their grade is less than a C, they have the week to make it up.  When they hand it in again, I initial that column and enter the new grade for that packet.  My goal is for the students to always know how they are doing in my class and to give them the power to change it if they don’t like it, by either making up missed work or doing extra work that can actually contribute to their growth and learning.

The first week of this semester went really well.  Only three kids in each class fell below the C grade level.  Three of them still have not made that work up, and I’ll be calling their parents this weekend, to keep them in the loop.  So far so good!  I’ll keep you posted about how this continues.

What do you do to help your middle-schoolers stay on task and organized?


40 thoughts on “Organizing Twelve-year-olds

  1. dkzody says:

    Have you ever visited the homes of your students? Then you understand why they cannot get their homework done and back to school. I too gave up on homework long ago. I did assign out-of-class work, but it was about going somewhere and interviewing someone or taking pictures and bringing the results back to the classroom. Each of my students had a file folder in a file cabinet. They ended up keeping all sorts of work there because they knew it was safe.

    • lynnjake says:

      Yes, Delaine, many times I’ve been welcomed into the homes and families of my students. Their lives are certainly more complex than the hours they spend with us! As a teacher it’s easy to think our classrooms are a much more weighty part of their lives than they actually are, that’s for sure.

    • lynnjake says:

      It’s worth a try~ it’s sure working for me this year. I had to tweak it for myself. It was originally my daughter’s idea (she teaches in the classroom next door to me – how cool is that?), and I had to ‘make it my own,” as they say on American Idol. I won’t go back to the old way ever, I don’t think!

      • Tracey says:

        Any ideas for helping my 7th grader be more organized at home with his 8 different classes thus 8 different requirements? Help?

  2. N. Ingram says:

    Love it! Makes a lot of sense to involve them in this. I do something with the same purpose in my 7th grade world history class. As we progress through a unit, I keep a running list of all of our notes, hand-outs, foldables, etc. on the board. They keep up with everything in their binder or folder. At the end of the unit, in preparation for their studying, we build a “unit portfolio”. Each student receives a manila folder that has two small envelopes taped to the inside left and a 2-prong fastener on the top of the righthand side. All notes get 2-hole punched and fastened in with the table of contents on top. Flashcards are made for all significant terms and facts (main ideas of the unit on one side and 3-5 important facts on the back) as a studying/review strategy. I give them a cover page to decorate with the unit name after they finish their test. Then it goes in their class’ file drawer! All 7 units will be ready for the end of-the-year review. And the nicest part is that they start each unit with a fresh, clean binder/folder and their valuable materials and work is safely stored away!

    Now I’m going to go see how I can adapt your idea for my ELA classes! Thank you!

    • lynnjake says:

      Hi Nicole. I love your unit folder idea. I love organizing things with compartments, files and envelopes. I’ll keep this as a ‘bag of tricks’ idea. It sounds great! Thanks for commenting.

  3. thewelgravens says:

    This is my first year teaching and my biggest goal is to keep students (and myself) organized. Would it be possible to get a copy of the sheet you displayed on here? Or at least just what the paragraph says?

  4. Megan says:

    This idea is incredible! I was so inspired that I created cover sheets for myself to use for next year! I too have discovered the joy of making all my assignments exclusively classwork. If I do assign HW it is a reading log, First in Math, or copying down focus questions/notes that will be used in class the next day. This way I know that the work is coming from each individual, and can have proof when a child isn’t using their class time to their advantage. I have them keep a “Work in Progress” folder so the assignments still being worked on will stay there, and when completed they will move to their packet folder. We use an online grading system, and they do not check it nearly as much as they should, but this system will certainly keep them informed without a fight. THANK YOU for sharing your amazing idea. Quick question: do you include tests/quizzes in with the other assignments?

  5. lynnjake says:

    Megan, thanks for the comment! When I give them a test or quiz, I grade that separately. It’s pretty easy and quick to have just one thing to grade apart from the weekly packet. Since this post I have simplified the process a little. I don’t put those logs in the folders. Their folders contain their old, already graded packets and the current week’s work. On Friday they have all their work ready to hand in, which works so smoothly. When I grade the packet I write the number of points they earned on the packet cover (like 88/112, or something like that) but then I write their overall percentage and what their grade would be if I was doing report cards that day. Does that make sense? So when they ask me, “What’s my grade in this class?” I can say, “Look at your last packet. That is your most current grade.” No confusion! They stay very involved and up to date on what they are missing this way!
    Thanks again for your comment. Lynn

  6. Marcela Fernandez says:

    How can we get a copy of the cover sheet and the one you put pn the back of the folder.
    I love your idea and think it would work with my students.

  7. lynnjake says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I have sent copies of the cover sheet I mentioned here to about four of you recently, but haven’t heard back from anyone, so I’m not sure if you received them. If you have or haven’t, I’d like to know so I can try again if needed. Thanks.

  8. Bethanie says:

    Hi, Lynn! I love your ideas 🙂 I am about to enter my third year of teaching. I will be teaching Latin to 6-8th grades and I have my chapters organized already into work packets so I think this system would work great for me! I would love a copy of these handouts, if you don’t mind. My e-mail is Thanks!

  9. JCarter says:

    I was wondering if you enter each assignment’s grade individually or the overall score for the packet? Also how does this system work when kids are absent or have missing work to turn in? I am interested in trying this for the new school year so that I dont have wasted composition books and half-done class notes just discarded on the floor as in the past.

  10. lynnjake says:

    Throughout the week, I keep a folder of all the work we do in class. On Friday I complete a packet cover which lists each assignment they did. I project this on the board with the document camera and they copy it. I grade each assighment, and then enter the individual scores in the gradebook. When they have missing work, it’s easy to see what they need to turn in because there is no score for that assignment on the packet. Once all is graded I write the current overall grade on the packet before I hand it back. This means they don’t get an actual packet grade – they can see what they missed, what score they got for each assignment, but the grade on the packet is their up to the minute report card grade. It saves so much looking up their grade for them. When they ask what their grade is, I just direct them to their most recent packet (which they are supposed to keep until the quarter is over), as that is that most recent grade I have. I hope this answers your question.
    Oh, and the thing that really made this work for me was giving students folders. We pass those out every day so that whatever work they do in class is just placed in their folder. These folders stay in the classroom file cabinet, so there is never an excuse that they forgot their folder or their work. It doesn’t leave the classroom.

  11. jennifer says:

    Thanks for following up on my comment. Since I just bought 2 boxes of file folders I have financially committed myself to trying it this year! May I also get a copy of the form you use? My address is

  12. Diana Marshall says:

    After spending hours this summer with Pinterest, I came across your method for organizing 7th graders. This sounds like it could save me hours of grief and frustration. Could I please get copies of the forms that you use? Thanks

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