The Keys to Organizing an ELA Classroom
Updated: Jul 5
A well-organized classroom reduces stress and helps everyone focus on what’s most important, the literature. We want our students to spend most of their time in class reading, speaking, and writing, and not on watching us distribute work, collect work, return work, and explain assignments and due dates.
I’m not as good as Marie Kondo, but here’s how I organize …
1. Reading Notes and Units
Whenever I ask students to read a novel, I ask them to take a note every four of five pages of text. Notes can include their interpretation, questions, topics, quotes, or summary. A note can be one line long, so they might have a few pages of notes for an entire novel, so I don’t have a lot to collect, it doesn’t take a lot of time to grade and hand back, I know if they read, and they have valuable thoughts about the text that they might use in a class discussion or in an essay.
I only set one due date for notes, so it’s easy for students to read at their own pace. I create a schedule for the year with the start and end date for all my units during the first week of school, so I have all my due dates ready to go. I can, of course, change the dates if I need to, but this helps me avoid feeling like I’m going too fast or too slow.
I try to make handouts as plain and simple as possible, so my students have a bunch of space to take notes. I will always title the handout with the topic, the name of the novel and a simple question to go along with the passages related to the topic. At the end of the activity, students can use their evidence to answer the question, but I have a short list of eleven different activities that can go with any handout.
I keep a large binder on the windowsill with extra handouts in case a student missed class. I organize the binder by unit so they can easily find what they are looking for.
The point of a handout is to gather evidence for an essay, so I always collect the classwork on the day I assign the essay. This buys students some time to make up the work if they missed class. I can grade the essay and grade the handouts needed to write the essay at the same time.
3. Writing Portfolios
When I hand back an essay with my commentary, I give students the chance to revise a part of their essay and quickly conference with me. They then put their essay and the attached handouts into a folder that contains their quarter reflections and a sheet for setting goals. After they read my feedback on their essay, they list a few short goals so at the end of each quarter, they can look back and see if they accomplished any of their goals.
I typically hand an essay back the day before they will write the next essay, so the revision day also gives them time to gather the handouts they need to turn in the next day. On the revision day, I will quickly go over something specific, like the introduction, thesis statement, topic sentences, the line of reasoning or logic, the interpretation of evidence, or the conclusion. If I have the time, I’ll show model work (completed online or on an index card) after students revise one part of their essay.
Good luck trying to keep those stacks of papers small and your desk clear!
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers