The organization of materials is crucial in a collaborative classroom. In this kind of classroom, there is no “mine,” but rather “ours” when speaking of materials and supplies, and organizing those materials. Our classroom has tables instead of desks, so it’s necessary to house all materials and supplies in areas of the room that allow easy organization and access for students.
Respect for the materials and supplies in the classroom is evident in the way that we house everything in the room. In the beginning of the year, I teach the students how to organize and return materials to their proper places so that we can use the supplies for as long as possible, and so that all materials are kept in working order. We only transition to a new subject or part of our day when the room, supplies, and materials are back in order.
All students have individual reading book bags, writing folders, and math toolbooks, along with reading, writing, and math “teaching point notebooks.” The teaching point (conference) notebooks are housed inside writing folders, independent reading book bags, and math toolbooks so that when a child meets with me for a conference or small group work, the teaching point notebook is with the child and his or her materials.
By the spring of the year (and usually earlier), I no longer have to “go behind” the students cleaning up materials that have been forgotten or misplaced. Students value the work that we do together, and they recognize the importance and the purpose of each of these materials.
Tables and Common Table Supplies
When possible, I’ve chosen tables over desks in the classroom. First of all, tables eliminate the possibility of clutter inside individual desks, and more importantly, tables reinforce the message that this is “our” classroom, a place where we work together and share books, materials, supplies, ideas, and classroom space. Tables also allow students to move easily into a variety of collaborative and partner groupings. Frequently used writing supplies and a basket of books are housed in the center of each table. The basket of current high quality texts signifies that books play an active and vital role in our classroom and in our lives. Engaging texts found at every location in the classroom give readers of all ages and experiences the opportunity to practice, grow, and love reading. If someone is finished with a project, a game, an activity, or a conversation, a basket full of engaging texts on each table lets students know there’s always a book within reach to be read and enjoyed. The common writing supplies reinforce the message of collaboration and problem solving. What happens if someone is using the red crayon at our table? What if my pencil breaks? What happens if he’s reading the book I wanted to read? Common books and materials at each table encourage and support children as they work together and learn to problem solve.
Writing Supply Area
The “Writing Supply” area of the classroom is the place that houses all materials a writer might need to collect ideas, draft, illustrate, and publish a piece of writing. If we expect children to be purposeful inside the classroom, we give them the tools that writers, readers, mathematicians, and scientists use outside the classroom.
What’s typically found in a writing supply area?
• Sharpie markers (fine and medium tip)
• Crayola markers (fine and regular tip)
• glue sticks
• stapler/staples/staple removers
• single and three hole puncher
• scotch tape
• post-it notes
• variety of paper (blank, template, colored)
• extra pencils/pens/highlighters
• pencil sharpeners
Every child has a plastic rough-draft writing folder (with two pockets and no brads down the middle) that holds all rough draft work throughout a unit of study in writing. I order plastic folders each year because they last longer than paper ones, and I like the ones with pockets on both sides to keep papers organized. I’ve worked with teachers who’ve had lots of success with notebooks, but I’ve found that folders for primary students and both writer’s notebooks and folders for intermediate and middle school students fit my teaching style better. Folders give students the flexibility to add or delete without having to worry about tearing out pages. In older grades (3-6), I used a writer’s notebook so that students have a place to keep their ideas before drafting.
I’ve chosen to strategically locate these bins/crates of folders away from the writing supply area in the classroom to cut down on traffic and ease the transition into writing time. Depending on the size of the class (or the number of writing classes I teach, as was the case in middle school), I arrange the crates or baskets of folders so that students have easy access and aren’t crowded when getting folders, paper, and supplies for writing workshop.