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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 1, September 2006

Teachers' tips: Organizing for "grey area students"

Ankie Carswell

Our classroom needs are becoming increasingly diverse. There may be ed assistant support for some designated students but there is little for grey area students. Organization is one way to support these students, and the following strategies, although intended for elementary school students who have difficulty following the classroom routines, may benefit your entire class, regardless of grade level.


The use of colours for organization is extremely helpful. This visual categorization helps students who consistently rummage through their desks to find the appropriate books, sheets, or assignments or who struggle to organize information.

  • Use the same colour duo-tang or binder for a certain subject. Using the same colour provides students with clues to what is happening in the class, and at what time. This is helpful to students who return to class partway through a lesson. This also saves you time when looking for a book in a student’s desk. If you keep all student work in a central location, this helps ensure that the correct subject notebook is stored in the right place. The colour verification will improve a student’s organization within the classroom. 
  • Use different colour paper for worksheets or other photocopied work. While this is not always possible due to the higher cost of coloured paper, this type of colour coding helps students identify what it is they are bringing home, working on, or must locate. For example, all chapter review work could be photocopied on yellow paper, making it easier for the student to identify which materials are required for studying. 
  • Use different colour pens and highlighters. Highlighting with different colours is an effective technique for students to categorize information within the same piece of text. This also organizes the notetaking task that may follow. This strategy requires practice and over time, becomes easier and more efficient.


Consistency and routine is infinitely beneficial to all students but particularly those who require attention to transition into different subjects or activities.

  • Structure of the day. Keep the academics in the morning to help those students whose attention wanes by the afternoon. Try to keep the same subject on the same day. Predictability makes it easier for students who have difficulty remembering homework to ensure they are organized for the day. If time permits, have a short five-minute review task on the board or overhead for the students to complete each morning while administrivia is dealt with and late comers arrive. This will minimize the interruptions after you start teaching. 
  • Structure of the work. Routines for certain subjects help students become more proficient at organizing their work. Ensure their workspace is clear and only the necessary supplies are ready. Enforcing simple concepts such as putting the date, title or subject as well as the page number will help students organize loose papers when they turn up.


Chunking and checking in

Breaking up assignments into manageable chunks of work helps to keep the student on task as well as make it easier for you to manage their progress.

  • Criteria checklist. Providing students with an outline of an assignment with the specific criteria within each section assists the student to verify all components are there before proceeding to the next step. This type of chunking builds in "check-in with the teacher" opportunities. The checklist also helps the student ensure that all criteria have been met before submitting the assignment to you. 
  • Regular conferencing time with students. While not every student requires you to check-in with them, it definitely keeps some students on track. Set aside some time during the day to talk to these students. You may notice that the individual attention makes a difference.

Ankie Carswell is a resource teacher, Rosser Elementary School, Burnaby.

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