The importance of streamlining your classroom resources

In the spirit of the new year, I thought I would write about why streamlining your classroom will make your practice more effective. With a shortage of time, money and energy, I am going to show you how you can select resources that can have a multitude of uses as well as getting rid of those that are already in your redundant pile.

Be honest

When was the last time you used that resource? Has it gone in a folder to be extracted the next time you need it? Over the years, I have moved into various classrooms that are jam-packed with dog-eared worksheets. Not only that, but I have boxes of items that I tell myself I am going to use, yet they end up in the exact same place for months.

One way to use some of the worksheets you have amassed is to create a literacy corner. This only needs to be a table with a couple of chairs if you are short of space. Resources can be organised into moveable drawers, or placed into hanging file organiser. These can be expensive to buy through school catalogues, but can be picked up cheaply second hand. This way, you don’t need to get rid of everything; be sure that you aren’t moving worksheets from one place to another.

Ask the children to make their own interactive notebooks. They can use the worksheets as a guideline for their own ideas, and there are plenty of free interactive notebook packs available from sites like Teachers Pay Teachers.

Two of the classrooms I worked in had massive, walk-in cupboards. This meant everybody’s junk was piled high, and truthfully, I didn’t know what I could throw away and what I couldn’t: I had no idea who half of the stuff belonged to.  In one of the schools, I was the Lead Teacher for Literacy across the Curriculum, which made throwing all of the worksheets in the literacy filing cabinet difficult to do. But after a few months observing said filing cabinet, I realised that NOBODY was using anything in it, so I chucked the lot. Worksheets even from a few years ago can be really dated because these days there is a huge market for free fonts and clipart. In the end, I decided that I wanted the space rather than the filing cabinet, and it made a real difference to the look of my classroom; who wants a battered metal box taking up space?

Use electronic resources

If you are somebody who got rid of their own worksheet mountain years ago, the next step is to organise your electronic resources. Quite often, this step gets ignored because having one USB stick creates far less clutter than physical products.

The first step is one a lot of us will forget to do- make a second copy. Even though I have lost resources, university essays and videos over the years, I am still guilty of not making a backup often enough. I am someone who will empty her bag to find at least three USB sticks, and have no idea what is in any of them.

It is easier to find resources if they are grouped into subjects rather than into the term that you have always used them. Make sure they are clearly labelled so that the maths folder also has folders inside that show which year group the resources are for; this is especially important if you work in a school where they move staff about.

Another way to save space is to look at the test papers that your school has kept. In one of my first jobs, the cupboard was full of stuff that was older than I was! I didn’t even have to think- all of that stuff went straight into a black bag. With so many changes to the curriculum across all age ranges, test papers may not have any relevance now. Think about when the last curriculum change was. Few sample and real papers are available, but at KS2 a lot of the skills are the same. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep all of the old papers though- they are all available FREE online, so get them from there if you still have to use them.

Find the lost and found box

I have been teaching for eight years. The only thing I have found in a cupboard that I wanted to keep was a teddy bear who had a massive rip in his back. I brought him into my classroom, and my Year 10s named him Godric. Each week Godric would have a new card explaining why he enjoyed reading the book that was standing next to him. We all knew it was silly, but it meant that each week, I made sure to recommend a new book to my students. When I moved into the primary sector, my Year 5 children begged to take him home for the weekend. By this point, he was Police Bear- complete with outfit. I imagine that he had a lot of fun, though I was slightly concerned when he came back trouserless one week after going to a soft play centre!

It is less easy to get rid of items that clearly belong to students. When this happens, you need to move all of the items out of your classroom/ cupboard and put them in the school’s lost and found. This way you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing out things.

Create a grammar games box

A lot of classrooms already have literacy boxes that children can use when they are doing both independent and structured writing. So, what is different about a grammar games box? This is a box that you have created to help your own teaching. It is a box that can be made as versatile as your imagination. I used mine whenever students finished the class task early, and I wanted to give them more practise on a specific skill. Most of the following ideas can be downloaded from the website.

Spelling Snakes and Ladders is aligned with the word banks given for Years 1-6; homophone dominoes teaches children a variety of homophones and works well with a small group; prefix pairs allows children to extend their knowledge of what each prefix means; parts of speech pairs consolidates noun, verb, adjective and adverb knowledge and improves vocabulary. There are many more ideas, which I haven’t listed here, but you get the idea. It means that time is not wasted, and students are using their time to the max.

Get rid of other people’s clutter

So where do you start? Although it can seem daunting, and difficult to get rid of other people’s stuff, you need to remember that if it has been left, then it is unlikely somebody will come back to claim it.

Take a cursory glance. Is it something that would work for you? Does it give you another perspective? In secondary, we had to moderate a large selection of essays before they were sent away. It was always a really interesting exercise because sometimes we found out something new about the book we had been teaching. I had a colleague read an essay by one of my students. It was based on Of Mice and Men.  I had taught the children that section 4, where the book focuses on Crooks, has a circular story: at the start of the chapter Crooks is rubbing oil on his bad back, and he does this again at the end, which highlights that each day is repetitive and monotonous; nothing ever changes for him. My colleague took the idea, and used it with her class.

Personal items can go immediately if the person has moved on. Old jotters of past students can go. Tired displays can be ripped down and replaced. This is a great time to make things your own.

So how do I choose the correct resources to keep?

When I am creating new resources, I am always thinking about how I could use that resource in the classroom. The following tips are for the Hilarious Headlines resource that can be downloaded free from the website.

1.      Reinforce different kinds of verbs

Ask the children to separate the cards, so they stack all of the verb cards in one pile. Next ask them to analyse the verbs into three categories: thinking, feeling and doing. They could then choose three of the verbs they think are the most ‘powerful’; that is to say, which verbs could change the meaning of a sentence entirely?

2.      Improve your students’ vocabulary

Ask the children to shuffle the cards. They then need to take 3 cards at random and list/ draw synonyms for that word. This is a great activity to reinforce how to use a thesaurus.

3.      Different sentence types

After a lesson about the four different types of simple sentence (statement, question, exclamation, command), ask the children to create each sentence type only using the cards. Ask them to evaluate which sentence types were easier to create, and which types were harder.

4.      S-V-O (subject-verb-object) or O-V-S (object-verb-subject)

Why not remind children about the structure of sentences by thinking about active and passive sentences? In passive sentences, the subject of the sentence moves from the front to the end. Give the children an example: The cat chased the mouse vs The mouse was chased by the cat. Ask them to analyse how the emphasis changes.

5.      Play the game!

You could always just play the game. The object is to create the silliest headlines that are still grammatically correct. The winner takes all of the cards that have been used, and the player with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.

It’s now time for you to think about one quick way that you can cleanse your classroom of clutter. You may only want to tackle one thing at a time, or you may be like me- do it all in one go! Whatever you decide, remember that you now have five teaching ideas for the free resource mentioned- so download now!

About the author: Now an English consultant, Jill formerly worked as both a secondary Head of English and a primary teacher.

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