How to Stay Organized in Upper Elementary

The grading is longer and more intense. The attitudes have officially peaked. How are we expected to get anything done and stay on top of our game?

Teaching 5th grade is truly where I am most content. After being in first grade for eight years, I was more than ready for a change. I was tired of tying shoes and ready for a little independence. But with that came its own set of challenges. If you have been reading my blog you know that my team and I departmentalize. I am the writing teacher. That’s right, 90-100 essays to grade. With four 5th grade classrooms that is a lot of writing. I love being the writing teacher, but I also found early on that unless I figured out a way to stay organized, I would never survive. Especially when we have had years with behavior difficulties, it is important that everything else in the classroom is running smoothly in case our attention is pulled elsewhere. That never happens, right?

So based on my experience, here are my best tips for staying organized and ahead of the game in upper elementary.


Children love when you give them tasks. They actually even love to clean. I had a student last year who loved emptying the trash. Fine with me! Do not underestimate how much students can do at this age. Sometimes my colleagues will be venting about a certain organizational task and I will say, “Oh, I have a student do that.” They are shocked but then realize it truly is something they can delegate. When students feel like they have a purpose they are less likely to misbehave also. It’s truly a win win. Here are a list of some tasks I delegate in my classroom:

*Lunch count/Writing next day’s lunch on board/Organizing lunch sticks

*Passing out papers

*Collecting and checking off homework (Yes I have a student do this)

*Keeping materials organized (pencils, papers, writer’s workshop materials, etc)

*Organizing classroom books

*Filing papers, stapling, making packets, etc.

*Resetting our behavior chart

*Organizing writing notebooks

*Technology helper (Checking Chromebook plugs, opening cart in morning, etc)

I know there are more. I literally have figured out a way to delegate as many classroom chores as I can so that my focus can stay on teaching and grading. I haven’t quite gotten around delegating the grading thing—yet. (Kidding)

Plan a Week Ahead-Not less, NOT MORE

This one is something I have figured out not just teaching in 5th grade but teaching in general. If you are a week ahead, you are on your game. I always have a week’s worth of plans typed out and copies made for the next week. Now, yes, there are always weeks where I am running downstairs making copies before the bell. However, I try to limit this as much as I can. I have two young children at home, so life at home can be crazy. When I am at least a little ahead, I feel like I can breathe. The reason I suggest not to plan further in advance is for a couple of reasons. First, if you decide you want to change your plans, or you fall ahead/behind during the week then you will need to revamp, and well, that can be annoying. Second, planning very far in advance can take quite some time. If you take a Monday afternoon to plan for the following week, it doesn’t seem as daunting. Of course, everyone is different. This is just what I have found works best for me!

Have Your Desk Always Ready For a Sub

This is another trick I learned not just in upper elementary but as a teacher. I ALWAYS have my desk ready for a sub when I leave work for the day. My sub folder is out and my packets are made in case my class is divided. My planbook is out and ready for a sub to follow. It takes a few extra minutes at the end of each day but that is all. My sub folder has everything a sub will need. I prepare this at the beginning of the year. It has our daily schedule, behavior information, which teachers to speak to, etc. I make sure this is out with my weekly plans (which you would have done because you are a week ahead, right?)  Like I said above, I have two young children at home and sometimes things happen in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. In fact that’s usually when they do happen. Knowing that I can call out without the worry of having to run into work and leave plans is a huge weight off my shoulders.

Grade a Little at a Time

Even if you are not a departmentalized writing teacher grading 90-100 fiction stories, essays, reports, etc. at a time, the grading in upper elementary is intense. We want to provide feedback, make sure we are grading fairly, and also keep our sanity. This is why I grade a little each day or every other day. I DO NOT bring 100 essays home at once. I have done this and it is miserable. Grading a little each day when you have a minute or two will help reduce your stress in a major way. Biting off in little chunks is just more doable for me!

Don’t Grade Everything.

Yes, I said it. I don’t grade everything. I hardly ever grade homework. *Gasp* Our homework in writing is generally a practice and reflection of a skill of something we learned that day. I also do not give homework every day but that is only because I am teaching one subject. However, generally my homework is checked off (by a student!!!!) –because I have delegated- and then we review together as a class. I save my grades for formal and informal conferencing, and genre unit writing pieces.

Remember You Are One Person

We can practice these things every day, but in the end, we are inevitably hard on ourselves. While I have found many of these strategies to be a lifesaver, I have also had many weeks where I beat myself up over not being ahead of the game, or many weeks where I fall behind because life happens. We have to remember we are only one person trying our very best. Even just introducing one or two of these into your year can make a huge difference. Start small!

Hope this helps 🙂

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