Quick Tip: Use Photographs to Show Students How to Organize

I can’t count the number times I’ve asked a student, “Why isn’t your desk organized?” And they have looked at me, with honesty and confusion in their eyes, saying: “But I did organize it!” This isn’t a case of the student not doing what I asked—it’s a misunderstanding of what “organization” means.

Photographs can clear up this confusion, as the website Learning Works for Kids suggests:

Develop a plan and a description of what constitutes a clean desk, cubby, or locker by taking photographs of what a clean one of these looks like. Schedule a weekly time for your students to clean these areas.

Students with executive function issues know that they are supposed to stay organize, but they’re often paralyzed by the stress of not knowing exactly what it means to have an organized desk, locker, or backpack. Quite simply, they don’t know what organization looks like.

Contributing to students’ confusion are the conflicting messages teachers send about their expectations. The definition of “organization” can vary enormously from teacher to teacher and grade to grade. It’s important to be explicit about what you expect. Since many students, including those with ADHD and dyslexia, have more difficulty understanding information that’s presented in writing, a photograph is an effective way to help students know exactly what being organized looks like.

In SMARTS, we use our “4 C’s Strategy” to teach students how to create and maintain their own systems for keeping organized (check out Unit 4A of the SMARTS program to learn more). Why not teach your students to create their own organization systems and have them take a photograph? Then, when it’s time to reorganize their desk, backpack, or binder, they will have a picture of their own to follow.

Have you used this strategy to help your students organize? Do you have other quick tips about student organization? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross,  M.A., SMARTS Media Manager




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