Tips to Keep Math Organized (with a bonus freebie)

Getting your math block organized.

Get ready for a giant blog post! Save this one to your toolbar or your math Pinterest board to refer back to as needed. I’m going to cover LOTS of math organization in this blog post. Several years ago, I ran a math webinar all about structuring your math block. Since I no longer run that webinar, I’ve decided to break pieces of it apart and put those pieces into a series of blog posts. Today’s blog post is going to be all about tips to keep math organized. We’re going to discuss organizing materials, paperwork, and lesson planning. There are even a few freebies at the end that will help you get started on your organizational journey.

Organizing manipulatives.

When you think of organizing all things math, I’m sure manipulatives are one of the first things you think about. It’s hard to keep up with all the things you need for math. One reason that it’s so hard to keep up with is that each skill in math uses such different materials, so you could be jumping between 4-5 different manipulatives within one week. Another reason it’s hard to manage all the hands-on manipulatives is if you’re using them within groups. Then, you’re trusting your students to be able to retrieve the materials and keep them organized while you’re working in a small group.

I have a couple of tips to keep math organized for your manipulatives!

  1. Use clear containers. Ideally, you’re going to use clear containers that are all the same size WITH a lid. The combination of clear, lidded, same-sized container is beneficial so that you can stack all the materials in one spot in your classroom. Kids can also retrieve these containers, too, if they’re clear. If you want the students to be able to get the materials they need and put them back, clear is very beneficial because they can see what’s inside. Try Dollar Tree, HomeDepot, WalMart, or Target for cheap, clear containers.
  2. Use nail/tool storage for smaller materials. Head over to HomeDepot and grab one of the organizers that hold nails, screws, washers, etc. These little storage units are wonderful for smaller manipulatives such as dice and two-color counters. If you scroll down just a bit, you’ll see a beautifully organized storage unit that Starr Spangled Planner created for her dice.
  3. Label everything. Whether you’re using containers, bins, boxes, tool boxes, Ziploc baggies, or file folders, do yourself a favor, and label everything. I made the mistake my first year of teaching just throwing all my centers into Ziploc baggies and putting them in a giant math tub. Big mistake. I didn’t know which games went with which standard. It’s also crucial to label everything to help your students. If you’re teaching K/1, print off pictures of what’s inside each box. If you’re teaching 2-5th grade, you can use words to help them locate what they need!
Math Organization Classroom - organizing manipulatives.

Clear Containers

As stated in tip #1, clear containers are going to be your kids’ best friends. They allow students to be able to locate and find the exact materials they need. And, if they’re all the same size, they can neatly stack within a shelf, cubby, or free-standing on the floor.

Math Organization in the primary classroom with storage bins.

Tool Organizers

This is the picture I discussed in tip #2. This is from Jillian at Starr Spangled Planner. She bought a few of these tool organizers and filled them up with all of her smaller dice manipulatives. I want to call her the queen of dice because I’m fairly certain she has every possible dice ever made for her kids.

Organizing journals.

Now that we’ve discussed manipulative organization for hands-on practice, I’m going to shift into three different types of math practice that your kiddos are going to do and the tips to keep math organized. First, we will talk about journals. Then, I’ll discuss centers, worksheets, differentiation, and standards/lesson planning.

Journaling during math can be used in two ways.

  1. Interactive Notebooks- Notebooks are a very engaging way to keep kids excited during math class. There are two ways to complete interactive notebooks, which I plan to blog about in the near future. One is simply a place to cut and glue engaging activities that students will have fun with. The other is an input/output format. One tip for keeping both of these types of interactive notebooks organized is to staple a Ziploc baggie to the front cover of each students’ notebooks. This will help keep extra pieces between lessons. Scroll down to see a picture of this and further explanation of the Ziploc baggie method.
  2. Math Writing and Short Answer- Some teachers use journaling to practice short answer and constructed response. One way to make journaling easy is to find, cut, and paste strips with the student’s prompts. (Scroll to the end of this blog post to find links to 1st and 2nd grade prompts.) If you have a teacher helper quickly cut your math journal strips in the morning, it’s simple to pass out to each student and have them glue into their notebooks. That way, you can spend more time focusing on their writing instead of cutting/gluing. I include a picture below on the cut and glue strips. PLUS following that image is a folder option for short answer if you don’t want to use spiral-bound notebooks.
Math journal organization tip.

Ziploc Baggy Storage Idea

(Resource shown: Interactive Notebooks)

In tip 1, I discussed math interactive notebooks. Here is an example picture of how to store Ziploc baggies inside of your interactive notebooks to help kids stay organized between lessons. When they’re cutting their resources, they can be placed into their bags so they’re not falling on the ground or being mixed up with a nearby student. This is also useful when a lesson may get cut off before lunch, recess, specials, or at the end of the day. They can throw the materials into the baggie, close their notebooks, and keep all their pieces safe.

Math organization in the classroom using cut and glue strips.

(Resource shown: Math Short Answer)

Cut and Glue Strips

Here’s a picture of the cut and glue strips that go into spiral notebooks. If you have a student helper cut these out at the beginning of your day or even at the beginning of that math block, that can free up extra time for you to teach or get other math activities prepped. All it requires is glue and pencils for your students.

Math writing organization in the classroom with folders.

Folder Alternative

(Resource shown: Math Short Answer)

Here is an alternative to spiral-bound notebooks. If you’re not into spiral notebooks because of how messy they can get or how difficult they can be to store neatly, here’s a folder alternative. Find heavy-duty folders with three prongs. That way, you can print your writing pages onto hole-punched paper and have them ready to go in the students’ folders. Another benefit to the folder option is that you can keep self-assessments or mnemonic helpers in their folders to help them!

Organizing worksheets.

Worksheets (or printables) can be challenging to store because they can create unorganized stacks on your teacher desk that may be overwhelming. If you’re looking to include worksheets into small groups or centers, I have two tips to keep math organized, neat, and clean.

  1. Sheet protectors- Want to use worksheets in the classroom, but not feel like you’re merely handing out worksheets or packets? Here’s an alternative to printing off class sets of worksheets for students to practice, then take home. If you print one copy of the worksheets and slide them into sheet protectors, you can reuse the worksheets over and over again. Plus it saves so much paper!
  2. 2-pocket folders- If you are going to print class sets of worksheets out, try the 2-pocket folder method. This is a huge help when you want to be at small group with another group of students. Students will open the folder, pull out a fresh copy from the left, then, when they’re finished, return them into the right side of the folder. This is also an excellent strategy for morning work and homework, too.
Math worksheet organization tips.

(Resource shown: Math Printables)

Sheet Protectors

If you use these sheet protectors, you can use dry-erase markers and tissues to wipe off and reuse them over and over again. Kids can grade each other’s work, erase, and try again during centers.

Math worksheet organization tip using folders.

Folder Organization

(Resource shown: Math Printables)

The folder organization method is very useful when you want to trust students to keep their printables organized without you passing them out and collecting them. This saves a lot of time for you! It frees you up to work at small group with other students and allows students to learn the proper way to keep things organized.

Organizing centers in the elementary classroom.

Centers are another tricky part of your math block to keep organized. If you’re constantly rotating students’ centers out throughout the week, you’re likely going through lots of hands-on materials. These can be overwhelming to keep up with because of all the many pieces that go into them. Ziploc baggies and Sharpie markers are going to be your best friend when it comes to centers! And, if you haven’t noticed, are a big part of my tips to keep math organized.

My two big tips for center storage:

  1. Baggies and sharpies- You know the drill: print centers, laminate centers, cut centers. But here’s a tip to keep these centers organized. Once you’ve cut the centers out and are ready for the students to use them, put them into Ziploc baggies and label them. Use a Sharpie marker (or even a sticky address label) to write what STANDARD each center is for. That way, when you’re looking through center baggies next year, you can pull all of your place value centers out and have them on hand right away. The two pictures below show the Ziploc baggie and Sharpie method. Is it fancy? Absolutely not, but it keeps your stuff organized in a very cheap way.
  2. Labeled buckets- Have four bigger buckets for each of the domains (or a different number of buckets depending on how your state organizes student standards). I know that having one bigger bucket for all my NBT (Numbers and Operations in Base Ten: Place Value) resources was an incredible help in the following years. So make buckets for NBT, OA, MD, and G to keep all your centers organized for storage.
Math Organization in the classroom with Ziploc baggies.

(Resource shown: Math centers)

Math centers organized with bins and baggies.

(Resource shown: Math centers)

Shown here is tip 1 and 2 combined. You’ve got two centers for NBT in baggies that are labeled. When the students are finished with that center for that particular unit, throw it in the correct bucket and keep it organized and safe for the next time you need it. This way, you won’t be digging through your cabinets and drawers looking for your NBT centers.

Organizing differentiation.

It is very important to differentiate your math materials. Each week, you’re going to be asked to find on-level material for all different levels of learners in your classroom. This is where leveled groups during center time come in handy. If you’re leveling your groups and having different groups work on different materials, it’s going to begin to get very difficult to keep all of these materials organized.

Here are two tips to keep math organized for differentiated materials.

  1. Labeled drawers- Getting a set of drawers with multiple shelves will help out tremendously when you’re working with different materials for different groups. If you have four leveled groups, find a four-tiered set of drawers and put the resources they need in each drawer. These can be changed out once a week for students or daily.
  2. Labeled bins- If you don’t have the room for drawer sets in your classroom, you can place all the materials for each group into buckets or bins. These bins can be on a shelf waiting for students. When it’s their turn to come to that specific station or center, they’ll grab their group’s color bin and get right to work.
Organizing for math using bins and labels.

Differentiating Materials Idea

Here is one example of differentiating material for students. Although Catherine shows her guided reading differentiation drawers here, it can also work for math, too. She has green group, blue group, and yellow group all labeled. This is for her teacher’s desk because it states which round she teachers them with. However, you can easily make these drawers accessible for the students when they get to each center.

Math organization in the classroom idea with labeled buckets.

If you want students to be able to grab their own work or materials while you’re busy with small group, label buckets and put whatever you want them to work on in those buckets. That way, they can walk over to the blue group bucket, get what they need, and get started right away.

Organizing paperwork.

And finally, we’re going to talk about the part of math that the kids don’t really see. That’s the paperwork organization, lesson planning, and standards mastery. The final tips to keep math organized and maintain your sanity.

Two ways to organize all your paperwork:

  1. File folders- If you don’t have the funds or shelf space for binders, file folders will be your new best friend. Since it’s harder to print covers for the fronts of file folders, one thing I saw on Pinterest that makes grabbing materials quick and easy is to label the file folders with the standards of materials within. If you teach standards-based math, this is incredibly beneficial! If you don’t, then you can simply label a file folder as ‘Addition worksheets’ or ‘Subtraction assessments’.
  2. Binders- Storing paperwork in binders makes it easy to flip through to find what you need. What I love doing for resources I’ve bought on TPT is to print the front page of the resource and sleeve it into the binder cover, then hole punching the rest for the inside. This makes for quick access when lesson planning.
Labeled math printables organization idea.

(Resource shown: Math Printables)

Here is a snapshot of what your standards-based file folders will look like within your filing cabinet. This makes thumbing through your filing cabinet much quicker because you’re able to pull the exact resources you need right away.

Math Organization Classroom Blog Post- a math blog post all about organizing manipulatives, math centers, math paperwork, and other math activities- organizing math, classroom organization

(Resource shown: Math Printables)

FREE standards organization- Math Organization in the Classroom.

Time for your FREEBIE!!

I created this freebie when I was doing my math block webinar and I didn’t want it to go to waste. So if you’re interested in this freebie, it’s part of an email sign-up. Joining my email list will get you access to exclusive freebies and tips! If you’re interested in signing up for my email list to get access to this freebie, click the freebie link here!

Throughout this post on tips to keep math organized, you’ve seen resources for centers, worksheets, short answer, and interactive notebooks. The links below take you to a collection of either individual units OR the bundle. All these single units can be purchased in money-saving bundles. Click the first or second grade level that you need.

Black & White Centers

Printables/Worksheets

Short Answer

Interactive Notebooks

OR save big and by the all-year math resources kit…

1st grade Common Core math bundle

Link: 1st Grade Resource Bundle

2nd grade Common Core math bundle.

Link: 2nd Grade Resource Bundle

How to organize manipulatives, math centers, math paperwork, and other math activities in the classroom.
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