Wednesday, January 11, 2017

30-Minute File Cabinet Makeover with Free Template

File cabinet makeover in 30 minutes for classroom organization

I'm really working on classroom organization.  It improves my productivity with students, so I know it is time well-invested. However, I have to admit that for the longest time I have been avoiding my paper file cabinet!  Until recently, it was in need of a major makeover.  I tried filling out those little plastic tabs that come with hanging files, but they never lined up neatly when I moved files around and they were just a pain to pinch into the little slots at the top of each folder! So, then I switched to manila folders, but they slump down and make it impossible to flip from folder to folder.  Lesson learned.   

Messy file cabinet before organization

I did a few things to prep for this project.  

1) Get hanging files and make sure they fit in your cabinet. With a little adjustment, most file cabinets can accommodate the hanging-style folder.  

2) Buy a 50 pack of bright, sturdy card-weight paper.  

Here is how I beautified my file cabinet in 30 minutes.  It worked really well for me, so I'm sharing my template below for you to use in your classroom.   Hopefully you already have most of the items you need in your classroom.  If not, now you have a good reason to go to Target for bright colored classroom you really need a reason to go to Target right?

I decided that I needed two categories of tabs for my classroom (science topic tabs and a set of tabs for general classroom management).  I printed the science tabs to match the topics for middle school listed in the Next Generation Science Standards.  This really helped me weed through papers because if they didn't relate to an NGSS topic,  I didn't feel guilty about tossing them!  For classroom management tabs, I made a list of items that I regularly find on my desk and made tabs that match those topics (exams, sub plans, meetings etc.).  You can alternate paper colors or group them by topic.  (EX: All science files green)

The tabs each teacher needs will vary so you will notice that the free download has a few pages that you can edit for your needs.  You will need to have Adobe on your computer to edit this.  So be sure to open the file in Adobe on your desktop before editing!  Warning: If you only open it in Google Drive and start editing it will Not work or Save!  Be sure to download and open it on your desktop so that your changes save.

bring colored file dividers for classroom organization

Stay focused! Don't stress over or read EVERY paper in your file cabinet.  If you only have 30 minutes, skim and scan papers to determine whether they fit a topic or not.  You might want to create a "Review Later Box" where you toss any item you find that doesn't fit your new labels/tabs and you are not ready to throw away until you take a closer look.  This will allow you to focus your time on the task of adding the bright file tabs and tidying up your existing files without getting sidetracked by worksheet nostalgia!   You can always block off additional time later to sort those papers more carefully.  (Chances are you will find out that stuff wasn't as important as you thought!)

attaching your printable file tabs to your file folders for a more organized file cabinet

Staple each piece of colored card-weight paper to the front (or back if you prefer) of each hanging file folder.  Be sure to measure how much room you have above the folder in your cabinet so that your pretty new tabs don't get squished when you close the door! 

Free template for bright file folder tabs to organize your classroom file cabinet.

Ready to have a colorful, clean and organized classroom?  Click the image above to download a pdf of my (editable) template!  Remember, if you want to make custom tabs you will need to download the pdf to your desktop and change it using Adobe. 

Thanks for visiting Kate's Classroom Cafe!  Happy Organizing... 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Holiday Hustle and Bustle Busters for the Classroom!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break are tough for teachers everywhere.  Students are distracted.  Let's face it...teachers are distracted too!  Here are three tips for busting the holiday hustle and bustle during the next few weeks!

1) Don't be afraid to make (a little) time for FUN!

Upper-grades teachers are often pressured to teach through the holiday season without the "fun and games" but big kids like to have fun too!  There are many ways to build in a little holiday fun without taking too much time away from instruction.  These FREE printable coupons are an easy way to spread some holiday cheer and can be used as cost-free prizes OR gifts for your students.  Click to download them below:

2) Go for a WALK!

This Science Winter Walkabout makes natural connections between general science concepts and the holiday season!  Kids love traveling from question to question and there are "fun" questions built in to allow time for kids to share their holiday traditions and interests!  Spread the questions out so kids can stretch their legs and if weather permits, laminate them and go outside for some fresh air.

3) Switch it UP! 

This is a great time of year to TRY A NEW TEACHING STRATEGY! Try using an interactive notebook foldable, task card review, posters or doodle notes to spice up your normal instructional routines.  It just might be the breath of fresh air you and your students need to keep motivated!

Doodle notes are great for this time of year because they help with concentration and memory while providing a natural brain break with doodling and coloring!

Today and Tomorrow November 28 and 29th all print and go resources are 28% off with code:  CYBER2016

SO...Grab a cup of coffee and check out some time-saving resources to use in your classroom!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writing in Science

Why do we have to learn this? I just love when my students ask this.  No seriously!  It shows that they are making valid connections between their learning and how they might apply it.  Adults ask this all the time, but it is often a frustrating question for teachers address when they are working to cover content under time constraints. On more than one occasion this has come up when I work on writing skills in science, probably because we do A LOT of writing in science. So here is how I answer it...

Communication is inherent in the science process.  Here are some reasons that scientists need strong writing skills.  Share them with your students! 

There are just a few ways that writing skills relate to careers in science!
Would you like to display these signs in your classroom? 

Explicit writing instruction has a valuable place in every science classroom.  
Do you teach these writing skills in science class?

If you are looking for materials for teaching writing in science class, check out:

Writing is a core skill that relates to all subject areas! Collaborate with your team of teachers to incorporate writing skills work in every class.  Check out these other writing skills resources for ELA, MATH and SOCIAL STUDIES.

Writing Skills in ELA - Writing Responses with Text-Based Evidence 
Math Writing Skills - How to Write in Math 
Social Studies Writing Skills - How to Avoid Plagiarism 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Active Study Strategies

Your first major unit test is approaching. They already know HOW to study for a test right? Teachers assume that kids come equipped with subject area study skills, but do they?

Students Need Explicit Instruction on HOW To Study in Each Subject Area

A vast majority of Tweens have two strategies for studying.  They include looking at their notes or  making flashcards, but for so many kids these are not enough.  Have you ever seen the look on a child's face when they get a poor test grade back that they genuinely THINK they studied for?

The problem is, many students spend time "studying" but they are not activating and connecting their knowledge which can lead to poor recall and application come test time.  Parents have contacted me numerous times with the same story "My child studied for 3 hours! How could they have failed the test?" So what gives?

We Assume They Know How to Study

I'm guilty of this.  "They should know how to study by now." "I don't have time to teach this too." "They should ask for help if they need it." We can't assume that other teachers and/or parents are providing study skills instruction.  As subject area teachers, we owe our students explicit instruction on how to study our content.  Effective studying for a math test should look very different than studying for a history test and so on.  After years in the classroom, countless hours of private tutoring and working in our school's learning assistance center I can tell you that many students lack these skills!


When we study, we work to move information from our short term to our long term memory.  Sometimes it stays there and other times it dissolves because it is ignored and left unused for too long a period of time.  (If you don't use lose it.)  The key to moving information to our long term files is rehearsal.  Rehearsal is the act or process of PRACTICE.  So, when our students stare at their notes for hours then haphazardly make a few flash cards they often fail to do meaningful and memorable PRACTICE!


Great students have an arsenal of active study strategies that allow their minds to PRACTICE content.  Some of these strategies are universal (such as the vocabulary one described below) while others are content specific.  Here is an active strategy that is a different spin on traditional flashcards:

How this easy to make tool helps to ACTIVATE memory:

Chunking:  Students ask themselves "Which vocabulary words relate to the concept of _______?"

Writing:  Students copy information for the key concepts from their notes, books and other resources.

Drawing:  There is plenty of room inside each tab for students to draw and label pictures relating to each concept.

Quizzing:  The foldable tabs allow for self-testing of the material.

And...NO lost or missing flash cards!

For middle school students, explicitly learning how to study in each content area is important.  If you are looking to try some study skills instruction in your class, check out this study skills pack for science that outlines ways to study SMARTER not HARDER!

Looking for study skills to support other content areas?  Check these out:

ELA Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Math Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Social Studies Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Happy Studying!

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Visual Learning, Doodle Notes and Memory

Engaging students with science models has long been at the cornerstone of good science instruction, but could we be doing even more to improve visual literacy in our science classes?

Visual Learning 

Visual literacy is no doubt a valuable 21st Century Skill where students are expected to “interpret, recognize, appreciate, and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols.” Student memory of science content is accomplished primarily through practice, imagery and patterns.  So, we plan lessons using interactive notebook templates, card sorts, task cards, video clips and visual games (to name a few) that target these memory tools and work to keep students engaged along the way.  But what about using another visual approach to make meaning and promote memory of science content?

Many people rely heavily on visuals while learning new content. How many times have you skimmed an online article or textbook chapter reading only the headings and scanning the pictures, all along obtaining most of the content without ACTUALLY reading it?  All the time! This “less is more” study  showed that pictures and short descriptions proved more effective in reaching students than a full-text approach to teaching science.  

You are probably aware of the recent trend in coloring for improved memory, learning and even for stress relief.  So it likely comes as no surprise that recent research is backing the idea that doodling can help our students better connect with the content we are teaching.  

Consider this study, where a test group was asked to doodle while listening to a prerecorded message about a party.  The experimental group was asked to doodle while listening and were then tested on their ability to recall the names mentioned. The “doodlers” recalled 29% more information than the control group.  

Sunni Brown, author of Doodle Revolution strives to redefine doodling as "spontaneous marks to help you think." Her TED Talk is well worth a watch and will really get you thinking about how our negative perceptions of doodling could be hindering student learning. 

Ok, so most of what I've read about doodling supports academic doodling, mindless doodling and everything in between...but I'm not sure how I feel about opening the doors of the classroom to a bunch of unstructured scribbling while I'm teaching. 

From a classroom management standpoint, it is important to consider academic doodling vs. everyday doodling.  Not all “doodle supporters” will consider this a valid distinction.  However, for my own sanity in managing a class of 27 teenage doodlers I think it makes sense to encourage the former.  Doodling has long been associated with inattention, and let's face it- despite all the latest middle school... sometimes doodling is just that!  So it got me to thinking...Can I teach my students HOW to doodle to support their learning?

This chart is intended to help students better understand the expectations for in-class doodles:

Something to consider: I recently noticed a student making pretty silly science comic characters in the margin of his notebook.  At first glance I thought they were primarily distracting, but after looking closely I noticed that the characters were accomplishing many of the items on the academic side of my doodle guidelines chart.  That being said, this chart is not intended to limit or restrict student doodles but to try to guide them toward the most productive doodling they can do to support their learning.  Like everything in the classroom, it is a judgement call with each kid- AND...warning, sometimes it can be very challenging to interpret a child's doodles!

Ready to Get Started?
Here are some ways to use doodling in your classroom:

Activate prior knowledge with a quick doodle task.
Have students doodle a picture on a post-it note that represents their background knowledge on a topic (for example phase change).  Remind them that it will not be collected for a grade!  Keep in mind that drawing can be intimidating for some kids. 

Make doodling and coloring a regular part of traditional note-taking.
A small picture and a little color can enhance science notes and make them more memorable for students.  Try keeping text concise by adding more visuals when modeling notes for the class. Think out loud about your drawing or how you use color to emphasize key ideas.  Here are some everyday examples of how this looks:

Use whiteboard doodle breaks.
This strategy works great for reluctant doodlers!  There is something about being able to erase that gets students more willing to take risks.  Build in some DOODLE BREAKS into any lesson where you ask all students to do a 30-second quick draw of a concept being taught.  This is a non-threatening and valuable formative assessment!

Use Printable Visual Notes. 
These are becoming increasingly popular so you can make your own or find many versions to download at very reasonable prices. Here are two types of visual notes that I create that can be printed and handed out to students.  Both involve students using doodles, shading, coloring and answering questions to interact with the content. 

Science Sketch Notes- These are full page doodle drawings that summarize a key scientific concept.  Students color them and then answer questions and do short experiments while referencing the notes.  This is similar to textbook learning but it emphasizes CONCISE and very VISUAL notes over a lengthy text.  A majority of the class time is spent interacting with the content through writing, discussion and short experiments.

Doodle Notes (Sometimes I call them POSTER notes)- These are Q and A style poster style note sheet.   They are a modern take on a graphic organizer. When I create these, I leave more room for students to answer questions and draw pictures, as they fill in content during the lesson.  They are usually 1-2 pages and include graphics that are designed to make the content memorable.  These can be used to teach the content, but they also make a great review tool or topic assessment.

Here are some things to consider about why doodling might be a good fit for your science classroom: 

Want to read more about DOODLING? Here are a few nifty online articles to check out...

If you are interested in a print and go option, here are some visual notes that are ready to use!




Other Visual Notes:

Clipart and Font Credits to:

Can't find a pre-made doodle note sheet for a topic you teach?  I take requests! Email me at for more information.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Your Classroom Management Headed in the Right Direction?

All Signs Point to YES! This is such an easy, SIMPLE and effective strategy to try.  It works for both elementary and secondary students!  There are SO many uses for these little paper arrows and mine got used so much that I needed to make new ones mid-year! (Middle school kids are not the most gentle creatures.)

So what is it? Paper arrows glued to magnets.  Yup!  That. Is. It. 

Step 1:  Print them, glue magnets on the back.

Step 2:  Post them on your board in an easy to access place and then assign every student a number.  (Have them write it on their notebook just in case.)
Step 3:  Start using them! No, seriously once they are up you will be using them all the time.  There are so many possibilities!  

Here are some ways that I have used them in 6th grade:

Best Practice Use: Tracking learning progress of a current learning goal.

I used this target during an unannounced observation and it was a home run.  I had done it a number of times with kids before and it was a stream-line way to have kids come full circle at the end of the lesson and reconnect with the learning goal.  Take that Marzano! (Deep breath...I get a little crazy about all this teacher eval &#%@)

I don't have a ton of whiteboard space so I make charts and then put them up depending on my needs for that lesson.

Anyone else struggle with writing learning scales that don't sound lame to middle school kids?

Realistic, every-day classroom uses:
Homework Check 

Student Choice Groups

Teacher-Assigned Groups

NO more popsicle sticks for random participation! I started using my arrows by mixing them up and randomly grabbing one.  

Group Rotations- Where is each group starting today's science stations?  This can help keep track of each group because kids move their arrows when they move to the next station.

Other ideas!
  • "Please see the teacher"  I often forget to touch base with a student who was absent and this could be a reminder to the student if their number is posted.
  • "Behavior Warning" See a student off task?  Move their number as a visual warning during a lesson!
Think this might work for you? Here is the basic file for you to print arrows for your classroom.  Nothing Fancy Folks....just a time saver not to make it yourself :) 

Thanks for visiting Kate's Classroom Cafe!  Join our email list for (very occasional, not everyday annoying) messages about upper-grades lesson and strategy ideas! 


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