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  • Writer's pictureCathy Borg

How to Organize School Paperwork - Simple Systems + Tips for Teens

Teenage Girl looks up from reading a book.
Teenage Girl Organizes Paperwork

Being organized makes everything else go more smoothly. It allows you to get to school and to your classes quickly without having to waste time looking for things.

Do you throw loose papers in your backpack or grab several notebooks for the same lesson? If so, it's time to take a step back and rearrange!

Let's look at three different methods for keeping your schoolwork organized. All involve categorizing your homework and class materials according to the subject. The methods are differentiated by the containers you use - such as notebooks, folders, binders, or accordion files.

"Yeah, I tried that, but it didn't work for me since it broke!", you might say. But wait. There is a solution.

After I explain the different methods for keeping your schoolwork organized, I'll reveal a secret two-topic method to prevent breaking. This two-topic method prevents any of the 3 organizing methods from breaking, bursting, or ripping.

We are looking at three different methods for organizing your school paperwork because we know that we're not all the same and that each of us does things a little differently. There is no right or wrong way; simply choose the method that appeals to you.

Spiral notebook, folder and two pencils
Organize using Notebook + Folder System

The first system is notebooks and folders.

This is the simplest way to organize your class materials. You have exactly one notebook and one folder for each subject. You will use a single-subject spiral notebook and a folder for each of your subjects. Use the spiral notebook for taking notes, study plans, administrative information, or any other original thought relevant to the course. Every piece of paper handed out in class goes into the corresponding folder. Your teacher may provide you with handouts, study guides, and resource sheets. It's also where you'll place your pending and completed homework or permission forms. It's where you keep your papers, whether they're coming home or returning to school.

Let's take a moment to discuss note-taking because they are critical to any system. When taking notes, you should label them. Labeling and organization go hand in hand. When taking notes, you should include a few things. On the corner of the paper write: the date, the subject like math or physics, the topic, and textbook page no.

Also, write the subject on the cover of each of these folders and notebooks, and you'll be able to find it faster.

Various coloured notebooks
Colourful Notebooks

Color coding the notebooks and folders is useful. It's another way to stay organized because you'll know at a glance what everything is. We know it can be difficult to keep all the materials for a single class together. Choose a different colour for each class, such as orange for history, green for biology, and blue for math.

For example you would have the following in math class:

• a blue pocket portfolio, as well as a blue spiral notebook

• a blue textbook jacket

Colour coding makes it easier to find things in your system.

Also, check your paper supply on weekends to ensure proper restocking. It's no pleasure to arrive at a class and learn you've run out of paper to take notes on, so make sure you refill.

The second system is a binder system.

Colourful thin binders
A Different Colour for each Subject

In the binder system, you organize your paperwork in a binder or binders. And, of course you need to have loose-leaf paper.

There are two options in the binder system:

  • Option #1 is to use a thin binder for each subject. Within the binder use dividers to further divide the binder, either by unit or chapter or type of paper like notes, handouts, reference sheets, and worksheets. Binder folder for each subject. As in the first system, every piece of paper handed out in class goes into the corresponding folder.

 2 C-ring binders
One Giant Binder Holds all your Papers
  • Option #2 is to have one giant binder for all your subjects and use dividers in that binder to further divide by the subject and by the divisions as in the single thin binder.

And binder folders for each subject. Again as in the first system, every piece of paper handed out in class goes into the corresponding folder. The good thing about this is that everything is easy to find because it’s all in one binder. You can divide it into different subcategories like the thin binder. For either option, you can colour code your binders. If you get white binders, insert coloured construction paper into the front.

If your binder doesn't have folders, make sure to buy folders that are compatible with your binder. They should have holes in them and be the right size. You are going to need a lot of loose-leaf paper, so make sure you replenish your supply on a regular basis.

Array of Colourful Plastic Folders
Polly Pocket folders for Notebook + Folder System

A quick reminder about folders. The Polly Pocket Folders are the folders I use in System One when using spiral notebooks and folders. I like robust solid folders like these because they can hold a lot of paper without bending over.

Colourful Folders with Slash Pockets
Folders with Slash Pockets for Binders

The other folders used in a binder are very slippery. They're designed for use in a binder since they have three holes. These folders are also available in both coloured and clear versions.

The last method is an expanding accordion file folder.

Grey Plastic Expanding Accordion File
Expanding Accordion File for all your Necessary Paper

The pros of this system are similar to those of having single folders: it's very compact and it's easy to maintain since you just put things in. Also, you don't have the possibility of losing one folder, since all of the sections are combined together into one larger unit.

However, it can be difficult to find certain papers within the subjects since you can't further divide it like you can in the binder and everything is put in horizontally so you have to shuffle through them.

So there you have it, three different methods for keeping your schoolwork organized. In system one, we have notebooks and folders. In system two, we have the binders or binder system. This includes separate slim binders for each specific subject or one huge binder for all your subjects. The third system is the accordion file folder.

I hope at least one of those appeals to you.

How to keep your system from becoming overloaded and shattering and tearing apart!

Firstly, if you're using a binder system, don't put your textbooks or workbooks in there.

That is not its intended purpose.

They are too heavy.

They will cause your system to fail; that is your folder, binder, or accordion file to tear or break.

Secondly, and the TOP piece of advice is the secret two-topic method.

Before we begin, I need to introduce you to a fundamental concept of organization - upkeep.


Think of upkeep as caring for a garden.

Teenage Girl Watering Indoor Plants
Plants need upkeep just like your paper organizing system.

You don't plant a garden and then forget about it. What if there is a drought, or a weed or insect invasion? It's not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You need to weed and water your garden.

So too your paperwork system. No matter how neatly you put your school paperwork back, eventually, you'll have too many pieces of paper, and it will tear. If you try to carry your entire school year's worth of papers for the entire school year, it will break. The answer - apply the two-topic rule!

The two-topic rule

Let's take a look at history class as an example of using the two-topic rule.

Assume that in history class your first unit is all about China this year. So you have notes on China, a quiz, tests, or handouts, and so on. You finish your China unit, and then you're on to your next unit - India. There is more paperwork, as there was in China.

India is now your number one topic, with China falling to second place. So there you have your two topics.

You might be thinking, but why two? Why not one? Why not only include the most recent topic?

Well, I'm married to a teacher, and I used to be one, so I'm aware of the lag time. Because you're in India doesn't mean your teacher isn't still doing things in China. They may still be evaluating papers or administering examinations. You want to keep everything together. So we keep two topics. Now that we've completed learning about India, the teacher says, "OK, our next topic is Russia." So Russia becomes our first topic. What happened to China when India jumped to the number two spot? It becomes third. To go to the point, the answer is don't keep it if it's not number one or two topic. Why? Because that's where things start to break down.

There is another organizing principle. It states that the less you require something, the further away it can be.

We don't need China paperwork as much now that it's in third place. We might need it later to cross-check grades, or we might need it for a final exam or semester exam.

You should, however, file them in a form that allows them to be quickly retrieved.

Black Plastic Portable File Box
File Box for your Retired Units

You can get a portable file Box for them from an office supply store. Some of them are equipped with handles. You may already have a file drawer in your desk drawer, or your parents may have one with files or a file cabinet. You only need a few files, one for each subject. China-related papers are filed under history until the end of the year. When a topic reaches the third position, it is retired. You can staple all of the papers connected to China together, then all of the papers related to India, and so on. Then file them under their respective subject titles.

Keep no superfluous papers at school. When topics reach the third spot, file your paper by topic under their subject. (Use paper clips for each unit within the tab section for each subject.) You never have to carry a tonne of paper this way, and it prevents your system from becoming overwhelmed and exploding or tearing. You will also have access to all of your school papers as references. As a result, they are easily available if and when needed.


Remember: having and sticking to a method can keep you organized and in control!

Because you stuck around to the end here are 6 top tips for keeping your papers organized. To download pdf click illustration:

Best wishes for a prosperous and organized new school year! You can do it.


6 комментариев

Basic Organization
Basic Organization
21 сент. 2021 г.

You are so right about "Upkeep". This is usually where things fall apart. Setting up the system is easy but then you have to change your habits or routine in order to use the new system and keep using it. I agree.

Cathy Borg
Cathy Borg
21 сент. 2021 г.
Ответ пользователю

Yes. Upkeep is key. Such a good practice to develop early in life. :) Thanks for your comment.


Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
21 сент. 2021 г.

I love the ease that you describe the different ways to organize school papers. Color coding is awesome and I remember helping our daughters organize that way when they were growing up. They preferred the single spiral notebook and folder system. It was easier to manage and less bulky to carry around. They would carry their morning subjects in their backpack and after lunch switch those out for their afternoon classes and store the morning subjects in their lockers. At the end of the day, they'd visit their lockers to bring home any spiral notebooks and folders they had homework in. They had a place to clear papers out and store at home when needed.

Cathy Borg
Cathy Borg
21 сент. 2021 г.
Ответ пользователю

Yes. Thanks. I love the idea of using the locker as a command centre. I appreciate your comment and thanks for the great strategy.


20 сент. 2021 г.

I just love this idea of keeping the first two topics to hand and letting the third one go to deeper storage. I swear my teenagers carried the entire year's work around with them in case a teacher should ask for something from months ago! Their backpacks never made it through a single year without rips and tears, and it must have been terrible to lug those things around with them all day. And if the day came when they did need a paper from way back - the exception that proved the rule - I have no doubt they either couldn't find it or couldn't get it out of their backpack in time.

Cathy Borg
Cathy Borg
21 сент. 2021 г.
Ответ пользователю

Sounds very much like my daughter. She still carries the world in her backpack. lol. Thank you for commenting.

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