Teaching Organizational Skills in Middle School: Use Show and Tell

By Wendy Wisner of Your Teen Mag


“Organized” is probably the last word that comes to mind when thinking about middle schoolers.

Yet middle school is the time when the consequences of not staying organized begin to carry more weight.

Inconveniently, middle school can also be a time when it’s like pulling teeth to get your kiddo to do virtually anything, let alone stay organized!

Disorganized = Normal

Emily Levitt, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning, recommends putting things in perspective: “Don’t get too frustrated with your disorganized middle schooler. They’re normal.”

It’s difficult for middle schoolers to stay organized because they are in that tough spot between wanting more independence and not being quite ready for it. This can make for a bumpy transition from the more nurturing environment of elementary school.

“Built-in structures go away in middle school,” Levitt remarked. “Each teacher has different rules for organization and handing in work. Trying to adapt from one system to several can be overwhelming for many students.”

Help, Then Step Back

Levitt recommends using a hands-on approach to get your child organized for the upcoming year.

“You can’t just say ‘You need to be more organized,'” Levitt says. “You have to show them what you mean.”

Here’s how: “In the morning, take their backpacks, put them on the floor by the front door, lay out everything that goes in them (notebook, lunch, field trip money, water). Then say, ‘Okay, it’s your job to put everything in there.'”

This can continue for a few weeks. Then, stop laying everything out, and have them gather their stuff up themselves. This same method works great for organizing binders, setting up assignment calendars, and other tasks you want them to take on independently.

The idea— referred to as “scaffolding” in education—is to first show your kid how to do it, and then gradually take the training wheels off.

“It does take longer to do it this way,” says Levitt. “But the results pay off.”

Mom-Tested Hacks

Kristen Carter of West Babylon, New York remembers her sons’ middle school years vividly. In fact, she still teaches at the middle school they attended, so she remains well-acquainted with the challenges of this age group. Carter shares these tried-and-true organizational hacks:

Two Backpacks

“In our middle school, sixth graders use their lockers but only have time to visit them twice daily. Many kids have two drawstring backpacks—one for morning classes, one for afternoon.”

Use a Planner!

“Having an organizer or calendar to write assignments in is imperative. Use a binder clip to section off the correct page.”

Color Coding

“Every class has a color and the folder or notebook to match. A piece of colored duct tape on the edge of textbooks and workbooks helps students grab what they need for each class.”



When All Else Fails…

Some kids reject all parental suggestions, insisting on using their own “system,” even if that means a backpack of disheveled papers. Levitt recommends letting them … for a bit. You can tell your child you’ll stay in contact with their teacher and reevaluate if grades begin to suffer.

“Sometimes you have to let them fail,” says Levitt. “And who knows, maybe there is a method to their madness.”


Wendy Wisner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Family Circle, and Parenting, and is a frequent contributor to Your Teen Magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.