Monday, January 5, 2015

The Classroom Clean-up: 5 Methods

Let's start with a kind of hard truth that may discourage you from reading this post: I am not naturally a very neat and tidy person. I have a hard time keeping things clean, and an even harder time getting up the gumption to clean up after I have let my things fall into extreme disorder and chaos. And I think that's why, in the three years I've been teaching, I've never been super-proud to show off how neat my desk is.

{Because it's not. Ever.}

And that's probably why my classroom looks like a tornado hit 4 days out of 5. And why every time I have a party / a sub / conferences / an observation, the majority of my preparation involves a frenzied cleaning. I think that through my example, I subconsciously tell my kids that neatness isn't that big of a deal to me. So eventually their desks look like mine and my floor looks like we just do arts and crafts 24/7 and the guided reading table has stacks up to the ceiling.....and let's not even talk about the back table.

Which is why my Teachery New Years' Resolution is to stop being such a slob, and teach my kids some better habits, so that together, we will pull out of our sloppiness and have a beautiful room once again.

Do these problems sound familiar to any teachers out there?? No? Just me? Well anyway. Just so you don't think I am a complete lost cause, I do have some tricks. Here are some of my favorite classroom clean-up ideas that I have seen that work:

1. Weekly Desk Inspection. Everyone puts their tote tray on their desk, and the inspector comes around and chooses the neatest desk. Once they have the winner in mind, everyone puts their tote trays away, they have a drum roll, and the winner is announced. That person gets a magnet to stick on their desk for the whole week. When it's time for the next week's inspection, the winner from the previous week becomes the inspector. They pass the magnet on to the new winner.

2. Magic scrap. Another teacher on my team does this with her kids and they absolutely love it! She chooses one piece of trash on the floor that she sneakily watches, and whoever picks up that scrap gets a piece of candy. (I've done this in the past and called it "Find it and Fix it," if you like that name better.) When I did it, I liked to reward the student who found the trash I was watching, and also give a piece of candy to someone who cleaned up a lot or was working really hard the whole time.

3. Chairs up. Sometimes the simple act of having kids put their chair on their desk at the end of the day is all the reminder they need to clean up under their desk. It makes it more obvious when they can clearly see the trash.

4. Become a drill sergeant. Another method I love is "Drop and give me 5!" (Or 10, or 8, or 20.) I don't know about your kids, but mine love doing little exercises throughout the day. When we do jumping jacks, it is like a reward for some of them. They love any opportunity to move around! So sometimes when the room is looking messy, I like to say something like: "Uh-oh. This room is turning into a mess! Drop and give me 5." They need to drop what they're working on and get down on the ground to give me 5 push-ups or 5 pieces of trash. They can only give me 5 push-ups if they have no trash under their desk. If they have 2 pieces of trash under their desk, they can give me 3 push-ups. It sounds kind of complicated, but my 2nd graders caught on pretty quickly. At first a lot of them wanted to cheat, but I have them shout-count to me, and their neighbors are happy to correct them if they try to nudge their trash into someone else's area or pick up trash and do push-ups. It's like a badge of honor for them if they get to do all 5, and it's a quick and easy reward for me :)

5. Get mean. Remember those passive-aggressive notes your roommates would write in college? (Or maybe it was you....) "Everyone remember to do your dishes!" "Stop turning this thermostat to 66, I am freezing!" "Just wondering who drank all my milk and if you're planning on replacing it??" Those were some fun times. Normally, I am not in favor of passive-aggressive notes. But some kids have an easier time following directions that are clearly written out. So here's the welcome board they are going to walk in to see tomorrow morning:

As you can see, it was kind of a giant problem today. I have 23 kids in my class, and one of them was absent today. So, yeah. 

What methods have you tried that worked for you?? What have you tried that hasn't worked? 


  1. Heather! I love all of your ideas so much. I'm definitely going to use some of them. My room is always a mess too and the janitor HATES me.

  2. Mine too! Our janitors probably are best friends and go to a support group where they complain about us. But hopefully no longer!

  3. I agree with all the points you proposed there. I especially like the one about the chair. It's really important to promote the virtue of order and cleanliness among the students. From there, we can start to think about cleaning strategies and the like, as well as the services we can get, which will provide assistance in doing so. In any way, thanks for sharing those tips, Heather! Kudos and all the best to you!

    Gregory Snyder @ Executive Image Indianapolis