You know the deal: you can give your teen the right supplies and teach him the content, but it’s up to him to manage it all and get everything done. If you feel like your student is overwhelmed when it comes to organizing his materials and managing his time, take heart.
Most students need guidance and systematic instruction to learn and develop organizational strategies.
Organization is one of the most difficult challenges that face middle- and high school-age students, as well as their parents. The transition from the adult taking the lead to the student taking ownership takes time to establish. How do we help our students develop organizational strategies? There is more than one way to stay well-organized. Teaching your teen the basics gives him the opportunity to find a system that works for him. Read the tips below to help your student get organized and feel successful right from the start.
Develop Organizational Strategies for Students
1) Work and Study Space
Your older student should have an identified space in the home that he associates with learning and studying. The space should (ideally) be free of visual and auditory distractions. A clear work surface, adequate lighting, access to necessary supplies (including an outlet for a computer), and a comfortable atmosphere that fits his personality will help him concentrate and cater to his learning style. The space might be a permanent location, such as his room, a quiet area of the living room, or a closet that has been converted to a study area. On the flip side, a portable study space such as a wheeled cart that can hold and sort supplies or a lap desk may be better for your student or family. Gain his input about how to personalize the space. Stock up on paper, pencils, pens, erasers, art supplies, and anything else he will need. Additions such as a bulletin board, posters, or a plant make the space appealing, add a personal touch, and generate respect and a sense of personal responsibility. Utilizing the resources your family has, you can add a few items to your home, reorganize them, and create a great workspace for your student!
2) Time Management
Teens and tweens still needs adequate rest to feel refreshed and ready for the day, so encourage your student to rise and shine at the same time every morning and have a consistent bedtime. Compiling a to-do list the night before will find her not only more productive but more in control of her time. To stay on top of things, have her set alarms, write notes to herself on shower doors or mirrors, set up a reminder app, send herself an e-mail or text and copy the people who will hold her accountable to finish a task. Use a stopwatch (most cell phones have a stopwatch and a built-in alarm) to time activities to help her learn how much time to budget the next time around.
Daily planners can be used to sketch out how academic, free time, club meetings, sports and the like are to be worked into each day. She may need to experiment to find the planning tool that works best for her, be it a wall-calendar, desk calendar, notebook/pocket calendar, computer, or an app on a tablet or phone. Have her color-code similar activities to allow for quick viewing. By posting a “family” calendar in a common area, she can write in and check events to help avoid conflicts (such as borrowing the car) and missed appointments. Remind her to consult her planner often and check on, maintain, and alter her organization system when needed. Organized people are constantly tweaking their systems to adapt to new situations, and your teen should be learning do the same. Set up a regular family meeting to discuss plans and the logistics of upcoming events.
Talk about the benefits of a balanced schedule with your teen. Actively listen to what she has to say and allow her to have input. While she may be tempted to sign up for every extracurricular activity, learn several new hobbies, or take on a part-time job, you can offer guidance and support so she learns how to prioritize her academic and recreational pursuits.
3) School Supplies
Ask your student how he would like to organize his supplies so he is invested in the process. Allow him to set up his binder, notebooks, folders, filing system, or bookshelf in a manner that work best for his learning style. Some students like an accordion file system better than a tabbed divider system. Try heavy-gauge notebook paper with reinforced holes so that important information doesn’t fall out and get lost. Use clear slip-sleeves for papers that he needs or wants to keep in his notebook for the whole year. Plastic crates make filing and access to papers quick and easy; also, they can be stacked to maximize small space. Labels, cue cards, and color-coding can also be helpful filing tools. It may help to have color-coordinated folders and notebooks for each subject. Suggest separating the folder pockets into sections such as “work that needs to be done” and “work that is completed” so he can easily store and locate items. Colored dots or sticky notes can be placed on the corners of assignments to help your teen identify the subject or prioritize work, such as using green to mean “complete today” and red for “due next week.”
4) Note-Taking Skills
Note-taking may be a new challenge for many students because it requires the integration of comprehension, sequencing, eye-hand coordination, writing, (listening, if from a lecture) and spelling skills. Try to orchestrate situations where your student is required to take notes. This could be a sermon, lecture, presentation, or even watching an educational video. Stress the value of taking and using notes to increase comprehension and retention as well as organize information.
When taking notes, your student should be processing information into her own words. Teach her to be concise and jot down just the main points, as if she were writing a text or a tweet. You can also write notes that are too wordy and ask her to make them more concise. Over time, succinct writing habits will become more automatic and make note-taking easier.
5) Note-Taking Methods
When taking notes, your student is processing information into his own words. Show your student different frameworks for note-taking that can be applied to most subjects. In the beginning it may help to give him templates for different types of note-taking, such as outlines, graphic organizers, and combination notes, which are described below.
This is the format most parents know and are familiar with from their own education. The outline method is the most useful when taking notes on one subject at a time or when trying to organize a topic into different categories. Traditionally these types of notes are organized with Roman numerals and letters, but bullet points, dashes, and other symbols can be utilized.
In general, the student begins with an initial topic and breaks it down into subcategories. For each subcategory, he would add more ideas and details that stem from it and support it.
The Two-Column Method:
Once your student knows how to recognize, formulate, and record main ideas, she can begin to include important details in her notes. The two-column method is a note-taking method that visually separates information into main ideas and details. To model, simply draw a line down a sheet of paper, with about one-third of the page on the left and two-thirds of the page on the right. Have her record the main ideas on the left side and list the accompanying details on the right side of the page. By placing the details to the right of the main ideas, she can easily identify which details support each specific main idea.
The mapping method is simply a graphic representation of a concept. This method emphasizes critical thinking and helps your student visually track relationships among concepts and ideas and then fill in the details. Maps can be simple or complex. They can be a template or an organic creation by the student. This type of note taking is easy to edit, highlight, and revise.
Combination notes are useful for students who learn well through visualizing concepts. The note page has two columns. The left column is for notes, and the right column is for illustrations to help him understand and recall information. This method is very effective for math notes, in which the steps or procedure can be written out on the left and the visual can show the steps to a solution, a diagram, or a sketch of graph.
If your student is reading in a book or textbook, you can encourage her to use markers and highlighters to organize notes on the page. Listed below are some guidelines:
• Draw a horizontal line across the page to indicate the end of one main idea or concept and the start of another.
• Number key details that are important to the main idea or process of the topic.
• Use one color to highlight or underline main ideas and another to highlight supporting details.
• Insert questions marks and bracket paragraphs to pinpoint information that is unclear or that may require more information from the instructor or further research.
• Use sticky notes to write comments, connect concepts, or to serve as reminders.
If she is using an eBook, there are usually tools available with the book to make virtual notes and to mark the pages in similar ways as indicated above.
Note-taking Resources Available as Apps or Online:
Explore the many online programs and apps that allows students to create virtual flashcards, study guides, virtual notebooks, and quizzes. These learning resources are stored online, making filing folders and easily-misplaced notebooks unnecessary. Your student can simply login anywhere or anytime and revise her notes or test herself using the flashcards.
Keep in mind that teens generally do want to feel in control and be organized but often feel lost about how to go about it. Listen to your teen’s concerns about organization and then model and help him develop the skills necessary to be more independent. It takes both time and practice to figure out what system works best. Make necessary adjustments and explain that you will only step in periodically. Stay positive, be patient, and praise your teenager for his efforts. Try not to be discouraged by setbacks, which are usually temporary in nature. Learning to be organized takes time and energy, but remember, you are teaching your teen skills that he will use throughout his life.