A Teacher's 5 Simple Organizational Tips for High School
December 18, 2019
Beginning high school can be daunting for many ninth graders — not least because of the amount of work they now have to keep track of. Learn organizational tips from a teacher on the front lines that will help your child manage her coursework and adopt strategies to propel her successfully through her high school and college years.
If you’re not in high school, you once were.
Remember that ecstatic feeling when the school year came to a close, and you thought, “I won’t need any of this stuff anymore — let’s toss it!"
As a ninth grade social studies teacher, this is the story with which I often began back-to-school night. Parents popped in to hear about the syllabus, classroom rules, large-scale projects, and other curriculum details. For some, this was old hat, but for others, the trepidation was as palpable as the nerves their child had on the first day of high school.
These organizational tips will help ease the transition — for both kids and parents — from middle to high school, and provide actionable steps for a successful future. Here are some of the most important things you can do to help your ninth grader thrive in high school:
1. Create a filing system.
We’ve all seen those backpacks, notebooks, or binders that look impenetrable, even by a Navy SEAL search team. For many freshmen, high school is an organizational nightmare. Various subjects, notebooks, and folders quickly begin to fill up.
Help your teen set up both a physical and digital filing system for her work. The most popular (and obvious) scheme is separating academic subjects from one another. Many students choose to group papers into categories (tests, quizzes, handouts, and notes) and quarters or semesters, while some choose to go even further and organize materials by units of study. For example, your child could group social studies documents into geography, early civilizations and world religions within folders for the first and second quarters. By the end of a given year, all of her coursework will be readily available when she needs to study for finals. This is especially important since this may be the first time she has ever had such comprehensive exams.
As often as possible, have her place notes, handouts, and assessments into the appropriate areas of her filing system. In addition to serving a practical purpose (which we’ll get to in a moment), your teen will be able to look back on these artifacts in her senior year and get nostalgic.
For more information, check out Teach Your Kid These 4 Simple Note-Taking Strategies or this explanation of what electronic graphic organizers can do for students.
2. Organize it.
On occasion, high schoolers have downtime. Wrangle yours for a few minutes, and work on getting that box in order at least twice a year. Military precision isn’t necessary, but your teen needs to have some strategy that makes sense to her, and then ensure that she continues with this system through at least her first two years of high school.
As she moves into more advanced subjects, having these papers at hand will be useful. If a student is struggling in a class that builds on content she covered in ninth grade, she’ll have all these earlier assignments and tests in a single, organized place. In some schools, exams at the end of tenth grade also focus on details learned in ninth grade — it’s great for your child to have her own work to turn to when she begins to study. Moreover, she’ll see how years of effort have accumulated and how both her studies — and her life — have progressed.
3. Highlight and review your materials.
Students develop at their own rates. A 14-year-old at the beginning of ninth grade is very different from a 15-year-old finishing tenth. If your teen has remained at the same school, she may be able to visit with her previous teachers to review topics from the class she took in her first year of high school. But regardless of how accessible her teacher is, a ninth-grade instructor will not reteach a year’s worth of material to a tenth- or eleventh-grader. Hanging onto her notes will more easily jog her memory, whether she’s reviewing on her own or with others.
Projects, tests, quizzes, homework, notes, review sheets, handouts — all of these may turn out to be useful. Sure, the Internet, study guides, and tutors can help, but having your own work to revisit at a later period is priceless.
It’s also important to take the time when the material is still fresh in her mind to highlight important information and concepts, and review them when necessary. This ongoing practice will help her commit ideas and facts to memory, as well as create effective study habits.
4. Make connections within subjects.
In New York’s social studies curriculum, topics in ninth and tenth grade follow a linear scheme from early civilizations to present day — which is a lot of learning to cover in a short period of time. Many times, it’s difficult to see all of the connections until close to the end of tenth grade. By returning regularly to her notes and materials with the goal of making additional connections, your child will deepen her understanding of the subject. Moreover, she’ll be breaking her preparation for a cumulative exam that covers a large amount of material into manageable parts — or chunking.
5. Remember key terms.
Many subjects that your child studies in high school will form the basis for college courses she delves into more deeply. No matter what topic it is, there will be key concepts she needs to recall and understand. Since it’s only possible for exams to include a relatively small number of questions to test students’ mastery, it’s helpful to find a system that enables your child to quickly extract the most important ideas. Some kids prefer flash cards, while others use digital tools or repetition and rewriting. Help your teen try out different approaches to discover which one is most effective for her — and then be sure she’s using it as the semester moves forward!
High school can feel like a daunting experience for new students. Organization is one of the most important skills on her educational journey. Developing a system that works will make learning easier and help to reduce the stress she may feel as she begins ninth grade. As adults know well, organizing will always play a part in life, and learning these skills at a young age will put your teen on a path to educational success.
Thinking ahead? Check out the free college search and discovery tool on Noodle, and, if you're just getting started on school, there's a K–12 search feature, too.