Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mail & Communication Station - Setting Up the Classroom Series

{Click to see more of my posts on how to set up a classroom.} 

As we continue to get your classroom set up, we need to talk about setting aside an area for student mail and communication. The "communication station" if you will. You have options. I know because I've tried them all. There are pros and cons to each. I'm going to take you on a tour I like to call, "The Evolution of My Student Mailboxes."

Back in the day (translation: when I first started teaching), I coveted those spiffy, wooden literature sorters. I knew it would be great. But, I was young and poor and couldn't justify the cost. So I got creative.

I started by just putting folders on their desks and passing out all of the papers at the end of the day.

Excuse me while I take a moment to shudder at the memory of the daily chaos.

OK. Moving on.

I invested in plastic stacking trays. And by invested I mean I got a good deal and scrounged up enough cash to buy a class set. This was a decent option. If you have the space (I put them on a counter) and can find a good deal, it's worth giving a try.

My set met their demise when I moved home to Massachusetts from Florida. Incidentally, that was also the demise of my tan, but that's irrelevant.

Next up, I bought a bunch of boxes from Ikea.

I made them all cute with scrapbook paper and colorful labels. Color that a waste of my time. I don't think they lasted a month and that was with them undergoing some emergency surgery from me and my hot glue gun. Even packing tape couldn't revive them.

I had used some of those wire dorm shelving cubes at home to create a system for storing scrapbook paper. I used cable ties to secure them as shelves.


I didn't care for them in the classroom for several reasons. It was hard to secure a name tag on them and the kids reaching into them made them fall apart. If you do go this route, my partner teacher laminated different colored 12x12 paper with a name label on it for each student to help them keep track of where their box was located. You may want to try that.

The following year I was moved to Kindergarten where I had two classes (an a.m. and a p.m.) so I needed two sets of mailboxes. I thought these pocket charts would be perfect. They were wall mounted so they wouldn't take up space. They weren't all bad. If I was in an older grade at the time they would be doable.

A) Because the kids could help mail things.
B) Because the kids might be tall enough to reach them.
In my situation I not only had to stuff everything into the pockets (which was a challenge because they were tight), but I also had to stand there and take everything out and hand it to my little wee ones because they couldn't reach the higher pockets.

I repurposed those to hold paperwork and switched to a crate with hanging folders (one color per class with #s so I wouldn't need to remake them).

So I followed my heart.

But, much like the rest of me, my heart is ubercheap.

So I bought the cheapo, cardboard version of my dream boxes.

And much like when my Payless shoes dye my feet funny colors, I realized you get what you pay for. These didn't last very long.
But, that didn't matter because the skies parted, angels sang and my husband presented me with not one, but TWO of the sorters of my dreams.

Well that's a bit of a lie actually.

The one in my dreams would be new and black, and these were a bit worn and that funky, fake wood-looking brown color. But nothing a little paint couldn't fix.
I've since made new labels for the new year AND repainted them a shiny, sleek, black and they are now super bee-you-tee-ful!

Oh. Are you wondering what I did with the other set? Stay tuned and prepare to be razzle-dazzled tomorrow.

Did I cover them all in my teaching career thus far or do you have a different system you use or have used?

For more ideas and pictures to help organize and manage your classroom, please check out my book: The Clutter Free Guide to Classroom Organization and Management by clicking here.
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  1. I think you've covered it!
    I was lucky enough to move into a room, after a 25 year Kinder teacher retired. My co-workers have struggled with ALL the options you listed...but not me!
    This retired teacher had her husband make wooden yours. BUT MINE ARE HUGE.
    A whole piece of construction paper fits in EACH spot. It's secured to the wall...painted a cute color...I just put a label with their name on it each year...I love it!

  2. Wow - you have tried everything!! I was cracking up at your first idea - passing out papers at the end of the day!! I did that my first year, too!! YIKES! I am now so happy to say that our school has built in cubbies - attached to the wall, huge, with ADJUSTABLE shelves. I can make them as skinny or as wide as I want. When I had 20 kids, I had 12 extra!! I was able to use them for all sorts of things and I even took some shelves out to make extra large cubbies to place "tall" things in. Now they are all used but I make them as cute as possible with laminated liners and personalized "mailbox" labels.
    I can't wait to see what you did with the other set!
    A Teeny Tiny Teacher

  3. Looking forward to see what you did with the other set! and I cracked up at your payless shoe comment :)


  4. You really have tried everything! My first year I had wooden cubbies that rolled and that was my favorite because you could place them anywhere in the room! They were low and could be use for counter space too. Then I moved to a portable where there was little storage and no cubbies. I tried the passing out papers thing. At the end of the day my students go to specials so I passed out everything on their desks wasted a lot of my planning time. Now I have built in the wall cubbies attached to the wall. The backpacks go under the cubbies too. It's great for the kids to stay organize and I have some left over cubbies too. The only problem is they take up more than half of the wall and the counter top is a bit to tall for my wee ones. I am so happy to have cubbies again though!

  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has struggled with the mail issue. I've been through every phase you mentioned. Last year I bought some decent cardboard paper sorters at Office Max - 3 because each had only 8 slots. By no means perfect, but I think I'll be able to get a few years out of them. Passing out papers is my biggest teaching pet peeve. One would think between district list serves, school list serves, school FB pages, and all the other paperless communication tools we'd be able to reduce all the fliers, notices, etc. In my building only one paper goes home to a family and the youngest child has the responsibility to take it home. The thought is parents check folders of the youngest more so that older kids. What it meant to me, as a first grade teacher, was passing out almost whole class sets of papers. I did rely on student helpers to do a lot of the work, so it didn't impact my time. However, sometimes the amount of papers the kids had to manage was a bit much for firsties. Anyways - I'll get off my soapbox! Thanks for this great post :-)

  6. Wow, you've tried it all! I'm curious to know how the file folders turned out? I don't have much space (or $) for my classroom this year and I was thinking of trying the hanging files.

  7. I feel like I don't have a solution. 1st year teacher with school starting in 1 week- and technically I am not hired yet thus can't go in yet!!! Very little time, and to top it all off we are in the process of moving #we have no money for anything let alone everything i want for school.

    best idea on a budget?

  8. LOL! My 9th year of teaching and I think I have also tried all of the above! I have two of those paper sorters and by far the best investment! The others just won't cut it! LOL! I love the way you write! I cracks me up and I can so relate! Thanks for the entertainment!
    Counting with Coffee

  9. I too have cubbies with adjustable shelving. I moved/adjusted them so I would have a make shift literature organizer built into the wall. The rest of the huge cubbie spaces (now without without shelves in the middle of them) hold backpacks.

    Have you ever had more students than literature organizer slots? (24+ kids)?

  10. I have tried many things, too. My favorite were the cardboard shoe organizers (9 slots each). I had 30 kids in first grade so I bought 4 of them and stacked them together. Worked great and actually lasted a few years. Then our PTA bought every class a wooden literature organizer to use for mailboxes. We love them. I have had to make auxiliary mailboxes (a basket or two placed on the top of the other mailboxes.). I have seen oatmeal canisters strapped together, too. We actually stuff the folders for the kids (kindergarten) because they tend to drop it more than get it all in!

  11. I love all the choices you mentioned and I have done them all too. I have the lovely ones you have now too.

    For everyone who can't afford them yet, there are a few others to mention too. A shoe organizer by Rubbermaid has 15 compartments that are squares from Target. I used two of those. It's made out of MDF and it was fairly cheap like $20 each. You just have to fold the papers in half hotdog style to get them in the compartments.

    Also garage sales and going out of business sales are great to find things like that. You might also have a "Handy Dad" of a student you could ask to make you one. I have also asked my room mom to collect donations from the class instead of individual gifts during Christmas for a gift card to Staples so that I could get my mail sorter.

    Hope this helps everyone!

  12. I am trying something a little new in the coming school year. I want to use binders for home-school passage of papers, so I needed a spot for binders to be easily stowed, and it needed to be cheap but tough! Last year I housed my calendar notebook binders by small group in those plastic file crates - I just zip-tied 4 together and labeled them. Worked great! So, I figure the same method ought to work for the binders. The only issue is getting the papers into them. Thank God I have a para=pro, that's all I have to say. She stores work up all week in a hanging file like what you show in this post - work goes home on Friday. Other papers like flyers and homework just get slipped in daily. At the end of the day a student from each table goes to that table's box and passes out the binders, or the para-pro and I will do that. I hope this works!

  13. I got really lucky.
    I bought one of the cardboard mailbox versions that has lasted me 2 full classroom years. Although it isn't in perfect shape it is still in complete working order. If I was lucky enough to get a wooden set though I would take it in a heartbeat and toss this one LOL. For now though it will last mean at least 1 more year. It was totally worth my $15 clearance purchase! :)

  14. I actually had great luck with the Ikea boxes. They lasted me through two years in kindergarten, and were beyond cheap.

  15. When I taught grade 5/6, I had baskets that housed "out" and "in" and "homework planners" and I had helpers that passed things out at the end of the day, but yes CHAOS!

    When I moved to Grade 1/2 I was very fortunate to have inherited TWO wooden cubbies on wheels. They are counter height, so I can used the space to hold other things and each child can reach their own space. They are GREAT!


    Back Hall Collaborators

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  17. I use stacking paper sorters. 3 columns, and 7-9 high depending on how many kids I have. Works pretty well and since my school purchased them for us, it was cheap!

  18. I feel like you just described the story of my life! I literally went through this entire process this summer while trying to prepare for the new school year! AND I came to the SAME conclusion! I found my wooden mailboxes on craigslist after MONTHS of brainstorming and searching for the perfect system (picked them up this afternoon!)! LOVE IT! I can't tell you how excited this makes me!! (P.S.I love the lining with scrapbook paper idea!)

  19. Mrs. Retired
    I did not have cubbies for my first grade room. So I bought 3 cardboard shoe unit cubbies. Each box had nine cubbies. I assembled them and had them for 14 years! I put them on top of three small shelves that my first graders could easily reach.

  20. I love your ideas! That being said, I teach 7-12 English in a small town. I lucked out because one of my seniors needed a project to keep her busy in shop class. She received approval from the principal for the $$, and then she made me a 72-slot wooden literature organizer--a cubby for each of my students! I can't wait to use it this fall!

  21. I am so blessed to have an awesome husband & Dad who made cubbies for me! They have big compartments with hooks on top & bottom, then slots in the middle for papers. They are wonderful because they get rid of all the clutter of backpacks, jackets, lunchboxes, etc...

  22. Hi! I am interested in making those wooden cubbies! Can you tell me how your husband went about making them?

  23. I'm surprises that I did not see "my mailboxes" on here somewhere because I know I did not come up with the idea. Some one some where told me how to make them. I order priority mail boxes from the post office. They are free. I close one end (the back) and cut off the flaps on the other end (the front) I stack them however I want (I usually do a column for each class as I teach middle school English) and wrap the whole thing in decorative duct tape. Then I put a decorative name label on the "floor" of each mailbox. They're a lot sturdier than other cardboard and the duct tape really reinforces it. Besides, even if it does tear up, I can make another one for around $10.

  24. Hi there! What an amazing blog! I have been teaching for years but still love to be inspired by all the creativity out there! I did order your book on the clutter free classroom over a month ago and still haven't received it. I sent them a note and never heard back. Can you look into this for me?

  25. I shudder at the thought of my first year of teaching, as I too, spent 15 minutes each day passing back a stack of papers and school flyers to a chaotic room of students. Since those days, I have bought a wooded 25 slot shoe organizer. I think I paid $20 for it a Target and it has more than paid for itself. Each slot has a number and students retrieve their mail at dismissal from their mailbox. It was cheaper than purchasing those "teacher mailbox systems" for over $100.

  26. A pattern or design will be helpful when building your wooden mailbox. You can draw your own design to use, or find patterns in books, magazines or online.


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