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13 Innovative Ways to Use Checklists to Organize Your Classroom and Tasks

I don’t know about you, but there are a bunch of things I do all the time, but not consistently enough to remember everything that needs to be done every time the task rolls around again. This happens all the time outside of the classroom with things like packing, re-threading my sewing machine, or making a cheesecake (just kidding, I don’t make cheesecakes!), but it also rolls around at work, too.

Does this happen to you, as well? Do you ever find yourself completing tasks, but not fully recalling how to execute them perfectly? Or you find yourself missing things you usually have no problem with? I find that this usually happens when the task you’re completing is only done once a month, once a year, or so on.

It will probably come as a surprise to no one, but I am a huge proponent of checklists. I know, it’s shocking, right? As a Type-A lunatic, I basically have a checklist for everything I do more than once (no, seriously). I’ve even tried to force handy checklists down my friends’ and co-workers’ throats, to no avail. For example, I have a morning checklist, an afternoon checklist, a Friday checklist, a Monday checklist, I could go on and on, but I’ll save us all the redundancy and just stop now.

Getting started using checklists is easy, you just need to remember to actually get started. Maybe make a checklist for it. I’m totally kidding. Sort of.

Anytime you are doing a task with multiple steps, make a note of everything you have to do and write it down. Don’t go crazy and print this up and laminate it right away, first make sure you look back at the originally lists you’ve made and add in anything you may have forgotten or which needs to be slightly altered. For example, I may write out my checklist for a yearly standardized test, then realize after the exam that I should have made nametags for students to help them find their seats (yes, this exact scenario has happened to me). It’s a good thing I hadn’t printed and laminated that original list – it would have been chaos for students finding their seats again the following year!

After I’ve made and double checked the list for any additions or alterations, I personally like to type out a cute little checklist with teacher-y font and laminate it for use with whiteboard markers. This way, I can reuse it over and over, so can other teachers, and I can store them all in a checklist folder in my desk.

Here are some ways in which I use checklists in my own class:

Write out a morning routine

I mentioned above that I have a morning routine at work, and yes, I do have a checklist that I use to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. It may sound a bit over the top, but anyone else who teaches knows that as soon as the bell rings, a million things come flying at us at once. When 30 sets of eyes are staring at me expectantly, waiting for me to teach them something new, I can’t decide to just leave the classroom to pour myself some tea or fill my diffuser. Some of the things on my morning checklist include getting my tea ready, starting my diffuser, preparing any snacks I have, laying out all my lessons and worksheets for the day, setting up my computer, and changing the date up on the board.

Plan your afternoon routine

Just like in the morning, I like to have an afternoon checklist so that I leave the classroom in a way which won’t stress me out when I come back the next day. After school, I often feel frazzled and super tired, so having a checklist reminds me of the basics which will make my next day go more smoothly. Also, when kids are still there, I will often delegate things to them (and they love it – it’s not just free child labour, I swear!). For example, I’ll have students fill up my (cool) kettle and my diffuser, plug all the technology in, and water plants. When I come in the next morning, I don’t feel rushed or overwhelmed by things that are left-over from the day before.

Give each “job” students have a checklist

Instead of just having student jobs be straightforward and one-step, give them a bit more responsibility (and teach them how to follow steps/checklists). The kids love the responsibility and independence this give them and it helps to make the classroom feel like a space everyone contributes to in order to keep it running effectively. Plus, there are things you normally do which you can pass off to kids and they’ll do happily (and well with practice!). Feeding class pets and/or cleaning their cages, watering and caring for plants, cleaning desks and tables, taking out recycling, organizing technology (like computers, headsets, microphones, and so on) are all things students can do to help keep the classroom running smoothly.

Have a checklist for writing student SUPPORT plans

In my current role, I check over the student plans (IEPs, IPPs, LSPs, whatever it is your district calls them) other teachers have written. I find it incredibly useful to create a checklist for this. I give all the teachers the checklist at the start of the year so that they know what needs to be completed, then I use it when I’m checking their work and I write any notes about things that need to be changed or added right onto their checklists. This keeps things incredibly easy and straightforward, and the teachers find they miss way fewer things with this system.

Use a report card writing checklist

Personally, I have progress report cards down to a finely tuned science (check out this blog post for more on how I write my progress reports). Before school has even started I have my comments for each term written out with possible alternative comments for diverse learners, students who lack focus, kiddos who are excelling, and so on. Once I get to actually meet the kids, I plug in one of these general comments and alter it as necessary to suit the student. It’s super quick and ensures all my evenings and weekends leading up to report card time aren’t eaten up staring at a computer screen.

All this being said, there are things, even for me and my fellow go-getters, that can slip us up come progress report time. I find these usually have to do with little finicky things in the program we use. So, a couple years back I started using a checklist to remind me about things like which button I have to press first to get into the students’ comments, how to change a grade manually, and so on. This has been a lifesaver for me and has proven to be very helpful for coworkers as well!

Have a feedback checklist

I try my best to give a ton of feedback to students. It’s one of the best ways to ensure students stay engaged in their learning and find success and growth. However, I always want to ensure that I’ve giving a variety of feedback and focusing on various skills and banks of knowledge when providing feedback.

I’ve found two very successful ways to use checklists when giving feedback to kids. The first is to make a checklist for yourself when you’ve going through an essay, assignment, etc. which reminds you to check for specific things. This can also help you to ensure you don’t keep giving the same student the same feedback. For example, we often have students who need to grow in several areas; rather than just tell them all the things they’re doing wrong, we may focus first on punctuation, then content, and so forth. Using a checklist reminds you about what feedback you’ve already given to them.

The next way I use checklists when providing feedback is to print out a standard checklist and go through it for each kid. I take this checklist, attach it to the work, then return it to kids to keep working. If you’re doing something like essays, you can use a standard checklist and don’t need to make a new one for each different essay you’re completing. This is sort of like a rubric, but far less official. It’s a quick way to give kids feedback and grab formative assessment information for yourself.

Have a checklist for before long breaks

There are a few times a year when we’re out of the school for an extended break. For these, I like to use a checklist to remind myself of everything that needs to be done. Then, when I return post-break, my classroom is ready and I don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s nothing worse than getting back to work and wishing you were still on vacation; I personally don’t like to add any more fuel to this fire. On this checklist, I remind myself of things like storing any food that may be out (don’t want to attract mice) and printing off the work we’ll be doing when we arrive back.

Have a start of the year checklist

There’s always so much to be done at the beginning of the year that it can become extremely overwhelming. Coming back into your classroom that needs to be set up and looking around at all the big and small things that need to be done can be exhausting (and we haven’t even started the work yet!). In doing the big things, like putting up bulletin boards and setting up desks, I find that a lot of the little things can get forgotten. You don’t want to start the first day and realize you’ve forgotten something seemingly miniscule that turns into a big “whoops”. For this, I create a start of the year checklist. This is one that I’m always adding to when I get a new idea or realize something I missed. It makes each year get that much better.

Have an end of the year checklist

Just like the start of the year, the end of the year is full of a whole lot of crazy. This time though, we’re exhausted and excited for summer. I don’t know about you, but that makes me ripe for forgetting a whole swack-load of things. I write out a check list which, again, I add to throughout the year to ensure everything gets done properly. This inevitably helps with the start of the year as well.

Make a Friday afternoon and Monday morning checklist

I don’t know about you, but I’m always feeling just a tad short on sleep and short on patience on Monday mornings. So, it’s really important for me to ensure I don’t miss anything I have to get sone on Friday afternoons and then start the week off right on Monday morning. Friday afternoons and Monday mornings are both times when I feel frazzled and am more likely to forget something I have to complete. Having a checklist ensures there’s nothing that gets forgotten. I have things on these lists like taking home my planners over the weekend, getting my guided reading lessons for the week ready, and wiping down all surfaces.

Write a “things to do during preps” checklist

Sometimes when my free from instruction time hits, I’m so exhausted I just want to sit on my phone and play games. BUT, I stop myself from doing this and look over my checklist for something productive to complete instead. Having a list handy gives you the option of picking and choosing based on your energy levels. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who sometimes just doesn’t have the energy to grade some days and would rather spend my 45 free minutes cutting lamination or photocopying. Having a go-to checklist is great because on those days when I have low energy, I can still pick something useful to do and not just waste time. Also, on the days I’m feeling super energetic and productive, I can fly through a bunch of the items on the checklist and feel like super woman!

Implement a parent/teacher communication checklist

I used to find that when I call parents or have parent/teacher interviews, we would often get right into a conversation, have a great chat, then we’d hang up and I realized I’d missed a few major points I wanted to chat about. Whoops! We talked all about how well little Bobby is doing in Social, but I forgot to mention his lack of focus in Math and what a great leader he is during Gym. Having a general checklist that I fill out for all my students before interviews or calling home helps me not to forget anything and waste my and the parents’ or guardians’ time having to call back.

Make a checklist of student accommodations/ways to differentiate

I think the one thing I’m most passionate about in teaching is differentiation. I love planning lessons and units and ensuring that every student is getting what they need and able to show me their knowledge in various ways. Because of this passion of mine, I often find myself attending various professional development opportunities and falling down internet rabbit holes finding new and fun ways to differentiate. When I find great ideas, I add them to a (crazy long) list. Then, I have a checklist which includes things like ELL students, students below grade level, students above grade level, students who struggle with creative tasks, and so on. When making a new lesson, I go through both of these lists to ensure all students’ needs are met. This may sound intense, but it sounds like a lot more work than it actually is. Often, one simple activity like a choice board will check all the boxes and the needs are met for every kiddo!

What do you think about this list? Am I missing anything you think is super helpful? Are there any ways you’ve found to use checklists in your own classroom? Let me know in the comments!

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