Upcoming Courses

40 Hour Workweek

Teaching Tips & Tricks   |   Jun 30, 2010

Avoiding the Paper Trap

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Avoiding the Paper Trap

By Angela Watson

Organizing the mounds of paper we encounter everyday is not as difficult as it seems. In fact, this page (which is excerpted from Chapter 4 of The Cornerstone book) will show you you can set up a system in a very short amount of time that will provide a place for every single piece of paper! You’ve heard the old adage: A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. It really is that simple!

Avoiding the Paper Trap

7 simple steps to organizing your papers

It doesn’t matter what type of containers you use, as long as you have a designated spot for each type of paper. You can use baskets, crates, magazine file boxes, metal organizers,plastic trays, or any combination of resources that are on hand.  I’ll show you photos here of a variety of organizers that have worked for me over the years. I’ve changed systems many times.  But the idea is always the same: there is ONE place for EVERY paper.

You MUST choose containers that make it easy to put papers where they belong. If it’s too much trouble to put them away, you won’t do it.

I hear a lot of overwhelmed teachers say they don’t know where to start when it comes to tackling the massive amounts of paper in the classroom.  So I divided the organizational process into steps which I’ve listed in order of priority.  If you do one or two steps a week, you’ll be completely and permanently organized in about a month’s time.  You can do it! These are easily sustainable systems that can be taken to any grade level and any school you teach in for the rest of your career.

Gather all the containers and organizers you have, and then choose among them for each category of papers, one step at a time.  If you don’t have anything suitable, list the types of containers you’d like to buy, and then make an investment in your own sanity by heading out to a discount store to purchase them.  You’ll be glad you did once everything’s in place.


I’m sure you’re wondering how it’s possible to break out of this trap in a classroom that is overflowing with paper: Where do I find the place for each paper? What kind of containers do I need (and how much is it going to cost me to get them?) How should the papers be categorized?Don’t worry–I’m going to spell out the answers to all of these questions and more in a guide that I adapted from my book, The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable.

The guide is called Avoiding the Paper Trap: A 7-Step System for Organizing Every Paper in Your Classroom. In this free PDF, I will show you step-by-step how I implemented the system and include photos of the materials I used. The system is pretty straightforward and I believe it can be adapted for any teacher at any grade level.

I have already given the Avoiding the Paper Trap PDF away for free to my email subscribers–if you’d like to receive it, too, just enter your email address below and you’ll get the download sent straight to your inbox. Enjoy!

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
Browse Articles by Angela


  1. I have been looking for this specific information for YEARS. I am known throughout my school for having the messiest desk and least organized paperwork (but I can usually find things with little effort). One year I lost my voice and one of my kids suggested, “Maybe it’s on your desk.” Just last year June, a mom and her daughter (a recent student) looked through my classroom windows. The daughter exclaimed, “I’ve never seen her desk before. I didn’t even know it was there!” I can see myself implementing many of your ideas and making them work. Thanks so much!

    1. Oh that’s so funny about that kid saying maybe you lost your voice on your desk! LOL! I hope the paper trap info helps you make the change you’ve been wanting to create. It is totally possible to have an organized teacher’s desk–seriously, you can do this! Once you get a system in place, it will become second nature to keep things organized. 🙂

  2. I use stackable 3 drawer boxes each label with subject. Then fabric over the door shoe holders with names on the pockets for graded papers being returned. Everyone one in my SPED room is color coded, every subject is color coded so that even non-readers know what to do and where to go.

  3. I LOVE everything on your website. I’ve been teaching for 28 years and I’m STILL fighting with papers! I once found a rotten tomato buried under papers on my desk! I went to Education World, however, and CANNOT find any of your “Ms. Powell’s 36 Organization Tips.” I’m so bummed. Can you help me figure out how to access them?


  4. Hi Angela,
    Thanks for your prompt reply. Glad you got a kick out of my rotten tomato. It was pretty gross! I’m still having a problem accessing your organizing tips, however. When I go to the link you sent me:

    it takes me to a page with more links to your tips, but when I click on those links for each individual tip I get this page:


    I can’t figure out how to find the tips from there. Will you go to your link and see if you can figure out what I’m doing wrong?
    Thank you thank you!

    1. Ah, yes, I see what you mean! It appears they have moved the content. Would you mind contacting them directly about the issue? That would be a huge help to me. 🙂

  5. I’ve been teaching for 37 years. I’m been using a lot of the same great ideas. The ONE thing I find so frustrating is when I buy a container the isn’t quite big enough! Just the other day I bought a contain for cotton balls…..I know, ya think I could stuff an unlimited amount of cotton balls into any container, but nope. SO now, instead of have one nice neat container of cotton balls I have a container and bag. Maybe my real issue is judging volume….LOL.
    Wishing you the Best of the Best New Year!

  6. I would like to receive the Avoiding the Paper Trap PDF. May I share it with my daughter, who is also a teacher?

  7. I would love a copy of the PDF on Avoiding the Paper Trap. Most of my things are pretty organized EXCEPT for all the misc papers. I would love some help.

  8. I have a teacher friend whose life was changed by your resources. I need help too and keep signing up for the newsletter, but never get an email.

  9. Hi Angela! I have subscribed to your newsletter, but I keep getting the 5 Day Challenge. Is the 7 tips for avoiding the paperwork embedded in the 5 Day Challenge, and I just missed it? Thanks 🙂

    1. Hey there, Cara! I’m sorry about that. I switched things over for this form so that when you fill it out now, you will get the paper trap instead. Thanks for your patience!

  10. Hello,

    I signed up to receive the tips, but instead I received a “pro/con” PDF.
    Could you please email me the tips PDF?

  11. I also received the Pro/Con pdf as well. I would love the 7 tips for dealing with the paper trap. Please! I’m drowning in papers!!!!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!