Learning Disabilities Websites

SI's Learning Center

All Kinds of Minds (Mel Levines' Website)
Parents Edcuation Network (PEN)
National Center for Learning Disabilities
International Dyslexia Association
Association of Higher Education and Disability
HEATH Resource Center
Washington University DO IT

Teaching the LD and Disorganized Student

As Catholic school teachers, we are obligated by our own belief systems and school mission statements to do our best to meet the needs of all of our students. The suggestions described below are appropriate for most grades and are generally appropriate for all students.

The biggest challenge many LD and disorganized students face is not mastering language and math at a high level; rather, it's getting organized. They may have good reasoning ability and well-developed academic skills, but they get failing grades when it comes to the nuts and bolts of learning—bringing the proper materials to class, keeping track of papers, using time wisely, writing down assignments correctly, turning them in on time. Such a seemingly simple task as bringing a pencil to class may elude the disorganized student. The lack of these school survival skills may affect almost every phase of his or her school performance. In addition, this may frustrate his or her teacher, who may need to spend considerable class time keeping him or her on track.

A student can lack organizational skills for a variety of reasons, including poor motivation, stress, and depression. In addition, a child with a learning or attentional disability will often exhibit this problem. Disorganized behavior may also reflect disorganized thinking, which may manifest itself in the form of difficulty seeing patterns, organizing and classifying information, and understanding sequence. As a result, the student may have problems retrieving information, keeping track of materials, and planning things out.

It's not hard to recognize a disorganized student. The desk is usually a sure giveaway. A kind of black hole, it swallows up papers almost as quickly as teachers can distribute them. The backpack may be just as much of a jumbled hodgepodge of school materials. Displaying an almost magical ability, the disorganized student can make papers disappear in the blink of an eye. As a result, he or she may spend much time in school searching for materials and redoing lost papers. "Everything in its place and a place for everything" are clearly not the words the disorganized student lives by.

While disorganized students may excel at making objects disappear, they do not juggle very well. They may be overwhelmed by having to keep various times, dates, and assignments in their heads, and even have difficulty remembering their schedules. Forgetfulness is the hallmark of the disorganized student. Upon entering middle school, they may struggle in finding their way around a larger school, recalling the names of all their teachers, and keeping their assignments straight.

The problems of disorganized students are often most apparent in their homework habits. They may forget to write down the assignment and not remember what to do. Or, they may write it down, but record it incorrectly. Or they may write it down accurately, but forget to bring the correct materials home. Or they may complete it, but forget to bring it to school. Getting the disorganized student to develop good homework habits can exasperate the most experienced of teachers. 



The disorganized student may exhibit the following characteristics in your class:

•forgets to bring the proper materials

•is not ready to work when the bell rings

•is inattentive and distractible

•is often confused about what to do

•has trouble remembering information such as his school schedule

•has a messy desk and backpack

•loses papers and school materials

•turns work in late and sometimes not at all

•uses time inefficiently

•produces written work that is hard to follow

•has a problem getting started with a project or report

•has a poor sense of time

•writes down assignments inaccurately or does not write them down at all

•has difficulty expressing himself in an organized, sequential manner

•is at risk for a learning disability


The ability to be organized is one of the key building blocks of school success. It is also a skill—one that can, and should, be taught in school. You can use the following practical strategies to help your students manage their school responsibilities:

1. Provide Structure and Routine

Disorganized students often have trouble keeping things in order and retaining information. You can lessen their confusion by providing structure and establishing routine. Spell out the rules of your classroom clearly and simply, and tell your students what materials they must bring to class daily.

Class schedules can be confusing to students, especially if they have a number of teachers or leave class for school programs such as music lessons or speech therapy. Try to schedule activities at the same time every week (for example, give science assignments every Tuesday or vocab quizzes every Friday).

Have students with complex schedules write them out and tape them inside their books or binders. Make sure they know how to read your schedule of assignments.

2. State Directions Clearly and Simply

Use a minimum of words to explain what the student must do. Do not give him every detail, or he will miss the key points. Also, avoid giving him multistep directions. Have him repeat your directions to ensure that he understands them. If you are explaining a complex task, demonstrate it to him, and then have him do it while you observe.

3. Require Students to Use a Three-Ring Binder

Consider requiring your students as early as third grade to organize their materials and schoolwork in a three-ring binder with subject dividers, blank notebook paper, and a plastic pouch for pens, pencils, and erasers. Suggest that they get a binder with pockets, one of which can be designated "To bring home" (for assignments to be completed, notes to parents, and papers to bring home and leave there) and the other "To bring to school" (for completed assignments, notes from parents, and signed parent permission slips).

Three-hole-punched folders with pockets can also be used for this purpose.

4. Have Students Use a Container for Small Items

These items are easily lost in a binder or backpack. In trying to find a pencil, a student may create a disruption in the classroom. Make sure your students have a case for such items as pencils, pens, erasers, and scissors.

5. Have Students Keep Their Work in Folders

Many students use the "crumple and cram" method of storing papers. To help them organize their papers so they can get them when they need them, suggest that they keep them in folders in their binders or their desks. They might have a folder for completed work, one for work to be done, and one for parent information-- or they might have different color-coded folders for each subject. Three-hole-punched folders that have pockets and fit into binders are useful ways to store papers. Help students figure out what to do with papers they no longer need. You might have them bring folders with completed work home on a specific day of the week.

6. Present Assignments Clearly

Pay attention to how you communicate assignments to your students to ensure that they get the correct information. Be clear about the due date, the page numbers, the format, the expected length, and the required materials.

Write the assignment on the board in the same place every day, and keep it posted there. You also might email it or place it on your web site. If you hand out papers to be completed, include the due date on them. Ask students if they have any questions about the assignment, and give them time to write it down. Have them start difficult assignments before they leave your class, in case they have any questions. Emphasize that you expect assignments to be handed in on time. If they are not, let students know they must still complete them anyway.

7. Require Your Students to Write Assignments Down

Give them a choice of how-- but not whether-- they will do this. They might use a small assignment pad or datebook, which can be kept in the backpack or binder. A monthly assignment calendar also works well. The calendar should be placed near the front of the binder and is most effective if it is made up of two pages that face each other, to allow more room for the recording of assignments. You might develop and hand out to your students monthly an assignment and events calendar, perhaps using a computer software program such as Calendar Maker by Prairie Group to create it. Note birthdays, vacations, and special events on the calendar. Be sure the calendar squares are big enough to allow students to write in assignment information. Another option for recording homework is a three-hole-punched student planning book, which can be placed into a binder. Whatever system your students use, instruct them to record assignments on the due dates, and to note tests and projects. Make time to check the assignment-recording methods of your students.

8. Record Your Daily Assignments on a Telephone Message System for Students to Call

Talk with the learning specialist or counselor about looking into a program that allows you and other teachers to do this. Once it is implemented, students will not have the excuse that they did not copy down the assignment. In addition, it will allow students who are absent to keep up with schoolwork.

9. Minimize the Clutter on Your Handouts

Students can be distracted not only by the clutter in their desks but also by the clutter on their papers. Simplify the visual presentation of the papers you hand out by limiting the amount of information you put on a page, or by having the student fold the paper to allow him to concentrate on one part or problem at a time. When giving a test of more than one page, consider giving the student one page at a time. Also, direct his attention to key information through highlighting or underlining.

10. Model the Way to Approach a Project or Assignment

Students who are disorganized can find large projects overwhelming. Just figuring out where to start can be a challenge. Walk the student through the process by having him brainstorm on paper the various steps needed to complete the project and helping him decide on the order in which they must be done. Then, have him work out a realistic schedule of when he will work on each step of the project. Suggest that he make a list of the needed materials and gather all of them before beginning. Similarly, if he is confused by an assignment, help him break it into smaller, more doable parts, and then take it one step at a time. For long-term projects, set up interim due dates for parts of the project (for example, completion of notecards) to help keep students on track.

11. Provide a Place in Your Classroom for Students to Turn in Their Work

To lessen the chance that students will lose papers, tell them to turn in classwork as soon as it is completed to a designated spot in the classroom.

12. Teach the Student How to Keep a Neat Folder or Binder

Keeping a folder or binder neat does not come naturally to a disorganized student. He will probably need instructions on how to reduce the chaos. Bear in mind that the goal is not to have him keep his folder meticulous but rather to have him keep it neat enough so he can find what he needs with little effort.

13. Have a Class Discussion in Which Students Share Their Ideas about Keeping Organized

Students can be creative in coming up with ways of staying on top of school responsibilities. Have them share organizational tips with their class-mates.

You may find that your students are more likely to use strategies that they know other students are using. Record their suggestions and post them, or distribute them to the class.

14. Encourage the Student to Solve Problems with Minimal Teacher Involvement

A disorganized student can consume much of your time. Encourage him to solve the problem on his own to minimize the disruption to your teaching as well as to foster self-reliance. If he has forgotten an item needed for class, suggest that he borrow it from a classmate. If he has forgotten a pencil, tell him to get one from a "pencil stubs" box kept on your desk or near the pencil sharpener. Keep an extra textbook on your desk that a student can borrow by noting his name and the date on a sheet of paper. Let your students know that borrowed items are to be returned at the end of the period or the day.

15. Assign the Student a Classroom Buddy

Arrange for an especially responsible classmate to assist a student with organizational or learning problems when you are unavailable. Tell the student to first see his "buddy" if he needs help before coming to you. A variation of this is to group students at tables, with group members expected to assist others in their group who need help.

16. Encourage the Use of Checklists and Memory Aides

Have the student make a checklist to keep track of school tasks he must complete. Suggest that he keep it in an accessible place, perhaps on his desk or in his binder. Show him how to put the checklist in priority order so that he tackles the most important tasks first. Also, tell him to cross out items on the list once they are completed. You can have a younger student draw pictures rather than use words as reminders.

17. Monitor the Assignment Sheets of Students with Homework Problems, and Have Parents Do the Same

If a student has a history of not completing homework, require that he come to you at the end of the period or day so you can check the accuracy of his assignment sheet and initial it. Let the parents know that you would like them to review his assignment sheet and initial it daily when they have checked that the recorded assignments have been completed and placed in his backpack. This process can be discontinued after a few weeks if the student is completing homework regularly.

18. Intervene When There Is a Pattern of Incomplete Assignments

Talk with the student privately to identify the source of the problem. Is he not copying down the assignments? Is he not bringing home the proper materials? Is he confused by the directions? Does he not understand the work? Does he not have enough time to complete the work because of excessive involvement in outside activities? Is he completing it, but forgetting to bring it in? If necessary, meet with the parents along with the student to work out a specific plan to correct the problem. Follow up to make sure the student is doing what he agreed to do.

19. Allow the Student to Experience the Consequences of His Forgetfulness

If you excuse his forgetfulness or continually bail him out, he will have little incentive to remember. Allow the student to experience the natural consequences of his behavior-- within limits.

20. Praise and Reward Students for Improved Organization

If disorganization is a significant problem for one or more of your students, consider implementing a behavior modification program to spur improvement.

Describe to them in a clear, concrete way the behaviors they must focus on (for example, "copies down assignments accurately for five straight days") and then assign positive consequences for their attainment (for example, an item from the school store, a classroom privilege, or a "no homework" pass). Of course, you may find that verbal praise for improved performance is sufficient to motivate some students.

21. Suggest Organizational Strategies to the Student and Parents

Parents play a key role in helping to organize LD kids. Copmmunicate with parents in the first week of school to describe your classroom and homework policies, as well as the materials required by students. Include some of the following suggestions:

•Encourage the student to put his school materials in the same place every day.

•Establish a "homework-comes-first" policy.

•Set limits on television watching.

•Tell student that you expect him to write down all assignments.

•Have your child do the harder assignments earlier in the evening when he is most alert.

•Mark on the family calendar tests, projects, and important school activities.

•Have your child put all school materials inside his backpack before going to bed.

22. Some Miscellaneous Organizational Tips

The following are some additional strategies for helping your students stay organized:

•Use paper of different colors for different tasks so students can locate the papers easily.

•Have students use self-stick notes to mark the pages they are on.

•Punch holes in the handouts you give to students so they can easily put them in their binders.

•Require disorganized students to check with you before they go home, to make sure they have the proper materials and have correctly recorded assignments.