This September, 10% of your ETTC website purchase will be donated to The Pencils of Promise Organization.

The Elusive Homework Folder: Making Them Work and Getting Them Returned Daily

June 22, 2015 by Emily

Homework Folders. Can’t live without them but you can create a system you can live with!  My first year teaching I knew I needed a homework folder but I wasn’t prepared for the reality of this necessary evil element of classroom organization. My naïveté led me to Office Depot where I spent who knows how much ($8) on plastic pencil pouches for each of my 30 students. Next, I stocked up on paper folders *cringes* for my kiddos. I spent what felt like hours opening the 90 metal prongs (30, 3-pronged folders!) to insert the pouches. With sore fingertips, I slapped a Homework Folder label on the front and handed them out proudly on day 1. Most of the folders and pouches were in pieces by week three and those were just the ones I knew about.  Many student’s homework folders were never to be seen again. They were only to be mentioned in vague explanations of their whereabouts when questioned (I left it on the bus, it’s at my mom’s house, I spilled juice on it). Reality set in rapidly. We needed to upgrade!


The Elusive Homework Folder: Making them work and getting them returned daily.

 Guest Post by Ashley Cohen from Sharp in Second

 I was happy to admit to myself that my students and I were both sick of worksheets and so I ditched the endless hours at the copier and opted for homework journals instead. I also did away with the juice-sopped, paper folders and requested students use a plastic folder with pockets. If they couldn’t get one I provided it for them. My Homework Bags were the third part of this homework trifecta.


The design was in place now all I had to worry about was implementation. The back breaker would be getting students to return the materials I’d put into play. Cue the horror movie soundtrack. I took to Pinterest – the goldmine of teaching ideas – and I found out about The Homework Club. I knew I had to hold students accountable once I properly trained them in our homework procedures.

I’m no expert and I’m always looking for new ideas but this system has had success in my classroom. Here’s how I choose to create, implement, and celebrate the dreaded homework folder!


Paper folders are unreliable and won’t last past the first semester. Make sure each of your students has a plastic, pocket folder with their name on the front with a Sharpie (labels don’t stick in my experience). Even though the bulk of the homework I give is recorded in students’ journals, I do send home a lot of papers to parents so the folder element of my homework system is still a must-have. I also unsuccessfully implemented math homework journals last year and eventually turned back to creating and printing worksheets for math homework so they needed a home. (I have better plans in place for a dual math/reading homework journal but that’s another post for another day.)

The Homework Bag is home to students’ homework journal, a pencil, their take-home book(s) for the week, and in my case, a list of the fiction or nonfiction journal stems for the week.

To create your homework bags you’ll need simple supplies:

  • gallon bags (or larger)
  • duct tape
  • composition books *I used composition books cut in half. Maybe you’ve seen this on Pinterest. You can take composition books to your local Lowes or Home Depot and they’ll cut them for you.*
  • pencil

It’s up to you what size bag to go with – gallon or 2-gallon (which can be found at your local dollar store most-likely). Note that student’s homework folders will fit inside a 2-gallon bag thus keeping all of their homework materials in one place! The larger bags are also nice if you teach primary where books tend to be harder and taller than intermediate grade level books.

Use the duct tape to go around the edges of the plastic bag. This will protect them somewhat from the inner rumblings of a backpack and also serve as a place to write student names. In my experience, Sharpie just comes right off a heavily used plastic gallon bag, so the duct tape serves as a great label.

The great thing about homework journals is how easily they can be differentiated. My lower students had questions on their levels pasted to the inside cover of their journals. You can also give differentiated printed lists of question stems to meet varying reading and comprehension levels (These are the ones I use.) You must train your kids to always keep this paper in their homework bag! I also include a cute pencil that I gift to the students. They must keep it in their homework bags and not use it for anything other than their homework. They love getting a fancy writing utensil and I love that they always have a pencil on hand to do their work at home. No excuses.

The Illusive Homework Folder:: Differentiate Easily


Getting 100% of my students to return their homework is a difficult task at best. I implemented The Homework Club mid-year my first year teaching and I have used it consistently since. I only wish I knew about it sooner. The trick to getting THWC to work in your room is to make it exciting. Make a big deal of it and act like it’s the most prestigious club they’ve ever heard of! Display the club printables in plain sight and reference the club often when you’re first introducing and using it.
I designated an area of my whiteboard for THWC. I put up a sign and my first year I used numbered magnets. If a student didn’t return all of their materials and complete their homework, they removed their magnet. This coming year, I’ll be using a pocket chart with student numbers in each pocket. Students that are out of the club (didn’t return homework) will simply flip their card over. I’ve seen both systems used by teachers on Pinterest and the design is flexible! You just want to make sure that however you’re keeping track of the club members is a great visual reminder to students. Grab a Homework Club FREEBIE I created and get your class started tomorrow!

Get Started with FREE Homework Club

In my classroom, The Homework Club members get to enjoy lunch in the classroom on the last Friday of the month. We all sit together on the rug, watch whatever cartoon or show (within reason of course) that they want on YouTube, and eat cupcakes or dough nuts for dessert. They love it! They get a special ticket the Thursday of that week to attend the “Homework Club Lunch”. At the lunch, they also get a certificate and a homework pass. It’s a cheap, fun, and effective way to reward a perfect homework record.The Illusive Homework Problem: Rewarding is SimpleThen Illusive Homework Problem: Rewarding is Simple and Sweet!

I’m so excited to share a post on Emily’s awesome blog! I hope you found this information helpful for next school year. But for now, enjoy your summer!

Ashley is a second grade teacher in south Florida. She worked in video and event production before following her teaching dreams two years ago. She has been TpTing and blogging since January, around the time her second child was born. She loves creating resources for her classroom, decorating her classroom, and all things teacher!  You can find more wonderful ideas by visiting her at Sharp in Second Blog, Instagram, or Teachers Pay Teachers!

The Elusive Homework Folder: Making them work and getting them returned daily.