I use manila folders as a way to organize the flow of papers between me and the students. This is my system.

Folders as Mailboxes

Manila Folders

Each student has a manila folder. On the first day of class students write their name on the label on the folder. I explain that the folders are our mail system. Any papers they want me to read and correct, they put in the folder. Student put in dictations, writings, homework assignments, tape recording of them reading aloud, and anything they’d like me to review and correct. I promise to review and respond to their work by the next class.

Before each class, I place the folders by the door. As students come in, they pick up their folder. All corrected papers are in the student’s folder. Students take those transitional early moments of class to empty their folder, read my corrections, and put away the papers. I circulate to answer any questions they may have about my comments or corrections. This is a great moment for students to organize their papers, write out their new spelling words, and generally get themselves oriented to their study of English.

At first the system is counter-intuitive. Everyone wants to store papers in the folder, but if you use the mail box metaphor it seems to help.

Staying Organized
During class, I may hand out papers for learning activities. The folders of absent students are still unclaimed and sitting by the door, so I just pop the hand-outs in those folders as well. This means late-comers can come in, pick up their folder, and get up to speed without interrupting the class or asking me for papers. Students who are absent the entire class know all their missed-class papers are waiting for them in their folder. Sometimes my students come by after hours to pick up the contents of their folder.

Multi-level Classes
This folder idea came about when I was teaching a multi-level class and I wanted to differentiate student curricula but every time I handed students their individual packets, I would hear the inevitable “me too” chorus. The folders provided privacy. The folders are a mailbox and only the recipient is allowed to peek inside.

Self-directed Study
Over the years I have found this folder system encourages students to initiate direct communications with me. Students may enclose a note they need to write for work or extra writing they did on their own. I still use the folders as a way to slip individual students some extra practice worksheets or readings. Students complete the extra assignments at their own pace. Once they return a completed assignment, I correct it, and then send them another in their folder. This way students establish the pace. Some students give me work every class. Others do it occasionally, as time permits.

A Record of Completed Work
If you have certain requirements for participation in your class, like completing a certain number of assignments or attending a certain number of days, you can also use the folder as a log. When I was teaching credit classes in a community college, I stapled a checklist of assignments to the inside of each student’s folder. (Of course it had many blank spaces for assignments we added during the semester). As students completed the assignments, I recorded it in my books and in the folder so students could see where they stood.