How to Organize Math Manipulatives
If you’ve been with me for awhile, then you know that organization is my jam. And as an elementary math teacher, naturally I have a ton of math manipulatives floating around. Figuring out how to organize math manipulatives can be a challenge! They need to be easily accessible, but also out of the way. And often when manipulatives are used, they need to be distributed between all the students.
So, what’s the best way to go about this? The good news is, there are lots of options! I’m going to share with you a few different manipulative organization options to help you get started.
How to Organize Math Manipulatives Step 1: Sort!
First things first – before we figure out the best storage solution for our manipulatives, we need to sort them! We only want to organize exactly what we use. First, pull out ALL the math manipulatives you typically use during the year. Have a bunch of extras you don’t need? Toss or donate them. No need for them to take up precious classroom space.
Once you’ve pared it down to only the manipulatives you actually need, pare it down some more! Have two class sets of Judy clocks? You probably only need one. 3 different sets of base-10 blocks? Ask yourself how many you really need – and get rid of the rest.
As you’re purging, consider how often you use the manipulatives and HOW you use them. Does each student need their own set, or can they share? If they need their own, how much do they really need to accomplish their tasks? Asking yourself these questions will help you narrow it down to what you really need.
Now that you truly have only what will be used, sort your manipulatives. Not just by type (base-10 blocks together, pattern blocks together, etc.), but also by category. Group manipulatives used for certain topics together, like this:
- Place value: base-10 blocks, place value disks
- Addition & subtraction: base-10 blocks, place value disks, rekenreks, counters, linking cubes
- Geometry: pattern blocks, geometric solids, geoboards
- Fractions: pattern blocks, fraction strips
- Measurement: rulers, scales, measuring cups, clocks
While I definitely recommend keeping your manipulatives separate – instead of, say, mixing your place value disks and base-10 blocks together – I also recommend keeping them WITH similar manipulatives. Some manipulatives are used for multiple topics, and thats fine – keep those more accessible than the things that you only use once, like clocks.
Once you’ve purged and sorted your manipulatives, you can move on to step 2!
How to Organize Math Manipulatives Step 2: Decide on Storage.
When it comes to storing your math manipulatives, you have so many options! But before purchasing any storage options, first you need to decide HOW you will store them.
For example, if you want to keep manipulatives readily available to students without having to do much distributing, your storage solution will look different than if you want to keep them all in a central place in the classroom. Decide what will work best for you, your students, and your classroom.
Manipulative Storage for Students
If you want your students to have easy access to their own manipulatives, there are a few ways to do this. It does require more prep on your part at the beginning of the year, but is easier long-term.
To store your manipulatives in this way, you will first need to sort out all the manipulatives your students will need for the year (or semester, or quarter – however often you want to change it out). The amount of manipulatives you need will depend on whether students are sharing materials or not.
You can choose to sort these individually or by group. For example, if you group your desks by 4, then you may choose to just have table storage containing everything that all 4 students will need.
Next, you will want to package each type of manipulative individually. If you are storing these by group, you may choose to pack the manipulatives for all 4 students together to sort among themselves, or to sort it ahead of time and package each set separately. Again – this is totally up to your preference!
Some storage options for separating your manipulatives include Ziplock bags, small snack containers from Dollar Tree, Tupperware, or plastic photo boxes.
After packing the manipulatives, label them accordingly. Lastly, pack them up in one big box or bag for each student or table. Using plastic bins is probably your best bet for this. The size of course will depend on how much you are storing in each one.
This year, if you are trying to eliminate the sharing of supplies, you may wish to to provide each student their own manipulative tookit. One idea for this is to get a small divided box (like these from Dollar Tree) for each student and sort in the manipulatives. You may not be able to fit every manipulative inside, but most will!
Manipulative Storage in the Classroom
If preparing manipulative boxes for your students doesn’t work for you, then you’ll want to find a spot in your classroom where you can easily access your manipulatives. This could be on a shelf, in a closet, or over in an empty corner. Wherever you choose to put them, make sure that area remains free of too much additional clutter so your manipulatives always remain accessible.
If you are storing on a shelf or in a closet, I recommend getting plastic bins to store each manipulative by type. Make sure you clearly label your bins so there’s never any confusion about what’s in them. As you place your manipulatives on the shelf, arrange them in an order that makes sense given how often you use them, when in the year they will be used, and what other materials you use in conjunction with them.
If you do not have a shelf or closet for your manipulatives, then you may want to invest in some storage such as a 10-drawer cart like this one. One thing I love about these carts is that they have wheels, so you can easily move them around.
Dedicate each drawer of the cart to a particular manipulative, then clearly label each drawer so you always know what’s inside. If you choose to allow your students to access the drawers, you may also want to include a picture of the manipulative on the label so there’s no confusion about what goes inside.
This is how I personally stored my math manipulatives given my particular classroom situation. It worked very well for me, but every classroom and every teacher is different, so of course, do what works best for you! (By the way, the labels shown that I used for my drawers are free in my store – click here to download them!).
Math Manipulative Organization
Of course, these are just a few examples of how to organize math manipulatives. You can do a combination of the ways I described in this post, or come up with a completely different way altogether! If you need some more ideas or examples of classroom storage to help you figure out your system, check out this blog post. For a list of math manipulatives I recommend for all elementary classrooms, click here.
How do you organize manipulatives in your classroom?
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