Monday Made It: Student Organization

It's the first Monday Made It of the summer! Yay! Love that Tara over at 4th Grade Frolics hosts this!

We all know the struggle of student organization. Where is your binder? *Shoulder shrug* Where is your handout? *Shoulder shrug*. The list goes on. I've tried a lot of things. I won't say everything because I obviously haven't tried EVERYTHING.

When I had desks, we stored stuff under the desks. However, things got lost because more than one student used the desk during the day. I've tried hanging pockets, but our notebooks got too thick and ripped the seams. I've tried hanging file folders, but they got demolished. Goodness gracious hanging file folders get expensive. I even tried reinforcing the bottom of the file folders which worked, but then the metal hanger parts didn't hold up. *eye roll*

Needless to say, I've tried a lot. I've had my eye on one of those paper sorters (they go by a variety of names) for a while. But wowzers, have you seen the price of those things!?!?!?

$113 for this one which isn't bad, but it only has 36 slots. That's not nearly enough for the number of students I have in one semester. Also, check out the ratings. Bleh.

This one has enough slots for sure, but it's made from fiberboard and cardboard. I helped a friend put one together, and it's not near as sturdy as it would need to be to hold up to my students' use. Plus, it's $187. I might pay that for something in wood, but not for cardboard.

Ugh!!!! Enter pinterest. Somewhere my husband is rolling his eyes as I type this; I'm sure of it. He loathes pinterest. Because of this, I decided that I wanted to make a paper sorter/binder organizer (whatever you want to call it) mostly on my own. I wanted to be able to ask for minimal help during this project.

Here's what I came up with. I wanted four columns with shelves every 3 inches approximately. I wanted it to be sturdy and affordable. Also, remember what I said about minimal help. :)

Project materials list:
1 sheet of 3/4" plywood: $30
3 sheets of hardboard: $39
96 feet of quarter round molding: $33-37 (2 feet for each shelf) (You can actually get this for about 35 cents per foot in store)
1 inch nail gun finishing nails

optional materials:
Extra 17 feet of quarter round to trim the outside edges of the shelf
12 feet of 3/4 screen molding to trim the column faces.

Here's the layout for the cuts you need at Home Depot. I only shop at Home Depot because they don't charge for cuts, and I always get phenomenal service.

Cut lines for plywood

This is the plywood layout of cuts you need. These pieces will form the main part of your structure. They didn't complain at all when I asked for this many cuts. :) Remember now, I'm trying to keep my husband from having to do extra work. Usually we just buy the sheet of wood, and he cuts it at home for me. This time, I got almost all of the cuts done at the store.

Next is the hardboard layout.

Cut lines for hardboard
 The first piece is for the back of the shelf. This ensures that you materials don't fall out of the back of the shelf. This is a tricky piece. It will not cover the back edge to edge. It will cover left to right completely. However, it will only cover the center height of the shelves. The top and bottom board of the unit will not be covered with the board. You will attach it to the center columns, not the top and bottom.
Cut lines for hardboard

Cut lines for hardboard

These are you shelf cuts. There will be one strip of 12 x 96 in hardboard. You can use this for something else, or you can have them cut it every 9 inches for perfect clipboard using binder clips! :)

The quarter round trim needs to be cut every 12 inches. I did this at home using the chop saw. You can also cut it using a hand saw. It really isn't terrible. Since I was already asking for a bajillion cuts, I didn't want to overwhelm them.

Now, the assembly. First, I measured out the slots for the cubbies. My husband said I went about this all wrong. It ended up working anyway, and it's what made sense to me. You do you. Whatever makes sense, do it.

I measured three inches from the top and made three tick marks: one of the left, one in the middle, and one on the right. Then, I used a piece of my quarter round. I lined the flat side against the column. I traced a line along the top and bottom. Then, I measured another three inches and did the same, all the way down the board. This allowed me to just place the trim right on the board in the exact spot when I was ready to attach them.

The lines have to be drawn on one side of the outside of columns 1 and 5 and on both sides of columns 2, 3, & 4.

Then, I attached the 12 inch quarter round pieces where I drew the lines. If your pieces are exactly 12 inches, don't worry. I just made sure to mark the "front" of each board (the side that would face outward). Then, I lined the end up with the front side. This assures that your shelf supports look even. Place each piece within the lines you drew. The right angle should be against the board at the top of each set of lines. This creates the shelf support.

I attached these using a nail gun with 1 inch finishing nails. I'm sure that you could also attach it with regular brad nails and a hammer although it would take longer.

I did need my husband's help for this part. The assembly... We needed to attach all of the columns to the top and bottom of the unit. We just started at the left and worked our way across. We used the nail gun, along with wood glue, on columns 1 and 5. The other columns were just attached with the nail gun. 

DIY Literature sorter or classroom mailboxes

We actually used some of the shelves to make sure the spaces were measured correctly. The columns should be every 12 inches from inside to inside. Attach the top to the left column. Then, measure over 12 inches and attach the next column and so on. We stuck the actual shelves in to double check that they would fit. 

DIY Classroom Mailboxes or Literature Sorter
Here is the semi-finished project. I actually miscounted when I had my own shelves cut (I made sure it was right in the measurements above) and didn't get enough shelves cut. :( That's why there are shelves missing. It also hasn't been painted which is why the back isn't attached in this picture. Im waiting to get back from vacation for that part. ;) It's absolutely wonderful though. 

There are 52 slots. All for around than $100. Winning! I know that may seem expensive, but for the quality, it's well worth it! You can get 36 cardboard slots for $115, or you can build this sturdy, long-lasting version, with 52 slots for close to the same price. 

Here are some close ups of the optional trim.

 The mitered corners on the outside trim. This also gives you a good view of how the shelf supports should be placed.
Shelf supports. This shows you that the shelf board measurements don't have to be perfect. Seriously. As long as they fit on the shelf supports and can't fall through when moved, you're probably good. Worried about it? Use some wood glue and get them right where you want them. Problem solved. 

This shows the flatish screen mold that trims the front of the middle columns (2, 3, &4).

I'm going to paint everything, except the actual shelves, black. I wanted to paint without the back attached though to make it easier. Once everything is painted, I'll use finishing nails to attach the back which will stabilize the unit and keep it from swaying side to side. 

Think you could do it? You definitely can! If you decide to tackle this project, I'd love to see your final product!

 What do you think? Is this something that you could use in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Now, head on over to Monday Made It and check out all the awesome stuff that these fantastically awesome teachers are making!


  1. Holy Hannah!!!! What a project and what an amazing job you did!!!! This is awesome! Thank you so much for linking it up and sharing such great directions!!!! Bravo! Hopefully no more shoulder shrugs in your future;)

    1. Thanks for hosting! I love seeing everyone's great ideas! And yes, hopefully no more shrugs. :)

  2. Quite the undertaking for this project - great tutorial in case anyone ever needs a 52 slotted mailbox. There are 52 weeks in a year, so maybe it can have another life as a weekly organizational tool! Thanks for letting me know about my link not working originally (didn't copy over the l in html before I posted).
    :) Antonia @ forkin4th

  3. This is amazing! I know you will get many years of use out of this. Thanks for the detailed directions.

  4. Whoa! That is quite the project! I wouldn't trust my math :P This turned out great! Way to go!

  5. Wow!! This is awesome! I really do need one of those. I just may use your directions and make one! Thanks for sharing!!
    Teaching at the Beach

  6. What a fantastic project! I need one of those! I am going to show the hubby and see what he can do. I am so glad you posted this! ūüėÉ