Organization Skills Training

The Intervention

Organization training is designed to teach students systems and strategies for managing their time, materials, and assignments effectively. When using this intervention, you and student collaboratively design an organization checklist with goals relevant to the student’s needs, and this checklist is reviewed regularly (e.g., at least twice per week) over several months until the skills are mastered. When goals are not met, students are asked to address the unmet goal immediately, as this provides the opportunity to practice and further develop the specific organization skill. Reinforcement plans can be used to promote the use of the skills but are not a necessary component of the intervention for many students.

This video provides a brief demonstration of the key elements of an organization training intervention that can be used with middle or high school students.

Preparing to Implement

  • We encourage the SMHP to plan the organization intervention with the student. Follow the procedures below based on whether you are going to have an initial planning meeting with the student.
    • With a Planning Meeting: Meet with the student to discuss the importance of organization and their current views on their own organization skills. Discuss strategies they are currently using and identify the areas that need improvement. Observe the area of functioning that may be problematic (e.g., binder, desk, bookbag). Work with the student to develop some new approaches to organization. Identify 8 to 10 items from the list of organization goals on Beacon (see below) or develop new ones tailored to the student. Enter the items onto your tracking document (see template below). You can use this meeting as a baseline assessment for later assessing the success of the intervention.
    • Without a Planning Meeting: If a planning meeting is not possible or your team decides it is not necessary, take the following steps: identify the student’s areas of functioning that you may wish to target (e.g., binder, desk, bookbag). Identify items from the list of organization goals on Beacon or develop new ones tailored to the student and the areas that you identified. Check the student’s areas on two to three occasions to see if they meet the criteria that you selected. Record a yes or a no to indicate what you found. After a few days use your baseline data to narrow your list of criteria to about eight to ten items that you will use for this intervention. Save these data, as they provide a baseline against which you can compare the student’s progress with the intervention.
  • Connect with the student’s teacher(s) to discuss the expectations in their courses. This can help you to ensure that you are planning an intervention that is conducive to the expectations of the classes that your student is taking.
  • Tell the student when the intervention will begin and schedule your standing meetings (e.g., during homeroom, 4th period study hall, seatwork). Initially, the meetings may take 10-15 minutes (if the student has a lot to correct). Over time, the meetings may only take 5 minutes. Depending on the age of your student, you may go to their class for meetings, meet them outside their class, or have them stop by your office or room. During the first couple weeks it is usually helpful to meet with the student frequently (at least three times per week). This can be reduced to twice per week after two weeks. Show the student the tracking form and make sure he or she knows the meaning of each item.
  • Many middle and high school students respond well to this intervention without rewards, so we encourage waiting two to three weeks before considering adding rewards for achieving specific scores on the tracking sheet. However, there are some students who may need a reward system from the very beginning. For example, the student may wish to earn points for each successfully completed item on their organization checklist. If you wish to use rewards, identify rewards that can be ‘purchased’ with the points (e.g., computer time) and make an agreement with the student about how the reward system will work. External reward systems may be particularly useful for reinforcing these skills in young children. For many students, encouragement, enthusiasm, attention, and active positive coaching can sustain their investment in the intervention.

  1. During the first few training sessions, the SMHP should review the checklist items one by one and ask the student to show whether the expectation has been met. In other words, the student should show the SMHP that the criterion indicated in the item is met by opening their binder, desk, bookbag or other materials to provide sufficient evidence for a checkmark or “yes”. We encourage you to be respectful about this level of intrusion in the student’s space and with their belongings. Most students accept this when SMHPs are respectful, ask permission, and are not critical or attempt to examine private belongings. One useful tool discussed below are “surprise checks” to see how they are doing with their desk organization. You can let them know that this may happen and what they will look like.
  2. Mark a yes or no to indicate if each expectation is met (prior to any correction by the student). For any items not met, the student (not the SMHP) should correct the problem during the meeting. This is how they develop the needed skill. Creating new habits for organization takes repetition and practice! Once the review is complete, award points if relevant and provide praise for appropriate completion. The Beacon System will help you track the student’s progress over time.
  3. As the student becomes comfortable with the expectations and is able to meet the organization criteria (e.g., at least one week 90% or above), they can begin checking their own materials while the SMHP monitors and tracks the score on the organization checklist or in Beacon. Over time, the role of the SMHP will decrease and the student will become semi-independent.

  1. When a student’s scores are consistently at least 90% for two weeks, then it is time to taper the training sessions. The first step in tapering is reducing the number of sessions to one time per week. All procedures should remain the same during these weekly meetings and if the student’s percentages drop under 90% for two consecutive weeks, the frequency of meeting should increase to two per week until the student meets the criteria for tapering again.
  2. If a student continues to score over 90% for multiple weeks, then the training should be discontinued. It can be helpful to do “surprise checks” occasionally after the training ends. This can involve checking the targeted space with or without the student using the criteria used in training. If these indicate a return of the problem, then sessions should begin again. If not, then “surprise checks” provide an opportunity to praise and encourage the student.

  • Reconsider Rewards: You may discover after using this for a while that the student is becoming disengaged or failing to make progress. If that is the case, consider adding rewards as described in step 4 of the Preparing to Implement section. If you are using rewards and the student is becoming disengaged or failing to make progress, then consider changing the reward system and/or including others in the provision of rewards (e.g., parents, support staff).
  • Encouragement: Although external rewards can be useful to increase motivation, it is also important to identify the natural rewards of good organization. When providing the intervention and noting progress on the tracking system, it can help to give the student feedback about the impact of that improvement by saying things like, “Mrs. Smith told me that you are doing better turning in your math homework!”, “Your desk looks fantastic! I bet your teacher/parent would be proud of you.”, “Your improvements in getting your science work done are likely to improve your grade so you can participate in sports.”.
  • Collaboration with teachers: Encourage your student’s classroom teachers to praise their organizational improvements as well. Teachers often have the ability to see the student utilizing their skills in the moment and can praise them at the point of performance. This collaborative relationship with teachers can also help you identify any additional organizational problems your student may be having or ways in which they are using/not using the strategies you have practiced.
  • Reconsider Criteria: Determine organization strategies and materials that work for your unique student. Some adolescents may like using a written planner and a system of colored folders; others may prefer a phone or online calendar system and a single binder for materials. Everyone has individual preferences; honoring those preferences will enhance ownership, build motivation, and increase the likelihood of success.
  • Consistent Implementation: Students are likely to provide excuses and reasons for why they have not met a given expectation. Regardless of the reason, the student should receive a “no” if the expectation or criterion has not been met. It is helpful for you to show empathy and understanding for the reasons given, but still mark a “no” if warranted, and have them correct the error immediately
  • Surprise Checks: Conducting surprise checks can be a useful way to reinforce the student for keeping their materials organized all of the time. For example, if you are meeting with a student in the afternoon to conduct an organization meeting, you may check their desk in the morning while they are at music and either give them praise about what you saw and/or give them reminders about checking it and being ready for your meeting.
  • Student Develops Independence: Even at the start, the SMHP should NOT organize the materials for the student, just provide support. This should be communicated to classroom teachers as well. The goal is to provide the time and support for the student to develop the skills. Thus, when errors are detected, it is very important that the student (not the SMHP, teacher, or parent) make the correction. This will help the student develop independent routines to keep himself organized and this is the goal of the intervention.
  • Include parents if possible: Some parents are excited and enthusiastic about being a part of their student’s academic journey. In cases where you have willing engagement from parents, update the parents about the system and strategies that have been put in place. Parents can even be a part of the monitoring of the organization checklist or help provide reinforcements at home. This will help to promote the generalization of skills to the home environment.

Organization skills training is rated as strong at the secondary level; however, has not been adequately studied at the elementary level.

Elementary: This intervention has not been rigorously studied among elementary students to determine its effectiveness.

Secondary: Research has demonstrated that organization skills training can lead to increases in classwork accuracy, classwork completion, homework completion, test scores, grades, and decreases in disorganization and off task behavior.

Recommendation: Organization skills training is a useful intervention for secondary students when organization may be at the core of the presenting problem or challenging behavior. Although organization skills training has not been adequately studied at the elementary level, based on the strong evidence at the secondary level, this intervention may be useful in targeting these challenging behaviors in older elementary students as well. If using organization skills training with elementary students, you will want to ensure that you are taking a developmentally appropriate approach and target age-appropriate skills.

Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

Select an age group:


Other suitable presenting problems