photo of file folder labeled IEP goals with sticker chart text states 7 file folder hacks for your autism classroom

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As special education and autism teachers, we understand the significance of providing a well-structured and organized learning environment for students with disabilities. File folders can be our secret weapons in creating engaging and efficient classroom systems. In this post, we’ll look at seven creative ways to use and organize file folders. These tips are meant to enhance learning experiences, promote independence and foster a positive classroom community (not to mention-help make your teacher life a little bit easier!) Let’s dive into these fun file folder hacks of 7 different ways to use them that you may have never thought of!

Keep reading until the end to find my favorite organization and storage tips for file folders!

7 File Folder Hacks to Try in your Special Ed Classroom

If you are anything like me, you might be just a little obsessed with the endless possibilities that file folders bring into your classroom. I have so many file folder activities, sometimes I forget all of the different ways that I can utilize them in my special ed classroom. In fact, you can grab a set of 6 FREE File Folders below to try using them in your room today!

file folder printable free

1. Interactive Learning Centers:

The first and easiest way to use file folders that you have pre-made into games and activities is to create centers using them. Using file folder games in centers can be a total game-changer for your classroom. Not only are they super fun and engaging for students, but they also offer a ton of educational benefits. File folder games can target specific skills like matching, sorting and problem-solving, making them perfect for differentiating instruction for center activities.

In addition, file folders are easy to set up and store (see below), so you won’t be stressing over center materials all the time. Whether you’re teaching math, reading or even social skills, file folder activities are like a secret weapon for keeping your students learning and having a blast at the same time.

back to school file folders autism classroom

2. Independent Work Stations:

Creating independent work stations using file folders is an excellent way to support individualized learning for your students. I am a huge advocate for independent work and task boxes. Creating independent work stations are one of my favorite ways to help increase student’s independent skills and work endurance. Independent work stations are a time in which students must complete work on their own without an adult helping them or prompting them. There is a system set up so that the student can manage this time themselves. While students are working at an independent work center, you can take that opportunity to work with a small group of students or an individual student to collect data on IEP goals.

Typically, I used task boxes at my independent work stations in my classroom but you could absolutely use file folder games and activities as well. Simply get a set of plastic drawers like this and put velcro on the front of each drawer. Then print off these labels and set up an independent work schedule for the student at that center, giving them file folder activities based on their IEP goals or independent level.

task box labels special education

3. Visual Supports Toolkit:

Using visual supports is extremely important in special education, especially for students with autism. Using file folders as “First-Then” schedules, “Choice” boards, Visual Schedules for Specials or “I Feel and I Need” charts helps to keep them easily accessible and on the go with each student. Visuals like this help students better understand expectations and reduce anxiety in different settings throughout the school day.

I feel I need visual supports

4. Communication Stations:

Another idea is to turn file folders into personalized communication stations for your students. Create individual folders for each student (I always liked to have different colors for each student in my class), where they can store their communication visuals. Some teachers use the Behavior Management Flip book and glue the visuals on a file folder instead of making a flip book.

communication board autism

5. Small Group Instruction:

Next, incorporating file folder activities into small group instruction is another powerful and engaging teaching strategy. By identifying specific learning objectives and differentiating activities, you can tailor the file folder tasks to each student’s needs. I liked to group my students based on similar IEP goals for ELA and math and pull 2-4 students for small group instruction when possible. I would have a paraprofessional monitor the other students doing centers or independent work stations at this time.

When using folder activities during small group, I would typically teach the skill and then use file folders for guided practice together. For example, if I was teaching students CVC words, then we would practice CVC words together using these CVC Word Reading File Folders.

CVC word file folder games

6. Practicing Life Skills

Teaching life skills is a huge part of special education, even at the elementary level. You can’t always practice certain life skills while at school but you can practice scenarios and sequence different life skill activities to help them understand what to do. This is where the Life Skills File Folders come in handy. These file folders focus on community life skills such as crossing the street, watching your hands, eating at a restaurant, checking out a book and more.

free life skills file folders for autism

7. IEP Goal Folders:

Finally, the last way to use file folders in your autism classroom is for their IEP goals! Take each student’s goals and type it out in simple terms that the student can understand. Then glue each goal to a separate file folder. Have all materials that you need to practice that goal in the folder for staff to easily be able to pull to practice. Every time the student practices the goal, put a sticker in a box under it and mark with a star when they master that goal. This is a good way to help students take some accountability for their goals as well.

File folder organization

How Do I Organize My File Folders in my Classroom?

With these 7 creative file folder hacks, special education teachers can enhance their autism classrooms, making them engaging, organized and conducive to individualized learning. From interactive learning centers to goal-setting folders, file folders are definitely versatile! They enable us to better support our students’ unique needs and abilities. I always get questions on how I organized ALL these file folders in my autism classroom.

Here are some of my favorite ways to organize & store file folder activities:

Some of the following are affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.

  • Hanging Wall File Organizer: Install a hanging wall file organizer with multiple pockets. Label each pocket with the name or theme of the file folder game. This system keeps your games visible and easily accessible for both students and teachers.
  • Rolling Cart with Drawers: Invest in a rolling cart with multiple drawers. Label each drawer with the category or subject of the file folder games. You can easily move the cart around the classroom and tuck it away when not in use.
  • Plastic Storage Bins: Use clear plastic storage bins with lids to store file folder games. Group games by subject or skill and label each bin accordingly. Stack the bins in a designated area or closet, keeping your games organized and protected.
  • Magazine Holders: Repurpose magazine holders as file folder organizers. Arrange the file folder games vertically, so you can easily flip through them to find the one you need.
  • Hanging File Folders in a Filing Cabinet: If you have a filing cabinet, use hanging file folders to store your file folder games. Each hanging folder can hold multiple games, making it efficient and space-saving.
  • Ziplock Bags with Labels: Place each file folder game in a labeled Ziplock bag. Stack the bags in a storage bin or on shelves, keeping them sorted and readily available.
  • File Crates or Baskets: Arrange your file folder games in file crates or baskets. You can place the crates on shelves or a designated area for easy access.

monthly file folders subscription special education


If you love using file folder activities in your special education room and would love to receive 24 brand new themed file folder games each month, check out the FILE FOLDERS SUBSCRIPTION! You will have an entire year of themed file folders in your classroom!

Tell me – what is your FAVORITE way to use file folders in your classroom?!

7 File Folder Hacks for your Autism Classroom
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