Text: tips for using file folders in special education classrooms Photo: two matching file folder activities

Share for your fellow special educators!

My favorite task to make for special education classrooms are file folder activities. My store is filled to the brim with them and I even created a file folder subscription because I love to make themed sets!

I want to share 3 (potentially controversial) tips for you to consider when implementing file folder activities in your special education classroom.

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1. Create file folder activities where the pieces are stored inside.

I make almost all of my activities self-containing.  The match or sorting page goes on the right before laminating and then Velcro goes on the left side.

Counting and Number Recognition File Folders
Sorting Basic Concepts File Folders

Or, I put the pieces in empty space on the bottom if the activity crosses both sides of the file folder.

Basic Skills File Folders

You can store pieces in a plastic baggie, but then you have to label the bag and keep it with the folder.  You can tape it to the back but then you have a not-so-easily-stored lumpy folder.  Why not just keep the pieces IN the folder?

Life Skills File Folders

Also, a table full of loose pieces waiting to be placed on the folder can be an invitation to swipe the table clean (escape function anyone?).  Not any of my students of course…

2. Don’t pre-cut the pieces.

Ok, apparently I’m a rare one on this.  I see teachers sharing #spedprepsunday on Instagram laminating their pre-cut pieces.

In order to save laminate and not waste an inch of space, I will cut down the white space and put as much as I can in one laminate pouch. But I don’t pre-cut each individual piece and then line them all up in the pouch (and then hope they stay still and don’t overlap while being pulled through the machine).

Errorless Beginning Sounds File Folders

I had icons in near daily rotation for several years and the pieces are fine.  They’re wrinkled and faded and chewed on…but the laminate doesn’t peel. I guess I was lucky to have excellent laminate. If you’ve experienced peeling, then by all means, keep pre-cutting.


If you’ve just assumed you need to pre-cut, please try to make a folder without this step.  Imagine all the time you’ll save if you just laminate the whole sheet and THEN cut the pieces out!

On the rare occasion an icon or matching piece is ruined…just make a new one.  Re-making a handful of icons every month will be FAR less time consuming than double cutting every single activity.

3. Finally, DON’T undo your students’ work in front of them. 

I never thought of this until I heard it at a training so maybe this is new for you – you should never reset a task in front of a student.

Our students’ tasks are their work.  We tell them their work is important by making it part of their schedule and requiring them to complete it.

We should respect their work and consider it “done.”  If we just take it apart as soon as they are finished, there’s not much motivation to do it next time.

Click to read the blog post about teaching chores, cleaning and laundry.

What happens when they are working in the community and their job is to assemble something. And then afterwards they take it apart and put the pieces back?

Imagine if someone watched you complete an IEP and then leaned over your shoulder erased it so it was ready for the next time.  The horror!

If you’re using the TEACCH method of left to right work, your student’s work should be on their left and a finished shelf / bin / box / tote / laundry basket should be on their right. Teach your student to put their “all done” work in the proper spot and leave it there.

In a perfect world you will have enough tasks that no two students need the same one on the same day.  But of course the stars don’t always align and you might have several students with the same IEP goals using the same materials.

If you MUST reset the task, at least try to do it out of the student’s sight or while they’re focused on their next task.

If you don’t need them right away, then make this a part of the end of day routine for your paras.  At my school, everyone would sit around the table resetting tasks during after school meetings.  The Velcro ripping can be a bit disruptive so take that into consideration.

So that’s it.  My file folder philosophy.  Do you have rules of your own?  I’d love to hear them!

Subscribe to get an awesome set of themed file folders every month!

Three Tips for Using File Folder Activities in Your Special Education Classroom
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