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In My Toolbox

In My Toolbox

by Susan Skinner-Kidd, COTA/L

If any of my teachers from elementary school on knew I was writing this………I was not the poster child for organization.  I still struggle with it.  In other words, I AM that student who needs a little nudge in the right direction.  

In college, I learned the value of the first tool:  the planner.  Even if I didn’t look at it consistently, if I wrote something in the planner, it was so much more likely to stay with me.  The planner is a huge step in getting assignments done in time and according to the rubric.  A lot of teachers will provide due dates for first, second, and final drafts—each date should go in the planner.

My school system provides a planner for each student in the upper schools.  If your system doesn’t, they are available now at discount stores (I got a great one at Aldi last year) and my personal favorite, Amazon.  If a planner needs to be purchased, it can be themed to match a student’s interests, which doesn’t hurt motivation to use it.

If you’re not able to purchase a planner for a student, you can still print out calendars for the week/month and encourage students to use them.  At the middle school where I work, we can make spiral notebooks.  If you have this at your school, you can print out pages for students and bind them together.  You could do this using a folder with prongs, too.  You can help the student personalize the planner at first sessions to help break the ice.

For the second major tool in my toolbox:  the binder.  I had a student last year who had multiple folders, each crammed past their breaking point with paper, and in disarray.  Or some that were overly full and some not used at all.  I like to have a binder containing folders for each subject (or each subject with papers—a class like band or art, that doesn’t send papers home or have paper homework, may not need their own folder), arranged by class period.  One side of the folder is for paper to turn in and the other side is for paper to keep.  Our kids will sometimes need help to go through and decide what needs to be kept and what they can toss.  

There are aides available on the internet.  Tools to Grow had a great Back-to-School set for teenagers.  It includes some first-session, getting-to-know you ideas, but also checklists  that can be duplicated and laminated.  It has checklists for lockers, cleaning desks, binder organization, and calendar use.  It has pre-printed checklists, or gives you the ability to write in and personalize it for each student.  There are other executive functioning ideas in the packet, too!  Look for “Tools for Teens” in the search box.

If you have a student who is resistant to the physical planner/agenda, there are apps they can use.  Here is a link to a list of some of the more widely-used apps available:  I don’t mind admitting I am a penny-pincher and I don’t usually want to advise people to spend a lot of money for items they may or may not use, so I advise trialing free apps before purchased ones.   Most phones have calendar apps, but a student may need something that allows a little more detail.

Other free or inexpensive resources:

Tools to Grow has some content that is free  (

The OT Toolbox.  Some free content, some paid.  Lots of good ideas if you’re just getting started!

Teacher Pay Teachers (  You can limit the search to free resources

Your Therapy Source.  Some good materials and resources for provider education: (

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