Step One: Get a binder. I use sturdy binders from Office Depot with plastic slip covers and locking tabs (the red tab ones). I am a bit picky: they are all the same, all white. Some units work fine with a 1-inch binder; others need a 1.5- or even 2-inch binder. Each binder is a unit, in this case the unit for Heart of Darkness. I organize each unit I teach around a big question (see my new book just about to come out: What's the Big Idea?). I take some serious time to craft these, then type them up on stock and slip them in the spine as you see here. Each binder has three dividers, which I will explain below.
Step Two: Use three dividers. Each binder has within it three sections, each of which is crucial. All the way at the back, behind the third tab, go all the lesson plans, handouts, articles--everything--from the previous year. I just move them all back there, moving through and finding whatever materials I need to create the current lesson plan for this year. Over the course of the last year, I have likely added notes and articles, printed versions of websites to consider. Behind the second tab are the lesson plans for this year, each lesson written up (pictured) and clipped to it all handouts, samples, student or professional exemplars, transparencies, images, or notes. These are in chronological order. Behind the first tab goes notes on binder paper or annotated editions of readings I need to access for several days. For example, I have a packet of about six readings for Heart of Darkness in there now that we read and discuss each day. Keeping it here is efficient and helpful. And on top of all the tabs, you see my day's lesson plan, written for that day, and clipped to it all the handouts, samples, overheads, or printed editions of websites I may refer to.
Step Three: Keep all papers related to your lesson plan together. Each day's lesson plan, which I write up on the form listed at the end of step three, has attached to it any of the following: clean copies of handouts to run off, my marked up versions of the same handout; transparencies, notes, and printed copies of webpages to which I will refer; student exemplars or professional examples. When the day's lesson is done, I jot down in the Notes section of the lesson plan any ideas for the next day or for the next year when I do this about how to improve up on it. I then move the day's lesson plan, with all supplemental pages clipped to it, to the area behind the second tab. Within a day or more later, if there are examples of assignments done on this day, I will copy those examples and, returning to this day's lesson plan, attach them for future reference and use. Download TDB_Daily LP Prototype 1
Step Four: Organize Electronic Files to Find. All these handouts we create, this lesson plan template I use--I need to be able to find and revise and reprint them after I create them. (My father was in the printing business for 38 years; I have a passion for document design: it matters!) I have finally arrived at a completely useful system after years of trying different approaches. Here is a screenshot of a section of my AP Lit folder. The gist is: Class_Unit_Name (of Doc)_.doc (or .pdf, etc.). I standardize the heck out of it so they are all right there. If a handout is more generic, say a graphic organizer, then I have a folder titled Tools and Techniques and the docs in there have filenames like: Tool_Venn Diagram_3-Circle_doc.
Step Five: Reflect, Refine, Revise, Return. Once the unit is finished, I put a few sheets of binder paper on top of it all and write "Notes" across the top. I take a few minutes to jot down whatever ideas, questions, concerns I have at that time for how to improve it next time I teach that unit. I might say simply, "Find different article to replace the Brantlinger" or make a more detailed note about what went well or wrong and how to improve it. The whole point is to do it better next time. Over the course of the next year (until I teach that unit again), I may read something that gives me an idea or which I want to consider adding to this unit. I just copy it off and slip it into the back section (behind the third tab) of the binder for future reference.
While it would be easy to look at all this outlined above as a manifestation of my OCD--I do not have OCD, just a very well-developed need and ability to be organized after writing all these books while teaching--it is really just a strategic approach to creating, organizing, and revising units that is best compared to a compost pile for no two units are ever the same, just versions on their way toward the next iteration. Next year events in the world may conspire to make the essential question for teaching, for example, Heart of Darkness, very different from this year; in which case, I would keep everything in this binder, but replace the Big Question and use this year's cloth to make a new text, which is, ultimately, what each year's unit is: a text to teach, to read, to live and learn from.