That was about 13 years ago. My students still have desks, but they're much tidier now. Here's what most of the desks look like.
Here are my tips for helping students keep their desks tidy.
Don't allow students to keep more than 3 books in their desks at a time. My students have book bags. They aren't fancy... just gallon size plastic bags. Each week, students can book shop. Their books stay in their book bags which frees up LOTS of desk space.
Have folders. My students have an unfinished work folder and a writing folder to keep in their desks. Unfinished assignments and items we'll refer to again go into the unfinished work folder. To help with organization, these folders can be labeled with a "To Do" side and a "Save" side. Our writing folder is for works in progress. Students keep notes, graphic organizers, and drafts in their writing folders.
I spend time modeling the correct way to place papers into the folders. Otherwise, students will stick the papers in crooked or--worse yet--in the MIDDLE of the folder, which leaves not-so-lovely creases. I am very strict about not allowing students to cram papers into their desks.
Pencil boxes are a must in my room. Students keep pencils, dry erase materials, erasers, crayons, scissors, and gluesticks in these. For some students, I've handed out an extra pencil box because they've brought markers, colored pencils, and huge packs of crayons from home. These students have a "coloring supplies" pencil box and a regular pencil box.
Now, you can lead a third grader to a pencil box, but you can't make him or her put the pencils IN IT! I was getting frustrated with pencils that would roll out of desks. Then, I discovered the best freebie ever! It's called "Friend of Pencils" and was created by The Wise Owl Teacher.
Students get a small reward on Monday if they have kept track of and not mutilated their stash of pencils. Do yourself a HUGE favor and try it for yourself. I've been using the friend of pencils system for three years. In all that time, I haven't heard a student yell, "I DON'T HAVE A PENCIL!" I've also found there to be a lot fewer chewed, over-sharpened, and intentionally broken pencils!
Have a spot outside of the desks for textbooks that aren't used regularly. Why clutter up the inside of the desks if you don't need to? Keeping textbooks out of the desks keeps them from getting damaged, too.
Do semi-regular desk checks. Before dismissal, I'll sometimes stop my last lesson of the day five minutes early. I'll have students sit at their seats. Then, I'll say, "Bend down and look into your desk. Is it tidy? Are there pencils rolling around? Are there papers not in folders? Take a couple of minutes to tidy up your desk." As students finish "tidying", I'll call a few at a time to pack up and get ready for dismissal. Being very specific is key!
These tips have been discovered over a number of years. Hopefully they're helpful to you. Thanks for stopping by!