Using file folder activities effectively


You may be surprised by this blog post.  If you follow my store on TPT, you know I have NO file folder games for download.  It you are on my email list, you know I am focused on more than file folder activities.  BUT, just because I do not specifically create them as a teacher author, does NOT mean I don’t use and LOVE file folder activities.

There are two main reasons I do not spend my time as a teacher author creating file folder activities.

  1. There are so many on TPT.  So, why compete with the awesome and plentiful resources already out there?
  2. I have a super simple way to turn any of the pdf activities I do create into a file folder activity.  It just takes a laminator, some Velcro and a little time.

Watch this short video on how to turn ANY activity into a file folder game.

So how do I use these file folder activities?  There are so many great ways to effectively use them.  You do have to be careful, however.  Students can become bored fairly quickly if you use them too often or too frequently throughout the day.  That means you need A LOT of variety and strategic planning.


Here are some great ways to use them that are meaningful and engaging:


1. Use them to review previously taught material.  

We spend so much concentrated effort teaching a topic, let’s say the solar system.  For most students that information will just stay with them and needs very little review.  For many of our special education students, however, review and repetition are critical to maintaining that acquired knowledge.  After I teach a unit, I will often make several file folder games using the same activities we had done while learning the material using the technique described in the video above.  I then rotate those in their independent work stations.  That way, even when I am teaching about spiders in science, they can still be spending time reviewing what we learned about the Milky Way the month before.

2.  Use them for students who need additional support in a small group lesson.

As I have said before, special education classes can be incredibly diverse.  I often had students who were in 5th grade, reading on a 2nd grade level, sitting at the same table with a kindergarten student who was non-verbal and struggling with a significant intellectual disability.  File folder activities are a great way to engage your lower level students while spending focused time on some of the other students in the class.  If possible, the file folder has something to do with the material we were learning, but let’s be honest, sometimes that was not always possible.  There were times when student A was doing a color matching activity while students B, C and D were learning about addition with regrouping.  So, why keep them all in the same small group?  Due to budgeting constraints, I had very little extra adult assistance in my classroom.  It helped if my assistant was in close range and could interject as needed.  If she (or he) was at the table with me rather than off with another student, we could tag team so much more efficiently.  I tried it both ways, and believe me this worked so much better (for my teaching style).

Just remember, even for your lowest level learners, you need lots of variety to keep them engaged and to minimize problem behaviors.

3.  Use them for early finishers.

For those students (and in they exist in every class) who finish way before all the other students, file folder activities are a great way to keep them engaged and minimize problem behaviors while other students catch up.  I tried to keep some really cool ones for this purpose.  I would go through toy magazines and laminate and Velcro pictures of various toys that could be sorted into categories like: video games, board games, outdoor games, etc.  The kids loved just looking at all those colorful images and it saved me a ton of money on colored ink.  If you know a student has a favorite TV show or obsession, try to make a file folder with that material specifically for use when they finish something early. I never wanted students to feel they were being punished by finishing early, and just getting more work, so I tried to make the file folders as “cool” as possible.  Unfortunately, I did not have the kind of students who could simply go hang out in the reading or play center quietly when done.  They needed something with more structure so I could focus on those kids who were still working.  So keep some fun and  not-too-hard file folder activities aside for this purpose.

4.  Use them for morning work.

My students straggled in every morning over the course of about 30 minutes.  That was a long time for behaviors to erupt if there was not something engaging for them to do.  However, I could not really do a small group lesson with that much disruption and my assistant was usually unavailable helping with car duty or in the cafeteria assisting with breakfast monitoring.  I needed a way to get my kiddos in the door and doing something that was fairly independent.  File folder activities fit the bill perfectly.  It allowed for some review, and kept them busy.  For the most part, I never really had a student who hated doing these file folders.  Maybe I was lucky.   Maybe I just did a really good job rotating them often to provide variety, and creating new ones often that were exciting and engaging.

5.  Use them to collect IEP data.

I LOVED using file folders to collect some IEP data.  I could create some quick activities to probe various goals, like sorting letters and numbers.  It was easy to keep data on these, and note if there was progression or regression.  It also was great because these particular folders all had a special sticker on the front that indicated it was for IEP measurement.  That way any adult in the room knew to put that folder, once done, in a special basket on my desk so I could track it later.

IEP folder

6.  Use them for homework.

Full disclosure, I am NOT a fan of homework.  But, I often had parents who felt their child was missing out on something if they did not have homework just like their siblings.  I also know, first hand, the reality of living with a child who has a significant disability.  The last thing you want to do at night is sit down and attempt to do something that may be challenging.  So, I started sending file folder activities home in big plastic bags for my lower level students.  Parents loved it!!  Of course, I always made it clear it was optional, but more often than not, the folders came back complete, and I never lost a single piece in 10 years!!

HW bag

I hope this helped explain why I LOVE file folders, but do not make them to sell in my store.  I have hundreds of them!!  

Leave me a comment if you have a great way you use file folder activities that you think someone could benefit from!!

PS  Have you signup up for my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY YET? 

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