Upper Elementary

Trifolds to Organize Center Work

Okay so I am completely obsessed with a HUGE FAN of using trifolds as a way to hold center work! When I first started using the center method with my fifth graders, I found that they would leave a mess didn't know where to get/put back their work! Trifolds meant that Messy Margaret and Disorganized Danny knew exactly where everything belonged when they arrived at and left each center!

I created a trifold board for several centers(both math and language arts) and glued a few laminated and labeled file folders to each trifold. This allowed me to differentiate the work at each center AND keep it organized! My trifolds lasted me two years and are still going strong-- so it was totally worth the time it took to make them. Even better than that, it only cost me about $3.00-$4.00 per trifold-- many of the materials I purchased were used on multiple trifolds. (YES that includes the actual trifold-- the DOLLAR TREE had tons of them in stock!)

Materials (all purchased at the Dollar Tree)

  • Trifold boards
  • Bulletin board border
  • File Folders (you can buy these in a pack of 12!)
  • White Boards (I super glued them on and left directions on these)
  • Bulletin board lettering
  • Clear pocket folders (holds task cards or anything else you need!) 

Math Centers:
So the next question you might have is, what did students do at each center? Well, for math we had 5 different centers:

  • "Workout Zone": Also affectionately known by students as "task card world"-- this center housed task cards for each concept we were working on in math. The "workout zone" trifold had three different folders-- extra review (for kids who needed a review), practice makes perfect (the middle group), and challenge accepted (the advanced group). 
  • "Project Zone": I had a pretty good group of math students, so I only have two levels at this center. This is where projects were held. P.S.-- Teaching with a Mountain View has fabulous math projects for upper elementary. This is where I got most of my projects from!
  • "Khan Academy": I used Khan in my room, so when students got to this center, they would log into their accounts and get to work! The trifold at this center had rules, the "playlist" (lessons and videos that had to follow), and reflection worksheets. 
  • "Game Zone": the Game Zone trifold was home to playing cards, flash cards, and I had a basket full of math games as well. I gave 2-3 choices per day for this one, and they were typically a "spiral review"  or directly related to whatever concept we had been working on!
  • "Small Group": this is where I met with students in leveled groups-- no trifold here, just colored bins to organize and each student had their own folder to keep work!
Language Arts:
I did my own version of the Daily Five in my room (I'll tackle that in another post!) 

The Word Work Trifold Board
  • Word Work: This was my vocab center. I used two huge trifolds for this center with about 6-8 file folders on each. In each file folder was a different Word Work WS. I introduced one at a time in the beginning of the year, but by the end I left them all out. The kids were pretty responsible and enjoyed all of the options! For this center, I made my own Word Work Worksheets because I couldn't really find anything that met the needs of upper elementary students and kept them engaged-- If you would like to grab em', click on the image below.
    Grab Word Work from my Store!
  • Passion Project: Students worked on whatever they were passionate about (some learned to code, some did a project on their favorite animal, etc.) Once again, I'll tackle Passion Projects later on, because that deserves a post of its own! Anyways, that trifold housed the rules for Passion Projects, suggested websites, forms to fill out, directions for how to complete, etc.
  • Guided Reading: No tri-fold here, I had colored bins to house guided reading work and the kiddo's all had their own folders and notebooks
  • Read to Self: At RTS all of kid's had to complete a menu project for the book they chose to read. The trifold was home to the menus, directions, and a "submission" folder. 
  • Work on Writing: Two trifold's housed menu options for Work on Writing, a folder with some shared writing journals, rules, and "descriptive word" suggestions. I made my own Work on Writing, which you can check out at my store by clicking the picture below!

 Well, this is more of a upper elementary oriented post, although I am for sure going to try and adapt this method with my Kinders somehow! One of my FAVORITE things to do when I taught fifth grade was Socratic seminars... especially during Social studies!

If you don't know what the Socratic method is, it is a teaching method that encourages conversation (not debate) so that students come to a mutual understanding. This is an awesome way to get your kids using their critical thinking skills and an amazing method for teaching speaking and listening skills.

This seminar was about the Trail of Tears. Students Analyzed primary source documents to complete these questions!

When I first started using this method, the reaction that I got was "I thought that was only for high school and college kids!" One thing I learned while teaching fifth grade is that kids can do way more than you'd initially expect them to, especially if you raise the bar high! When I first started this with my students, I shared with them that this was something mostly bigger kids did, and that got them ready for the challenge!

What does it look like in my room?
I use a combination of primary and secondary source documents, along with guiding questions for each. I like when there is a "BIG question" to answer. For example:

  • When we had a Socratic Seminar on Christopher Columbus, the big question was "was Columbus a hero or a villian?" 
  • When we had a Socratic seminar on the lost colony of Roanoke, the big question was "what happened to the colony?" 
  • When we had a seminar on slavery in the southern colonies the big question was "why did plantation owners consider slavery a 'necessary evil'?" That was an interesting one!
  • When we had a seminar on the Puritans, the big question was "why did the Puritans consider themselves a 'City Upon a Hill'? Were the Puritans hypocritical?" YES fifth graders CAN answer that question, and probably better than most adults!
I normally had my kids push their desks out of the way and push their chairs into the circle, but sometimes when the library was available we went there! Sitting in a circle is ideal, because everyone can be seen and heard!

At the beginning of the year, we use the "throw it" method. If a student has something to say, they flip over a green circle and the last person who spoke throws a ball to that person. If students do not want to speak yet, they have their red circle turned over. I do this at the beginning because not all students are comfortable sharing yet, and it is difficult for them to understand the concept of "free talking"! 

To ensure that the same kids don't get called on all the time, I have a student keep "record" of who has already spoken. If I have a student who is really shy and does not want to speak, I allow them to do a written response at the end.

Later in the year, I start doing "free talk". This is where students speak freely after the previous student has finished. This is not easy because kids are afraid to "step on" each other, but they get it eventually! I use the same method of "record keeping" so that we don't have a handful of kids talking all the time!

"Socratic Circle", students are listening and taking notes!

Where to get resources:
A lot of the time, I find primary source documents on my own and draft the Socratic preparation questions. I also use Reading like a Historian by Stanford, which you can visit by clicking here!

The First Seminar:
This past school year, I wanted to do a Socratic seminar that would get my kids excited! I was also asked to create a video of a Socratic seminar for other teachers, and wanted to pick one with content that would be relatable to anyone watching it! So, I developed the Lorax Socratic seminar. If you would like to purchase this seminar, it can be found on my TPT store by clicking the link below!
Grab the Lorax Seminar at my store!
Here are some other Socratic methods that we have done:

  • Fish Bowl: several students sit in a circle and have a discussion regarding a document they have pre-analyzed. These students are the "fish". The students outside of the "fishbowl" cannot speak, they must listen to the conversation going on between the fish. When time is up, the students standing outside the bowl share what they learned. Then, students switch roles and the "observers" become the "fish"!
  • Airplane/ Co-Pilots: Students are paired up in teams of two. The "pilots" sit in the circle and the "co-pilots" sit directly behind their assigned "pilots". The only students allowed to speak are the pilots, but the co-pilots pass notes to the pilots with comments that they would like the pilots to share!


  1. I LOVE the idea of pairing up "pilots" and "co-pilots"! My seventh grade gifted class sizes are often close to 30, so a Socratic seminars can be tricky business. Reducing the number of talking kids by half would make a huge difference, and everyone could still participate! I'm so excited to try this!

  2. Yay! Glad I could share a helpful idea! It is also great for the quieter kids who don't like to participate as much-- I found that when they were able to write their ideas and pass them to the "pilots", they shared some really amazing things!