Binders vs. Accordion Folders

"Mr. Riedl, I can't find my worksheet. I looked everywhere!" 
"Mr. Riedl! My homework folder ripped! Can I have another one?!"  
"Mr. Riedl! My backpack is too heavy! Wow, I think I need to clean out my stuff."

Ah, the typical sound of disorganization! After several weeks into the school year, I often hear these questions/comments from students. I see students getting frustrated. It's that time of the year...

Disorganization = Craziness!
We need a new plan.

The students are not the only ones getting frustrated. I find myself shaking my head often when I see the binders, which I suggested students use at the beginning of the year, becoming worthless. Fifth grade is the first year that our students begin using them. Binders are great organizational tools to use, but they are not always the best option. This article will explain the pros and cons of binders, as well as an often overlooked organizational tool that I advocate as an option for our students: The Accordion Folder!

Binders are currently used for organization among the students in my class. Although it is a wonderful resource as well as the most common tool for keeping papers organized, it also causes the most headaches. Big advantages include the fact that the three rings allow it to be secure, it can hold many accessories in a pencil pouch, and the zipper binder (my favorite) has many compartments and pockets in a strong covering that is durable no matter how many times it is dropped. There are quite a few disadvantages, though. It seems like no matter how strong the binder is, those rings never seem to stay aligned very long for students. When the rings are not properly aligned, it is difficult to turn papers to find what is underneath. When they do work properly, hole-punching the papers can sometimes notch the edge of the paper. If pee-chee folders are used in the rings, the holes rip and the folders fall out. Additionally, it is time-consuming to open the rings to take out one sheet of paper, and then agitating when closing with a loud SNAP!

Accordion folder (click to enlarge)
Accordion Folders are a new option for students to use. The idea came from 7th and 8th grade, where students who demonstrate poor organizational skills have been required to use them, with great success! Multiple teachers have told me they work very well for students that have a hard time staying organized. The most obvious advantage is the lack of the three rings. Because there are no rings to deal with, it allows the student to quickly slip the papers in and out without difficulty. The clear folder view allows a calendar to stay in the front where upcoming assignments are easy to see ahead of time. Expanding folder pockets fit in a compact way, reducing wasted space and weight in the student's backpack. Disadvantages include less storage space, durability concerns (inexpensive usually means they break easily), and the fact that they do not hold zipper pouches.

What do the students think about accordion folders?
After nine weeks of using only binders during my first year teaching 5th grade, I pitched the idea of accordion folders to the students. I showed them an example of one and how it worked, and there was an overwhelming response! Approximately 75% of them expressed interest! Of course I repeatedly reminded them that it was optional, and if they wanted to keep using their binder then that is perfectly fine. Many of them were so excited that they asked if they could write a list of who wanted an accordion folder on the whiteboard (looking at the picture, it seems as though we'll need to add "accordion" to our list of spelling words!).

Parent Concerns
I understand that some parents might be concerned about the quality of the accordion folders. There are many binders out there that have high-quality zippers, which keep everything secure if they are dropped onto the floor. I have seen zipper accordion folders as well. There are many options out there for what is best for your child, so please explore them online or at your nearest office supply store. I suggest buying in person because you can actually feel it and open it up before you buy it.

Teacher Recommendation
Getting my students to be organized is very hard work. I must be very clear with my instructions and procedures to ensure they know where things go and how to plan for the future. My hope is that by allowing two options for student organization, each child and their parent can come to an understanding of what would work best for their style of learning. I am very open to suggestions and alternatives. As their teacher, my recommendation is that accordion folders be used. Yes, this is certainly a generalized recommendation, but at this age, accordion folders usually seem to work better for students than binders. Because of the quick-and-easy way they can organize papers without dealing with rings, an accordion folder is an ideal resource for 5th graders as they learn to be more independent and self-sufficient at school. Please talk with your child about which method of organization is best for them (see comparison chart below) and agree on what you want to do together.

Honestly, I don't really care which one they choose, as long as it works for them and they stay organized.

Please let me know if you have any questions!
--Mr. Riedl

Comparison chart:


Accordion Folders


  • When used properly, the three rings provide a secure storage space
  • Ability to hold pencil pouches, accessories
  • Zipper binders are extra secure and durable, providing additional pouches/storage


  • Quick-and-easy access, slip papers in and out, no need of three-hole punch
  • Expanding folders save space and weigh less
  • Clear view into all folders without turning papers on the three rings


  • Problems with the three rings (bent, not aligned properly, gaps, etc.)
  • Pee-chee folders rip out of the rings
  • Time consuming, closes with loud SNAP


  • Cannot hold pencil pouches or other accessories
  • Less storage space
  • Inexpensive accordion folders usually break very easily

Where to buy accordion folders (a.k.a. expanding file folders, accordion files, poly expanding files, etc.)
Staples (link)
Office Depot (link)
Walmart (link1, link2, link3)
Target (link1, link2)
Office Max (link)
Smead Products (link)

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