Using Multi-Drawer Cabinets to Organize Materials

Montessori materials take up a lot of room – that’s a fact. Shelf space always seems to be in short supply, no matter how many shelves you have.

One way to fit more materials on a shelf is to use a cabinet (sometimes called a “tower”) with small drawers. Just like a skyscraper, cabinets make use of vertical space rather than horizontal.

While cabinets can be a great way to organize materials, it’s important not to overuse them. One of the major drawbacks is that the work is not visible to the child while it’s in the cabinet. A shelf full of multi-drawer cabinets isn’t very appealing.

However, when used correctly, they can be a great way to keep materials straight. I always have a few in my classroom, so I’ll show you some examples.

This is my geography cabinet, with drawers for each set of map arrows (found in my Continent Kits), as well as drawers for States and Capitals Matching Cards, organized by region:


This is one of my language cabinets; I call it “Word Study 3”. My son used the “Word Study 1” cabinet in first grade, “Word Study 2” in second, and so on:


Here is another language cabinet, this time focused on Singular/Plural sets as well as some flashcards and matching cards:


You may have some questions about using the cabinets, so let’s take a closer look.

1. Where can I find them?

I found the two white ones at the Container Store, and the blue one was purchased as an art cabinet filled with craft materials. After my kids used up the art stuff, I thought it would make a great language cabinet.

I’ve also seen cabinets like these at hardware and home improvement stores, and even at Target in the automotive/home repair section. Of course, you can find them online as well (search for “multi-drawer cabinets”).

2. How do I label them?

The best way to label them is to print the names of the materials on self-adhesive address labels. I like the return address size, as they are small enough to fit right on the cabinet without cutting or bending. But, if you only have regular size labels, they can be cut or have the edges wrapped around the sides of the drawer front.

You may have to experiment with font sizes to make sure the names will fit on the labels. I like to use the Century Gothic font, since that’s what most of my materials use.

3. How can I best use them in the classroom?

Place cabinets where children can access all the drawers. Since the materials are not visible, you may want to have a tray or basket next to the cabinet where you display one of the materials from the cabinet (rotate every month).

If you’re teaching elementary, be sure to include cabinet materials on the workplan. If children show an interest in the materials, let them work on them as often as they like. For instance, some children will start with one word study set (compounds, homonyms) and continue until they’ve finished all the sets for that type of word.

Generally, children should take the entire drawer with the to the rug or table. Most drawers come out easily if you tilt them up, or gently squeeze the sides of the drawer together. You can show the children how to do that when you show them materials from the cabinet.

4. What can I put in them?

Multi-drawer cabinets are traditionally used for word study materials, but I’ve found that they work for other materials as well, like the map arrows pictured above. Some of them have bigger drawers that can accommodate matching cards and flashcards. Here are a few other suggestions:

A. Label one drawer for each letter of the alphabet and place small objects in the drawers that correspond with each letter

B. Pink, Blue, and Green Series work – include rhyming cards, pictures for movable alphabet, and even small objects

C. Math work, like equations and word problem cards, can easily be put in a cabinet. Just label each drawer to show the type of equation or word problem featured

I’m sure many of you have great ideas for using these in the classroom, so feel free to share!

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12 Responses to “Using Multi-Drawer Cabinets to Organize Materials”

  • PSMontessori said at May 18th, 2009 at 3:47 pm :

    Lori, it is so funny that you posted about this. I spent a good deal of time this weekend looking at drawers in Target and Jo-Ann. I’m actually looking for some drawers to help organize behind the scenes – in my scary teacher closet. I’m trying to find the perfect drawers to help organize my language cards – vocabulary and 3 parts cards. In my head these are towers and I will separate the cards in to “social” and “scientific” categories. These drawers could be a bit bigger if necessary because a) the boxes will be in a closet and b)the cards are bigger than the smaller labels. Any suggestions?

  • Lori Bourne said at May 18th, 2009 at 4:47 pm :

    You know, I find these cabinets great for smaller cards, but not for 3-part cards. They can be pricey and take up lots of room – and it’s hard to find them with larger drawers.

    My “perfect” 3-part card solution (after trying lots of things) is a plastic shoebox for each curricular area (with labels on the front) and 3-part cards, matching cards, flashcards, etc. in individual Ziploc bags (also labeled) inside them.

    I can store tons of card sets this way, and it’s very easy to find each set.

  • PSMontessori said at May 19th, 2009 at 2:16 pm :

    Shoeboxes. Duh!!

  • Lori Bourne said at May 19th, 2009 at 2:20 pm :

    You wouldn’t believe what I have tried over the years – accordion files, coupon holders, index card boxes. With shoeboxes, I have achieved 3-part card nirvana 🙂

  • Superfunmama said at May 22nd, 2009 at 11:26 pm :

    Love this! I commented back to you on my blog and really appreciate your comment. You have fabulous ideas.

  • Lori Bourne said at May 23rd, 2009 at 8:15 am :

    Thank you so much – and I hope everything works out for you and your family 🙂

  • Leslie Harman said at June 2nd, 2009 at 8:26 am :

    Rubbermaid sold drawers (5″) across that you can snap apart to stack required number. The best ones were blue frames, clear drawers, colored pulls so you could color-code the pulls. Later I could only find them in black or white in office supply section. Lowe’s has woderful clear drawers in three-stacks by “inter-design” that are (5 or 6″) wide. They are beautiful because you can put objects in them and they are visible, but a bit pricey. It helps a lot if you use a symbol, picture, or color for your label. Makes it much more appealing and more accessible to pre-readers. Drawers are a lifesaver for us in dusty West Texas.

  • Lori Bourne said at June 2nd, 2009 at 9:20 am :

    Hi, Leslie! I love the idea of using a picture or symbol if they are materials for pre-readers. Very nice. And for older kids, the having a label on the drawer helps them know the name of the work so they can check it off their workplans.

  • Tara said at March 20th, 2011 at 1:04 pm :

    You mentioned this was a word study cabinet in the Second photo. Are your word study cards broken up by grades? How do you know which words to study in first, second and third grade? Curious b/c my son is going to be in 1st grade next year and trying to figure out all that I need in Language arts.

  • Lori Bourne said at March 20th, 2011 at 3:10 pm :

    Hi, Tara! Rather than break them up by grade (since children move at different paces), I just put all of Set 1 cards in one cabinet, Set 2 in the next, and so on. Once children complete Set 1 of whatever it is (Animal Names, Homophones), they move to Set 2.

    Most Montessori companies, including mine, break up the Word Study cards into sets automatically. You don’t have to do it yourself. For instance, Compound Matching Cards come divided into Set 1, Set 2, Set 3, etc.

    Check out the free Elementary Workplans to see how that plays out month by month.

  • Tina said at December 12th, 2012 at 7:57 pm :

    Could you please tell me from where you get the blue cabinet. I tried to look for it online in art supply stores but could not find any.

  • Lori Bourne said at December 12th, 2012 at 8:16 pm :

    Hi, Tina! Under “1. Where Can I Find Them?”, above in my post, is a link to the actual blue cabinet I show in my picture. Just click on “art cabinet”.