50 Brilliant Dollar Store Hacks for the Classroom

Cheap, easy, done.

dollar store hacks

It’s almost back-to-school season, which means you’re about to spend beaucoup bucks on your classroom. Wait just a minute there. We can save you a lot of money with our dollar store hacks. All the items here are things you can buy for just $1. Seriously—we went to the dollar store and confirmed it for ourselves. Here are our 50 favorite classroom ideas using dollar store hacks and supplies.

Dollar Store Hacks for Art

Art supplies can be pricey, but you can get brushes, poster board, and a whole lot more at the dollar store.

1. Cotton swabs
Blue and yellow make green, and there’s no better way to learn this than having students do it themselves. Give them little bits of paint and cotton swabs to mix them together. This will keep the mess to a minimum.

2. Poster paint
Cheapest paint in the universe.

3. Crepe paper
Want an easy and inexpensive way to make a student’s birthday special? Decorate their desk with crepe paper! They’ll love this little nod of recognition.

4. Elbow macaroni
This is part art project and part grammar lesson. Use elbow macaroni to teach kids punctuation—apostrophes and quotes—they’ll love applying (aka gluing) them in the right placement. (Full disclosure: We borrowed this brilliant idea from this teacher’s blog.)

5. Glitter
Love it or hate it, you can definitely find glitter at the dollar store. (And who needs expensive glitter?) Here’s our suggestion—use glitter as a monumental incentive for your students. If they reach a massive reading goal, you can break out the glitter and make sparkly literary collages.

6. Pipe cleaners
You can use pipe cleaners for about 100 different things—seriously, this article offers that many ideas. Our favorite: pencil grippers.

7. Pom poms
These should be a staple for your art area. They can make rainbows, bunny tails, or just about anything else. Have students draw a picture and then fill it in with these poms. Another hack: Put them on the ends of dry erase markers to use as mini erasers!

8. Stencils
They’re good for learning shapes, patterns, and repetition.

9. Sidewalk chalk
Soak it in water, and you have an immediate paintbrush at your fingertips. This blog will give you more details.

Dollar Store Hacks for Classroom Management and Organization

Reward your students, do some cleaning, and stay organized with some of these ideas.

10. Hand sanitizer
Don’t overpay for hand sanitizer. Stock up at the dollar store, and you’ll have plenty to scatter throughout your room.

11. Shaving cream
Have you ever cleaned the top of desks with shaving cream? It’s so much fun! Just squirt a little on top and let your students dive in.

12. Sponges
Doing an art project where you need a specific shape like a heart or star? Cut it out of a sponge and then let students gently press in paint and then onto their paper. You can also use them to create these awesome glue sponges.

13. Tissue
You never, ever have enough tissue.

14. Anti-bullying cards
We love these anti-bullying pledge cards! Use them at the beginning of the year as you’re talking about the importance of friendship and community.

15. Greeting cards
You know those “Thank You” cards you want to give students when they give you a special gift? Pick them up at the dollar store (sometimes they’re even two for $1) and keep a stash in your desk at all times.

16. Clothespins
Let each student decorate their clothespin or cover it with paper. Then glue magnets or thumbtacks on the back of them and hang them on your magnetic or bulletin board. Now each student has a place to share their favorite art work.

17. Crayons
Crayons are one of the top needs of teachers because kids are always breaking them or needing replacement colors! Use the dollar store version to replenish your supply, or make them a special incentive for kids who reach a special reading goal.

18. Glow sticks
Good classroom rewards: pizza party, pajama day, or glow day! The kids will LOVE it. Guaranteed.

19. Party plates
You can get fun colors and designs at a bargain price. Or put this on your classroom “wish list” of items that parents can sign up to bring. If they know they don’t have to spend a lot since they are from the dollar store, then they’ll be more likely to sign up.

20. Plastic bins
Hello classroom organization! These plastic bins can be used for so many purposes. We suggest using them for organizing math games students can “check out” or by reading level with your books.

21. Puzzles
Cognitive skills, hand and eye coordination, problem solving—these are all benefits of kids doing puzzles. Best of all, they like them, so you can use puzzles as an incentive.
22. Racecars

Great for prize bins.

23. Stickers
A simple sticker goes a long way in recognizing kids and keeping them motivated. You can get hundreds of stickers for next to nothing at the dollar store. Now you just need to remember to use them!

24. Trophies
These little trophies are simple, but they can mean the world to kids! Create reasons to give trophies in your classroom and have these on hand. Even little things like a kindness award or a clean desk award is deserving of a trophy.

25. Erasers
Here’s another easy, inexpensive prize for your classroom treasure chest. Plus, erasers don’t involve sweets and kids need ‘em!

26. Resealable plastic containers
These make perfect containers for play dough or organizing other classroom necessities.

Dollar Store Hacks for Math

Help get your students fired up about math this year—these items will make it fun!

27. Beans
The cheapest manipulative around!

28. Dice
A roll of the dice can create an immediate opportunity to practice addition, multiplication, or subtraction. Partner students up and let them challenge one another with each roll.

29. Flashcards
This is often on the school supply list, and you’re inevitably going to need some extra sets.

30. Playing cards
You know the game of war? Kick it up a notch: Each student flips over a card. The first to say the answer when you multiply them together is the winner.

31. Timer
Racing against the clock (Mad Minute, anyone?) is always fun for students. Buy a few timers to use in classroom math challenges.

Dollar Store Hacks for Reading and Writing 

Practicing spelling, reading, and comprehension just got easier with this dollar store finds.

32. Alphabet blocks
Buy several sets of alphabet blocks, and then your students can have a friendly word challenge. Put all the blocks in a bag and have them “draw” five to six (just like Scrabble). Then challenge them to make words.

33. Dry erase boards
Having a dry erase board for every single one of your students would be like a dream come true, right? When they’re only $1, it’s doable. Have students work out their answers individually and then hold them up for you to review.

34. Globes
You likely have a big globe or map in your classroom, but these miniature globes help students really see the countries up close. When you’re working on a geography lesson, give each group one to look at and follow along with as you’re pointing out things out with the bigger classroom globe.

35. Pool noodles
You can create your own phonics reading tool with pool noodles. Check out how with this tutorial video.

36. Pencils
You can never, ever, ever have too many pencils. Count this under dollar store hacks that save your sanity.

37. Ping pong balls
Here’s another good phonics tool. Write different letters on ping pong balls. Make a vowel bag and a consonant bag. Let students pull a few balls out of each one and try to make a word.

38. Popsicle sticks
Write down each of your students’ names on a popsicle stick and put them in a cup. Then use this to “draw” a stick to decide who you call on during class. This way, you won’t always call on the same students and your impartiality will be evident Once you get through the entire cup, fill it up again.

39. Word searches
Get those little minds thinking about words and putting them together with word searches. Just one book for $1 can supply your entire class.

Dollar Store Hacks for Science

Hands-on learning is always more fun, and these items will do just that for your science units.

40. Freezy pops
No, it’s not just a treat. It’s a science experiment, too. Have students time how long it takes freezy pops to turn into ice. Then compare it with regular water. Does one freeze faster than the other because of the added sugar?

41. Airplanes
A lesson in aerodynamics always benefits from some airplanes. Make your own paper airplanes and then compare them to the ones you can get at the dollar store. Which ones fly higher…faster…farther?

42. Balloons
There are so many science lessons and dollar store hacks you can do with balloons. Talk about the different types of gas used to blow up balloons, and discuss air pressure. In the winter, you can also fill balloons with water and see how long it takes them to freeze. (Add food coloring for cool colors.)

43. Bubbles
What causes bubbles? Why are they round? What happens to them when they “pop”? These are all great questions and an excellent way to turn bubbles into a science lesson.

44. Cotton balls
Every child needs to learn about clouds and different types of clouds, and one of the best ways to do this is by using cotton balls. Here’s a great blog article to give you more details.

45. Flowers
Every dollar store in the country has fake flowers, and if you can find the right ones, you can really “dissect” them to study the different parts of the flower.

46. Magnifying glass
Science often involves looking at things very carefully and closely. And now you can afford to have several in your classroom.

47. Paper towels
Using this dollar store hack, you can make your own “seed tape” in the classroom that students can then take home to plant it in their own backyards. Check out these instructions.

48. Seeds
You know the seed tape you just made? Here are the seeds to go on them. Whenever you talk growing or gardening in class, you have to try to grow your own. Look for bean seeds, which are easiest to sprout, or sunflowers.

49. Play dough
Hands-on learning is the best, and play dough offers you great opportunity to mold and sculpt to your heart’s delight. Try using play dough to sculpt science models and replicas. If you want to get fancy, learn about geology and core sampling.

50. Rocket balloons
Rockets are always a fun and exciting science lesson for your students.


Stacy Tornio

Posted by Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio is a senior editor with WeAreTeachers. Nearly everyone in her family is a teacher. So she decided to be rebellious and write about teachers instead.

One Comment

  1. Maria Smith

    These are great ideas. Be extremely careful when using balloons – They are the number one choking hazard for kids ages 4-10.