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School supplies—who can resist the perfect colorful boxes, the delicious waxy smell of new crayons, the glinty sharpness of new scissors? For some people, it’s the shopping highlight of the year. For others, it’s just plain torture. We’ve collected 50 tips and tricks to help you navigate through this time of year with lots of awesome ideas, from the best ways to shop to which supplies are essential to clever ways to organize your supplies.
General School Supply Tips:
1. Start fresh with your supply list every year.
Take the time to put a lot of thought into your supply lists. Evaluate how accurate last year’s list was—think about what supplies were really necessary and which hardly got used. Did you run out of pencils in April this year? Up your request for next year. Will you be using a new curriculum that requires new materials—science journals for instance? Make sure to give parents a heads-up.
2. Be as specific as you can with your requests.
Teachers know from experience that certain brands last longer and certain types of products work better than others so be specific when you create your supply list. For instance, if you want your first grade students to only use blunt-tipped scissors, state that clearly. By communicating in detail, you can spare parents an extra trip to the store.
3. Remember, school supplies can really add up for some families.
With that in mind, maybe you could start a supply-recycling program in your school where unused supplies from the previous year are redistributed. Or maybe families with more resources would be willing to donate extra supplies. Share your favorite money-saving tips on your class webpage.
4. Encourage families to shop for supplies online.
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School Supply Tips for Elementary School:
5. To share or not to share?
That is the question for most elementary classroom teachers. Should classroom materials be combined and shared, or should each student be responsible for his or her own individual supplies? In our experience, most kindergarten and first grade teachers find it easiest to pool all supplies and have kids share. In second and third grades, supplies like pencils, erasers, markers, glue sticks and crayons can be pooled, and students can be responsible for their own scissors, rulers and special folders. By fourth and fifth grades, students should begin learning to care for their own materials.
6. Store supplies in caddies.
If you decide to pool supplies, caddies are a terrific way to divvy them out among your table groups and make sure that every child has equal access to the everyday tools they need to do their work. There are three- and four-compartment models available for just a few dollars each at most school supply stores and websites.
7. Color-code supplies.
House each table group’s supplies in a different-colored caddy or tub. Tag the supplies inside each caddy with that color by using colored duct tape or a Sharpie marker. That way, if supplies end up on the floor, you know which table to return them to, and there’s no bickering over whose markers or glue sticks are whose.
8. Consider liquid glue a controlled substance.
Having trouble with students who are, shall we say, a little overzealous with their glue usage? Try making a supply of these cool glue sponges.
9. Keep control of the scissors.
How is it that by the end of the year, my scissors supply is always down to 50 percent? Like the great sock-and-dryer dilemma, this is a mystery that may never be solved. Some solutions? Assign each of your students a class number and have them use the pair of scissors clearly marked with the coordinating number (it works for other supplies too). Keep them in a rack on the supply shelf or in a plastic container with a lid. Bring them out only when called for.
10. Use colorful shallow bins or paint trays for your paper supply.
Label each bin for whatever kind of paper you use—lined, copy, colored and graph paper. Store the bins in a central supply location such as a bookshelf or countertop. Establish a limit for how many pieces students can help themselves to at one time. (Most kids love to make their own books with stacks of paper stapled together, but very often only use the first few pages.)
11. Round up those rulers (or as some students seem to think of them, mini lightsabers).
Tennis ball containers are a great way to store rulers. Decorate the outside with contact paper or cool striped or funky duct tape. Or if you prefer to have them lying flat, plastic silverware trays work perfectly.
12. Figure out your pencil system.
Every teacher seems to wrestle with the great pencil dilemma. Community supply or everyone in charge of his or her own? Pencil sharpening allowed during class or not? Seems as though, through trial and error, most teachers eventually find the system that works best for them. If you’re still looking for a solution, try this awesome method created by The Wise Owl.
13. Make chair back pockets.
If your students don’t sit at traditional desks with storage, these simple DIY chair back pockets are great for storing folders and light books. Having frequently used supplies readily available makes transition time go more quickly and smoothly. Not particularly crafty? Use cloth grocery bags (ask for donations from a grocery store) or work aprons (ask for donations from a home-improvement store) tied to the backs of chairs.
14. Make your own whiteboards.
Whiteboards are an essential instruction tool, but they can sometimes be pricey and they usually get hard use. Check out this link for a great way to supply your whole class with whiteboards for very little money.
15. Use baby socks as whiteboard erasers.
Look for clearance sales at dollar stores or scavenge garage sales for used baby socks. (No, that’s not gross. I mean really, babies can’t even walk, so how dirty can their used socks be?)
16. Make mini writing journals.
Sometimes a full writing journal is just too much. Check out this clever method for cutting journal books in half for twice the bang for your buck.
17. Organize your library with matching tubs.
Keeping books organized and tidy in clearly marked tubs will make them all the more attractive for your students. If they are easy to browse through and reshelve, your library area will stay neater longer. Label book bins by genre or level. This will also save time in the long run as students can go directly to the proper bin to find what they are looking for.
School Supply Tips for Middle and High School:
18. For middle schoolers, the name of the game is ORGANIZATION!
Up to this point, teachers and parents have been doing the lion’s share of keeping things organized for kids. Middle school is the perfect time for kids to start taking responsibility for keeping track of materials and assignments and figuring out what system works best for them. Be sure to design supply lists so that your students will have the tools to achieve this.
19. Color-code pocket folders and spiral notebooks.
If kids have come from a traditional elementary school, middle school is the first time they will be changing classrooms and teachers for every subject. One way to stay organized is to ask students to bring a separate color for each subject. For instance, have a red pocket folder and spiral for language arts, blue for math, etc. That way, homework and other assignments won’t get placed in the wrong folder.
20. Or contain it all in a mighty all-in-one system.
For middle school kids, all-in-one binders such as Trapper Keepers are like a special weapon for big kids only—a veritable badge of maturity that little brothers and sisters can’t possibly relate to. They are also an awesome way to keep all of their materials organized in one (admittedly bulky) place.
21. Or break it into small binders.
Sometimes, however, all-in-ones can also be a bit overwhelming for kids who are slight of build or who like to keep a little separation between things (like those kids whose carrots can’t touch their potatoes or meat). In that case, three-ring binders (again, color-coded) work well.
22. Label everything.
Now that the kids will be roaming the halls, so to speak, it’s easy for supplies to get misplaced. Ask students to label their supplies before they bring them in. That way, if you find any supplies on your floor after the bell rings, you can put them in the lost-and-found for that period.
23. Help your students make the most of their locker space.
Using lockers will be a new experience for a lot of incoming middle schoolers. Help them make the most of their space by adding locker shelves and suction-cup containers as an optional item to your supply list.
Planners are the essential tools for middle school survival. Many schools now provide them for their students along with their textbooks. But if your school doesn’t, go ahead and add them to your supply list. Check out this inexpensive model designed specifically for middle and high schoolers.
25. Sticky-note book tabs are great for marking chapters and sections in books.
Nobody wants kids turning down corners or highlighting school-owned textbooks, so sticky-note tabs (like regular sticky notes but smaller) are a great way for kids to mark places with important information. Different-colored tabs can be used for different purposes. For example, yellow tabs could mark vocabulary words, pink tabs could mark important data tables, etc.
26. Don’t forget to include P.E. supplies on your supply list.
Kids usually begin to “change out” for gym class in middle school. Whether they have a special locker in the locker room (in which case students will need a combination lock from home) or have to keep supplies in their main locker, they’re going to need a bag for their gym clothes, sneakers and personal supplies like deodorant, a brush, etc.
27. Students may be using advanced calculators for the first time.
Since scientific and graphing calculators come in many different models and price ranges, be sure to give students specific requirements for what they will need. No parent wants to shell out money for an expensive calculator only to find out after the first day of class that they bought the wrong one.
28. For high schoolers, less is more.
By high school, hopefully kids have figured out their own best methods of studying, note taking and organization. Flashy is not as important as practical at this point. Keep your supply lists to just the basics and give students the option of bringing in what works best for them.
29. Technology is replacing many traditional school supplies.
Many schools across the country are now requiring every student to have a laptop computer or tablet to use every day while in school. Make sure to include any technology items kids will need such as thumb drives, clickers and charging cords.
30. For some, the old-fashioned way still works best.
The tangible quality of writing notes on paper helps some students retain information better than learning and studying from screens. Supplies such as spiral notebooks, composition books, binders and loose-leaf paper can be included as optional on supply lists.
31. Index cards and highlighters serve a multitude of purposes in high school.
Many students find that highlighting assignments in their planners helps them stay organized. And index cards are great for creating vocabulary cards, test practice questions, math formula cards, etc.
32. Needless to say, a sturdy backpack is essential.
Carrying around backpacks, books and other supplies can be a heavy burden for our teenagers. The average weight of a high schooler’s backpack is 19.8 pounds. In addition, most high school passing periods are brief so there is not always time to stop at lockers to grab supplies between classes, and carrying everything from class to class becomes a necessity.
33. Store cell phones in a shoe hanger.
Use a clear plastic shoe hanger to store cell phones during class. Each pocket can be marked with a number, which corresponds with a student’s number. Students park their phones in the appropriate pocket for the class period and pick them up on their way out of class. Teachers can do a quick visual check without saying a word or laying a finger on anyone’s device.
Finally, School Supplies Every Teacher Should Have in Their Classroom:
34. Plastic stacking trays can help keep copies in order.
Use them to store copies that you have made but haven’t passed out yet. If you need to put more than one stack in each bin, just binder-clip them together.
35. Ziplocks! ’Nuff said!
SO many uses! Zipper bags can be used as guided reading book bags, math game storage, nature walk receptacles, craft supplies, card storage, science experiment supply holders … the possibilities are limitless, really.
36. One roll of duct tape can serve multiple purposes in your classroom.
Use duct tape for marking boundaries for different zones in your classroom—lineup, reading zone, movement zone, supply zone, etc. Or use it to make rows on your reading rug to keep everyone in their assigned spot. Duct tape also comes in very handy as a decoration for ugly supply boxes.
37. Mason jars provide a clear view for supplies.
Clear mason jars can make finding supplies a snap. Of course, if you teach tiny ones, you won’t want them to have access, but bigger kids should be able to handle these nicely.
What the Teacher Wants has a good tutorial.
38. Inexpensive magazine files can be repurposed in a fun way.
Have you seen the price of traditional classroom mailboxes? Gulp. Put in a little creative effort and save lots of money with an awesome DIY mailbox tower made from magazine files stacked together on their sides, duct-taped together and decorated with fun contact paper.
39. A staple gun can save you time and money.
How many staplers have you broken over the years trying to assemble bulletin boards? Invest in a staple gun, available at any home-improvement store. It makes vertical tasks so much faster and easier!
40. Who knew you could become so attached to a simple tool like this staple remover?
This simple tool is hands-down an all-time favorite, make-your-life-easier, cheap and easy tool. Forget about the clamp jawed staple grabber. This smooth operator will save you time and effort.
41. Can a teacher ever have too many sticky notes?
No certified teacher worth their credentials would be caught dead with less than a zillion sticky notes at their disposal. There are dozens of Pinterest boards dedicated to this essential teacher supply.
42. Binder clips make staying organized a snap.
Instead of bulky binders or boxes, use labeled binder clips to keep track of your stacks of paper. You can quickly organize papers by class period, by month, by student, by subject, “to be graded,” “to return,” etc.
43. Utilize the vertical space in your classroom with wire baskets.
Stacked wire baskets are an incredibly efficient way to organize the paper flow in your classroom. Stack them in an easy-to-access spot in your classroom. Some of the many possible uses? In/out boxes, no-name papers, daily worksheets, returned forms for the office, paper supplies, spelling-word lists, etc.
44. Tin buckets can add pizzazz to your supply shelf.
Inexpensive tin buckets found in dollar sections are a cute, sturdy way to corral supplies. Use chalkboard paint to paint a square on one side for labeling.
45. Milk crates: the best all-purpose accessory.
Another inexpensive, easy-to-find resource, milk crates can be used to store books, electronics, stuffed animals, math manipulatives and, hey, you can even use them to haul all that grading home on the weekend! Try this easy DIY project and make reading stools out of milk crates for your classroom (via Mrs. Fultz’s Corner).
46. Rolling carts hold everything you need on the go.
Stash all the supplies you need for a particular subject, like reading groups, math or art, in one awesomely organized, portable container. Check out the great ideas in this WeAreTeachers article.
47. Muffin tins have so much potential for organization, they were practically made for teachers.
Muffin tins are a super tool for keeping small items like plastic disc counters, dice, coins and craft supplies organized. They are also great for transporting science supplies to table groups.
48. Travel soap boxes keep your decks together.
Plastic travel soap boxes, the kind that snap closed, are the perfect size for storing any kind of cards—language flash cards, math cards, etc. Kids can grab a box to use and return them all neatly at the end of the period. No mismatched decks or broken rubber bands.
49. Craft boxes with dividers are a perfect container for dice.
Dice always have a way of bouncing away when it comes to cleanup time. Clear craft boxes are an awesome way to account for all sets making it back safely to the supply shelf.
50. A spice jar rack can make a colorful carousel for your small supplies.
Is your desk covered with a mishmash of necessary but pesky office supplies? Check out this fantastic DIY project from Redbookmag to organize all those little bits and pieces.