I just had a reader post on my Facebook page and ask me to poll my readers about classroom management and pencil management.
Some people might laugh about having to manage pencils in the first place, but we all know those laughing have never taught elementary school before. Or maybe even middle and high school, but that is out of my range of experience! 😉
I am sure most of you have experienced a gorgeous jar FULL of freshly sharpened pencils, only to find it bare and desolate by lunch time. Where do the pencils go? I know some kids eat them, for real. I also know that Natalie-Never-Has-A-Pencil inevitable has 7 under her seat at any given time. Bless her. It is like me with my cell phone. I just can’t keep track of the dang thing!
My system was totally imperfect, but I will share it.
First, I had two things. I had a sharp and a dull jar. This was located on my back counter (where the sink was) where general supplies that kids had access to was located. Each table group also had a black, plastic tote that held pencils, crayons, and colored pencils.
In the morning kids got two pencils from the sharp pencil jar to use. The pencils were stored in the black totes on the tables and were used by that group. In theory, kids wouldn’t lose the pencils. If a child needed a sharp pencil in the middle of the day, they could trade a pencil out and return the dull pencil to the dull jar for a sharp pencil. They could only do this when the teacher wasn’t talking. At the end of the day one students would collect all the pencils from the black totes and sharpen them and return them to the sharp jar. If the sharp jar needed more pencils, then I would refill it as needed.
Did it work? Well, yeah, kinda. Not the best, but not the worst. So I am a world class expert on this obviously ;).
* Buy tons of pencils in the beginning of the year. Don’t go cheap, they don’t sharpen as well. Ticonderoga is a great, but expensive brand.
*Buy extra erasers during the back to school rush. Erasers often go before the pencils and this can extend the life of your pencils. These are great things to put on your extra supplies list for parents to gift to the classroom.
* Do you have classroom volunteers? ALWAYS have them sharpen pencils for you outside the classroom. Our library always had a great pencil sharpener we could use. Kids didn’t have access to it (so it was less likely to jam), it got volunteers out of the classroom if you aren’t comfortable being observed, and you will ALWAYS need more sharpened pencils. I had a huge tub and we just kept adding to it.
*Invest in a good sharpener, but know eventually it will die if your kiddos are messing with it. Some last longer than others, but kids are just hard on a sharpener. PLUS, that poor sharpener is a work horse and kids never get it a break. I would peter out myself. I have heard that the more expensive Boston Brands are good. I have also heard that the World’s Friendliest Pencil Sharpener is great, although I have not actually used one.
I also got some great responses on my Facebook page! There were too many, so I can’t share all of them, but here are the highlights! if you want to read ALLL the comments, click here to read that post!
- Liz said, “We do the great pencil challenge each week! Usually by table groups….we count the pencils on Monday for each group and write it on the board, then count again on Friday, and the group that has at least as many as they started with and then the most pencils
(that are useable!) in their bucket on Friday gets a reward….I will usually give prizes to each group that has at least kept their number the same. I use different rewards, free reading time, give free movies, shoes off for the afternoon…..did you don’t necessarily have to purchase. It was AMAZING how many pencils adjusted in my classroom and the critical thinking the kids were doing to win!!”
- Kathleen AND my friend Angie, shared a similar tip! Kathleen said, “Papermate sharp writer mechanical pencils (lead cannot be refilled) I give each student 1/month with their student number on it. When it runs out of lead or breaks they use a regular pencil. They trade a broken for a sharp one. Students do not use the sharpener during class.”
- Amanda likes the same brand I do! She shared, “Community pencils…with a pencil sharpener job for students. They take turns sharpening pencils from the “red cup” (unsharpened) and move them to the “green cup” (sharpened). They are allowed 3 in their desk but there are always going to be hoarders. I also found that presharpening all new pencils after collection makes it soooo much easier and have even put sharpened pencils on supply lists. Another HUGE help is using the best pencils first…Ticonderoga is the BEST and I have requested those for pencils on supply lists, too!”
- Echoing Ticonderoga and the Great Pencil Challenge, Melinda said, “Buy Ticonderoga pencils and start the great pencil challenge. I make labels at the beginning of the year with each kid’s initials and number them 1 to 6. They start with 2 pencils, and I do a pencil check at the end of each month, and make a big deal about it and give brag tags. It’s a bit to manage at the beginning, but it pays off.”
- Michelle is another fan of Ticonderoga! She shares, “Each student has 1 pencil with their number on it. I only use Ticonderoga because they are the best and typically do not break easily. If it needs sharpened during the day, they signal to me and I will do it for them. All Pencils are turned into a cup at the end of the day and sharpened. I teach them that this is their one and only pencil and not to be chewed on, drawn on, etc. Last year my kids went through an average of only 5 pencils each…for the whole year. More than 1 pencil
creates clutter in their table buckets, in my opinion. I do not offer prizes regularly, but I will randomly award each student that has taken care of their pencil with a new neon Ticonderoga of their choice. “
- Kristine’s method was super simple…I like that! “I just have a big basket with sharpened pencils then a bin with ones that need to be.
If they want a special pencil sharpened they can ask me before school or in the morning. If one breaks they know where to find a new one. I sharpen about once a week, and every so often ask kids to donate from their desks to the pencil basket. Worked great last year!”
- Roxann shared something I have never heard of…have you heard of these? “ I buy Finger Fitter pencils, as I have yet to find a regular pencil that doesn’t break a dozen times a day. The Finger Fitter pencils are triangular and larger than regular pencils. I label them with numbers and pass one out each six-weeks. They are collected at the end of the day to sharpen. If a student loses their “good” pencil, they have to use a pencil from the stubby box. They are old, chewed on, not sharpened, and usually have no erasers. It works very well!”
- Pencils ARE a germ fest when shared, so this is a pretty good idea that Karen left, “ I have two bins in the back of the room, one for sharpened pencils and one for dull pencils. Students may trade a dull one for a sharpened one at any time. However, the student must rub the dull one with antibacterial gel (kept next to bins) before putting it in the appropriate container because many of them put pencils in their mouths. I don’t want their germs transferred to my hands when I sharpen them.”
- Here is another shout out for that pencil sharpener. It must be pretty good. Diane said, “Each group keeps a basket of pencils with about 2 pencils per student (community supplies). I also kept some big pink erasers cut in half in the baskets. At the end of the day, one student in each group would sharpen the pencils that needed it. I have several Classroom Friendly Sharpeners. I also let them use pen for Writing Workshop and random other things. I try to minimize pencil-written assignments with lots of Coop. Learning, dry erase, etc.”
Mandy Gregory is a 2007 and 2012 Teacher of the Year. She has taught 4th, 3rd, and 2nd grade in both the general education and inclusion setting. She is the owner and creator of the Teaching Tips website (www.mandygregory.com) and has over 10 years of experience. She is married with two beautiful children.