Every student has pencil & paper every day

made4math_smallTired of taking up a left shoe in exchange for a pencil [1]? Or attaching various non-pencil accessories to your pencils [2] so they don’t walk out on you? If you have kids unprepared for class on a regular AND you don’t like methods you’ve already tried, I have a system that worked for me.

First, a description of the environment: a majority of my students regularly entered class empty-handed.

Ingredients: gallon size zipper bags, composition books, pencils, storage crates.


Gallon size zipper seal bags. I bought the “storage” rather than “freezer” bags, they’re cheaper. Yeah, they’re less durable, but I found them ok for a semester. Composition books. Found notebooks for $0.50 at back-to-school sales then resold them to students at cost. Benefit: everyone has the notebook on the first day. Even if you wind up paying for these out of pocket, it’s worth it: $0.50 for a whole semester of paper you NEVER have to provide.

My students kept their interactive notebooks in a gallon-size resealable storage bag along with a few other supplies. Because these kids have no problem walking into class empty-handed, I decided to store all they needed for class in the room. No one took anything home, or even to their lockers [3]. Ok, so we took care of paper above. How about pencil? Keep reading, dear friends.


At the beginning of each month, I gave each student two #2 pencils (purchased in massive quantities at back to school sales). At the end of each class, the bags got closed up and stored in one of these guys staged around the room.

Each crate could hold about half of a class’ bags. I rounded up (or is it down?) and bought three crates per class, spread out all over my room. Students kept their bags in whichever of the three crates for their class. I spread the crates out to avoid traffic jams at the beginning and end of class. This worked well.

How do you make sure students are prepared for class daily?

[1] There seems to be a lot of precedent for the shoe-for-pencil exchange. I never liked it because, hello, puberty –> stinky feet.

[2] Though I do love the idea and not just because the creator is my very own roommate at #TMC13.

[3] That’s a lie. In practice, some more responsible students often took their materials out of class to do homework or to study. The default remained “keep your materials in class”.

7 thoughts on “Every student has pencil & paper every day

  1. Good ideas. We were thinking of doing something similar by keeping backup pencils in everyone’s assessment binders. We haven’t come up with a solution for when they lose those pencils, but I like how you’re giving everyone new ones each month.

    • It worked for me in my situation. I think the key to pencils is to suck it up as a teacher and decide it’s more important that your students be able to work than to learn “responsibility”.

  2. Thanks for your comments on my post earlier! You reminded me to link up to Made 4 Math this week. It’s been a while since I have!

    Nice thought on distributing the pencils. I always have a few chronic kids who constantly need pencils, but I’d say 80% of them ask me less than once a semester. For the majority of last year, I sold pencils using our grade level economy money. When they bled me dry of hundreds of pencils, I knew I needed another plan. By the end of last year, I found some ugly pencils with a phrase like, “dream it…do it” on them and attached obnoxious orange duct tape flags to the tops just below the erasers. The vast majority of those pencils would return at the end of class because 1) all 80 kids I taught knew those pencils belonged to me and 2) it was easy for me to scan the room and see who had one of my pencils. Even when one of them managed to escape, I often had a kid return sheepishly later in the day to bring it back.

  3. I continue to be amazed by what a huge issue this is for teachers. We know kids need to have a pencil to participate in class, but we have so many more important things to be worrying about! I am glad you found something that worked. I am looking forward to next week. See you soon, rookie! 🙂

  4. Roomie. See you soon, roomie. 🙂

  5. I love this idea. I battled this very issue for years at my previous school. I am planning on implementing INBs this year (many thanks to your inspiration!), and this idea offers a way to ensure the NBs make it back to class every day. My only concern would be students not having access to the NBs while completing work at home. If this is working for you, you must have found a work around. Thoughts?

  6. Great post. I just wanted to share my end of the year routine around supplies, since it has really helped.

    At the end of the year, I grab boxes and put them in the hallway when we clean out lockers. I tell students to donate anything that is not gross.

    At first they are surprised, “you want this notebook? It has writing in it?” “Yes,” I tell them, “just rip out the use paper and give the notebook to me.” Here are some of my finds this year:

    -about 4 feet of loose leaf
    -about 100 composition books (15 new)
    -about 500 folders
    -about 35 binders
    -100s each of markers, pens, pencils, glue, erasers, etc

    The best part is that it ALL gets used by students the next year.

    It really is amazing how much I get. I have expanded the routine to the whole school. Students know if they have anything useable to donate it to me and then I redistribute it the next year.

    Now that I am finally blogging I’ll share my finds from next year with photos so everyone can see the amazing amount we collect.

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