Elementary School Supplies

I’ve learned a few things about managing elementary school supplies over the years, but the biggest lesson is this:

Most classroom supplies don’t belong in student desks.

Allowing each child to keep a full set of markers, scissors, colored pencils, glue, etc. in their desk is like stocking a little toy chest for students to play with all day long. Toys are much more interesting than teachers! It’s trouble…trouble you don’t need when you are working to achieve great classroom management.

I use a note on the school supply list to advise parents up front to not put their child’s name on any supplies they send to school. It’s best to set the expectation right up front that supplies become community property.

By the way, I also don’t ask parents to send very much. Personally, I think schools should be providing free classroom supplies, which are simply the tools for learning. But kids do love their back-to-school shopping, so plenty of elementary school supplies arrive every year regardless.

How to Corral Supplies

On the first day of school, all backpacks are emptied of classroom supplies and all items are sorted into my labeled bins.

elementary-school-supplies-binsOf course, expectations are set for the use of these supplies. Expectation number one:

  • I get to say when they can be used.

Expectation number two:

  • Nothing stays in the desk after a project…back into the bins they go.

Learning tools are not toys

I always explain the difference between tools and toys. Markers, glue, etc., are tools and I let them know that if they become toys, I’ll take them away because the school rules do not allow toys in the classroom.

One of the first-day-of-school stories I share is my tale of “Travis Rocket.” That was his name for himself, and this personal nickname perfectly described his explosive and agitated tendencies. Travis Rocket made a weapon out of a ruler and a pair of scissors with which he threatened me one day.

That’s when I learned the danger of allowing students to have distractions in their desks! This story is highly amusing to students, but it makes the right point.

By the way, it was easy enough to disarm Travis by simply saying, “Hey, that looks cool! Can I take a look at it?” He proudly handed it over; at which point, I confiscated it.

Sometimes a student will simply not be able to part with her special pencil box that she brings on the first day of school If it becomes obvious that this is causing her a lot of distress, I give her a deal. First, I have her share the markers and allow her to keep her colored pencils.

Then I let her know that we’ll try it out, and if the box of classroom supplies distracts her from learning or comes out of her desk at the wrong time – even once – I’ll take it away.

Children can simply be uncertain that they’ll actually ever be able to use those beautiful supplies they brought with them on the first day. There is just something about fresh school supplies that make kids excited.

If they see that they actually do have access to the community supplies, they become much more willing to part with their own pencil box, especially when it starts taking up too much room in their desks.

TIP: It’s a good idea to plan some small activity on the first day of school that allows students to use their new supplies.

Supplies in Student Desks

I allow a minimal amount of elementary school supplies inside student desks. Basically…

  • A ruler
  • Two sharpened pencils
  • A hand-held pencil sharpener (if they brought one)
  • Two folders: “work in progress” and “stuff to go home”
  • A spiral notebook
  • A speller or other much-used resource
  • Up to four books

Of course, other items tend to sneak in over time, often creating a mess for my untidy learners…and I have a problem with messes in my classroom. Messy desks make for inefficient transitions, so a regular clean-out is common in my room.

Take a look at this video as I go through a quick tour of well-organized and a not-so-well organized student desks to see what I mean.

Keeping Track of Pencils

I’m completely fine with small, personal, hand-turned personal pencil sharpeners…the small kind that holds shavings. For many students, however, they are little more than a novelty that doesn’t really keep up with the rate at which they make their pencils dull.

classroom-supplies-pencilsSo how do we keep a constant supply of sharp pencils for are hard-working writers?

I have tried a few different methods and have finally settled on simply sharpening them myself. I keep an electric pencil sharpener in my room and I’m the only person who is allowed to use it.

It is the job of the students, I explain, to make their pencils dull by writing. My job is to make sure they’re sharp.

Dull pencils go into one jar and and freshly-sharpened pencils are available in another jar. If their dulling ever gets ahead of my sharpening, all they have to do is ask nicely and I’ll sharpen a few.

By the way, I have tried having kids sharpen their own pencils. It may work for some teachers, but it has never worked for me. It only takes about two days before they start to wonder if other things can be sharpened, such as markers. And that is not a productive use of classroom supplies!

Here are a few video thoughts on the “pencil sharpening controversy.” Enjoy!

School Supplies for Teachers

School supplies for teachers is not usually the first topic when it comes to discussions of school supply lists. However, it’s worth noting a few important considerations, especially for teachers who are setting up a classroom for the first time.

It’s not very exciting, but here’s my short list of school supplies for teachers…what works for me and why.

Whose supplies?

Yours! Which means a firm rule of “hands off” no matter where you keep them…in your desk or on a shelf, teacher supplies are for the teacher.

Without this rule, you will be forever reaching for something that is not there just when you need it.

I tell my students, “No touchy my stuffy!” It’s a humorous sentiment that gets my point across early in the year.

The List

Personal set of whiteboard markers

I can never rely upon the markers in the community bucket being sharp and ready for such things as fancy writing for whiteboard anchor charts. I keep a full rainbow of colors for my personal use rather than just the blue, black, and green whiteboard markers the students use.



Three-hole punch

Very handy for turning regular pages into notebook pages.

One-hole punch

Pretty self-explanatory…sometimes things just need a hole!


I like nice, sharp, full-size scissors.

Heavy-duty stapler

This gets frequent workouts because there are always packets of some sort that must be held together and a regular stapler is simply not up to the task.

Paper cutter

It can be so much handier to do your paper cutting on the spot rather than running to the work room. Again, the expectation must be set that it is for the teacher only. Generally, I put it away in a closet until I need to get it out.

Colored paper

I keep a supply of colored paper for my newsletter. Parents learn that when a particular color spills out of the backpack it’s something from me that they should read. I can’t rely on the work room always having this color in stock, so I keep my own supply.

Tech Supply Tip

An item I have found to be very useful when working with technology is a headphone splitter. It allows five students to listen to one single source of audio.

I paid less than $10 for this great little gadget!

Keeping the right elementary school supplies for teachers on hand can make your job just a little less frustrating…and that means a lot on those days when more frustration might must bring out a scream!