Small change – big impact: Pencils

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#MTBoSBlaugust: Day 1

One small thing that I did last year revolutionized how I deal with one of my biggest classroom pet peeves: students not having pencils.

I started the year with no system. I had a drawer full of pencils on my student supply table that needed to be refilled almost every period. It was out. of. control. I have never gone through so many pencils. The only pro to this system was that students never had to ask me for a pencil and interrupt class time.

My coteacher tried to brand the pencils. Each one got a tape flag that said “I ❤ math” on one side and “Ms. Braga” on the other side. This was a flop. Students were really into the pencil flags. They liked to take them. They also like unpeeling the tape and sticking in on desks.

I gave up on the pencil drawer and started just giving pencils out to students that needed them. This was also ridiculous. It took too much time for me to walk back to my desk where pencils were stored, walk back to the front board and then sharpen the pencils. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided this was how my classroom would run. I was interrupted while teaching so frequently that it was laughable.

Now the revolutionary idea: I keep a cup full of pencils on my teaching station at the front board. The cup usually has 10 or so pencils in it. So that eliminated one hurdle – I no longer needed to walk back to my desk to retrieve pencils. But the really smart idea was creating a pencil sign out box on the white board. My projector does not project to my entire whiteboard. There’s probably 8″ of space on the left and right hand sides. Those spaces are completely unused on a normal day. So in frustration one day I wrote down the name of every student that borrowed a pencil in this space on the board. At the end of class every single student returned their pencils. It was great. To completely remove myself from the pencil situation I had student start signing out their own pencils. So simple. So easy. So many returned pencils.

During a typical class this system works seamlessly.

  1. Student realizes they need a pencil.
  2. Student gets up to take a pencil out of the cup on my teaching station.
  3. Student picks up a white board marker and writes their name in the pencil sign out box.
  4. Student returns pencil at the end of class and erases name from board.

Notice how no where in that system does the teacher have to do anything. Not a single thing! I don’t even deal with refilling the cup or sharpening the pencils. That’s a task I leave to students that have DT afterschool or just stop by before school to say hi or have a few minutes left at the end of a test. I no longer have to touch a single pencil in my classroom unless I’m using it. It was the best idea I had all year.

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6 thoughts on “Small change – big impact: Pencils

  1. ALI GRACE says:

    I really like this idea! I am a brand new teacher, and there are just so many things I would never have really thought. PENCILS are definitely one of those. Who knew?! Thanks for the tip. I may try out your system!

  2. MTBlugust! Excellent. I just inherited a draw full of mechanical pencils. I it them in two separate cups on my desk. Guess where they are going tomorrow. ; )

  3. Yep, pencils can be a major bummer. This past year, I used a decorated pizza pan and mounted in on the wall with a command hook. I had four pencils on there and that worked pretty well. I did lose one clip and no one fessed up…..I think it happened on a sub day. I did start to write down names because one class in particular got a bit lazy about putting them back. I think I will put a few more up there this year and maybe put a board near it for the names. It’s always nice when procedures work and take one thing off the worry list!

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