I am a big proponent of NOT buying a lot of stuff for your classroom, especially as a novice teacher. I also recognize that I’m a bit of a hypocrite in this area as I have A LOT of teaching materials and love getting new things for my classroom. Some things I’ve purchased, tried, and not been impressed with. Other things get the job done but never become favorites.
What I’d like to share with you today are some of the things I’ve used over the years that have become absolute favorites for one reason or another. I hesitate to call them supplies, as you don’t actually need any of them (the only “must have” classroom supply is a dedicated teacher), but they are all great for one reason or another, as I’ll explain. So, in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite out of the blue classroom “supplies.”
Over the years I’ve had classrooms with all different types of wall surfaces: painted brick, unpainted brick, painted cinderblock, unpainted cinderblock, poured cement, sheetrock… What they all had in common was a prohibition against damaging them in any way, shape, or form. Stikki Clips have been my best friend for hanging things on all of these walls. These wax clips go up easily, remove cleanly, and are reusable. For larger, heavier objects, I simply used more clips.
One year, for who knows what reason, I decided to put a lava lamp on my desk. I turned it on when I arrived in the mornings and it would be warmed up and moving by the time students arrived. After students left for the day, I’d turn it off for the night. What I never expected was effect it would have on my students, and even myself. There’s something very calming about watching the bubbles in the lamp form and rise to the top. Even my most energetic students would settle and be more focused after a few minutes of watching the lamp in action. There were even times I caught myself just sitting and watching the bubbles for a few minutes during my prep period, lunch, or after students had left for the day.
One year I had a couple of extra tables and several extra chairs in my classroom. Since I always get new students as the year goes on, I set them up against the back wall of the classroom to start the year. When the first day of school rolled around, the classroom wasn’t 100% finished (yes, it’s ok if your classroom isn’t done the minute school starts), and apparently as I was putting things away the day before I’d left a jig saw puzzle on one of the tables and a pail of Legos and some baseboards on the other. At some point during the first day of school, a couple of students indicated they wanted to work on the puzzle. When I said yes, they happily dumped it out and started putting it together. Later, a couple of other students sat down and started building something out of Legos. I never did get around to putting those items away and the two “centers” became popular places for students to relax when they had free time.
The majority of my career has been spent in middle school classrooms, so carpet time wasn’t something we did. I’ve also spent a lot of my career teaching in older buildings with cement floors. One year I decided to cover up some damage to the floor in front of my whiteboard with an area rug. It wasn’t long before I noticed that my feet and knees didn’t hurt nearly as much as they had in years past. The difference that industrial carpet rug made was tremendous and I’ve tried to put one over the areas I stand/walk the most ever since. They do make specific mats for cushioning your feet, and I’ve heard good things about them (my father has them in his workshop and swears by them), but I’ve always liked the homier look of the area rugs.
Low Table / Cushions
Another year the custodian was throwing out a low table and he mentioned how it was too bad a perfectly good table was going to waste. On a whim, I told him I’d take it and he moved it to my classroom. Having no idea what I was going to do with it, I put it to the side of my classroom and just waited for inspiration to strike. The next day, a couple of my students took their computers over, sat them on the table, sat on the floor in front of them, and started to work. A couple days later, they did the same thing, this time grabbing pillows from our reading area on which to sit. That evening I stopped by the store and picked up some seat cushions, tossing them around the table when I came in the next morning. That table and cushions became one of the most popular locations for independent and small group work in my classroom.
Wallpaper Sample Books
Did you know that wallpaper sample books are generally thrown out every few months or so? I heard this and went by my local Sherwin-Williams store to ask about it. Turns out it is true and, if you ask the manager of the store, they will give them to you for free. After the managers at my local store got to know me, they started saving them for me. Wallpaper is more durable than construction paper and makes great covers for journals and other paper books. My students also loved using it in projects because there were so many more colors and patterns to choose from than construction paper.
Hanging Shoe Organizer
I stopped fighting the, “Why don’t you have a pencil?” battle long ago. I now issue every student his/her own pencil case filled with several pencils, pens, erasers, etc. My only rule is the case has to remain in my classroom (and if you run out of, or lose, your pencils before I replace them you are stuck with golf pencils until then). I have also issued students with their own sets of earbuds for use in my classroom at various times. While this generally solved my, “I don’t have a _____!” problem, it didn’t solve the problem of how to organize/store everything. My answer to that ended up being hanging shoe organizers. I started with the basic pocket form, but found that not everything fit easily inside of them. That was when I found organizers with larger, and more sturdy, sections for shoes. These worked perfectly. I labeled each section with a student’s name and he/she was able to grab his/her supplies at the start of class and quickly put them back at the end.
Hanging File Organizers
Trying to organize all of the papers that come across our desks is a never ending challenge! I finally settled on a system using hanging file folders. I’d have one row for each subject/period of the day and one column for each day of the week. On Friday, I’d make all of my copies for the next week and place them into the folders for the day I’d need them. It was then easy to grab the Wednesday third period folder at the start of that class and everything I’d need would be right there (and if I changed plans, I could just as quickly grab the needed folder from the row). It was also easy to toss in announcement fliers, notes for specific students, and even make up work–meaning I’d be reminded to pass out whatever it was when I opened the folder at the start of the class period. The last column was for paperwork that related to staff meetings, department meetings, and other general school business. This was an easy solution to my outgoing paper problem, and did not take up an inch of my very limited desk space.
As an ESL teacher, I taught five to six different classes every day. Elementary teachers know how hard it can be to keep supplies for that many different preps organized! The system I settled on was to have a storage cube for each class. At the beginning of a unit, I’d bring all of the various physical materials (task cards, games, manipulatives, etc.) I’d need from home and load up the storage cube. The cubes were all in an organizer next to my desk for easy access. As I used the material, I’d toss it in a tote to take home with me each night or week and be put away in my supply area. The system worked great–I always had what I needed and never had to waste time looking for it because it was in the labeled storage cube. One note: I learned the hard way that not all storage cubes are the same. The cheaper ones you can find at Dollar Tree and other stores do not last nearly as long. It is worth the money to invest in nicer cubes.
Rolling Milk Crate
As any specialist teacher knows, you don’t always get your own classroom. I have been the teacher who changes locations every 30-45 minutes. I’ve also been the teacher who has to travel between multiple buildings in a single day. This milk crate organizer was a lifesaver for me! I had enough room to put teaching materials, files, and books in the center section. The pockets kept all of my pens, sticky notes, and various other small supplies organized. The wheels saved my back and, as long as I didn’t overload it, it lifted in and out of my car easily while keeping things from spilling all over as I drove. I still use it from time to time when I have to take large or heavy materials back and forth to the college and adult classes I teach now.
As I said, none of these are “must have” classroom items. They are simply things that I’ve used over and over again, things that either made my job easier or my students really enjoyed. If you’re looking to try something new, or already have all of the basics, you might give one of these items a try. Happy teaching, everyone!