Obtaining materials for your class projects doesn't have to burn a hole in your pocket. There are plenty of free materials available if you remember to save them and know what to do with them. For instance, did you know that clean, stacked pizza boxes are great storage containers for finished art projects? Here are some more clever ideas for turning everyday items into useful classroom resources:

  • Paper bags — costumes, masks, fold-away towns, puppets

  • Plastic lids — coasters, frames, mobile parts, molds for plaster plaques

  • Buttons — jewelry, mosaics, eyes for stuffed animals, collages, game tokens

  • Panty hose/stockings — weaving, braiding, doll or puppet heads

  • Cardboard fast-food containers — unusual displays for class work or special projects

  • Stones, shells, and water-smoothed glass — paperweights, sculptures, jewelry, mosaics

  • Pressed flowers, leaves, and grass — place mats, window transparencies, collages

  • Rug and tile samples — hot pads, covers for small books, fuzzy boxes, sit-upons, dioramas

  • Odd mittens, gloves, and socks — finger and hand puppets, clothes for small dolls

  • Hangers — simple mobiles, cloth banners, weavings

  • Scrap wood — toys, carvings, construction projects, games, building blocks, printing blocks

  • Shredded paper — stuffing for cloth dolls, animals, or pillows

  • Bits of string, yarn, and cord — string painting, animal tails, braiding, stitchery, macramé

  • Wrapping paper — collages, paper weaving, paper chains, origami, dioramas

  • Old jewelry — new jewelry, accents on artwork, holiday ornaments, collages

  • Foil pans and trays — plaques, ornaments, jewelry, rhythm instruments

  • Egg cartons — containers, sculptures, animals, planters, sorting

  • Film canisters — collecting and storing tiny items like beads

  • Wallpaper samples — frames, mats, crafts

  • Magazines and newspapers — collages, math problems, compare/contrast writing assignments

Of course, there are many more ways to turn common items into special projects. Use this list to inspire you to develop ideas of your own. There are hidden possibilities lurking everywhere!


This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway (© 2005, Scholastic).