As the end of school approaches, we teachers begin to unclutter our classrooms to prepare for the summer shutdown. Before you throw out the unused materials sitting on your shelves, take a minute to think about how you could reimagine them for next year. By reusing this year’s leftovers, you’ll make your life easier in August, and even save some of your back-to-school cash. Here are three new uses for old classroom materials.

Books Beyond Repair

As hard as students try to take care of books in our classroom library, accidents happen. Well-loved books start to show their age and eventually end up in our book hospital. Sadly, I just can’t salvage some of them, but that doesn’t mean they have to be thrown away. Try one of these ideas for reusing books that have seen better days.

  • Finish the Story. Sometimes books come apart at the binding and you end up with half a story. Give students the half of the book you still have, and ask them to finish the story in their own words. They can even add their own illustrations, trying to match the illustrator’s style.
  • Reenvision Nonfiction Research. Cut out interesting photographs from nonfiction books that are beyond repair, and glue each one to a piece of card stock (laminating, if you can). Put all of the nonfiction picture cards in a basket and allow students to choose one to research.
  • Repurpose Illustrations for ELLs. If you find an illustration rich with details, laminate the page and, as vocabulary practice, give it to an English language learner to practice labeling the objects that he or she finds.

Old Magazines

I love Scholastic News, so unused issues get a new life in activities like these.

  • Picture Prompts. Cut out photos, illustrations, and diagrams and let students use them as inspiration for daily journal writing.
  • Story Sequencing. Select photographs that show the steps of a process or a chain of events. Glue them to index cards, and ask students to put them in order, writing about the processes or events shown.
  • Word Work. Spelling is more fun when it’s colorful! Allow students to cut out magazine letters to create their spelling words or to write a short poem using vocabulary words.

Testing Screens

Use old file folders as desk dividers to create a distraction-free zone where students can test their best. Take two folders and staple them together by their long edges. During testing time, have students set them upright on their desks, making a three-sided privacy shield. When you are done testing, the folders can be stored flat.

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Photo: Adam Chinitz