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January 5, 2016 10 New Uses for Old Classroom Materials in the New Year By Amanda Nehring
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Happy New Year! 2016 can mean the start of new excitement in your classroom as well as some new uses for old classroom materials, books, and even decor. With winter underway it can be easy to get settled in your routines, so why not try and revamp your classroom with one of these ten ideas for using things you already have around your room to make your life easier and a little more colorful. As they say, out with the old and in with the new.

    Extra Scholastic News Editions

    Let’s face it. You love the Scholastic News articles you receive each month, but sometimes you just don’t get around to using all of the editions. Maybe you end up with a few extra copies each month because a student moved away. Instead of tossing your extras into the recycling bin, why not use them for even more student fun and learning?Reuse your old Scholastic News articles

    • Photos as writing prompts: Cut out the photographs and illustrations from the Scholastic News articles and keep them in an envelope in your writing center. Allow students to select a picture from the envelope, paste it in their journals, and use the photograph as inspiration for their next writing piece. Students can use nonfiction photographs or diagrams to research and write about something new they learn, or they can even get creative and write a fictional tale about what the picture shows.

    • Sequencing a story: Use the issues of Scholastic News with pictures that show steps of a process or events in history to allow students to practice sequencing. Cut out the pictures and glue them to index cards (and, if you can, laminate them for reuse). Then ask students to put the images in order. Take it one step further by then having students write about the process shown in the photos.

    • Main idea and details cut-and-paste: Scholastic News writers do a great job of making articles rich in details that are still appropriate for young readers. To make the most of these articles, select a paragraph of text and cut out each sentence. Give your students an envelope containing the sentences and have them identify the main idea and details. Save a copy of the original text for students to check their own work.

    • Word work with cutout letters: Writing or practicing spelling words is so much more fun when it is colorful! Give students an extra copy of a Scholastic News article and allow them to cut out letters to create their spelling words or write a short poem. While hunting for the perfect letter students will be reading too, so it is the perfect way to squeeze in a little more reading practice.

    • Finish the sentence: Select an interesting sentence from a Scholastic News article and cut out the first half of the sentence. Glue it to the top of a piece of lined paper and have students work to finish the sentence however they wish. Once all of the students have completed their stories, have partners share what they have written. It is so fun to see all of the different ideas students have, even when they all started out with the same prompt.

     

    Books Beyond Repair

    As hard as students try to take care of books in our classroom library, accidents inevitably happen. Well-loved books start to show their age and eventually end up in our book hospital. Try as I might, there are sometimes books with too much damage to be salvaged, but that doesn’t mean they have to be thrown away. Try one of these ideas for reusing the books that have seen better days:Reuse a broken book

    • Wordless picture books: When you find a book with some rips or a bad binding that still has all of its illustrations intact, use them to make a wordless picture book. Cut out the illustrations from the book, laminate them, and bind them together to make a new story. What makes this story extra special is that it has no words, so students will have to get creative to invent their own plot using clues from the pictures. I love using these wordless picture books with my ELL students because it gives them the chance to practice their oral language and share their own story.

    • Finish the story yourself: Sometimes books come apart at the binding and you end up with half a story. Don’t fret — this can actually be a great opportunity for learning! Give a child 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. When they finish you have a unique masterpiece that the student will want to share with their friends next time they buddy read.

    • New nonfiction research: Nonfiction books that are beyond repair become wonderful sources of inspiration for new nonfiction research. Cut out an interesting photograph from a nonfiction book and glue it to a piece of cardstock (laminating if you can). Put all the nonfiction picture cards in a basket and allow students to choose one to research. For instance, this picture of an opossum from the book Animals Day and Night could lead a student to want to learn more about animals that live in trees or how animals use their tails.

    • ELL labeling practice: Picture books that have seen better days can still be useful with your ELL students. If you have an illustration rich with details, laminate the page and give it to an ELL student to practice labeling the objects they find. This helps them work on English vocabulary, both written and oral. Plus, who wouldn’t want to get to write on a laminated book page with dry erase marker? You’d be surprised how motivating and fun this simple activity can be.

     

    Cereal Boxes

    I always need more magazine file boxes in my classroom, but buying them can quickly become expensive. Making your own magazine box can be free when you are willing to take five minutes and reuse a cereal box for just that task. Here’s how you can turn breakfast boxes into book storage in a few easy steps: Steps to make a cereal box magazine file

    • Cut off the top flaps of the cereal box so it is open from above. (Don’t forget to save the Box Tops for Education for your school before you throw away the top flaps!)

    • Start about 2-3 inches in from the top left corner of the cereal box and cut on a diagonal until you reach the other side of the box about halfway down.

    • Use the piece that you just cut off the front of the box to make sure that you cut the same size piece from the back side of the cereal box as well.

    • Using colored paper, paint, or my favorite: patterned tape, cover the cereal box.

    • Now you have a brand new magazine file box to use however you see fit!

     

    Stacking Boxes From Warehouse Stores

    Some sort of mailbox system for student papers is a must in any elementary school classroom, but buying a stacking mailbox shelf can cost $50-$100. Instead of spending a small fortune on your mailbox system, make your own using interlocking cardboard produce boxes. Sam’s Club, Costco, or any other warehouse store will have boxes for customers to take for free, and this almost always includes the stacking trays that house produce like berries.

    A few years back when I needed a mailbox system for my classroom I went to Costco and took ten of these boxes. After some quick cutting and refacing I ended up with a free, sturdy and handy stacker for all my students’ papers. Check out my video to see how I made mine.

     

    File FoldersManila folder privacy dividers

    Since we spend so much time testing in our classrooms nowadays, it is important to have privacy dividers to ensure that students have a distraction-free zone where they can test their best. I’ve seen education stores selling cardboard privacy shields for $10, but, as always, I prefer free!

    If you have a stack of old file folders sitting around your room, then you already have what you need to make desk dividers. All you have to do is take two file folders and staple them together in the middle. When it is time for testing, have the students take out their ‘offices,’ as we call them in our classroom, and set them upright on their desks, making a three-sided privacy shield. When you are done testing, the folders store flat until you are ready to use them again.

     

    Wire Cube Storage SystemsMake drawers for your wire cube storage system

    Shelf storage space is at a premium in my school, so almost all of the teachers in the building have a wire cube storage system for keeping their books and teacher’s guides organized. I wanted mine to have drawers for each day of the week, so I made some out of the extra pieces from my wire cube set.

    I inserted four of the square wire panels into one of the cubes horizontally and attached them with zip ties. This created five separate levels, perfect for sliding in plastic trays to hold my copies for each day. I labeled them with the days of the week, and I was all set.

    If you have one of these cube storage systems in your classroom I highly recommend this quick and easy upgrade! If you do make yourself a set of drawers, download these free days of the week labels in English and Spanish or make your own using Scholastic’s free Word Workshop tool.

     

    Buckets, Bins, and Pails

    I use bins all over my classroom to store pencils, markers, dice, etc. While colorful plastic bins from the Dollar Tree are nice as-is, I am all about crafting things to be even cuter, so I took my old buckets and made them into adorable classroom owl containers. I found some sheets of felt and craft foam in my classroom closet and got to work making my owls. I cut out a couple of feet, wings, eyes, a beak, and a belly and was instantly able to transform my boring buckets into new classroom friends. Now I have storage that matches my owl theme and my students love the new look! 

    If your classroom doesn’t have an animal/character theme you can still revitalize your storage bins with stickers, patterned tape, photographs, or colored paper. You could even have your students help you add some color and fun to your classroom by redecorating old worn containers. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your room.

    Owl buckets

     

    Paper Lanterns

    Yes, I do have a slight owl obsession, so when I found these old paper lanterns in the back of my closet from a Chinese New Year unit I knew I needed to get crafting. I got out my scrapbooking paper in coordinating colors and made quick eyes, beaks, and wings for my lanterns. Now they hang above each set of tables in my classroom to number the student groups and bring some more color to our decor. I found more of these lanterns at the Dollar Tree, so you could make your own set for under $10. Don’t limit yourself to owls either. I bet these lanterns would make adorable bees, frogs, dogs, or any other themed creature you can think of!

    Owl lanterns

     

    Worn-Out ChalkboardsChalkboard before and after

    My classroom still has chalkboards along two walls, but I really only use my whiteboard for writing. Instead of leaving plain black boards unused in my class I decided to create new word walls and bulletin boards.

    To turn your old chalkboards into new magnetic boards all you need is some contact paper. I was amazed by all the patterns and colors of adhesive contact paper you can buy. I selected a faux-wood design to match the forest theme for my class of owls, but your possibilities are endless! Just take the rolls of contact paper and slowly adhere them over your chalkboard in long strips. The great thing about contact paper is that it is meant to be removable, so you can take a couple tries to get everything lined up just right. It is also wonderful because it won’t leave any sticky residue on your board if and when you do decide to remove the contact paper. 

    Once you have covered your board with your new design, frame it off with bulletin board borders and voila! You can hang student work, add your letter magnets to make a word wall, or even use it as an extra bulletin board for classroom news and posters. It certainly looks much better than a drab old board!

     

    Book Ring Anchor Chart HolderAnchor chart holder

    My final new use for old items is an ingenious anchor chart display method that I learned from my second grade team leader. All you need to make this chart hanger is a dowel rod, two stick-on hooks, and two large book rings. Most chart paper comes with holes already punched at the top, but if yours does not, just go ahead and punch holes in the top of the pages you plan to hang. Loop the two book rings through the holes in your chart paper and clamp them shut. Next, take your dowel rod and feed it through the two book rings so it is parallel to the top of the anchor charts. Finally, stick the two adhesive hooks to the wall where you want your anchor chart display to hang. Once the hooks are adhered you can rest the dowel rod on the two hooks and you have a hanger for your charts. This method is amazing because the adhesive hooks won't damage your wall like nails or screws. You also have the option to add or remove charts throughout the year since the book rings can open and close as you need. This system is one of my favorite new uses discovered this year and I hope you can use it in your classroom too!

    Happy New Year! 2016 can mean the start of new excitement in your classroom as well as some new uses for old classroom materials, books, and even decor. With winter underway it can be easy to get settled in your routines, so why not try and revamp your classroom with one of these ten ideas for using things you already have around your room to make your life easier and a little more colorful. As they say, out with the old and in with the new.

    Extra Scholastic News Editions

    Let’s face it. You love the Scholastic News articles you receive each month, but sometimes you just don’t get around to using all of the editions. Maybe you end up with a few extra copies each month because a student moved away. Instead of tossing your extras into the recycling bin, why not use them for even more student fun and learning?Reuse your old Scholastic News articles

    • Photos as writing prompts: Cut out the photographs and illustrations from the Scholastic News articles and keep them in an envelope in your writing center. Allow students to select a picture from the envelope, paste it in their journals, and use the photograph as inspiration for their next writing piece. Students can use nonfiction photographs or diagrams to research and write about something new they learn, or they can even get creative and write a fictional tale about what the picture shows.

    • Sequencing a story: Use the issues of Scholastic News with pictures that show steps of a process or events in history to allow students to practice sequencing. Cut out the pictures and glue them to index cards (and, if you can, laminate them for reuse). Then ask students to put the images in order. Take it one step further by then having students write about the process shown in the photos.

    • Main idea and details cut-and-paste: Scholastic News writers do a great job of making articles rich in details that are still appropriate for young readers. To make the most of these articles, select a paragraph of text and cut out each sentence. Give your students an envelope containing the sentences and have them identify the main idea and details. Save a copy of the original text for students to check their own work.

    • Word work with cutout letters: Writing or practicing spelling words is so much more fun when it is colorful! Give students an extra copy of a Scholastic News article and allow them to cut out letters to create their spelling words or write a short poem. While hunting for the perfect letter students will be reading too, so it is the perfect way to squeeze in a little more reading practice.

    • Finish the sentence: Select an interesting sentence from a Scholastic News article and cut out the first half of the sentence. Glue it to the top of a piece of lined paper and have students work to finish the sentence however they wish. Once all of the students have completed their stories, have partners share what they have written. It is so fun to see all of the different ideas students have, even when they all started out with the same prompt.

     

    Books Beyond Repair

    As hard as students try to take care of books in our classroom library, accidents inevitably happen. Well-loved books start to show their age and eventually end up in our book hospital. Try as I might, there are sometimes books with too much damage to be salvaged, but that doesn’t mean they have to be thrown away. Try one of these ideas for reusing the books that have seen better days:Reuse a broken book

    • Wordless picture books: When you find a book with some rips or a bad binding that still has all of its illustrations intact, use them to make a wordless picture book. Cut out the illustrations from the book, laminate them, and bind them together to make a new story. What makes this story extra special is that it has no words, so students will have to get creative to invent their own plot using clues from the pictures. I love using these wordless picture books with my ELL students because it gives them the chance to practice their oral language and share their own story.

    • Finish the story yourself: Sometimes books come apart at the binding and you end up with half a story. Don’t fret — this can actually be a great opportunity for learning! Give a child 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. When they finish you have a unique masterpiece that the student will want to share with their friends next time they buddy read.

    • New nonfiction research: Nonfiction books that are beyond repair become wonderful sources of inspiration for new nonfiction research. Cut out an interesting photograph from a nonfiction book and glue it to a piece of cardstock (laminating if you can). Put all the nonfiction picture cards in a basket and allow students to choose one to research. For instance, this picture of an opossum from the book Animals Day and Night could lead a student to want to learn more about animals that live in trees or how animals use their tails.

    • ELL labeling practice: Picture books that have seen better days can still be useful with your ELL students. If you have an illustration rich with details, laminate the page and give it to an ELL student to practice labeling the objects they find. This helps them work on English vocabulary, both written and oral. Plus, who wouldn’t want to get to write on a laminated book page with dry erase marker? You’d be surprised how motivating and fun this simple activity can be.

     

    Cereal Boxes

    I always need more magazine file boxes in my classroom, but buying them can quickly become expensive. Making your own magazine box can be free when you are willing to take five minutes and reuse a cereal box for just that task. Here’s how you can turn breakfast boxes into book storage in a few easy steps: Steps to make a cereal box magazine file

    • Cut off the top flaps of the cereal box so it is open from above. (Don’t forget to save the Box Tops for Education for your school before you throw away the top flaps!)

    • Start about 2-3 inches in from the top left corner of the cereal box and cut on a diagonal until you reach the other side of the box about halfway down.

    • Use the piece that you just cut off the front of the box to make sure that you cut the same size piece from the back side of the cereal box as well.

    • Using colored paper, paint, or my favorite: patterned tape, cover the cereal box.

    • Now you have a brand new magazine file box to use however you see fit!

     

    Stacking Boxes From Warehouse Stores

    Some sort of mailbox system for student papers is a must in any elementary school classroom, but buying a stacking mailbox shelf can cost $50-$100. Instead of spending a small fortune on your mailbox system, make your own using interlocking cardboard produce boxes. Sam’s Club, Costco, or any other warehouse store will have boxes for customers to take for free, and this almost always includes the stacking trays that house produce like berries.

    A few years back when I needed a mailbox system for my classroom I went to Costco and took ten of these boxes. After some quick cutting and refacing I ended up with a free, sturdy and handy stacker for all my students’ papers. Check out my video to see how I made mine.

     

    File FoldersManila folder privacy dividers

    Since we spend so much time testing in our classrooms nowadays, it is important to have privacy dividers to ensure that students have a distraction-free zone where they can test their best. I’ve seen education stores selling cardboard privacy shields for $10, but, as always, I prefer free!

    If you have a stack of old file folders sitting around your room, then you already have what you need to make desk dividers. All you have to do is take two file folders and staple them together in the middle. When it is time for testing, have the students take out their ‘offices,’ as we call them in our classroom, and set them upright on their desks, making a three-sided privacy shield. When you are done testing, the folders store flat until you are ready to use them again.

     

    Wire Cube Storage SystemsMake drawers for your wire cube storage system

    Shelf storage space is at a premium in my school, so almost all of the teachers in the building have a wire cube storage system for keeping their books and teacher’s guides organized. I wanted mine to have drawers for each day of the week, so I made some out of the extra pieces from my wire cube set.

    I inserted four of the square wire panels into one of the cubes horizontally and attached them with zip ties. This created five separate levels, perfect for sliding in plastic trays to hold my copies for each day. I labeled them with the days of the week, and I was all set.

    If you have one of these cube storage systems in your classroom I highly recommend this quick and easy upgrade! If you do make yourself a set of drawers, download these free days of the week labels in English and Spanish or make your own using Scholastic’s free Word Workshop tool.

     

    Buckets, Bins, and Pails

    I use bins all over my classroom to store pencils, markers, dice, etc. While colorful plastic bins from the Dollar Tree are nice as-is, I am all about crafting things to be even cuter, so I took my old buckets and made them into adorable classroom owl containers. I found some sheets of felt and craft foam in my classroom closet and got to work making my owls. I cut out a couple of feet, wings, eyes, a beak, and a belly and was instantly able to transform my boring buckets into new classroom friends. Now I have storage that matches my owl theme and my students love the new look! 

    If your classroom doesn’t have an animal/character theme you can still revitalize your storage bins with stickers, patterned tape, photographs, or colored paper. You could even have your students help you add some color and fun to your classroom by redecorating old worn containers. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your room.

    Owl buckets

     

    Paper Lanterns

    Yes, I do have a slight owl obsession, so when I found these old paper lanterns in the back of my closet from a Chinese New Year unit I knew I needed to get crafting. I got out my scrapbooking paper in coordinating colors and made quick eyes, beaks, and wings for my lanterns. Now they hang above each set of tables in my classroom to number the student groups and bring some more color to our decor. I found more of these lanterns at the Dollar Tree, so you could make your own set for under $10. Don’t limit yourself to owls either. I bet these lanterns would make adorable bees, frogs, dogs, or any other themed creature you can think of!

    Owl lanterns

     

    Worn-Out ChalkboardsChalkboard before and after

    My classroom still has chalkboards along two walls, but I really only use my whiteboard for writing. Instead of leaving plain black boards unused in my class I decided to create new word walls and bulletin boards.

    To turn your old chalkboards into new magnetic boards all you need is some contact paper. I was amazed by all the patterns and colors of adhesive contact paper you can buy. I selected a faux-wood design to match the forest theme for my class of owls, but your possibilities are endless! Just take the rolls of contact paper and slowly adhere them over your chalkboard in long strips. The great thing about contact paper is that it is meant to be removable, so you can take a couple tries to get everything lined up just right. It is also wonderful because it won’t leave any sticky residue on your board if and when you do decide to remove the contact paper. 

    Once you have covered your board with your new design, frame it off with bulletin board borders and voila! You can hang student work, add your letter magnets to make a word wall, or even use it as an extra bulletin board for classroom news and posters. It certainly looks much better than a drab old board!

     

    Book Ring Anchor Chart HolderAnchor chart holder

    My final new use for old items is an ingenious anchor chart display method that I learned from my second grade team leader. All you need to make this chart hanger is a dowel rod, two stick-on hooks, and two large book rings. Most chart paper comes with holes already punched at the top, but if yours does not, just go ahead and punch holes in the top of the pages you plan to hang. Loop the two book rings through the holes in your chart paper and clamp them shut. Next, take your dowel rod and feed it through the two book rings so it is parallel to the top of the anchor charts. Finally, stick the two adhesive hooks to the wall where you want your anchor chart display to hang. Once the hooks are adhered you can rest the dowel rod on the two hooks and you have a hanger for your charts. This method is amazing because the adhesive hooks won't damage your wall like nails or screws. You also have the option to add or remove charts throughout the year since the book rings can open and close as you need. This system is one of my favorite new uses discovered this year and I hope you can use it in your classroom too!

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