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November 12, 2014 Extraordinary Classroom Uses for Ordinary Items By Lindsey Petlak
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    The classroom is a space that has its own world of wonders, messes, and needs. I’ve been scouring our school for the most clever, simple, and surprising ways to use ordinary items to solve typical classroom dilemmas. Discover extraordinary classroom uses for ordinary household items and office supplies. You’ll be amazed at the versatile uses, tips, tricks, and techniques for such simple items! Best of all, most of these are FREE(ish) because they are likely items you already have lying around your classroom, supply room, office, or home. Read on and use these ideas in your classroom instantly.



    I am not saving the best for last on this blog post. I’m so excited about the tons of uses for this small but mighty tool that I absolutely must start with it first! Binder clips come in all different sizes (and even in some fun colors too) and can be used for countless solutions in your classroom. These great gadgets are typically readily available in schools, but if not, can now be found at dollar stores too. They are flexible, durable, and best of all, versatile. 

    Use binder clips for:

    • Ceiling hangers: Our fabulous library media specialist had the genius idea to use miniature binder clips as ceiling hangers! These tiny clips hook onto the metal dividers on the ceiling and firmly secure whatever you are hanging for your desplay. They are easy to apply and instantly removeable. If you continually hang items in the same ceiling location, you might want to leave the clips up all year and just apply different items to hang in each spot.

    • Mailbox or shelving labels: Need removable, reusable name or file-type clips for your paper holders or student mailboxes each year? Save the edges of your shelving and/or mailboxes and use the CLIPS to apply names or file labels that stay put when you want them to (and are just as easily removed).

    • Game piece base: I have some great academic board games using little laminated paper game playing pieces. The only problem is they end up all over the place, lost, or won’t stand up during the game. Instant solution? Use the smallest, miniature binder clips as a base for those playing pieces! They stand up the pieces perfectly, and also help protect them for added durability!  I LOVE THESE!

    • Picture or note holder: Years ago, a darling student of mine crafted these out of large binder clips, some scrapbooking paper, glue and ribbon. They stand up and hold small photos, notes, and reminders. Not only are they adorable, but they have also lasted through over six years of use!



    Obviously, teachers have tons of papers and are constantly having to sort them. These tools are perfect for teachers (attempting) to organize their classroom materials (and life). However, I have found purposes for file organizers that are of far better use in the classroom than simply organizing papers. Check out my two favorites below!

    • Tech device charging station organizer: We have 1:1 Chromebooks this year, and while they are a lifesaver for student learning, they can be frustrating when it comes to storage and charging during the day. After searching Pinterest, I found this brilliant idea to use file folder stands to hold tech devices like iPads and Chromebooks for storage and charging if you don't have an "official" solution. I had two file holders not being used in my room, and started using them as tech charging stations immediately. They have been a wonderful solution!

    • Clipboard organizer/holder: My colleague, Jenna Weinstein, found a clever way to store clipboards for her kindergarten students. Using a file folder organizer, she places one clipboard per storage space. Since they are sectioned, students may even keep works in progress clipped to the boards as they offer easy access to unfinished work.



    Oh, how I love thee, book rings! These round, metal, clasping wonders can be used for so much in the classroom. The rings come in numerous sizes, which makes them super versatile, and the fact that they are metal makes these rings durable enough for classroom use.  

    Book ring super star uses include (but are CERTAINLY NOT LIMITED TO):

    • Center materials storage: I constantly use book rings and clear page protectors to store center instructions and activity pages at work stations. They are durable, wipe clean, and you can add as many page protectors as you need to the sturdy rings to keep all individual center components in one spot.

    • Hanging magazine holders: I love this idea for storing and displaying classroom copies of magazines that I found on Flickr. Not only does this provide a great storage solution, but displaying magazines in this way must be super appealing to students, encouraging them to choose more magazines for independent reading.

    • Student work displays: Fellow Scholastic Top Teaching blogger, Alycia Zimmerman, has one of THE BEST student work display solutions I’ve ever seen. I love her idea because it uses three of my all-time favorite teacher tools: book rings, clear page protectors, and adhesive hooks. Check out her post on how “to create colorful, ever-changing displays of the students’ work in the hallways in my school, and all without cork bulletin boards.” Her idea of a continually rotating portfolio of student work on display for others to marvel is brilliant in my book!



    From years spent teaching in early primary grades (kindergarten and first grade), I know how important big books can be to literacy instruction, but they are a royal pain to store! If you find a good way to store them, they may not be accessible to the kids, and that’s what’s most important! After you share a big book with the whole class, teachers want their kiddos to be able to access those books and explore them on their own during work stations and/or choice reading time.  

    Once again, Jenna Weinstein, came up with the genius idea of using skirt hangers to attach to the books, and then hanging the books on a portable garment rack. She got the rack on Amazon, and the skirt holders can be found at any dollar or discount store. This rack of big books is out all of the time, and students may easily grab their favorite, unclip it, read it, and clean it up with little to no teacher assistance. It makes a lovely and inviting display, too, in addition to its functionality!



    Pencils, pens, markers, and colored pencils galore! Storing these supplies can be a huge CHORE (like my rhyme?)! Over the years, and from scoping out other classrooms and Pinterest ideas, I’ve found loads of clever ways to store those pesky, rolling, school supplies. A few of my faves are below. See the photos for more details. Try one idea today!

    • Retro straw holders: I found plastic retro drinking straw holders at my local dollar store and they have been perfect for holding and accessing rolling supplies such as pens, pencils, and markers all year (aside from the fact that they match my class theme: retro road trip).

    • Picnic silverware or shower caddies: No matter what style or color you choose, picnic silverware and/or shower caddies are fantastically durable, cheap, portable, and effective for storing all kinds of messy supplies. Put them at student tables/desk clusters, centers, or in a central supply storage area in your classroom for easy access.

    • Cups and popcorn holders: In case you couldn't tell, I spend a lot of time at the dollar store. This summer, I picked up tall plastic reusable cups and some sturdy plastic popcorn holders. They both been amazing storage options for writing tools and cost one dollar or less.

    • Cups propped on their sides in a wine holder:  This idea just blew my mind. I have seen wine racks used for tons of different purposes (besides holding wine bottles) on Pinterest (towels rolled up, bathroom or cleaning supplies, etc.). This clever use of a wine rack paired with plastic cups to hold markers by color truly takes the cake. I see metal wine racks at Goodwill all of the time. Next time, I'm snatching one up, pairing it with some dollar store cups, and sorting my markers or colored pencils by color for classroom use!




    Check out these past posts by Scholastic Top Teaching bloggers featuring clever ways to solve storage and organizational classroom problems. Just like the tips above, they are quick, simple, and inexpensive!


    Have you used any of these handy-dandy, AMAZINGLY simple-but-awesome items for classroom use? Do you have other suggestions? If so, please share! Thanks for reading, and see you next week!



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