Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
August 30, 2017

The Great Pencil Dilemma

By Nancy Jang
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Last year, a question from a teacher popped up on the Scholastic Facebook page that caused quite a stir. The teacher wasn't asking about how to stop funding being cut or raising test scores, but about something that might come as a surprise to non-teacher folk. It was about pencils. How to hand out pencils, when can students sharpen pencils, how to handle kids who are destroying pencils for fun, and most importantly, how to make those lovely tools of learning last as long as humanly possible.

    Does the thought of students endlessly losing their pencils drive you insane? Or is it the sound of sharpening during instructional time that sends you over the edge? Maybe it’s the fact that students begin the day with five perfectly sharpened pencils and by recess, they are down to a single one-inch nub with no eraser. If this is you, here are some solutions from me and a few fellow Top Teaching bloggers to help you regain your sanity and maybe save some pencils too:

    1.  Give each student a pencil pouch or small pencil box with five sharpened pencils. At the end of the day, a student or a parent volunteer can check the pouches or boxes to make sure they are sharpened and ready for the next day.

    2.  Make them communal! In my classroom, all yellow pencils are considered community property. Special pencils with cute printing or ones that smell, etc. are only to be used at home. I have two buckets in my class. One for sharpened pencils and one for pencils that need to be sharpened. When I have a volunteer, they take the pencils to be sharpened into the workroom at our school and return with a bucketful of perfectly sharpened pencils. Then, when a student needs a sharp pencil, they simply drop the dull or broken pencil into the “Please Sharpen Bucket” and grab another pencil out of the “Sharp Pencils” bucket. They are allowed to exchange pencils at any time. I'm using Superhero themed signs I bought, but I have created a non-themed pencil bucket sign too. Download your free copy of my "Please Sharpen" and "Sharp Pencils" sign that I created using Word Workshop! If we are running low, I send out a note asking for donations for new pencils.

    3.  Sometimes, I don’t get a chance to sharpen pencils during the day and I hate being trapped at the sharpener. So I like to send home a dozen boxes of my favorite Ticonderoga #2 pencils and my electric sharpener in a Parent Volunteer To Go box. It gives parents who can’t come in to volunteer a job to do and I have dozens of sharpened pencils ready to go: win–win! When the parent returns the pencils, they are ready to be dropped into the “Sharp Pencils” Bucket. (Check out this post about my parent volunteers To-Go boxes.)

    4.  Make them mechanical! "Last year, I introduced mechanical pencils to my first graders. The introduction is complete with thorough procedures on how to take care of your pencil (e.g. not removing the lead, pulling off the eraser, etc.). My students receive one pencil — equivalent to two-and-a-half regular pencils — on the first of each month. It is their responsibility to hold onto it for the month. Most mechanical pencil packs come in a pack of 10 with a few colors. I write student numbers on each pencil and try to keep the same colors together by table so it is easier to return to the student when found on the floor. Lost pencils are replaced with a regular pencil, but I make sure they are not fresh out of the box. I haven’t sharpened a pencil in two years." –Angela Bunyi

    5.  Just give the kids a new pencil and stop stressing about it. (I know that this is probably the hardest thing to do out of all the tips!) "I have tried everything. But, after watching a video on effective teaching and the teacher who was irrationally losing it over a student not having a pencil versus the teacher who just hands the student a pencil, I decided to keep a drawer full of pencils and just give them out. After about three trips to my drawer for any particular student, I call their home and let the parents know their child needs pencils. I don't even try to track the pencils. My efforts are better spent elsewhere!" –Mary Blow

    6.  Host a Great Pencil Challenge. I was combing Pinterest and saw this idea. Since my classroom theme is Super Heroes, I put that thematic spin on the challenge. Here’s how it works: you give students ONE pencil clearly labeled on Monday. At the end of the week, if they still have their original pencil, they get points, raffle tickets, or whatever you choose as a reward or even SKIP the rewards and just put a sticky note with their name on a Pencil Hero Honor Roll. If they lose their pencil, their sticky note is removed, and they can grab an emergency pencil (yellow pencil or golf pencil). Another option is to keep track on a poster who is on the Pencil Hero Honor Roll every week. When they have achieved four weeks in a row, post their names in the Pencil Hero Hall of Fame.  Download your own "Be a Hero" sign. Click here for the "Pencil Hero Honor Roll" and "Hall of Fame" signs.

    7.  Try shorties! If students are unable to keep track of their pencils, have small golf pencils handy for them to use. They are relatively inexpensive compared to Ticonderogas and they are a great size for little hands!

    8.  In the fall, ask every student to bring in 36 pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils labeled with their name. Store them in a drawer. When a student needs a pencil, he or she just goes to the drawer and grabs another one. When they run out of pencils, send home a preprinted note informing parents that they need to send in more pencils! Photocopy a stack of them on colored paper and cut them out so they are ready to grab and go!

    9.  Put a small hand sharpener at each table group, and students can sharpen whenever the need arises. In addition to a sharpener, I would include a few pre-sharpened golf pencils in the table supply tub for emergencies.

    10.  If you use a token economy of some sort (play money, raffle tickets, stickers, etc.), charge the students for each pencil that they lose and reward them for managing their pencil all week.

    11. "Before you say I don't have time to be sticking tape on pencils, ask yourself how many times a day do you stop teaching to take care of an argument over pencils. Putting tape on four boxes worth of pencils took about thirty minutes. I know some people write names or student numbers, but that wears off, I've done that and it is time consuming too. Kids are still grabbing pencils from each other to check to see if they have the wrong one. Using colored tape, it is much easier to see whether the pencil belongs to your table or not. You can spot the wrong pencil at a table immediately. You can also get wild and crazy, use fun duct tape or washi tape instead of basic colors. Give this a try. You will be amazed at how this simple trick will solve the pencil problems." –Tiffani Mugurussa

    I hope that you found a tip or two that spoke to you and will help you manage your classroom pencils. Do you have a great suggestion for managing the pencil dilemma in your class? Please share!

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

     

     

     

    Last year, a question from a teacher popped up on the Scholastic Facebook page that caused quite a stir. The teacher wasn't asking about how to stop funding being cut or raising test scores, but about something that might come as a surprise to non-teacher folk. It was about pencils. How to hand out pencils, when can students sharpen pencils, how to handle kids who are destroying pencils for fun, and most importantly, how to make those lovely tools of learning last as long as humanly possible.

    Does the thought of students endlessly losing their pencils drive you insane? Or is it the sound of sharpening during instructional time that sends you over the edge? Maybe it’s the fact that students begin the day with five perfectly sharpened pencils and by recess, they are down to a single one-inch nub with no eraser. If this is you, here are some solutions from me and a few fellow Top Teaching bloggers to help you regain your sanity and maybe save some pencils too:

    1.  Give each student a pencil pouch or small pencil box with five sharpened pencils. At the end of the day, a student or a parent volunteer can check the pouches or boxes to make sure they are sharpened and ready for the next day.

    2.  Make them communal! In my classroom, all yellow pencils are considered community property. Special pencils with cute printing or ones that smell, etc. are only to be used at home. I have two buckets in my class. One for sharpened pencils and one for pencils that need to be sharpened. When I have a volunteer, they take the pencils to be sharpened into the workroom at our school and return with a bucketful of perfectly sharpened pencils. Then, when a student needs a sharp pencil, they simply drop the dull or broken pencil into the “Please Sharpen Bucket” and grab another pencil out of the “Sharp Pencils” bucket. They are allowed to exchange pencils at any time. I'm using Superhero themed signs I bought, but I have created a non-themed pencil bucket sign too. Download your free copy of my "Please Sharpen" and "Sharp Pencils" sign that I created using Word Workshop! If we are running low, I send out a note asking for donations for new pencils.

    3.  Sometimes, I don’t get a chance to sharpen pencils during the day and I hate being trapped at the sharpener. So I like to send home a dozen boxes of my favorite Ticonderoga #2 pencils and my electric sharpener in a Parent Volunteer To Go box. It gives parents who can’t come in to volunteer a job to do and I have dozens of sharpened pencils ready to go: win–win! When the parent returns the pencils, they are ready to be dropped into the “Sharp Pencils” Bucket. (Check out this post about my parent volunteers To-Go boxes.)

    4.  Make them mechanical! "Last year, I introduced mechanical pencils to my first graders. The introduction is complete with thorough procedures on how to take care of your pencil (e.g. not removing the lead, pulling off the eraser, etc.). My students receive one pencil — equivalent to two-and-a-half regular pencils — on the first of each month. It is their responsibility to hold onto it for the month. Most mechanical pencil packs come in a pack of 10 with a few colors. I write student numbers on each pencil and try to keep the same colors together by table so it is easier to return to the student when found on the floor. Lost pencils are replaced with a regular pencil, but I make sure they are not fresh out of the box. I haven’t sharpened a pencil in two years." –Angela Bunyi

    5.  Just give the kids a new pencil and stop stressing about it. (I know that this is probably the hardest thing to do out of all the tips!) "I have tried everything. But, after watching a video on effective teaching and the teacher who was irrationally losing it over a student not having a pencil versus the teacher who just hands the student a pencil, I decided to keep a drawer full of pencils and just give them out. After about three trips to my drawer for any particular student, I call their home and let the parents know their child needs pencils. I don't even try to track the pencils. My efforts are better spent elsewhere!" –Mary Blow

    6.  Host a Great Pencil Challenge. I was combing Pinterest and saw this idea. Since my classroom theme is Super Heroes, I put that thematic spin on the challenge. Here’s how it works: you give students ONE pencil clearly labeled on Monday. At the end of the week, if they still have their original pencil, they get points, raffle tickets, or whatever you choose as a reward or even SKIP the rewards and just put a sticky note with their name on a Pencil Hero Honor Roll. If they lose their pencil, their sticky note is removed, and they can grab an emergency pencil (yellow pencil or golf pencil). Another option is to keep track on a poster who is on the Pencil Hero Honor Roll every week. When they have achieved four weeks in a row, post their names in the Pencil Hero Hall of Fame.  Download your own "Be a Hero" sign. Click here for the "Pencil Hero Honor Roll" and "Hall of Fame" signs.

    7.  Try shorties! If students are unable to keep track of their pencils, have small golf pencils handy for them to use. They are relatively inexpensive compared to Ticonderogas and they are a great size for little hands!

    8.  In the fall, ask every student to bring in 36 pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils labeled with their name. Store them in a drawer. When a student needs a pencil, he or she just goes to the drawer and grabs another one. When they run out of pencils, send home a preprinted note informing parents that they need to send in more pencils! Photocopy a stack of them on colored paper and cut them out so they are ready to grab and go!

    9.  Put a small hand sharpener at each table group, and students can sharpen whenever the need arises. In addition to a sharpener, I would include a few pre-sharpened golf pencils in the table supply tub for emergencies.

    10.  If you use a token economy of some sort (play money, raffle tickets, stickers, etc.), charge the students for each pencil that they lose and reward them for managing their pencil all week.

    11. "Before you say I don't have time to be sticking tape on pencils, ask yourself how many times a day do you stop teaching to take care of an argument over pencils. Putting tape on four boxes worth of pencils took about thirty minutes. I know some people write names or student numbers, but that wears off, I've done that and it is time consuming too. Kids are still grabbing pencils from each other to check to see if they have the wrong one. Using colored tape, it is much easier to see whether the pencil belongs to your table or not. You can spot the wrong pencil at a table immediately. You can also get wild and crazy, use fun duct tape or washi tape instead of basic colors. Give this a try. You will be amazed at how this simple trick will solve the pencil problems." –Tiffani Mugurussa

    I hope that you found a tip or two that spoke to you and will help you manage your classroom pencils. Do you have a great suggestion for managing the pencil dilemma in your class? Please share!

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

     

     

     

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

Nancy's Most Recent Posts
Blog Post
Easy, Adorable Holiday Cards and Crafts

Check out these five fun cards and crafts that can be completed in under ten minutes with inexpensive materials that you already have in your classroom. Plus, find a fun-filled STEAM Christmas Countdown Calendar for you to use!

By Nancy Jang
December 12, 2016
Blog Post
A Sweet Thanksgiving Thank You!

I wanted to share with you what I am thankful for as well as a cookie recipe to thank all of you for reading my posts here on the Top Teaching blog!

By Nancy Jang
November 23, 2016
Blog Post
Election Day Extravaganza: No-Prep Lesson Plans

Over the past few weeks, we have been studying the three branches of government. Now, with the election around the corner, it’s a great time to explore how a president is elected, and have our own election day.

By Nancy Jang
October 26, 2016
Blog Post
Easy and Awesome Autumn Art

Every year, teachers search for crafts and projects that connect to the season. But when I mention drawing or teaching elements of art, I often hear: “I can’t draw.”  Read on for proof that everyone can draw and if you are a teacher, you can teach art.

By Nancy Jang
October 12, 2016
Blog Post
October Homework: Full STEM Ahead!

October is around the corner and pumpkin decorations are everywhere. This is the perfect setting for our first STEM assignment: Pumpkin Chunkin’ Catapults! Read on to learn how to build your own!

By Nancy Jang
September 28, 2016
My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us