Every teacher has certain things that they really depend on. Below are what I considered the 9 essentials for my 3rd grade classroom. Without them, I would have had a difficult time surviving the school year!
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1. No Prep Morning Work
I never liked morning work, or "bell work" as some schools call it. Most of the time it seems like it's just busy work to keep kids quiet while waiting for everyone in the class to get situated. I already don't like busy work, but having to take time to plan and make copies just to keep kids busy makes it even worse.
Eventually, I found a morning work system that I really liked. It required very little effort on my part and it helped improve my students' writing. Win-win. You can read more about this no prep morning work here.
2. Pencil Sharpening Procedures and a Quality Pencil Sharpener
Pencils are a necessary evil in any elementary classroom. It took several years before I finally figured out pencil sharpening procedures that worked for me. Before that, my lessons were interrupted several times a day because students were constantly running out of sharpened pencils.
Part of the problem was the cheap pencil sharpeners I used. In a quest to spend my limited funds on more important things (like books for my classroom library), I didn't buy a good pencil sharpener for quite a while. When my students used the crank pencil sharpener the school provided, their lead broke very easily. When I bought cheap pencil sharpeners, I was having to replace them all the time.
3. Ready to Use Reusable Resources
It's inevitable. At some point, your well thought out lessons are going to be interrupted by an emergency, a behavior issue, a parent, or something else. Sometimes, you are going to need your students to have something to work on independently while you take care of a problem.
I always kept extra copies of these 8 reusable resources around just in case. They can be used over and over again with different topics or books. Having these activities ready to go helped relieve many stressful days throughout my years teaching.
4. A Clipboard and a Pencil
I carried a clipboard and a pencil with me EVERYWHERE. In fact, my clipboard was such an essential part of my school day that one of my classroom jobs was clipboard holder. This student was responsible for knowing where my clipboard was at all times, bringing it to me when I needed it, and carrying it in the hallway when I needed my hands for something else.
This clipboard I carried was sort of a "catch-all" clipboard. I used it for a huge variety of purposes, including keeping track of behavior and academic data, writing to-do lists for myself, keeping track of important dates, etc.
Whenever a parent or an administrator stopped me in the hallway and asked me to take care of something, I could write myself a note so that I didn't forget. Whenever I was keeping track of a certain student behavior, I collected the data on my clipboard. Whenever I got information about field trips or upcoming PDs or schedule changes, I kept that information in my clipboard so that I was always able to answer questions about those things, no matter where I was. Whenever I thought of something I needed to-do, I wrote it on an empty sheet of paper on my clipboard so I wouldn't forget to do it. Whenever we had a fire drill, I always had a class list with me because I kept one in my clipboard. As 3rd grade team lead, I kept my teammates schedules on my clipboard so I could answer questions that substitutes, parents, or my administrators might have about my team.
It was kind of a mess having all this information in one place, but it was "organized chaos" for me. I felt lost without it.
I used an ugly brown clipboard for many years teaching, and that worked perfectly fine. But this storage clipboard helped a lot when I began having one of my students keep track of the clipboard for me as one of my classroom jobs.
5. Whiteboards and Dry Erase Markers
I truly don't know how I could have survived a year in my 3rd grade classroom without a dry erase marker and whiteboard for each of my students. Not only did these supplies help keep students engaged, but a dry erase board and marker is hands down the best way to get a quick assessment of how well students understand a concept being taught. I don't remember teaching a whole class math lesson without having students use their whiteboard at least once. Since this was a regular part of my day, it's important to me to have well thought out procedures in place for dry erase markers and whiteboards.
Although you possibly could accomplish the same thing with just pencil and paper, it was so much easier for me to take a quick glance around the room and see who was still struggling when students were writing with dry erase markers.
The schools I taught at provided personal whiteboards for each of my students, but you could accomplish the same thing cheaply using a blank sheet of paper in a sheet protector. I bought Dry Erase Markers any time I found them on sale so that I ALWAYS had extras.
Dice are cheap, easy to store, and make everything more fun for kids. They also are an easy way to differentiate different math skills for kids.
Dice are a fun way to have students practice math skills that they had already learned. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, comparing numbers, area and perimeter, rounding, fractions, and more can all be made more engaging by adding dice to the lesson plan. If you're needing ideas for games to play with dice, check out Pinterest.
7. An Easy to Manage Classroom Job System
I resisted using classroom jobs in my 3rd grade classroom for a while because it seemed to cause more problems and waste more time then it was worth. Once I revised how I did classroom jobs (using job applications and assigning a job for extended periods of time), I saved myself so much time and stress. You can read about how I set up this classroom job system here.
Or, here's a list of 30 classroom job ideas you can use in your upper elementary classroom.
8. A Personal Laminator
If you're one of the lucky few - a teacher that works at a school that provides a high quality laminator that never breaks and is always available - then you might not need your own personal laminator. But for everybody else, having a personal laminator can be a huge stress reliever.
It was hard for me to spend money on a personal laminator since there are a LOT of other things I would rather buy for my classroom (usually books!), but the time it saved me later on made it totally worth it.
Before I had a laminator, I wasted a LOT of time. There were many activities that I used several times a year in my classroom that I created over and over again instead of laminating (because our school laminator was ALWAYS broken). It was a huge waste of time, and I wish I had bought a laminator sooner rather than later.
Personal laminators are small (obviously) and can't usually laminate anything larger than a regular sized sheet of paper, but that's often perfect for what I needed. It's particularly perfect for center activities that can be used over and over, year after year.
This is the upgraded version of the laminator I own. I've never needed to look for a new laminator, because I've had this one for a while now and it's never given me a moment of trouble.
9. Good Classroom Management and Well Thought out Procedures
Last but certainly not least. All teachers know how essential good classroom management is to a successful year. At the beginning of very school year, I would always reflect on the things that went well and the things that were disasters the previous year. You can find some of my more successful classroom management strategies and routines here.
You might find these back to school activities and ideas for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students helpful.
Never Stress Over Sub Plans Again!
Make copies, find a fiction book, and you'll be ready for any emergency that comes your way!