Classroom pencil management for 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade students is much harder than the general public thinks. Non-teachers do not and cannot understand how difficult it is for upper elementary students to keep up and take care of pencils.
Working in a low-income school, many of my students would come to school with very few school supplies. Sometimes they would show up without anything – not even pencils. And supplying 27 students with pencils for the entire school year is not particularly cheap, especially if your students are constantly breaking, losing, or stealing the pencils.
Classroom Pencil Management: The Problem
Classroom pencil management places us teachers in a lose-lose situation. On one hand, we hate spending our tiny classroom budget on something as boring as pencils. On the other hand, we don’t want students to have an excuse not to do their work because of something so silly and cheap as pencils.
Yes, teachers can set up routines and expectations in order to prevent some of the migraine-causing pencil problems, but you will always have one or two brilliant students who can outsmart your every procedure. Or in some cases just baffle you. I have a few favorites…
(The stories below are real, but the students’ names are made up in order to protect the mischief-makers.)
The “I Don’t Want to Do My Work” Student
Brent was a genius when it comes to getting around doing his work. And his favorite method of avoidance? Breaking pencils. Or chewing off erasers. Or taking the lead out of the mechanical pencil I had provided him, thinking that would be an easy solution to the problem (I was so naïve!) and throwing this lead at other students.
The “I’m Going to Tell My Mom On You” Student
Brittany had an amazing talent. She could lose a pencil literally 10 seconds after it had been given to her. After supplying an endless amount of pencils to Brittany, I eventually got fed up and said I wasn’t giving her any more pencils and she’d have to bring her own. You know what happened next…the mom threat, followed up with the angry mom wondering why I wouldn’t let darling Brittany do her work.
The “I Want to Help” Student
Josh liked to play the hero. When people lost their pencils, he would swoop in and save the day by finding a pencil on the ground or letting other students use his extra pencils. Come to find out, he was stealing pencils out of other students’ desks just so he could get the positive attention later.
The “I’d Rather Color” Student
Priscilla loved writing in marker and crayons. Or anything with color. I would let the class do this on occasion, but most of the time a pencil is the most practical writing utensil. So Priscilla would conveniently “lose” her pencils so that she “had” to do her work in color.
The “I Like to Make a Mess” Student
Aaron was a collector. She particularly liked to collect the erasers off of pencils. She would break them off and then use her scissors to cut the erasers into tiny pieces and scatter those pieces across the floor. The janitor loved me that year.
The “I Don’t Even Know What to Call This” Student
Eric would steal pencils out of students’ desks, chomp on them until the pencils had disgusting teeth marks, and then return the pencils to their original owners.
These stories don’t even cover the problem of sharpening pencils – when to sharpen them, how to sharpen them quickly enough that class time is not wasted, etc. This classroom pencil management is way more complicated than any non-educator could possibly comprehend!
Setting up a Pencil Routine: The Solution
So what’s the solution to classroom pencil management? There’s not a one-size-fix all solution, but here’s what worked – for the most part – in my classroom.
1. I finally broke down and spent the extra money on a really good pencil sharpener. The sharpener that the school provided worked, but it wasted WAY too much time. And the cheaper pencil sharpeners broke year after year. This pencil sharpener lasted, and it came with a warranty.
You can use my Amazon Affiliate Link to buy this exact same pencil sharpener here!
It’s a lot cheaper on Amazon than at the retail store I bought mine at!
2. Only a few people were allowed to sharpen pencils – my 2 pencil sharpeners, or the substitutes if the pencil sharpeners were gone (Click here to see practical ways to handle classroom jobs). One person would use the slow, school provided pencil sharpener and the other person would use the good pencil sharpener to sharpen the entire class’ pencils. They would do this for a week, and then switch pencil sharpeners. The pencil sharpeners were only allowed to sharpen pencils in the morning before the bell rang, and while we were packing up to dismiss.
3. All of the pencils in my classroom were shared by all of the students. If students had a “special pencil” that they wanted to use, I would ask them to take it home and do their homework with it (I would usually sharpen those pencils for them – most of my students didn’t have a way to sharpen pencils at home). We only used the boring yellow pencils in my classroom to prevent time wasted over students arguing about who would get what pencil.
4. Students were not allowed to keep pencils in their desks. Pencils were kept in a supply caddy that the team manager was responsible for, and the team manager would pass the pencils out when asked to. This made it easy for the pencil sharpeners to collect and put back the pencils that they were sharpening.
I hated wasting instruction time, and this method ensured that minimal time was lost. I usually tried to keep around 10 pencils with each group of 4, and that was generally enough. If a group ran out of sharpened pencils, there were always extra pencils available with another group. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have a plan for classroom pencil management before the first day of school!
A pencil sharpener is a great classroom job for your students. For more classroom job ideas, click here!
If your morning routine is really hectic, you might also like Morning Work Made Easy!
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