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 with and take care of pencils. Or how disruptive pencil sharpening can be to instruction.
Often teachers have to provide classroom supplies for their students - and that includes pencils. 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. Having a classroom pencil system and clear pencil sharpening procedures is essential.
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. Pencils are one of those supplies that teachers just can't do without.
Yes, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade 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!
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Setting up a Pencil System and Sharpening Procedures: 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.
Buy a Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener
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. It worked, and it worked quickly - even on lower quality pencils. It was totally worth spending a little extra cash in order to save some of my sanity.
The general teacher consensus is that the X-ACTO School Pro Pencil Sharpener is the best bang for your buck.
Having a quality pencil sharpener was so essential for my sanity that it's one of my top must-haves for every upper elementary classroom.
Come up with Clear Pencil Procedures
Different procedures work for different classrooms. Not ever pencil sharpening system will work for every teacher. But every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teacher does need to think through a plan and figure out these things:
- When will your students be able to sharpen pencils?
- Will your students need to ask for permission to sharpen pencils? If so, how will you want them to ask for permission to minimize interruptions?
- Where will your students store their pencils?
- Will students share pencils, or will they take care of their own pencils?
- How short will you allow pencils to get in your classroom? (Pencils that are too short break the pencil sharpener!)
- What will students do with broken pencils?
- What will you do with pencils that are left on the ground?
- How will you handle students that seem to intentionally break pencils or lead in order to use the pencil sharpener? Or students that constantly lose pencils?
- Will you supply pencils, or will you expect students to provide their own?
The Pencil System in My Classroom
Classroom instruction being interrupted by a broken pencil was one of my pet peeves, so I created procedures that would prevent this. Not all classrooms need something so in depth, however!
- Only the pencil sharpeners were allowed to sharpen pencils. (Check out the classroom job system I set up that helped save me so much time!). They did this every morning, before the bell rang, and in the afternoons when students were getting ready for dismissal.
- I provided all of my students with pencils, so the pencils where shared. The pencil sharpeners sharpened any pencil that needed it. If students had a "special" pencil they wanted to use, I would sharpen it for them and send it home for them to use for homework. (This worked for me, because my students didn't bring very many pencils to school with them.)
- 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. It also minimized the amount of broken and lost pencils.
I usually tried to keep around 10 pencils in each group's supply caddy (usually students were in groups 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!
You might like these other ideas for building effective classroom management routines and procedures.
Never Stress Over Sub Plans Again!
Make copies, find a fiction book, and you'll be ready for any emergency that comes your way!