For seven years I have had my students work with shared tubs of pencils, crayons, markers, and more. I have always believed that they need to learn to share, and this gives them an authentic time to practice things like saying, “Please pass the bucket.” This is very true, and for years the system has been ok. But I am ready for a change.
I am tired of the endless missing pencils, arguments over pencils, and frustration over which table has more markers. I also truly feel for those kids that like their things to be kept clean and organized. They ultimately have to deal with a rag-tag bin of misused tools. I was one of those kids, and my system would have driven me as a child absolutely crazy.
So, time for a change. I am giving personal pencil boxes a try. Because I am working on using more natural looking materials in my class, I decided not to go with plastic boxes. Instead I ordered plain white pencil boxes from Discount School Supply. These are the ones I got. I have to admit, the quality is a bit sub par, but they are serviceable and affordable. I do like that they can be personalized, which students will love.
I then decided to create my own desk tags. I am using pencil box sized name tags, with only the information I see as pertinent on them. I love the tags you can get at the teacher’s store, but they are very big. They often have so many reference tools on them, and my kids only use a few. So I have designed my own, that use my actual class alphabet, a number line, and their name. Simple as that.
I am also very excited about the inside cover. I created a chart last year for my students to use to reflect on their own learning. It is an alternative clip chart that teaches kids that different “states” are normal and fine as they learn, and it gives them practice setting goals for themselves as learners. You can read the full description of this system here. If you are interested in the link to the product, you can get it here. (Please note, if you have purchased my clip chart system previously, please re-download it. I have updated it to include the desk tag size!)
My kids did wonderfully with this last year, but I had a few frustrations. Clips were constantly breaking, the charts took up a lot of desk space, and I was not 100% comfortable with requiring them to have their self assessments displayed for everyone to see.
So, with my new pencil boxes comes a solution. I am now keeping the chart attached to the inside cover of the box. Rather than using clips, I have covered the charts with tape, which has the side effect of making them easy to write on and erase with a dry erase marker. This year my kids will simply take the marker and mark one box as their current state, and another as their goal. It could be using a simple symbol (check mark or smiley face), or it could be using a letter code (R=Reality, G=Goal.) Regardless, the box allows the kids to keep their assessments private, and the markers save all the trouble that comes along with clothes pins!
I am still debating on the contents of the box. I definitely plan to have at least eight wooden pencils in each child’s box, as well as two mechanical pencils and two pens. I want to avoid the need for a child to get up and sharpen a pencil at inconvenient times. With a large amount of pencils, as well as a couple of “non-sharpening” alternatives, I should be able to limit this disruption.
I will include a pair of scissors in each box as well. This will solve the lefty scissor problem. Any child that needs lefty scissors will simply have them in their box, and we won’t need to search for them at cutting time. Glue sticks will also be included. I am definitely going to have some sort of coloring tool inside, but I am still deciding on whether to include crayons, colored pencils, markers, or some combination. I don’t want the box to become so full that the kids can’t easily and quickly find what they need.
Finally, I see the box as a place to easily keep items that certain students may need. For example, every year I have some kids that need pencil grips. In this system, they will have grips on the writing implements in their box, and I will not need to worry about keeping their grips in a special place, or reminding them to use them.
I also envision having some kids keep letter or word rings in their box. I always have a group of kids that I need to do some extra practice with letter identification or sight word work. I plan on having those kids keep a ring of letters or words in their box, which can be accessed easily by anyone working with the student.
Finally, I am thinking about having a pack of small sticky notes in the box as well, for use during reading workshop and partner work.
With all of this in mind, I definitely envision slowly adding items if and when they are appropriate. We will start with pencils and pens and an eraser, and go from there. I am very much looking forward to seeing how this goes, and learning the ins and outs of pencil boxes!
Do you use pencil boxes with your kids? Why or why not? What do you recommend including (or not)?