Pencil Boxes With A Plan


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)?

5 Responses to Pencil Boxes With A Plan

  1. Erin Lyons August 7, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Based on using “cigar-box” type boxes in the past, I would put a tab made out of tape (maybe white painter’s tape?) on the lid for when the children push it down into the box and can’t pull it back out easily. I used to keep my crayons in an old cigar box as a kid and had one of those tabs to help, and that little trick saved my life when I got a large set of manipulatives in similar boxes several years ago!

    I love that you have your chart on the inside of the box, and that the children will be able to personalize their boxes. Will there be a way for the children to identify pencils, word lists, or other supplies when they become separated from the boxes (i.e., found on the floor somewhere after work time!), or do you think that will work itself out? I’m eager to hear how this goes. I went back to individual boxes last year after several years of community supplies, both because I knew some children liked the responsibility of caring for their things, AND because community supplies were wreaking havoc with germ control. Please keep us posted about how this goes, and any tweaking you may do!

    • Karen Langdon August 7, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thanks for the tip Erin! I will absolutely put those tabs on. Now that you mention it, I think my mom did the same thing.

      As for personalizing the items, I am not sure yet. I think the word lists will be different colors, which should help. I got little sets of cards at Target for a few dollars, and they are different colors. Hopefully I won’t need too many! I think I will just see how it goes with the other items. I have noticed that some years my group needs lots of help structuring things like that, and other years it goes without a hitch. (I have needed free play charts in the past, as well as rotating writing box managers. Some years the kids are easily able to take turns and don’t need those structures.)

      So, once I get to know this year’s bunch, I will decide from there. And I will certainly let you know how it goes!

  2. Pati August 7, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    I’ve also gone back and forth with this issue, for the same reasons that you stated. My only insights on this are that I keep a small drawer filled with sharp pencils (yes, I spend my summers sharpening! A class set each day goes pretty quickly.) and trade them out for dull ones as the year goes on. If I run out during the year, I have parents who sharpen for me, but often-times the leads break inside the wood during the trip to or from school. Having a drawer full of pencils ready to go helps for those gotta-have-one-now moments.

    Second, a teacher shared with me that most of the time kinders use scissors and glue together, and that they are not good to leave in cubby-boxes unsupervised(cutting hair, clothes, gluey messes, etc) so she keeps the two together in small table-group bins that can be taken out and put up after use.

    I like the lesson that shared supplies offer, but I know that some kids(and Parents!) like to keep their supplies to themselves. So, I set up a few general ‘stations’ of supplies around the room for independent work, like the writing station, or to take with us to the science lab. I also have a single box of supplies with my name on it ready to go to another class or the office if a student needs to leave the room for behavior issues.

    So, there’s my two bits. Keep up the great blog…I love getting great ideas from you!

    • Karen Langdon August 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      I think a drawer full of sharpened pencils is a great idea – and sanity saver! I plan on having the kids go through the boxes each Friday to address any needs/sharpen/etc.

      I will have to think about the scissors and glue. I am hoping that having individual glue sticks will reduce the number of uncapped glue sticks lying around the room. I guess I will have to see what happens!

  3. Lydia August 24, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    I teach 1/2 grade combo. My parents pay a supply fee. I choose the pencil boxes and everything that goes inside the box. At the end of the year the students take their box home. My students learn to be responsible in caring for their box.