January 20, 2014

Pencil Problems...

I have been teaching for 8 years now and the pencil dilemma in my room has finally been resolved! Who would think that the management of a pencil could become such a debacle?
So you may be thinking-What is the big deal? have them bring their own, just give them to them they aren't that expensive, who cares-its just a pencil! 
Michele's Thoughts on Pencils...
1-I hate the sound of  pencil sharpener, absolutely dread it, no one can hear anything when a pencil is being sharpened and pencil sharpening creates a domino effect (just like the kids who have to use the bathroom-once one goes they all need to!)
2-All pencils are not created equally. The cute ones that the kids like work the worst-they draw too dark, leave behind some weird pink/blue/green eraser streak when they erase and that cute sparkly plastic covering-yeah that destroys pencil sharpeners.And lets not even talk about mechanical pencils...
3-My Material Mantra- Only give as much of a material as you are willing to use up and never get back. If I only put out 30 pencils and my students know this, then pencils won't get misplaced or taken. If I put out 100 then I either need to keep track of that many or be okay with losing several pencils over the course of a week. Perhaps pencil thievery isn't an issue at your school and therefore you can just leave pencils out and they do get returned!
First, you have to figure out the best way to get your pencils to your students. I began my career at the high school level where students were responsible for bringing their own pencils and had to trade me something of value if they forgot theirs. It worked because I obnoxiously decorated the pencils with pipe cleaners and feathers.
At the elementary level students can't bring their own pencils, its just too much of a hassle.  I have tried a few distribution systems with the same pencil tagging system. My goal is to make 30 pencils last one month or longer. Keep in mind that I teach nearly 100 students everyday, having sharp pencils when they need them is essential-I can't waste time sharpening or searching for pencils!
As shown above, my pencils are tagged with colored or numbered address labels and wrapped in packaging tape so they last. Students and teachers just know they are mine, and pencils that accidentally walk out of the room are returned to me.
Round #1
My first system involved the students having their own numbered pencil that they would grab from a bucket.This was time consuming and keeping track didn't work so well. I knew I needed to keep track somehow I couldn't let the thieves win!
Round #2
Then I had a revelation. I decided to make a pocket chart, put it on my door and have a numbered spot for each numbered pencil. This system was amazing-easy to see what was missing and students used their classroom numbers-until I got anti-fatigue mats and a few naughty students began poking my mats during whole group with their pencils.
An extremely blurry picture of my pocket system.
Round #3
Finally, I got to my current winning system-if you are keeping track this is 7 years into teaching. The pencils are tagged by color and one of each color(R,Y,B,W) is in a bucket on the table. Each chair on the table is tagged with those colors as well. Each student grabs their pencil (no fighting over the longest, shortest, best eraser, etc) according to their chair. Jobs are also assigned by the chair tag (on the inside and outside of a chair so I can see the chair colors from both sides). The buckets also have an eraser and handheld pencil sharpener. They can sharpen their own pencils or go to the mugs in front of my room and swap them out.  Each year I change the color theme to spice things ups. This year I went with primaries. Pencils are only being touched if they are needed and after whole group. It's someone's job at the table to keep the bucket clean too.
Colored Stars on chairs match students to their pencil and job.

Basic Job Chart
At the end of the month I will replace the pencils if needed. Short pencils get recycled into clay tools or they become dot makers with paint.
So where does one get pencils that sharpen well, don't break easily and don't leave behind eraser marks? Well, at +Staples penny sales in the summer. Yup, get another much needed art room item dirt cheap in the summer. But, I don't just get them because they are dirt cheap, they are actually really good quality pencil. I'll make sure to let you know when they are having their penny sales!

How does one keep all these pencils sharp? I am sure we could have a debate about this as well! A few years ago I won the most amazing pencil sharpener ever at the NAEA conference from +WestcottBrand . The Westcott iPoint!!! This particular model automatically takes, sharpens and ejects the pencil back out when it is sharpened. This prevents over-sharpening, not that I let my students anywhere near it. This sharpener can also easily get through 20 un- sharpened pencils without burning out. Just remember not to put colored pencils or those terrible pencils coated in plastic in them! Once I found this pencil sharpener I was hooked, I didn't need to bother trying another brand. I have ordered another one to replace the one I won. They also have a year warranty if yours dies before the school year is up. So if you are sick of battling with sharpeners, this may be worth a try!

Do you have a pencil dilemma in your classroom? How do you handle it? Please share and leave a comment!

*All opinions of the Westcott Sharpener and Staples are my own. I was not compensated for this post. 


  1. Like you, I keep four of everything in a tool bucket, four pencils, four scissors, etc, but I use the huge primary pencils and they last all year. If you get the triangular ones, they don't roll to the floor so the lead breaks inside. No more problems sharpening. I keep staples handheld sharpeners at my desk (50 cents each) and only dull pencils get sharpened. One half of an eraser is in each pencil cup, (half a water bottle), No more pencil drama! BTW I teach 6 classes a day with 29 students in each, three days a week 7 classes two days a week.

    1. Sounds awesome Gini! I will look into the triangular pencils and give them a shot! Can't beat Staples Penny Pencils! It's amazing how much time and effort we spend coming up with the best solutions for our rooms!


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