The Pencil War!

Hi friends! Chris here from The Scoop in Second Grade to discuss a teacher's nemesis. Pencils. I know you've all been there.  You get to school in the morning, ready to dive into the curriculum for the day. But wait, we need to make sure everyone has pencils first, and they are sharp.  As sharp as possible which is sometimes impossible for some students.  How do we possibly deal with such a mundane task such as ensuring our students are ready with pencils?  Well, let me take you down my path.

During those first years of teaching, we are so overwhelmed by all of the details on how the school runs in addition to the curriculum we need to teach.  The problem is, nobody ever prepares a teacher for all of these mundane things that need to happen in order for a classroom to run smoothly.  Some of these tasks are starting the morning with a routine so we can get attendance and lunch choices done quickly.  Dealing with behaviors during the day, in and out of the classroom can also become time consuming. We also are learning how to best communicate with parents. 

We know when we choose teaching as a profession, that we will need to learn how to cope with these.  However, nobody prepares you with any tricks on dealing with student organization and this includes the pencils!  

Let's be honest, pencil organization probably ranks pretty high when it comes to annoying little necessities that need to be done.

When I started teaching, since I didn't know any better, students were getting up and sharpening their pencils  At this point, I was just ecstatic that I was getting through the curriculum.  I hadn't given much thought on making this process easier on me.

I moved to a different school in my district early on in my career and noticed the 'sharp' and 'dull' cans sitting in the corner of a room on the shelf.  It didn't take long for me to figure out that these were for pencils.  Students simply 'trade' a dull pencil for a sharp pencil throughout the day.  I thought this was brilliant!  I'm sure many of you think the same based upon all of the cute labels I see popping up everywhere.  So, on the bandwagon I went.  

Here's one problem. I was the one sharpening all of these pencils at the end of the day.  Oh.My.Goodness. What was I thinking? If I was going to stay late after school, I sure did not want to be sharpening pencils.  Here comes in.....student helpers.  This works great. Especially when your school has a program that allows older students to come into our classrooms in the  morning before the bell to do whatever we needed done.  Sharpen the pencils, I said!  And, it was done.  Hallejulah! Problem solved, right?  Well....

Here's the second problem.  There are some kiddos who chew on pencils. {insert audible gasp} And, there are some students who rip off the erasers.  {another gasp} I know, I know. How is a person supposed to stop this?  You can bet no one wanted these scarred pencils. I cannot micromanage these pencils.  Just tell the kiddos, it will be OK. Put a pencil top eraser on and move on.  The chewed up pencils? Well, not sure about that but hopefully there will always be other pencils to choose from.

Now, a few years back, I had a student come into my classroom that had battled a mild form of leukemia.  While his health was doing very well the year he was in my class, his parents came to me with some special requests at the beginning of the year.  "Could you not have shared supplies this year," they asked. What? Not sharing pencils?  I didn't know what to do.  I knew I needed to help this little guy out because although he was doing seemingly well, I also knew his immune system was and always would be, very weak.  He just could not take the chances of germs spreading by things as simple as sharing pencils.  

I had been taught to not single children out for any diverse reason, health being one.  So, I had to put my thinking cap on.  This is when my current strategy was born and is still going strong.  Children are responsible for their own pencils. All year. Yep. You heard me right.

On the first day of school, the kiddos take five pencils out of their supply and one pink eraser (they should have two) and put these in their desk.  I collect the rest, individually by student, and put their name on the bag.  That first day, after school, I go around and write their name on each pencil with a
Sharpie. I spend one night at home that first week using a Sharpie marker and write their name on each.pencil. I know. I know. It is time consuming.  But, usually I'm sitting there watching Netflix anyway so I may as well be productive.

These extra pencils and erasers are then stored in pencil boxes that I purchased many years ago.  Each box has a number on the outside so the students know which box houses their supplies.  In the morning, as students are getting ready for the day, if they notice they don't have at least 2-3 pencils in their desk tray, they can get up, go to their box, and get what they need.  They have ownership.  They are responsible.  They no longer rip off the erasers or chew them up because the pencils are theirs.  They no longer do these things because they know they cannot just 'trade' it in for a new one.  And, guess what else? When pencils fall to the floor and a friend picks it up, they look and see who it belongs to and they bring it to them!  No kidding. I witness it

In fact, most students have LOTS OF PENCILS LEFTOVER! I couldn't believe it that first year!  Now, every May, I send home a bag full of these supplies back home with the kiddos.  Even their parents are shocked.

Now, I always have a few students who show up without these supplies.  This is why I scour the sale ads in August.  I have a supply waiting for them.  So even these students have a box with pencils with their name.  And yes, if there are some left, they go home with that child.  They will probably need them the next year:)

If you're thinking, no way.  I am not going down this road.  That's OK too.  I have a teacher friend who puts colored washi tape on 4 pencils for each student.  Each student has a different patterned tape, therefore, marking whose pencil it is.  She makes it a game, sort of.  The students see who can win the 'Classroom Pencil War' each month.  They are a winner if they still have the same 4 pencils at the end of the month.  The teacher then restocks them on the first of each month from the shared pencil supply. 

This seems pretty easy and could still teach responsibility while also not 'sharing' in the classroom once they are being used.  This may have worked for my situation as well.  However, now that I have gone down my path, I don't think I will ever go back.  It really is amazing how responsible students can be if they are given a challenge to rise up to.

Now, this still doesn't solve the sharpening issue.  I am fortunate that I have sixth grade student ambassadors that come to my room each morning to do little jobs for me.  At the end of the day, I get out a large metal can, and students are supposed to put any pencils they want sharpened into this can. 

A fellow teacher in my school, just sets out a small tray but utilizes the same concept. 

When they come in the next morning, they take out their own pencils and they are ready for the day.  Please excuse the fact the two of the pencils pictured have no erasers.  While this process isn't perfect, it has eliminated most of this issue.  Both of those pencils belong to the same student:)  Anyway, if you aren't lucky enough to have student helpers, you could allow students a few minutes during morning work to take care of this. However, if they have 4-5 pencils in their desk, I always tell them, as long as 3 are sharp, you are good to go for the day.  That was always my go to number.

I hope I have given some of you food for thought on how you deal with pencils in your classroom.  This is not innovative but at the same time, I don't think I will ever go back to shared pencils again.

I would love to hear some of the creative ways you deal with pencils in your own classrooms. Please share in the comments below!

Feel free to check out my own blog at The Scoop in Second Grade. Thanks for stopping by!



  1. Great idea! Would be great for teaching responsibility!

    Luv My Kinders

  2. Great idea! Would be great for teaching responsibility!

    Luv My Kinders


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