Pencil Management Tips

Pencils, they are a useful tool at school, but they are also a source of frustration for teachers.  What's a teacher to do?

Frustration #1:  The pencil that doesn't sharpen or the tip keeps breaking off.

Different brands of pencil sharpen different ways.  If your school allows it, write a specific brand of pencil on your school supply list.  Non-teachers don't realize how much difference there is between brands of pencils.  My favorite brand is Ticonderoga.

Click on picture.

Click on picture.
I like to use these black ones at my reading table because they are easy to identify if someone accidentally takes one with him or her.

Frustration #2:  Sharpening at the wrong time

Accidents do happen and pencil tips do break in the middle of a lesson.  Keep a cup of sharpened pencils that students may borrow if this happens during a lesson.  Put a small piece of colored duct tape at the top of the pencil near the eraser so you can easily identify your pencil.  If students need to borrow a pencil during a lesson, they leave their pencil next to the Teacher's Pencil Cup and borrow one from the cup.  This seems to be quicker and quieter than letting students sharpen their pencil during a lesson.

Here are some freebie signs you can attach to your pencil cups.  The "write on" sign is for pencils that are ready to write.  The sign with the stop sign is where students put their pencils that have stopped working.  There is a sign that you can put on your cup of pencils that you use at your reading table.

Frustration #3:  Lost pencil syndrome

How many times have you begun a lesson, when a student raises his or her hand to tell you that once again this student has lost his/her pencil?  It takes up valuable class time, it is frustrating to you, the student with the lost pencil, and the other students in your class.  Here are a couple of things to try:

  • Assign each student a number and write their number at the top of the pencil near the eraser with a sharpie.
  • Give each student a small amount of sticky tak to put on their desk.  They stick their pencil to their desk using the sticky tak.
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Frustration #4:  Fighting over the special pencil

I have been on teams that requested "only plain, yellow pencils" on the supply list.  Yet, it never fails, there is always one or two students who bring the sparkly pencils or pencils with the latest favorite cartoon character on them.  This creates an issue in the classroom when the 90% of the class that purchased the supplies requested, wished they had the sparky/cartoon pencil.

When I had community supplies instead of having my students keep their own,  I used the decorated pencils that parents send in for "special assignments".  You know, those assignments that you want them to do their absolute best work on, like a quarterly writing prompt or something you are going to hang in the hallway.  It's funny how a sparkly pencil has so much influence.

I asked the teachers who read my Facebook page if they had pencil tips to pass along to you.    Here are a few tips:

*Two cups (sharpened and unsharpened) system was a popular tip.  Sarah Miller Ford has the two cup management system.   She has a red cup (stopped working) and a green cup (ready to go).


*Barbara Bailey recommends the prop and park from Really Good Stuff (see picture above).

*Jason Fortenbacher is friends with the custodian.  His custodian brings him about 60 pencils a week.  Custodians can help you in more ways than you thought!

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*Michelle Caffrey Carpenter, a middle school teacher, shared two ideas.  She teaches with someone who makes the students leave collateral, like a shoe, when they borrow a pencil.  She, personally, bought pencils with her name on them from a site called For Teachers Only.

Do you have any pencil management tips?

Looking for more ideas?  Click on the pictures below.


Unknown said...

Pencil Tip:
I teach reading, so only have groups of 6 throughout the day. I find that around 3rd grade the kids decide it is OK to walk off with my pencils or trade their stumpy one for my nice one with an eraser.

So...I write my name on all the pencils with a sharpie. They don't want them after that. And they go right back into the bucket on my table.

Cute blog!
Trina @

susanlulu said...

I'm reading all of these pencil tips and can't believe all the TROUBLE many teachers go through with this!! I have taught 28 years and have a simple, simple solution! I have absolutley NO trouble with pencils. Yes, I have tried many of these same tips earlier in my teaching career until I came up with the perfect solution - maybe just for me, but it works! My students bring in "no" pencils from home. All pencils belong to me. They each have a pencil box filled with their supplies on their desk. They each have 5 or more pencils in their box. No pencil sharpener is ever shown in class - or used. I sharpen all pencils at the end of each day after kids go home. I go around and sharpen each pencil that is needed in their box for the following day. If they need more pencils, put it in their box. Nothing is ever said about it. No problems - I promise!!! No one asks to sharpen a pencil, no one ever needs another sharpened pencil during the day. We talk about this at the beginning of the year. Works perfectly!!!

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Deedee Wills said...

I am a crazy person when it comes to pencils. Seriously... white jacket... long sleeves... padded room... insane!

So I use the two bins (sharp, not sharp) AND I make two or three trips to Cost Co every year to buy my pencils. For me, it is worth it. I get a pack of 96 Ticonderoga pencils. THESE are da bomb! They sharpen straight and the lead is not pre-broken. Then pencils run me about $8 each time, but I! don't! mind! one! bit!

Deedee Wills said...

excuse the typo! Caffeine is not in the blood stream yet.

Unknown said...

My grade partner and I both tell the students that they get 1 pencil each month. They have to "take care of" their pencil. It gives them some responsibility.

I am also the only one allowed to sharpen. At the beginning of the day I announce that it is sharpening time and they have to look at their pencils to see if they need to be sharpened. I won't sharpen it unless it needs to be.

I still get some lost/broken pencils - but then they have to use the lost and found pencils. Which they don't like to do because they are usually all beat up.

Unknown said...

I teach sixth grade and only give out supplies (including pencils) on Monday morning. I tell my students that if they come to school without a pencil one time I will understand because everyone forgets something at least once. However, if they come to school without a pencil a second time, they will be sent to the principal's office with a note requesting to use her phone to call their parents to bring them a pencil. I have yet to send a student...(:

Unknown said...

Every week I give each student a pencil with their name on it. Most of them can use it for the entire week. If they tell me they don't have a pencil, I just tell them I already gave them one. They usually manage to come up with it again, and soon realize that's all they are getting from me.

Unknown said...

How about having the students bring in a certain number of pencils. Bundle the pencils or keep in the box, label with students name. Once the students run out of their pencils then they have to use the found ones. To keep down on the sharpening issues, have designated sharpening times and one person sharpening.

Unknown said...

great post! Thanks for the ideas :)

(I do the sharp and dull cup too!)

Always A Lesson

Anonymous said...

I constantly fight the pencil battle in my classroom because students rotate to different classrooms so throughout the day I have 60 different students. I'm still looking for an answer. I've tried everything from putting colored tape on my pencils to standing at the door being the pencil police!

The First Grade Bloom said...

What a great idea for a post, solicit feedback on a common problem! Thanks for collecting all these ideas!

Nathalie said...

I agree with many of the ideas already shared. I have to add that a great pencil sharpener is very important. A teacher at our school discovered the manual pencil sharpeners from - and they are THE best! You can buy replacement blades (and it's a good idea to do that every year) but they really have made such a difference. I sharpen all the pencils using the 2-cup method about once a week and they stay sharpened and don't break as often. I also buy Ticonderoga pencils only. The best!

Unknown said...

I teach 5th and 6th Grade students. I put small labels on MY pencils that say things like

"I (heart) Justin Bieber"
"Thor is Hot!!!"
"I watch Barney"
"I wear Hulk PJs"
"I love Barbie Dolls"

These are the pencils that students BORROW from me.

It's amazing that these few pencils ALWAYS come back to me at the end of class.