August 21, 2019

Cheap Stuff for Starving Teachers

I don’t know about you, but rarely has my allotted classroom budget met my needs. In fact, in all my years of teaching, I can only think of one school where I was provided with everything I really needed. Even there, I had to be financially careful. And we all know what the unwritten expectation is when school districts can’t fund their own mandates . . .spend your own money. Big surprise. This article highlights my favorite teacher cheapies.

Bonus? They are available in almost every school supply closet, making it easier for you to hang on to your hard earned paycheck.

Page protectors.

I love these. Readers’ play scripts can be protected year to year. They also work great for protecting activity pages where the students need to answer a question or solve a puzzle. Place the paper inside and children can write their answers in water based marker or grease pencil, and wipe off when they are finished. This keeps copying costs to a minimum. Here are more ideas for using page protectors in the classroom.

Index cards.

An inexpensive learning supply, they can be used for vocabulary / definition flash cards, spelling memory games, math fact quiz cards and more. For extra flexibility, they are also available in lined and unlined, large and small, and various color options. Tough to beat for affordability, wouldn’t you say?

Cardboard beverage flats.

Even in Micronesia, I had access to these at no cost. If the school does not have a vending machine where these are left over after stocking, chances are there’s at least one store that will save them for you. Cardboard beverage flats make great classroom supply fodder. Use them for holding paper scraps, completed student assignments, desk protectors for messy projects, marble painting, story boards, science fair displays, and homemade hinged-together briefcase portfolios.

Twigs and sticks.

It doesn’t get any cheaper than this. When you are in an extreme teaching situation and do not even have access to craft sticks, have students bring in twigs and sticks when you need them for things like nature crafts, kite support, puppets, native tribal weaving projects, etc.

Torn paper art projects.

My art guru friend Shelly taught me this little trick while we were teaching on the island of Guam. If you are working in conditions where you do not have scissors for your students, these projects are wonderful. The project she showed me was for torn paper mosaics, where students create a scene with torn bits of paper arranged with spaces in between on a background using glue sticks.

Donated newspapers.

I’ve had English language newspapers donated literally in every location I’ve ever taught at – the States, Guam, Kuwait, Italy, etc. Not only are they free, they provide a tremendous amount of mileage in the classroom. Some of the things I’ve used them for: current events, spelling word search, event collages, stuffing large models of book characters or giant paper sea turtles, tearing up for paper maché projects, and covering desks for messy art and science activities. I’ve also had newspapers offices donate the ends of the rolls of blank newsprint. They usually have a fair amount of paper left over, and it’s great for brainstorming charts and morning language. Old blueprint charts are great for this use as well. Here is a more complete list of ideas for newspapers in the classroom.

Used copy paper.

Folding the pages in half with the printed side in and stapling them allows you to put them together for a clean set of pages to be used for student publishing. Free materials . . . score!

Phone Books

There are tons of ways to use phonebooks in the classroom. Bonus? Telephone companies will usually donate last years left overs in mint condition.

Dried Beans.

Any large flat bean will do really, and even the smaller ones can work for certain things.Very affordable when purchased at a discount dry goods store, these durable seeds make fabulous bingo and game markers. Substituting these for the expensive plastic game markers assures that you always have plenty on hand when students misplace them (which they will). Economical and eco-friendly! Another really cool thing you can do with the larger flat broad beans is lay a bunch of them flat on newsprint and spray paint one side of them the color of your choosing. The result? Dirt cheap DIY math manipulatives. Take a specific amount of them (nine, for example) and put them inside an empty cup. Shake and dump onto a work space. The beans will come out in various number combinations that equal the number in the cup. Great for younger grades working on math facts and number exploration. Here are some additional ideas for going green in the classroom affordably.

These are items or ideas that made my job easier during my years in the classroom. If you know of others, please let us know.

Photo Credit: Worak

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