February 23, 2017

How To Work Around Paper and Copy Limits

Teachers are used to working with limited resources, but few issues impact your daily instruction as much as limits on paper, the number of copies you can make, or both. In my career, I’ve dealt with all three. There were schools with strict copy quotas per teacher or department, overworked machines that broke down weekly, too few copiers for a large campus, or no direct access to copy machines at all.

At my first school, we had a part-time “copy person” who was the only one authorized to make copies. If you needed copies, you had to get them to her several days in advance at a minimum. On the other side of this issue is paper, which is subject to similar restrictions. Plus, if you have a printer in your classroom, paper seems to become even more scarce.

As a teacher who always created a lot of custom materials and didn’t rely on textbooks, this was a source of endless frustration, as I’m sure it is for many others. Out of necessity, I developed a series of simple teacher hacks based around three principles: Learn how to use all of the copy machine’s features. Use The Three R’s. Make copies without a copier.

Learn How to Use All of the Copier’s Features

There’s a basic set of features almost every copier has that will limit your paper use and the number of copies you’ll make.

Double-sided printing.

First, there’s no reason to ever print anything single-sided. Technophobic teachers don’t bother to figure out how to do this, which doubles the amount of paper used. Remember, you don’t need a two-sided original to make a two-sided copy either.

Multiple pages per sheet.

Even if you use only the two pages per sheet conversion, you’ve just cut your paper use AND copies in half. Combine it with #1, and you can turn an eight page original into only 2 pages and 4 copies.


Sometimes fitting things onto a smaller number of pages is just a matter of scaling something down, which the copier can do for you. While you may use an extra copy or two to get the size you need, if you cut a page or two from your print job, the paper you save for your job adds up quickly. Sometimes you can actually fit a little more than the multiple pages per sheet function if you resize yourself. A regular 8.5″ by 11″ page reduced to 60-70% will often easily fit on half a page. Find the right number by noting what percent the copier uses when it does multiple pages per sheet for you, and increase the percentage a bit.

Scanning and emailing.

Newer copiers actually let you scan any document and email it yourself as a PDF. If this is available, you can eliminate the need for printing tons of extra copies for absent-minded students, or even yourself. Scan it, then print it on demand later.

The Three R’s


The easiest way to reduce copies is to print only a “class set” (enough copies for your largest class) to be reused throughout the day. If students work in pairs or groups, your class set will shrink even more. Generally, the larger the original document, the more you should lean towards the class set, even for tests. Remember, anything your students can write can be written on their own paper, including their

work if you require that. Once you remove spaces for answers from your handouts, whatever the subject may be, you’ve probably eliminated several pages from your original.

If you have a printer in your classroom, whether school issued or your own, procuring ink can be an expensive and difficult task as well. Reduce the amount you use by printing in a low-ink mode (sometimes called draft, economy or fast mode), printing only specific pages, or utilizing a program like Green Print to eliminate anything you don’t want to print (like ads and menus from websites, for example).

Finally, ask yourself this question whenever you feel the urge to copy: “Do I really need to copy this?” If it’s a very short assignment, for example a handful of open-ended questions, is it really a big deal to put it on the overhead or board and have students copy it (or just answer it)? You don’t want your class to be known among students as the one where “all we do is get handouts”.


Reuse every single-sided paper that crosses your desk. You’ll likely get tons of these from school officials, but you’ll also have a surprising amount left over from things you print after you’re done with them. I kept a special box for these near my desk, because it has tons of uses: scratch paper for students (and me), printing non-official documents on my classroom printer, and as a canvas for cutting and pasting together the originals I would later copy for class. It’s amazing how much paper you go through for stuff you only need temporarily.

Obviously if you’re making class sets, you’ll be reusing copies throughout the day, but remember that you could save your class sets and reuse them in subsequent years or semesters to save even more.


Okay, so you won’t reduce the number of copies you make or paper you use by recycling, but you’ll send the message to your students that you’re trying to cut paper waste. Hopefully, they’ll do their best to follow your example.

Make Copies Without a Copy Machine

Your own classroom printer.

I’m a big proponent of having your own printer in the classroom, preferably a multifunction one that also scans and copies. They’re very affordable, and in a school with limitations and problem copy machines, it will make your life a lot easier. You can make single copies very quickly or print on demand from your computer. This saves you from emergency runs to the copier and doesn’t make a dent in your copy quota. If your school copier doesn’t have the scanning capabilities described above, this is your way of avoiding the copier altogether.

Have a home printer.

If having one in your classroom isn’t an option, you should absolutely have a multifunction printer at home. You can get a lot of prep done that might normally require a copier, if only to make one or two copies to create your originals. You can even print out class sets (using the low-ink setting of course) when time or access to the copier at school is an issue.


Finally, the ability to scan documents is completely necessary if you’re serious about cutting down both paper use and the number of copies you need to make.

Tom DeRosa, the writer of this guest article, lives and teaches in McAllen, Texas. The owner and author of TeachForever.Com, he has also written several pillar articles of note. Included are 52 Teachers – 52 Lessons, The Golden Girls’ Guide to Telling Great Stories (fantastic), and Why We Need to Change the Way We Teach Math.

Photo Credit: Trek Hound

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