Teachers everywhere hunt for tips on pencil organization in the classroom! This post shares **my specific steps for how I manage pencils in my elementary classroom**. This is **the best pencil system ever** that I’ve used for years!

**PLUS you can grab a FREE Pencil System Planning Guide below!**

* *This post contains affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which do not cost any extra for you. Please see the full disclosure here.**

Why You Need a Pencil System in Your Classroom

As a teacher, pencils can be the highlight of your day or the bane of your existence!

If you’ve been around my site long enough, you know that I’ve taught different grade levels. With each grade, I’ve tested several different ways to handle pencil management with students.

**Here are things that just DID NOT work for me:**

- Allowing students to sharpen their own pencils throughout the day
- Sharpening their pencils for them
- Letting students keep handheld sharpeners at their desks

**I’ll walk you through different options for organizing your classroom pencils, then share my best pencil system ever!**

##

The Pencil Trade: The Great Pencil Challenge

After trying different ways to organize pencils, I tried a new system called **The Pencil Trade**.

Here’s how it worked:

- I kept one large jar full of sharpened pencils within reach as I teach.
- When a student’s pencil would break or become dull, they would just hold it up in the air to signal they needed an exchange. This signal didn’t require any talking or lengthy transition.
- Then I’d walk over to the sharpened jar of pencils and exchange the student’s dull one for a sharpened one.
*(see picture below)*

This system kept students engaged in learning because **it didn’t require a long pause to sharpen pencils. **

I would just drop the dull/broken pencil in a separate jar and keep the good times rolling!

**In this FREE Guide, you will see more tips on how to use pencil systems like this in your classroom.** *(no email sign-up required)*

**Even though I really loved The Pencil Trade, it had its flaws:**

- I had a huge stack of pencils to sharpen at the end of each day or week.
- Students had no responsibility or work involved concerning their pencils.
- Some kids took advantage of having a dull/broken pencil and would just sit there without letting me know they needed a sharpened pencil.
- It didn’t solve the problem of kids not having a pencil at all!

So with some tweaking and Pinteresting, ahem- I mean thorough research; I now feel that I have the BEST Pencil System EVER!

Classroom Pencil Management: My New-And-Improved Pencil System

Each student’s desk now has a basket, the same kind you can get at The Dollar Tree or here.

Students brought pre-sharpened pencils for back-to-school because the teachers on my team requested those on our supply lists to parents.

**By the way, this brand is my all time favorite for pencils! I recommend these to everyone.**

Students put 7 of those pre-sharpened pencils in their desk baskets along with a dry erase marker, whiteboard eraser (which is just a small black felt square), a highlighter, two red ink pens (for students to self-check their work), and a glue stick.

As a part of my beginning-of-the-year procedures, I teach students how to keep this basket organized.

I also use these strategies throughout the year, not just for the beginning-of-the-year.

*BIG Disclaimer:* This set-up requires training! If you have Kinder through 2nd grade, this pencil system will need some obvious tweaking due to maturity level. But keep reading to see how it fully works!

**Related Post You Will Enjoy: The Best Classroom Pencil Sharpeners for Heavy-Duty Use**

How The Pencil Policy Works

**Throughout the week, when a student’s pencil becomes dull or breaks, they just swap it out for a sharpened one that is already in their desk basket.**

Every Friday, we have a ‘Work-Time’ included in our class schedule for my student helpers to complete their classroom jobs. They are responsible for sharpening all dull pencils during that time.

That’s my procedure for sharpening pencils in the classroom.

No more pencil sharpening for the teacher! 🙂

The pencils live in our ‘Work-Station’ area for student helpers to easily access. *(This sharpener is my all time favorite and has held up longer than any other sharpener I’ve purchased!)*

*Easy-Peezy! Lemon-Squeezy! 🙂*

No more tedious pencil management for me.

No more interruptions to our learning because students are out of their seats sharpening pencils.

Our grade level uses Class Dojo, and I give Dojo Points to students who have all their supplies in their desk basket each week.

They easily remember to keep 7 pencils in that basket, because I have a checklist attached with Velcro Dots to their desks for daily reminders.

How to Keep Pencils From

Disappearing

Can I just be honest here?

I still have at least one or two students that seem to have “special” pencils that grow legs and walk off every single week.

Since I invest in this highest quality brand pencil, I do not keep giving them 7 new pencils each week.

These students go on “pencil probation.” *(I do not use those words with them–that’s just what I call it in my own mind.)*

I keep a separate list in my teacher planner, and I write their initials.

These students will only get these annoying nubby pencils until they prove that they can keep regular pencils in their basket each week.

Since I also give rewards to students who keep all 7 pencils in their basket by Friday, my kids work hard to keep their pencils.

They like the rewards!

**I haven’t run into any major hiccups with this system yet! So far, it is my favorite pencil management system for the classroom.**

How Do You Manage Pencils in Your Classroom?

Whew! That may seem like a lot, but nothing is more frustrating that having pencil problems when you’re trying to teach.

If you’d like to freshen up your classroom pencil system, this FREE checklist helps you plan effective management procedures for your pencils.

**No email is required, grab your goody HERE. **

Here are more organization topics you’ll love:

**5 Reasons Your Pencil System Isn’t Working****Guaranteed Organization Tips for Teacher Hoarders****35 Things You Need to Throw Away From Your Classroom Today**

Happy Planning & Organizing!

## 40 Responses

What do you do with kids who never bring pencils because they know I will give them to them but then never put them back, they either end up on the floor, broken, chewed up erasers broken off, or stolen. I start the week with like 20 pencils in the jar and by Wednesday there might be 8. I teacher 7th grade and don’t have time to collect all these pencils before each class leaves. I know they just expect me to refill them everyday, because I have had them ask where are all the pencils and I ask what happened to the one you had yesterday? They say of course IDK. Any suggestions?

Hi Eric,

I know having to replace all these pencils feels very frustrating. I recommend trying two things: 1) Providing some small incentive for students who keep up with their pencil each week. It doesn’t have to be big, but a small prize for keeping their pencil could be motivating to some students. OR 2) Assign two weekly student pencil monitors. They can collect pencils from the floor and have the class job or sharpening and organizing the pencils each week. Hope these ideas help! Thanks for stopping by.

I may have overlooked this but do you have a pencil caddies for each student. I was thinking that I could have a basket at each table and have 7-10 pencils but I know they would walk off. So how would I manage this? I am in 3rd grade and they change classes. I tried the numbering of pencils with my homeroom but then I get the other two classes that have issues with having supplies when they come to my room. The first class comes without supplies and they were just in their homeroom where they were to tal=ke care of all their sully needs.

Cassandra,

Do your students have desks where each one can have their own pencil basket or do you have tables where a small group of students sit at each table? Each of my students have an individual desk where I can place a small basket of pencils (like the picture shown above). This pencil system will be challenging if you have tables instead of desks.

I have used duct tape and made little flags to number the pencils. This is helpful when a pencil is found on the floor! We know EXACTLY who it belongs to! Question: Why 7 pencils? Could just 3 work?

I had a teaching teammate who did a similar thing with her pencils. She used washi tape, which worked well for her. I use 7 pencils in the basket so that there are enough to last all week long. 3 pencils would run out too soon for my students. Hope that helps! 🙂

I’m in the Peace Corps teaching 3rd grade. I can’t believe how many students don’t have a pencil and the same amount of students ‘lose’ their pencils on a daily basis. I pick up pencils every day and keep them in a container that they can have if they don’t come prepared. I pick up erasers and cut them into pieces so I am able to hand out a pencil with an eraser. Before break I ran out of pencils and had a little girl who comes unprepared a lot so we went “pencil hunting” around the school during the morning break. I sang a song (a pencil hunting we will go, a pencil hunting we will go). It was a really fun way to find pencils. She hasn’t come to me since. Of course, we are on island time here and I know this won’t work everywhere but it was sure fun.

Wow, what an amazing experience (being in the Peace Corps), but I can imagine how challenging that must be! Thank you so much for sharing this story about the little girl with her pencil. I remember walking around my classroom so many times picking up stray pencils, then being very frustrated the next day when a student would blurt out “I don’t have a pencil.” Or worse, when they would just sit there doing nothing because they couldn’t find a pencil. Your experience of teaching on an island really has me thinking of more ways to help keep pencils organized in every single classroom! Thank you again for this story. Happy Teaching Christine!

On my “Getting to Know Your Student” form that parents fill out at the beginning of the school year, I have a volunteer section for parents. I ask if anyone is willing to sharpen a baggie of pencils once a week. I usually have a few parents say yes. I send a bags home once or twice a week rotating to different parents. I have a similar basket as yours to collect dull pencils. When it’s almost full, we dump into a gallon size baggie and send it home. I won’t open any new boxes/packages until we really need them. It has worked well so far! 🙂

Molly,

What a great idea!! It sounds like you have some amazing parental support too. Thanks so much for sharing this tip…very helpful.

Hi,

Im just not understanding how the pencil helper does his job on Friday:

do the kids put the bins on their desks and he checks for dull pencils? OR do the kids hand in their dull pencils and he then goes around to make sure everyone has 7 sharpened pencils after he sharpens them?

Thanks!

Diana,

Thank you so much for your questions! These are great questions. Yes, my students get 7 pencils each in their basket. They keep them all week. When one gets dull, it just goes back in the basket. Then they pull out a sharpened one from the 6 remaining sharp pencils from that same basket. On Fridays, the students put their baskets on the top of their desks just long enough for the student helpers to go around and collect them. Only the student helpers sharpen all the pencils (which does not take long at all once they are trained), then redistribute the baskets. The students seated put the baskets back in their desks to use for next week. I hope that helps you. Thanks again 🙂

Hi,

I have read this post multiple times and for some reason I am missing something….

So they get 7 pencils, if they keep them by the end of the week they get a prize? Does the pencil helper, put new sharpened pencils into each basket because he collects all the baskets? OR do the kids put them on their desks? do the kids hand in their dull pencils and he/she’s in charge of making sure everyone has 7 sharpened pencils?

sorry it’s just the little details I guess that I need!

Thanks!

Diana Weiner

I use this system and it is so easy, however…

My neighbor teacher got rid of her system like this because everyone was getting sick easily. They were sharing pencils constantly. I realize we have germs all around, but it seems like getting rid of this system may help reduce germs.

I am going to give them pencils at the start of the year/week and maybe reward at the end of the week if they have them still??? Not sure…

Courtenay,

I can definitely see how this could spread germs if lots of students are touching each other’s pencils. We Lysol and use sanitizing wipes often in my class, so I haven’t had anything beyond the normal when it comes to spreading germs. But this pencil system has worked so well for managing the pencil chaos, that I’ve kept it going. 🙂

I type each student’s number repeatedly (with spacing in between each number) on address stickers. One sticker per student. A sheet covers the whole class. Then, I just cut them off as needed. Students put clear tape over the sticker to ensure number doesn’t rub off.

FergyC,

This is such a neat idea!! I am definitely going to incorporate this into my routine because I bet it saves so much time! Thanks for sharing this tip! 🙂

What do you do if students lose their pencils? Mine always seem to go missing. If they start the week with seven, but somehow end the week with 4, what do you do?

Jenna,

When students lose their pencils, I have my student helpers replace them at the end of the week when they sharpen them for me. I really praise students who can keep all 7 pencils in their basket all week. It takes some training at the beginning of the school year, but they eventually catch on and work hard to keep all their pencils. 🙂

And yet another reason for not teaching littles! I teach high school and the highlight of my day is all of my students have paper and pencil in hand instead of hands and feet on each other making out so I don’t have to say, “oxygen molecules need space so please give them room between you so I don’t have to call an ambulance or your parents.” 9th grade physical science teacher.

LOL! Oh Jill, I have many friends who agree and we laugh about this together because I think I would go crazy teaching high schoolers!!

I too use a similar system for organization with my first graders,I made a little song we sing each time we tidy up our “tool box” they keep 2 sharpened pencils, 1 pair of scissors, one glue stick and one jumbo eraser, (I also added and a yellow highlighter that I forgot to add to the song). I SING everything to my class and they love it. My goal is to publish a book of my sings before I retire.:-)

Jen,

We sound a lot alike because I have a song for just about everything in my class! LOL 😀 I would love to hear yours.

You use this with Kindergarten and first grade? I ask because my kids would get so distracted with the highlighters. So I guess my question is how do you keep kindes and firsties from playing with highlighters and pens all day? Do you have special education kids in your classroom? If so, what percentage? I ask because they too tend to get distracted in my opinion. So I a wondering how the system works with them.

Hi Tracie,

I used this system with upper elementary students. You would need to revise it for your kinders and first graders. Thanks!

We had a student almost choke on a hard candy, I would highly advise NOT giving candy was a reward.

Oh no! That’s not good at all 😳 🤦🏽♀️

Could you please email me your daily reminders list for the beginning and end of each day, please? [email protected]

Hi Barb,

Thanks so much for asking about those checklists. I have them posted for free in my TpT store. If you have trouble downloading them, please let me know.

I think you mean “voila” instead of “wha-lah” hahaha.

Great idea though!

Hi Stef! I meant to say “wha-lah” 🙂 It’s one of those quirky things that makes me different!

But thanks so much for reading & leaving a comment.

How do you kee the baskets from falling off the desks? My first graders CONSTANTLY lose things and are knocking anything and everything off their desks, despite organization. I love the idea, I’m just trying to figure out how to make it work…maybe I could Velcro the baskets to the desk?

Great question Kristy! I have my students keep the basket inside their desks, not on top of the desks. As a part of my back-to-school procedures, I show a diagram on the board of how where I want the students to keep their pencil baskets inside the desks beside their books, and we practice our organizational skills to make sure the baskets stay in the right place.

But I bet you could Velcro your pencil baskets on top of the desks to keep them still if you wanted. I’ve also used strong sticking putty from Amazon to keep things from sliding around.

Hope this helps!

Im a sub, so I do not have my own classroom YET, but I have seen maybe classrooms keep their little baskets on their desks. The room I am long- term subbing for now has them stuck with velcro. Trust me when I say, this does NOT keep them from getting knocked off! Its just way more dramatic when it does happen.

I completely agree Avery! That is why I have my students keep their baskets inside their desks.

We only Velcro our procedures checklists on top of the desk.

Pencils falling everywhere is so distracting!

I actually did something very similar to this, but with first graders, I gave them table supplies in shower caddies. No stuff in desks to play with or distract us. End of day included the supplies person getting the full pencils ready for the next day.

That should say dull not full. Didn’t catch the autocorrect. Sometimes it refuses to believe I might actually type that word.

Having things inside the desks can be very distracting for some students. When I taught 2nd grade, I also used something like shower caddies to hold supplies on top of the desk. But I didn’t use this pencil system with them; we just kept a few pencils in the “community basket” for all to use.

And I love your idea to have a student helper getting the pencils ready each day. 🙂

I have been using the Pencil Challenge. Each student receives 6 pencils with their particular number on it. (I alphabetize all students by their first name. They each have a special number.) I write the student’s special number on all 6 with a permanent marker. If they can show me they have all 6 on Friday they receive a jolly rancher candy. They sharpen first thing during breakfast or at the end of the day. Since they have 6 they don’t need to sharpen if one breaks. This also cuts down on sharing germs. The number system also helps as I collect and grade papers.

I LOVE your idea of numbering the pencils for extra accountability! I also number my students and will definitely give this extra tip a try. Thanks for sharing it!