Pencils can be the root of many distractions. Kids wander the classroom to sharpen them...or worse, they intentionally break the tip as an excuse to wander the classroom pretending to need to sharpen them. There are three options for sharpening pencils and each is more annoying than the other.
  • The choice of a grinding sound from the traditional sharpener
  • The screechy sound of an electric sharpener or the inevitable pile of pencil shavings that land on the floor when a hand-held sharpener gets dropped. 
  • Kids fight over who owns the longest, sharpest, most awesomest pencil and who gets the stubby one.  
I could continue, but I won’t because with a few management tactics you can avoid all of the above.

What Worked in My Classroom:
  • Everyone received a standard issue, yellow, no-frills, number 2 pencil to use.  This alone eliminated a lot of distraction as it ended the disputes over who the Hello Kitty pencil belonged to and put a stop to the kid who would spend the better part of the day refilling his mechanical pencil with lead.

  • I wrote the students’ numbers at the top of the pencil with Sharpie. They typically do not smudge off, but if it is a problem you could also give it a quick swipe of clear nail polish.
  • We talked a lot about responsibility and how it was their job to try and make a pencil last for an entire month. I set this goal not so I could hoard pencils, but to eliminate the desire kids had to always have “the best pencil.” I had been going through my supply rapidly and was forever finding less desirable pencils scattered around the classroom. I had debated making it a real challenge with a prize for those who still had their pencil, but ultimately decided against it. There are times when a pencil goes missing to no fault of the owner. This would cause a whole new kind of pencil related drama so I abandoned the idea.

  • I used a silent hand signal for students to let me know their pencil was broken or dull. At the start of the year I would make a big show of “inspecting the pencil by holding it up to the light, squinting to look closely at it, testing it on a scrap of paper, etc. to determine if it really needed to be sharpened or not. This helped them to quickly understand the difference between needing to sharpen a pencil and wanting to sharpen a pencil.

  • Instead of letting everyone sharpen their own pencil I made it a classroom job. There were two cups in the classroom - one for pencils that needed sharpening and one filled with loaner pencils that could be borrowed. The loaner pencils were marked with tape. The student assigned to pencil sharpening not only sharpened the pencils, but also returned them to the owners’ tables and desks at the end of each day.

  • Finally, I never had my students travel with their pencils when they would move around for Reading Workshop and Math rotations. Instead I kept a supply caddy at my small group table for them to use when they came for guided math instruction.

Ask parents who are not able to come in and volunteer to sharpen and prepare pencils for you at home. They can sharpen 2 months worth at a time and label them with the students’ numbers for you.
Do not put pencils on your school supply list. Even if you ask for only yellow pencils they will send it a hodge podge. Trust me when I say that using ONLY yellow pencils will eliminate A LOT of distraction.

Invest in a high-quality pencil sharpener.  The cheaper ones stop working quickly.

Using plain boring yellow pencils on a regular basis also provides the added opportunity to let students use a decorative pencil as a special treat. I let my students use special pencils on their birthday or when they were student of the day. They took them home at the end of the day.

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