Cheap Materials

“I’m starting in the fall. Can you help me find cheap materials for my room?”

During your first year teaching you want everything to be perfect and cute and fun and shiny and wonderful. I totally remember being there and buying gobs of stuff that never got used.

I’ve been thinking about what cheap materials you actually need, and have come up with a short list.

It may seem shorter than you thought, but I have come around to the minimalist teaching method. Less really is more. You don’t need a lot of stuff to teach. Stuff makes you happy, but it doesn’t make you a better teacher.

  • Books

  • I put this first for a reason. No matter what other “stuff” you buy, you can always teach great lessons if you have books. I get mine from the public library. Once a month they sell off the old, ripped, out of circulation books. They are hard cover and wonderful. Sometimes if I wink at the little old man working the counter I can get a whole box of cheap materials for $20. So, ask around, talk to the librarian, find books.

  • Paper

  • Copy paper, computer paper, any paper. You will be amazed at the amount of paper you go through. I don’t “do” worksheets, but we make books. Making books takes paper. Ask businesses to save their “mistake copies” for you. Many times it is on cool paper that the kids can use the other side of. Ask copy shops about paper. You need paper.

  • Pencils

  • This seems obvious, but if each student uses one pencil a week and you have 20 kids you will need over 600 pencils for a year.

  • Crayons

  • Just get some. Kids love them.

  • Scissors

  • I buy mine on sale and write my name on them. They are my scissors, so I know I have them from year to year. They are kept in a bin so they don’t get lost in desks.

  • Glue

  • Some teachers like white glue, some like glue sticks, but whatever you like find it on sale and buy as much as you can. Even if you aren’t into crafts and projects – it gets used.

  • Storage

  • Whether it’s shelves, bins, buckets or boxes all classrooms need storage. Once you’ve seen your room you’ll have a better idea on what to get. Whenever I find a bin I like, I buy 10. That way I know they will stack.

That’s it.


I thought, and thought, and thought about it.

You could teach a whole year with just these cheap materials. It won’t be the most amazing set up, but it would work.

I know you’re thinking, “No way!” But I speak from experience.

One year I taught for 14 weeks without any teaching materials except for what’s listed above.

I didn’t even have desks, tables or chairs. We sat on the floor. It can be done.

And sometimes, the less you start with the more you can create together.

Fun finds for a frugal teacher

If after you’ve bought the short list and have a few bucks left, here are some cheap materials that you might like. These are a little icing on the cake.

Lunch Trays

I found these cute plastic lunch trays at Big Lots, but I hear they are everywhere. They are perfect for segmenting and blending words. I used a cut up index card, but magnets, letter beads, play dough or letter pasta would work great too.

Dry erase marker also wipes off of the tray nicely, you just have to do if quick so it does not dry on it for days and days.I bought enough to do this as a warm up during guided reading.

I think they were $0.80 each.

Color Copy Paper and Coupon Sorters

I found a package of 100 sheets of color copy paper for $1. I knew I could do something with it… but what? Then I remembered that I had some lined writing paper from last year in a box. Viola! Folded in half with a bright cover, it makes an eye catching fun book!

The coupon sorters were in the Target $1 section. I wasn’t sure what to do with these either, but they were too fun to pass up. I was thinking about using them for my Daily Math Journals and having the kids do it on a ½ sheet of paper and slide them in. So, these will be a type of portfolio.

Cheap Phones

At Dollar Tree they had a whole section of phones.

I bought 3 and plan on putting them in the books and baskets center. The kids can read to their friends on the phone.

The only thing I had to do was cut the cords. They were around 10 feet long and thought they would just be a mess, so I trimmed them down to a manageable foot.

Tumbling Blocks

I had heard of writing words on these games, but didn’t think it would be fun until one night my friends and I wrote little goofy “Truth or Dare” things on my board at home.

There’s something truly enjoyable about building and reading and laughing with friends.

So, I found these cheap materials at Big Lots and started writing sight words on them.

I think I may go get another set for more advanced readers and put challenges on some of the blocks. For example, “What words can you make with the letters A T C N?” or “What’s your favorite book? Why?”

I'm looking forward to this fun game!

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