Pencils, Part Two: Some Advice About Pencil Sharpening

Hard-Won Knowledge about Pencils in the Classroom:
An Occasional Series (Part Two)

Your classroom cannot function without a steady supply of sharpened pencils.  You, however, cannot function with the pencil sharpener whirring constantly.

Here is some advice on how to manage pencil sharpening.

1.  Get a good-quality pencil sharpener.  It will cost $35 or more, and it is totally worth it.  I hope you can buy this through your district or convince someone to give it to you.  A generous parent might help, or maybe the parents will pass the hat.  If not, suck it up and buy the pencil sharpener.  (Try Craigslist—you might be lucky!  Just make sure it works.)

My pencil sharpener: X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener (1670) for $35 at Amazon

For fifteen dollars more, you can get a sharpener that Amazon shoppers seem to love: X-Acto Teacher Pro Electric Pencil Sharpener with SmartStop, Black (1675)

2.  Use the two-cup pencil system.  Label one cup Dull and the other Sharp.  Students put dull pencils in the Dull cup and take a new sharp pencil from the Sharp cup.  This is standard practice in primary classrooms.  Intermediate classrooms don’t use this system—and so kids are always interrupting class to sharpen pencils.  (Rules about when kids are allowed to sharpen pencils don’t work.)  Having tried the two-cup pencil system in my third-grade classroom, I would never change it, no matter what grade I teach.

3.  Will you let students touch your expensive pencil sharpener?  Some teachers sharpen all pencils themselves to protect their investment in their pencil sharpener.  I did this for a while, but then I freed up a surprising amount of time by turning the job over to students.  Just make sure to teach them not to put in really short pencils—they will get stuck.

4.  Create a pencil sharpening job.  I call it Pencil People for alliteration.  You need two students for this job: one to actually sharpen the pencil, and one to hand the next pencil to the pencil sharpening person.  This makes it much more efficient.  Explain to your pencil sharpeners that they should spend about three seconds on each pencil.  Also, provide them with a hand broom and dustpan or a Dust Buster to clean up shavings.

5.  Hold Pencil Drives.  You will always be short of pencils in the Sharp cup because kids don’t turn in their Dull pencils.  Hold Pencil Drives to counter this problem.  Basically, a Pencil Drive is a fancy way of declaring “Bring me all your pencils, NOW!”  More details follow in the Pencil Drive post.


 

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