Thank Goodness for the Dollar Store

I’ve loved school supplies for as long as I can remember. The proof is in the three-year supply of sticky notes in my cupboard, alongside the five styles of index cards and the six different brands of highlighters and markers.

I confess to being a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to these supplies; I’m quite prepared to pay more to get index cards that look marbled and sticky notes in interesting shapes and bright colours. However, if I were still teaching in a classroom, I would be making regular visits to my local dollar store to stock up on large quantities of a variety of basic supplies that make a difference to student learning.

Here’s what I’d buy and why:


A single colour of highlighter can be used by students while they read to isolate specifics such as words they don’t understand, support for inferences, or answers to questions. A variety of coloured highlighters can be used after reading to focus on and identify different structural elements of a text. Colour coding helps the brain to quickly identify different categories of information in a text, making highlighting useful for visual learners of all ages. It’s even recommended for law students learning to write briefs. The easiest highlighter colours to see are yellow, orange, and pink. Alternatively, you can provide students with various colours of highlighter tape, which has the benefits of being easily removable so as not to permanently mark textbooks, and reusable.

Sticky Notes

The more actively involved students are in processing information, the better. For that reason, sticky notes are one of the best resources teachers can provide. Students can use them to flag places in a text where their comprehension breaks down; mark parts of a text they’d like to talk about, or to record thoughts they want to contribute to a mind map or brainstorming session. Sticky notes can be used for a variety of assessment tasks to support students with special needs, or for art, although this last one applies only when students have a lot of spare time and you have hundreds of dollars to spend on notes.

Index Cards

Small, recipe-sized index cards are useful whenever you want students to submit information that you need to sort. Because the index cards are stiffer than normal paper, they are easier to sort into groups when, for example, students give you an exit card summarizing their understanding of a concept. Index cards are also great for research purposes—as students research, they can record the citation information on one side of the card and quotations or interesting ideas from the text on the other side. If a card is used for each idea, the cards can then be sequenced to create an outline for the essay or research paper.

Individual Whiteboards

You can purchase individual whiteboards from a dollar store or make your own by cutting up large sheets of melamine. Students can use old socks as whiteboard erasers and as holders for dry erase markers. Teachers have found dozens of uses for individual whiteboards, from developing the skills of students in language classes to teaching algebra in secondary math classrooms. Whiteboards keep students actively involved in learning, and provide teachers with immediate feedback on student understanding of the concepts we teach.

Regardless of the school supply you choose, and whether you use it in tangible or virtual form, highlighters, sticky notes, index cards, and individual whiteboards support active involvement by the diverse learners in our classrooms.

If you had to choose just one stationery supply for your classroom, what would it be?


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