Classroom Management Responses for...Students Not Bringing Equipment to Class

This is one of those seemingly unimportant management issues which is often swept under the carpet by a teacher who is frantically trying to concentrate efforts on more serious issues. In a lively class, when you’ve got Mary and Matilda cat fighting, Liam smoking, Carl spitting on Graham, Steven chucking text books at Johnny, and Paul making lewd comments about the support assistant’s chest – all at the same time – it’s easy just to hand a spare pen to Kyle who’s forgotten his. After all, there’s no need to get in a lather over the small stuff. Is there?  

One reason we should be at least a little concerned about Kyle’s missing pen is that seemingly trivial things like this can easily trip up the most well-prepared classroom manager if they get out of hand.  


Because whatever you allow to happen in class, you effectively encourage.  

Every time you hand over a pen from your dwindling pile of spares you effectively train your little angels in the belief that it’s perfectly acceptable to come to class without one. So before long, they’re all at it. Suddenly, one pen becomes thirty-five, you spend half the lesson handing pens out like sweeties and you’re left with a handful of chewed, gunky biros and a group of kids who couldn’t give two hoots about coming to class prepared!  

The bottom line is that you need to minimise the number of excuses that students will invent for not starting work. Let’s face it, not having a pen is a great excuse to avoid transferring words on to paper; not having a ruler is a great excuse to avoid measuring or drawing straight lines; not having coloured pens means you can’t finish your illustrations, and not having a drawing compass makes it absolutely impossible to draw circles (and to give the student in front of you impromptu body piercings).  

The more time you spend sourcing, fetching, carrying and monitoring equipment and resources (you do keep a record of items you lend out don’t you?) the more stressful your lessons will be, the less time you’ll have to support and manage your students, and the more dependent they will become. That’s before we take into account valuable textbooks and exercise books which are taken home for the dog to chew and which are never seen again. Let’s get on top of this issue and make life easier for everyone.  

Here are eight classroom management strategies for dealing with it…  

1. Keep textbooks and exercise books in your room. I’m sure there is some complex mathematical formula to explain the relationship between a student’s general classroom behaviour and the likelihood that he or she will return a book once it has been taken home - but since Stephen Hawking isn’t available to explain it, let’s just say that with a challenging group it’s ‘not very likely at all’. And it causes huge problems.  

I remember being pretty lax when it came to taking my own exercise books home as a student - they just seemed to disappear once they entered the depths of my school bag, never to be seen again. I had a new exercise book in some lessons almost every week – so by the end of term there were hundreds of little books with ‘Robert Plevin’ labels on them lying round in uncharted places, each containing about three pages of work. Maybe it’s just (disorganised) boys but it’s a problem which needs solving if you, as a teacher, don’t want all your lessons turned upside down with cries of “Miss, I need a new book”.  

Your best bet is not to let them take them home in the first place. Store exercise books on a dedicated class shelf. Yes, I know you have to set homework but there’s nothing wrong with giving them a separate homework folder/book/file specifically for homework. Never send textbooks home – that’s what photocopiers are for.  

2. Pens and other equipment - offer to lend them some of your equipment in return for 'collateral' such as a shoe. Like all the strategies in this resource, there are going to be some which you don’t feel comfortable about using. This is probably one of them purely because it can get very smelly in a hot classroom when half the students are minus their full complement of footwear.  

Having said that, it is a very effective way of making sure you get your equipment back at the end of the lesson; nobody likes having to hop home (though now I come to think of it, I do still have a large collection of odd Woolworths plastic trainers; for some reason they seemed to think a new HB pencil was a fair swap). 

3. Encourage them to borrow from each other. This is preferable to having to continually give out materials from your own stocks. Give a brief period of time at the start of the lesson for students to borrow items from other members of the class – but be prepared to change strategy if they start removing each other’s shoes.  

4. Use a more positive approach. There are two ways to tackle any classroom situation – reward behaviour when it’s positive, or punish when it’s inappropriate. Rather than focusing on students who don’t bring equipment it might be better to reward those who do, with spontaneous light-hearted treats (such as a garishly decorated plastic pen, or an antique Woolworths training shoe).  

5. Focus on teaching the behaviour you want to see. This is my personal favourite. I’m a big fan of methods which develop independence – give a man a fish and all that – and the better you can lead your students towards becoming responsible, the easier (and more meaningful) your job will be. Give them a checklist to take home and  fill in every morning with items they should bring to school. Then show them how to use the checklist as a memory aid – “have a quick look through it in a morning and check off items as you add them to your bag.”  

6. Get the parents/carers involved. Inform parents that this key issue is causing great concern - explain how it is impacting on the child’s progress in other lessons and its importance as a life/ employment skill. You could also mention that unorganised teenagers tend to lack the ability to move out of the parental home and often end up living there well into their thirties – that’s a great parental attention-grabber. Show them the checklist you’ve created and ask them to remind the student each morning/evening to use it. 

7. Be prepared. Always have a complete box of materials and equipment on your desk – your ‘Resource Box’. Cut out the tendency for students to keep/borrow/forget to give back/steal your materials by having them clearly and boldly marked. Pink nail varnish tends to be a good deterrent if you’re lending materials to Johnny and his pals.  

8. Keep a clear record. A great way to impress students with the impact of their actions is to give them a clear picture of how significant a particular problem is. A chart provides a clear record, for both  teacher and student, of how many times materials have been forgotten. It also gives a definite starting point from which to improve:  

"Jonny, you have forgotten your materials every day this week. Let's see if we can get one positive mark on the chart tomorrow, shall we? What are you going to do to make that happen?” 

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