My mom, a former educator, used to say, “it’s not about the boxed programs or collecting the fanciest of classroom supplies, a masterful teacher is one who is able to teach effectively whether the room is chock full of resources or has the minimum essentials.” 

As I learned through my own experience, a wealth of resources does not always translate to success. In fact, I now tend to swing toward the Marie Kondo side and find that less, very often, is indeed more, especially when we are able to use the tools and resources with greater intentionality and a wider scope of application. 

Let’s take the famous “on an island” scenario. If I was lampooned on an island, preferably a tropical one – which fortunately, does have a copier –  and could only bring a few other resources to establish a literacy classroom and teach with, what items would I choose? 

In no particular order…

Post-It Notes

The possibilities for Post-It Notes really are endless. I like to have Post-Its of every color, size, shape and blank or lined varieties. Traditionally, many use Post-It Notes for close reading or jotting down ideas, maybe even for editing writing. All really useful for kids. 

There are also some really great opportunities to use them for phonemic and phonological awareness exercises. 

I have used different colors along with Elkonin boxes or a similar “parking lot” mat when doing phonemic awareness with and without the addition of graphemes or letter symbols in order to have students practice blending, segmenting and substitution. Using different colors in all situations, allows students to attend more closely to the phonemes and graphemes they are hearing or hearing/seeing. Students can also get tactile feedback by tapping the Post-Its in the case of blending or pulling them down when segmenting. Similarly, Post-Its can also be used for onset and rime exercises as well as syllabication. If you teach morphological awareness, these sticky saviors can be wonderful for manipulating prefixes, base or root words and suffixes. 

White or Colored Index Cards with Binder Rings

Like Post-Its, index cards are work horses for the classroom. For teacher use, I use different colored index cards attached to binder rings to collect data and anecdotal notes for different subject areas and student groupings. I also keep these filled out index cards in a recipe or plastic box to pull from when it comes time to report, have conferences or reflect on student growth. When we move on to new concepts, new cards for the topic and student are attached to the ring. 

I have used index cards to make different sets of phoneme/grapheme cards for rapid naming exercises, this means that I save a lot of time between groups or students as I can keep their own personal card decks in a separate folder or bags. Index cards can also be used for the same phonological exercises mentioned in Post-It sections. From time to time, I use Post-It’s for explicit portions of instruction and small group work and then create student activities based on this work with the index cards – even better is laminating them for durability and reuse in the future. They can then be put on a binder ring or in a binder (one colored card per ring) to create blending boards that reinforce and practice learned concepts. 

Students can also build their own personal collection of “heart words” on index cards (also with a binder ring) so that they have their own differentiated and personalized tool that can be used during classwork or for independent literacy activities. 

Plastic Sheet Protectors

I remember balking at the price of the fancy colored write and wipe pockets for the classroom and then seeing a big chunk of my small budget being depleted because I just had to have them. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I’ll go there…it actually took me ages to realize that your average plastic sheet protector is JUST as good, if not BETTER than the cute colored variety and surprisingly more durable. 

I use sheet protectors for: 

  • makeshift dry erase boards (especially in a bind) or to hold highlighted paper during small group lesson work. 
  • protecting decodable passages which can then be reused for different students or within student centers. 
  • housing differentiated activities like word sorts, building words or word spinners and keeping them in colored bins that students choose from based on their word study playlist/flexible grouping. 

Dry Erase

Magnetic, lined, large, medium, small, I feel like dry erase products don’t necessarily need a long blurb or explanation but they are most definitely a must have. 


What child doesn’t love legos?

You can really use many different manipulatives like counters, small toys, craft items like pom-poms, etc for some of your literacy work but Legos I find are the favorite among students I have worked with. Legos can be used as an alternative or in addition to the Post-Its or index cards. I like to use different tactile experiences to keep the learning fresh and fun. Using Legos to connect and blend or pull apart to segment is always a good time and shows a visual model of what is actually occurring when we do these actions. 

If you have the Lego base or board, you can have students build words with smaller lego pieces.Taking it a step further – you can use sticky dots or easy peel labels to write the letters you are focusing on or using for that lesson. You can do word chains or word ladders with this set up too!  

I have also been known to have absolutely no shame in sticky labeling words on different colored Legos that allow students to focus on parts of speech, subject and predicate and to build sentences. 

In writing this all out, I am actually feeling really well-prepared for and confident about my island classroom.  

Now if only I could find space for my bathing suit and sunscreen! 

If any of the resource ideas mentioned are ones that you have questions about, or would like to explore further, feel free to reach out. I also offer coaching and professional development opportunities related to explicit instruction and differentiated whole and small group work.

I would also love for you to comment about ways that you have gotten creative with some of the standard supplies in your own classroom or work setting.