Free Classroom Resources for Back to School: A Teacher’s Comprehensive Guide
It is the start of the school year, and just like students, teachers across the country are spending a lot of money on back-to-school clothes and supplies. When I was a child, one of my favorite things to do was to play “school” or “business,” mostly because of the accessories we used: cool pens, receipt books, grade books, paper clips, etc. Today my fellow educators and I are buying these supplies out of necessity. In some cases, there are teachers buying textbooks and basic supplies for their students. According to AdoptAClassroom.org, teachers spend $600 a year on their classrooms and 91% of teachers buy school supplies for their students. Below you will find lists of “free stuff” for teachers that will hopefully start your school year off with both more money in your pocket and more supplies in your classroom!
Let’s start big! What do you do if you want new computers for your classroom or a set of textbooks? There are websites available where people can sponsor your classroom and help you make these larger purchases. Below are two examples, but there are a myriad of websites available to help teachers crowd fund their classrooms.
- AdoptAClassroom.org’s mission is to “give teachers a hand and provide needed classroom materials so their students can succeed.” People can donate through a variety of means and to a variety of campaigns.
- DonorsChoose.org is probably the most popular or commonly known of the education crowd-sourcing websites. Started by a history teacher, donorschoose.org supports both teachers and donors. Teachers post requests, donors donate, and once the monetary goal is reached, the organization makes the purchase and sends the item to the school. Each donor gets a thank-you note from the teacher so that donors know their money went to its intended use.
When looking to “crowd source” your classroom, I recommend these tips before posting on the above sites:
- Be sure to ask for what you need, not necessarily what you want
- Tell a story
- Be engaging and purposeful in what you ask for
- Try to catch a trend ( for example, STEM is very popular right now)
- Share your goals with as many people as possible, social media is a great tool for this
- Build relationships with large donors
- Be persistent in your efforts.
Lesson Plans & Instructional Supplies
As we make our way through the classroom, let’s look at lesson plans and learning and instructional activities. There are ways beyond your school colleagues to collaborate and get free teaching materials.
Edutopia has done a great job categorizing a long list of websites that support instruction and/or provide instructional materials. The final section lists websites that list open resources. There is more free material to find at edutopia’s New Teachers Lesson and Curriculum Planning Resources page than you could use in an entire K−12 schooling experience.
Other websites with free instructional resource include: The Teaching Channel; Promethean Planet, which claims to be the largest resource for free interactive whiteboard materials; and PBS Learning Media, which has a ton of great units and lessons including virtual field trips. A few more that have some great lessons are Discovery Education, Teacher.org, and while not free (although your money is going to fellow teachers), I have many colleagues who have had great success with Teachers Pay Teachers
The internet is full of online resources for teachers. We all know that it is important to start the day, or start a lesson, with a warm-up. Scholastics offers daily starters for students in grades K−8. Now that your students are engaged, ClassDojo is a great website for managing your classroom and sharing behavioral information with your student’s parents. Are you a math teacher looking for manipulatives? The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a great way to create interactive, and engaging online lessons for your math students. Looking to go on a field trip, but short on time or money? The Smithsonian offers a variety of virtual fieldtrips at their Smithsonian Education website. Standards like Twitter and Instagram are great websites for engaging students while helping them work and learn collaboratively. Edutopia offers a list of 112 online resources and Kathy Schrock offers lists of both online tools and online tools for collaboration. This is just a start to the multitude of online learning and teaching websites and applications available to teachers and students. Be sure to share your favorites in the comments section.
The easiest way to get free supplies for your classroom is to go to local stores and ask! Also, there are several major cities that offer free shopping sprees or supplies for teachers, which you can find through a quick Google search. According to edutopia.com, “Teachers at schools in which at least 60 percent of students qualify for free lunch can take part in a monthly shopping spree at resource centers such as A Gift for Teaching, in Orlando, Florida, which gets many of its new supplies donated as surplus from businesses. For teachers at schools where 70 percent of the population qualifies for free lunch, the Kids in Need Foundation has built a network of 25 free school-supply resource centers around the country. Other local associations that gather and distribute free supplies include: Teacher Resource Center of the North Bay, in Napa County, California; Schoolhouse Supplies in Portland, Oregon; and Teacher Supply Depot in Knoxville, Tennessee. NEA offers a list of ten free things with links to free supplies that is updated monthly!
Finally, did you know that hundreds of retailers offer discounts for teachers? There are tons of lists online. Here are a few of these lists:
- Teacher.org’s Best Teacher Discounts
- WeareTeachers.com Educator Discount Programs
- GiftCardGranny.com, which offers the most comprehensive list I’ve been able to find. Below are a few of my favorites that are copied from her site.
- Staples: Register for the Staples Teacher Rewards Program to garner 5% back in rewards points and free shipping from Staples.com. The program covers a slew of products, from ink and paper to teaching and art supplies.
- Blick Art Materials: Teachers should sign up for the Dick Blick Preferred Card. It’s completely free and gets you 10% off purchases at Blick and Utrecht stores. Blick also offers organizational discounts for bulk orders.
- PBS: Educators who sign up for the PBS Learning Media program will receive free access to tens of thousands of videos, games, lesson plans and other educational materials for the classroom.
- Barnes & Noble: The B&N Educator Program provides teachers with 20-percent off the publisher’s list price on purchases for classroom use. This discount is ramped up to 25% during Educator Appreciation Days.
- Aerosoles: Bring your teacher ID shopping at Aerosoles to save 15% on footwear priced $39.99 or higher. If you can’t visit a store location, you can also receive the discount by placing your order over the phone.
- Easy Spirit: Teachers receive 15% off any in-store, full-priced purchases with a valid school ID.
- Banana Republic: Bring your valid teacher ID to a Banana Republic store and receive 15% off full-price purchases.
- Apple Store: The House of Jobs is surprisingly generous to teachers of all grade levels, offering varying discounts up to $200 on computers and accessories through the Apple Education Store. This offer also includes librarians, home schoolers, university professors, and even elected officers to PTA boards.
- West Elm: Take 10% off your online order or in-store purchase from West Elm, and enjoy modern, sophisticated furniture and home decor for less. Sign up for the “study circle”here, using your .edu address.
- National Park Service: Show a valid school ID at a slew of National Park Service visitor centers across the nation and receive 15-percent off many purchases. The discount doesn’t apply to park entry fees, camping fees, or Smokey the Bear petting zoo fees.
Post your favorite free or discount offer or resource for educators below!