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The Best School Supplies for Sixth-Graders, According to Teachers

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Moving up from elementary to middle school can be a big leap for sixth-graders. No longer sitting in one classroom all day, they’re responsible for getting to and from different classes with all of the necessary supplies. A streamlined school-supply collection helps students negotiate the balance of what to store in their lockers and what to tote around in their backpacks all day.

Of course, supply lists vary based on the individual school and teacher, but teachers always appreciate when students come equipped with the basics. “As long as they’re prepared with something to write with, and something to write on, that’s helping the teacher out a lot,” says Jaclyn Zera, a sixth-grade teacher in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. For a more comprehensive list of sixth-grade school supplies, we talked to three sixth-grade teachers at New York City public schools for the essentials they’d recommend to new middle-schoolers.

Instead of bulky binders, the teachers we spoke with recommended marble notebooks, color coded by class, for middle-school students. Zera likes that the “pages are less likely to fall out” in a marble notebook compared to a binder. With 12 notebooks, this set has enough for each class — plus replacements when notebooks fill up midway through the school year. Teachers did note that students might need a notebook with graph paper for their math classes, so make sure to pick up one of those as well.

Since some sixth-graders, according to teachers, are nervous about leaving things in their lockers and tend to carry everything they’ll need for the day with them, teachers are aware of lightening the load. “We try to minimize the supplies they’re carrying,” says Ashma Patel, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at the NEST+m (New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math) school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “Instead of having binders, I ask them to have a folder with loose leaf.” As classes move through units, students often will move their older loose leaf to a binder for studying at the end of the year. Therefore, Zera stresses the importance of using quality paper. “I encourage them to get the reinforced loose leaf paper so the pages don’t fall out quite as easily, and so paper doesn’t fall all over the place,” she says.

Just as loose leaf needs to be sturdy, teachers prefer heavy-duty plastic folders to flimsy paper ones for handouts and other papers kids tote back and forth to school. Sara Shin, a sixth-grade English teacher at IS 30 in Brooklyn, says “paper folders rip in half by the end of November, maybe December. Inexpensive folders like that seem like a good deal, but know they aren’t going to last through the year.” Zera agrees that “we don’t want parents throwing their money away to have to buy things over and over. A heavy-duty folder tends to last a little bit longer.”

Zera says many middle-schoolers feel more comfortable writing in pencil since they can erase mistakes. “I like regular pencils,” she says. “Because mechanical pencils tend to break and then they’re fumbling around looking for a piece of graphite.” These sleek, black pencils got the nod of approval for middle-school students from pencil experts. Getting unique-looking pencils like these is also a good idea because, as Patel says “usually if students have a personal connection [to their pen or pencil] they’re less likely to lose it. It’s a lot less likely they’ll leave them behind.” This is a huge help for teachers who say they often waste time loaning out pencils to kids who’ve forgotten theirs. It’s also a good idea to carry a small pencil sharpener as many classrooms don’t have one.

As middle-schoolers are acquiring study skills that will see them through high school and college, Shin says highlighters are great tools for learning how to read and annotate texts. “I always have some to share with my students,” she says, as students often lose or forget their own. A set is useful as students are often taught to use different colors for highlighting different types of information.

Similarly, Zera’s students use colored pencils to take notes and engage with their reading. She says a typical assignment might be to “underline the main idea in yellow, the supporting details in red, and then summarize on the bottom of green.” Unlike elementary-school kids who might need dozens of different colors for art projects, this selection of 12 should be more than enough for the annotating students will be doing in middle school.

Highlighters and colored pencils are great for printouts and other documents that students can write on, but if they’re reading from a borrowed textbook they’ll need something less permanent. “A lot of curriculum asks for students to have Post-its or flags,” says Shin. She’ll have her students use sticky notes to show “how they’re interacting with a complex text — looking for evidence, marking up questions, especially because they can’t write in their books.”

Students often work on assignments both at home and at school, so Shin recommends an inexpensive flash drive “if you can’t access an online account to save any work done digitally.” At only $5, this one allows students to easily transition between working on a classroom computer and their laptop or PC at home.

While the teachers say some schools provide planners, in case your child’s school doesn’t, it’s worth buying one with ample space for each subject. Patel says “we really try to emphasize writing down your homework every day” and likes planner like this one with a section for each class.

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The Best School Supplies for Sixth-Graders