Ninth grade can be a tricky time. Along with starting over as the youngest kids in school, navigating new social situations, and juggling extracurricular activities, high-school freshmen often encounter new challenges in the classroom, too.
To set kids up for success, we asked four high-school teachers and other education professionals to share their essential ninth-grade school-supply lists. Below, everything a freshman will need to start high school on the right foot.
According to Carol Lloyd, vice-president and editorial director of education nonprofit Great Schools, the structure of high-school classes can be challenging for some students to get used to, as “kids are suddenly expected to sit and listen to lectures and take notes.” To make the most of note-taking, she says students should look for pens that won’t smear or bleed while writing, or leak in their backpacks and make a mess. Marcia Bennett, M.Ed., a ninth-grade history teacher in Alexandria, Virginia, says the Pilot G2 pens are her No. 1 choice “because they’re easy to take notes with and write seamlessly.” She even finds that messy handwriting is more decipherable when students write with this smudge-proof pen.
Multicolor pens come in handy when teachers require students to use different color inks for different purposes, like peer-editing. Katie Davis, a New York–based clinical neuropsychologist who works with teenagers and young adults on developing strategies to enhance learning, suggests these “tried and true” four-color BIC pens. She says, “There are no caps to lose, and the ink doesn’t bleed through the back of the paper.”
Lloyd says pencils are useful for math and science classes where it’s “more and more important to show what you know rather than just have the right answer.” Davis says many students prefer mechanical pencils, and these durable ones from Paper Mate are her favorites. “The skinny ones break all the time, and when [students] have to stop and refresh the point, it disrupts their train of thought,” she says. “These are totally sturdy, so they completely eliminate the usual issues.”
For note-taking and making it easy to find important information, Bennet recommends that students buy highlighters in at least two colors. She relies on these smear-proof Sharpies that “last a good while.”
Kids with messy backpacks or lockers waste valuable time digging around for a pen or pencil. These stainless-steel holders, according to K.A. Keener, a ninth-grade English teacher in Chappaqua, New York, are very effective for preventing lost writing utensils. “Just clip one to each notebook and you’ll never have to dig around for a pen,” she says. “They fit all pens, all notebooks.”
Learning how to stay organized is key to a successful high-school career. “The best organization system is the one that is the simplest,” says Davis. “For many kids, that is a single notebook per class with notes written and handouts [organized] in chronological order. When it’s time to study for a test, everything is in the same place.” She suggests these binder/notebook hybrids because “they can hold three-hole-punched handouts like binders, but they are also nice and light, and they don’t take up too much space in the backpack like notebooks.” Pick up a different color for each class for visual organization.
All the teachers we spoke with agreed that high schoolers should have a planner to keep track of homework, assignments, tests, and extracurricular activities. Kim Blevins, a ninth-grade English teacher with 16 years of experience from Kansas City, Missouri, says that a bullet journal is a good option for students who want something simple “that doesn’t scream ‘planner.’” She says students enjoy the customizable, open-ended nature of the dotted journal: “Some teens really love getting to track all kinds of things in addition to homework, and creating a personalized time capsule of their year.”
Bennett says index cards are a great study aid for new high schoolers. “They help to reinforce [subject matter] and are good tools for working in teams.” Her favorite are these bright-colored cards from Office Depot. “The ruled lines are helpful in case the student doesn’t have the best handwriting,” she says. “Also, the color assortments are helpful for categorizing vocabulary words by themes or concepts.”
Cell-phone calculators work fine for figuring out a tip or splitting a bill between friends, but for high-school math classes, kids are going to need something more powerful. Jaclyn Gibbons, a ninth-grade math teacher in New York City, tells us that this calculator will get students through all four years of high school from algebra through calculus. And it’s one of the models approved for use on the SAT test.
For students easily distracted by their phones, Keener finds that this productivity app motivates kids to stay away from the screen. “It challenges you to not touch your phone while a virtual tree grows in a set amount of time that you enter,” she says. Forest partners with nonprofit organization Trees for the Future, which plants real trees in sub-Saharan Africa for each tree grown in the game — up to five per user. Also available in the Google Play store here.
Without access to a printer, Lloyd said that students are “probably going to be frustrated and struggling all the way through [high school],” since many teachers still require students to submit paper copies of their essays and homework. To avoid running out of ink on the night before an important paper is due, try a printer with an automatic refill service. This $40 option can be synced up with HP Instant Ink or an Amazon Dash button for quick and timely refills.
Between laptops and heavy textbooks, Lloyd says high schoolers’ backpacks can end up weighing 30 to 40 pounds and “get serious wear and tear.” Instead of a cheaper backpack that isn’t built to last, she recommends investing in a high-quality pack that can last all through high school. She likes that REI backpacks are durable with padded straps that are gentler on students’ back and shoulders.
To avoid lugging a heavy backpack around all day, Lloyd encourages students to use their lockers and switch out books in between classes. We’re fans of the Wordlock, which allows you to set an easy-to-remember letter combo. Strat writer Logan Sachon says, “If you, like me, pick one that is also a little personal joke, you get a little burst of happiness each time you unlock it.”
Blevins recommends a refillable water bottle, as “brains need water to work.” Because, as she says, “freshmen are going to lose things, unfortunately,” she recommends the under-$20 Mira bottle. Available in over a dozen colors, any kid should be able to pick one that matches their style. “You want buy-in from the teen,” says Blevins, “so let them choose the color and they will more likely use it and keep track of it.”