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Top MUST-HAVES for Upper Elementary

This list of must-haves for upper elementary teachers is the perfect to-do list as you prepare for the new year.

Teaching elementary is a hard job that takes highly organized and creative people to keep all those kids both learning and engaged each day.

I am frequently in awe over the many creative solutions elementary teachers come up with to inspire their students and keep content fresh.

Whether it is your first year or your 20th year teaching upper elementary, the beginning of the year is always a bit of a jumbled, chaotic mess full of meetings, organizing, and generally trying to find some sense of balance in this new year.

Sometimes the only way to keep moving at the beginning of the school year is to have a good ol’ fashioned to-do list, and this particular list of must-haves for upper elementary teachers may be just what you need to prioritize your tasks this back-to-school season.

Must Haves for Upper Elementary

7 Must-Haves for Upper Elementary

#1| Consistent Centers

Organization and order is born from good systems and processes, and having a set of go-to centers for each subject area will help cut down on the amount of instruction you have to dish out to get an activity started and gives you more time for small group time.

Some good ideas for creating consistent centers are to have games, activities, and interactive charts that you can use on an on-going basis that students are familiar with. When looking for activities that work well as consistent centers, find ones that have many different versions of the same type of activity. For example, we have created close reads for every month as well as themed sets that you can use throughout the year. Using these close reads as a consistent center activity during an ELA block would be a simple way to keep students focused and learning even when your attention needs to be elsewhere.

For some additional ideas for creating consistent centers, these blog posts may provide some inspiration.

Back to School Math Review Centers for 5th Grade

Student Accountability During Centers

Digital Game boards for Learning & Review

#2| Math Manipulatives

Manipulatives of any kind are helpful, but math manipulatives are a particular must-have.

When students are learning about math it is important to engage all types of learners. Some students have good, general number sense and can understand and ‘see’ numbers without really needing to see them. However, many students do really need to SEE the numbers, and math manipulatives help them do that.

Math manipulatives can be anything from cotton balls to coins or extra pencils or old game pieces. Get creative and hit up that dollar store for some great deals and inspiration.

You can also get some awesome math manipulatives that can be used for interactive bulletin boards. Check out this recent blog post featuring 3 new activities you can try with our Free Interactive Place Value Chart for some fresh ideas for this year.

#3| Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are a must-have for the classroom because you make them with students about the content you are focusing on and you can hang them up in the classroom as posters they can refer back to throughout the year. They can be used as useful decorations that the students have helped to create and can come back to again and again even after you move on to other topics.

#4| Review Games that Cover the Standards

In addition to making the room look pretty (and functional), having some go-to activities that you can fall back on for introduction, practice, and review standards are game-changers when it comes to planning.

Games are not only fun, engaging, and low-risk for students, but they also can be used with individuals, in small groups, or in whole group instruction. Games can also be used more than once within a single unit. They can be used to introduce information or pre-assess, as center activities for small groups, and again as a review before an assessment.

In an effort to help our teachers get as much out of their games as possible this year, we have focused on coming up with new ways to use some of Fun in 5th Grade’s most popular games.

Click on the images below for more information about each type of game.

Must Haves for Upper Elementary
Game Shows
Must Haves for Upper Elementary
Digital Center Games
Must Haves for Upper Elementary
U-KNOW

Now, click on the images below to see how these same games can be used in a different way.

repurposing game show slides
Repurposing Game Show Slides Post
4 Ways to Reuse and Repurpose U-KNOW Cards
New Ways to Use U-KNOW Cards Post
Must Haves for Upper Elementary
Unexpected Ways to Reuse Task Cards

#5| Highlighters, Markers, and Fun Pens

School supplies are not just for students, and when you have a full set of highlighters and pens in all the colors, a little piece of you just glows. 

Along with that inner glow that comes from a fresh supply of colorful writing utensils, you also have the knowledge that you are ready for anything! These items are useful in many classroom activities, for example, when providing students with highlighters for close reads, or markers to color in their mystery pictures or colored pens to represent each group during a gallery walk.

So many writing utensils. So many colors. So many uses. Bringing so much joy!

#6| Stickers (Yes! They still love these!)

Whether they are gracing the top of a perfect paper or the side of a water bottle, stickers bring joy to those who look at them. 

Even at the age of 8, 9, or well into the double digits, students still enjoy earning a sticker for their work or using them to decorate their projects. Keep your eyes open for stickers while at the local dollar store, pick up a bulk pack through Amazon, or put them on your classroom wish list to make sure you never run out.

Must Haves for Upper Elementary

#7| A Class Wish List

Many people are interested in helping support their child’s classroom and the other children in their student’s class. Whether it is made public or not, take the time to put together a wish list of items that can be shared with interested parents or businesses who want to support your classroom. 

Your wish list could be on Amazon, Teachers Pay Teachers, or even a piece of paper, but make sure that if someone asks how they can support you or your students, you are ready with an answer.

Also, when making your wish list, make sure to include opportunities in many different price ranges. Just because that Tpt bundle or those large, multi-colored sticky posters are out of your price range doesn’t mean that a donor wouldn’t be interested in helping you get them.

Always check school policies for accepting donations as to how donations are to be handled changes from district to district and state to state, but it’s good to make sure you are prepared when people are ready and wanting to give.


Sometimes creating a good system or even a to-do list is exactly what you need to feel more in control of the beginning of the year. This year let this list of must-haves guide you as you set up the perfect system for a school year that you and your students won’t soon forget.

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