Top 10 Supplies for a Building Thinking Classroom

Building Thinking Classrooms Supplies

Education is not just about memorizing facts and figures; it’s about fostering critical thinking skills and nurturing a deeper understanding of the world. The traditional, teacher-centered model of education has given way to more progressive approaches that prioritize student engagement and active participation. One such approach is the concept of “Thinking Classrooms,” where the focus shifts from merely imparting knowledge to encouraging students to think, question, and explore. I rounded up the 10 best supplies for building a thinking classroom.

What is a Building Thinking Classroom?

A “Building Thinking Classroom” typically refers to an educational approach that fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaborative learning among students. If you haven’t heard of Peter Liljedahl and his book, Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, you need to check it out. He gives 14 practices to implement a thinking classroom.

Thinking classrooms are built on the belief that learning is an active process, and students should be at the center of their educational journey. Instead of the traditional “sage on the stage” model, where teachers disseminate information to passive students, thinking classrooms empower students to become active learners and critical thinkers. I am a firm believer in the person doing the most talking is doing the most learning.

To create a successful thinking classroom, you’ll need various supplies and resources to support these goals. Here is a list of supplies and resources you might consider.

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Supplies for a Building Thinking Classroom

1. Magnetic Dry Erase Boards

Vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) are a must for building thinking classrooms. You’ll want one station per group of 3 students. I was fortunate to have full-length dry erase boards around my classroom and I used electrical tape to partition them. However, with my classes of 30+ students, I had to purchase two more boards to accommodate all of my groups. I decided to go with a double-sided rolling board because it was more versatile.

If you can drill into your walls, these magnetic dry erase boards work really well and we installed several of them in other math classes in my building. 36 in x 24 in seemed to be perfect.

A budget-friendly option is shower board from a local hardware store. Shower board cleaning tip: wipe them down with WD-40 and it’ll make it easier to clean! Wipebook flipcharts are also very cost-effective. Students can also write on windows if they are easily accessible.

2. Markers, Markers, and More Markers

You can’t have enough dry-erase markers and you will go through them faster than expected. I am a fan of Expo markers. All other brands seem to fade quickly and are not as vibrant.

I put black Expo markers on student supply lists, wish lists, classroom supplies, etc. I also purchased a few cute colors (teal and purple 🤩) for me to use as I walk around the room because I want to differentiate where I wrote vs where the students wrote.

Storage tip: Store markers face down and they will last longer!

3. Erasers

If you have magnetic boards, these magnetic microfiber erasers are my favorite! I take them home and wash them about once a month.

For a more budget friendly option, buy black socks from the dollar store! They work really well!

4. Marker Storage

Magnetic marker holders will help keep each station organized. I opted for small, black holders because I only keep one marker at each station and students are more prone to write on the white holders.

A non-magnetic option is a broom holder. This broom holder with a hook can be the perfect combo for storing markers and an eraser. Pop your expo marker in the broom holder and store it upside down to get the maximum use out of it!

Tip: If your markers fall through, squeeze the broom holder together to make it tighter, or put some tape on the sides to make it thicker. Most of the broom holders work well, but some people in BTC groups get some that are a little loose. Also, if you find that the holder does not stick to the wall, try replacing the adhesive with a command strip.

5. Clips and Hooks

Sometimes I put problems on clipboards and hook them on or by the VNPS. This can also work with magnetic clips or regular magnets, but clipboards are more sturdy and I use them for other activities throughout the year.

If you don’t have magnetic boards, command hooks will also work well. If you use clipboards, make sure they are easy to hang on a hook.

6. Magnetic Graphs

Before I had magnetic graphs in my classroom, students dreaded graphing on the boards. These graphs allowed students to check their work quickly because they were all the same size.

During whole-group instruction, I put them together as one large cartesian plane. However, when students are in groups, I break the graphs apart into smaller grids. This reduced the number of graphs I had to purchase.

7. Timer

Using a timer for the past couple of years has been a major improvement in staying on pace and keeping students on track. I use it daily – actually multiple times a class period! I don’t know how I managed my classroom without it!

There are several online timers, but I always find myself needing to navigate away from an online timer. Having a separate timer easily accessible definitely gets more use.

8. Manipulatives

If you use algebra tiles in your instruction, magnetic algebra tiles are perfect for BTC!

Geometry manipulatives are really fun like this demonstration compass and magnetic ruler.

9. Push Lights

These color-changing push lights are a great way for students to let you know when they either need help or are ready to move on. I like to use red for “I’m stuck and need help” and green for “I’m ready to go and move on”. Each button cycles through 4 different colors by pressing and holding it.

10. Classroom Screen

A lot of teachers do random groups using playing cards. This works fine, but I have found my students occasionally trade cards and it takes a lot of effort and attention to police it (something I do not have during a quick class change).

Classroom Screen is the best resource I’ve found for doing random groupings. You can store class rosters and specify students who cannot be grouped together. If you are interested in other math resources, check out my online binder of math resources.


Building thinking classrooms represents a shift from passive learning to active, student-centered education. By emphasizing critical thinking, inquiry, and collaboration, educators can empower students to become lifelong learners who approach challenges with confidence and competence. As we continue to adapt and improve educational practices, thinking classrooms offer a promising path to a brighter and more intellectually engaging future. I hope these supplies will help you achieve these goals in your classroom.

Do you have favorite or budget-friendly supplies for your BTC classroom? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

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