How To Turn Your Scrap Box Uses From Blah Into Fantastic

When you look around at the items in your house or classroom what do you see? Do you see only trash or unlimited potential?

From your bottle caps, cardboard rolls, foil, tape, paper clips and note cards to the pantry staples of spaghetti, marshmallows, and raisins – you actually have everything you need to successfully teach creativity in the classroom and engage your students!

What if I said you could provide engaging activities for your students without spending a dime or needing more than 20 minutes?

Simply Genius TAsk

Creating a scrap box is easy to do and maintain. That’s why it’s simply genius! A scrap box is exactly that- a box of intentionally collected scrap items that will be re-purposed by your students in various activities throughout the year.

My scrap box was made from one of the cardboard boxes lying around in the hallway that would hold reams of copy paper. I created a quick (and simple) sign on the box labeled, “Scrap Box”. I discussed the purpose of this box with my students and shared my excitement in how the collection of materials will help us learn how to become creative thinkers.

Each week, I would send out a list to parents of items that I wanted them to bring in if they had them available. For example, one week I might ask for 2 Liter Soda Bottles, bottle caps (all sizes) and cardboard tubes. As students brought them in, we place the materials into the scrap box. I would change up items asked for every week to keep a variety of items coming in. Since I work in a low-income school, my parents were more than happy to help in this area because these were items they already had on hand and were already paid for. I also brought in items from home year round to supplement supplies.

You can download a list here: Supply List Spontaneous

Once you have collected enough of the required materials for a creative task, you use the materials in creative ways using our flexible thinking. The kids love having access to the materials and I love being able to teach creativity at minimal cost!

Here is an example of my scrap box after cleaning out my teacher closet in my house. Depending on the season  or time of year, the items I find will change. Part of the fun of using the scrap box in activities and crafts, like Spontaneous, is that you do not have to have enough for everyone to have the same type of resource. Being creative means using what you have on hand and making it work, right? So don’t worry about having enough.. just keep collecting. Reminds you of Dori’s song, huh? 🙂

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According to its website, Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is “largest creativity competition in the world” (2017).  Many educators have been a part of this competition and kids have enjoyed participating in the many events such as, Spontaneous, which is my favorite! I use this activity in my class all the time.

Spontaneous is an activity where students are given a set of random materials (ENTER the SCRAP BOX) and a limited amount of time to create something like a robot, or creature, tower, or a game for example. Tasks are typically chosen by the teacher or are based on available materials. The goal of this type of activity is to engage students in team work, flexible thinking, creative thinking among other skills.

There are three different versions of this activity- Verbal, Hands-On, and Combination. You can read more about them here. The BEST part of all three versions? They are free when you use your scrap box materials!


Here is how I have done these activities in my own classroom. Give one of them a try this week! 

Verbal Spontaneous:

When: During our morning meeting, during transitions

I engage students in a task that requires them to name as many items as they can about a certain theme or topic. For example, name things that can fly or name things that are printed. Sometimes I hand students a random or odd object from the scrap box and have student think of as many creative uses for that object.  Topics vary based on age and grade level.

Duration: I set the timer for about 2 minutes and allow students to go around in a circle and call out what they are thinking.

As students respond, I listen for the most creative responses. This task is difficult at first because students want to name the most obvious answers. As you practice, students realize that the more outlandish, creative, unique answers get the credit. You will be surprised at how comfortable the quiet students get with this activity!

There is nothing to write during Verbal Spontaneous for the teacher or student. The entire activity is verbal. If I write anything down, it is to record the answers I want to highlight after the activity.

Preparation: This is a student led activity and fun.

Make sure you have established turn-taking procedures and have modeled this a few times before turning it over to the students!


Name things that can be stacked (odds, blocks, pancakes, etc. )

Name containers that can be used to carry a liquid (bucket, bucket, coconut)

Name things that rise and fall (elevators, empires, chests)

Ideas from Team Challenges book pp. 55-58

Hands-On Spontaneous:

When: any 20 minute block of time- I scheduled this activity twice a month for my kids and took up to 30 minutes to discuss, share, and provide feedback.

What: Students are given random scrap box items to build or create something new based on the task provided. Within the allotted time, groups have to use team work and communication to successfully brainstorm, build, test, and complete the task. These tasks are very good at helping our students learn to use their groups’ strengths, but I will tell you that in the beginning this will be a bit of a challenge. By knowing your students and having done these type of activities before, you will find the “Sweet Spot” in how you group students.


Materials: 40 magazine subscription cards, 10 marshmallows, 20 toothpicks

Tell students they have 2 minutes to build a free standing tower as tall as possible, using only the provided materials. Tell students they will be notified when 30 seconds remain. Two points will be awarded fro every inch of height. (Bordessa, K., Team Challenge, p. 66)

Combination Spontaneous:

When: Morning Meeting

Duration: around 10-15 minutes

What: A problem that combines an hands-on activity and verbal responses. In these activities, students will make something from the materials provided and then describe it, tell a story about it, act it out, or explain a creative use for their invention.


Materials: 1 empty water bottle, 1 paper cup

Choose 2 team members to portray a day at the zoo. One player must hold the paper cup; the other will hold the plastic bottle. The two players have two minutes to plan a scene from a zoo visit and two minutes to act out the scene for the audience. But there is a catch! The two participants portraying the zoo visit may talk, but they cannot move without help. Two additional team members must move the actors to match the ongoing dialogue. Groups will receive twenty points if the scene includes an unexpected event.

team challenges bookResources:  I used a variety of resources to come up with sample tasks, but using the Team Challenges book by K. Bordessa was a great resource as well as the OM site.

I hope you found this post useful and I look forward to you sharing ideas with me on how you used Spontaneous activities and your scrap box in your classroom!