30 Free or Inexpensive Gift Ideas for Students

Giving gifts is one of the joys of December, but if you have a large class and a small budget, it can be challenging to give gifts to all of your students.

To help teachers find solutions to this problem, I posed this question to the fans of the Teaching Resources Facebook page:

Do you give your students any sort of gift before the holidays? Let’s brainstorm some easy options, especially gifts that are inexpensive (or free).

Over 250 educators responded with great suggestions! Here are my picks for the top 30 gift ideas in no particular order. Most of them do involve a small cost, but some are free. If you want to read all 250+ tips, you’ll find that question here on the Teaching Resources Facebook page.

  1. Amanda Flickinger – Here is my favorite: go to the dollar store and buy the elf/Santa hats. Use glitter puff paints to write their names. The kids freak out. They love them so much and don’t want to take them off!
  2. Amanda Duseberg – I give a small box of crayons with a poem that talks about how we are like crayons, all different colors but together we make a complete picture.
  3. Kathy Wylie – Have the class write down each student’s name and at least one thing they admire/like about the student.  Then you make Wordle collage with the words and print it out in color for each student.   If you want to get fancy you could mount on construction paper.        http://www.wordle.net
  4. Karen Esdale-Brown – I melt down the broken classroom crayons into Christmas cookie cutter shapes.
  5. Kerri Grooby – Reindeer food, cut circles of material about dinner plate size place a hand full of bird seed mixed with a little glitter, scrunch the material up so it looks like I little pouch and tie with string, attach some Christmas ribbon and a label to tell the children to sprinkle on the grass on Christmas Eve to ensure the reindeers stop by x
  6. Kimberly Price – I buy a shower board from Home Depot. They cut it for teachers at no cost. I have it cut into squares for personal whiteboards.  I use puff paint to write their names on them and give them a dry erase marker.  (I also give them a book from Scholastic)
  7. Anne Williams – I give a coupon usually for 5 or 10 extra points on any assignment or test. Free & the kids love it! I teach middle schoolers.
  8. Heather Rea – I order dice in bulk and little jewelry pouches. I put 6 dice in each. I print out and laminate Farkle instructions and a score card. This would work with any dice game.  Reinforces math skills and it’s fun!
  9. Karen Richau – I give them a sheet that has a gift for January through May: January, cozy day dress down, February, half day of reading, March, afternoon of playing board games, April, homework pass, May, half hour of recess. I run this by my principal and she generally approves it. I roll it up and attach a candy cane and Christmas pencil. They love it.
  10. Tracy Wood –  My class always gets snowman soup. If you Google the idea a template will come up to print. You fill a small baggie with hot chocolate, marshmallows and broken candy cane pieces. The kids take it home put it into a cup and pour hot water over. All the little pieces float to the top. It’s not too expensive and they LOVE it!
  11. Carol Ann Henthorne – Last year, for my 5th graders, I had each student write something nice about each other student. I typed them out, cut them into strips, curled with scissors, and inserted them into glass ornaments.  They loved reading all the comments from their classmates! This year I am adding a vinyl cutout from my silhouette to put on the ornament.
  12. Erin Duarte – I buy simple ball ornaments (I use the glass ones, but for younger kids you could use plastic) and with a silver or gold Sharpie write their name with the year then write “Love, Mrs. Duarte” and tie a ribbon on  it. They are so simple, but I have kids come back and tell me they still have their ornament 13 years later. I usually put it in a cellophane bag with a holiday pencil, a homework pass, and a candy cane.
  13. Victoria Schoenly – I’m a specialist now serving 750 students, so no longer give presents, but back when I had my own classroom, I would make grid logic puzzles using my students’ names in the clues/puzzle–usually 5 or 6 puzzles would be enough to include everyone.  Then I’d make a cute cover and photocopy the booklets front and back on colored paper.  They always seemed to love the booklets and would look eagerly through all the puzzles for their names.  They also got a homework pass if they brought it back completed after the holidays. Aside from my time, my only expense was some colored photocopy paper.
  14. Alona Chastain – $1 books through Scholastics with a candy cane
  15. Lori Hanson – I greet them one morning during the week before the winter holiday with a donut and cup of hot cocoa.
  16. Amy Larson –  Coupon books for free time, sit by a friend, no homework, first in line, etc. 2nd graders love them.  I tie them on a fun Christmas themed pencil or candy cane.
  17. Joyce Merchant – Gloves from dollar tree (request from students themselves)
  18. Maureen Chenard – For middle school and high school.  I do a raffle for all three of my blocks.  I have 84 kids this year.  I’ll pick up Arizona teas, over-sized Hershey bars, extra-large boxes of skittles, Reese’s pieces, Mike n Ike’s, etc. I usually spend about $10 for each block on the candy n teas.  Then I buy 3 $5 Starbucks cards (1 to raffle off in each block).  I also have a large container of sour patch or jolly ranchers, and miscellaneous pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, etc that I’ve collected or had donated over the years for any student who didn’t get a raffle item. Often times the kids even bring in extra items to raffle off.  This is my fourth year in middle school, it’s been a hit so far.
  19. Reuben Hks – I always buy each of my students a book from Scholastic. Each month, they have a book in the book club that is $!, so I buy one of those for each student. Then they each have at least one book to read during the break, and they are all reading the same book, so we can discuss it when we return from break.
  20. Christine Skaggs – In the past, I’ve bought large packages of the individual microwave popcorns throughout the year and put out a basket of mandarin oranges/clementines, as well as any other healthy food that I could buy cheap in large amounts.  They are able to take what they like.  My older students received a pass for homework or some project.  One year I bought scarves/ knit stretchy gloves from Walmart at the end of the season and gave them away the following year.
  21. Jane Smith – I order the 3 pack of pencils with their name engraved for $1 apiece. The students are amazed how I got their names on them. This also settles the “can’t find my pencil” dilemma for about a month. (Order from Forteachersonly.com)
  22. Geneva Goodney – We give a page of coupons per subject area (LA, SS, Science, Math) with a free homework pass, one day late pass, 15 minutes of computer time, shoes off, add 5 points to a quiz grade/daily grade), use as a 3 point bonus on a test/major grade) and our students love it! We also have a book exchange with a new/gently used favorite book. We always have extra books for students who forget or cannot purchase a book. They wrap them and we read a story and they pass them around on cue. The book they have when the story ends is the one they open and keep – unless they find a friend and trade again 🙂
  23. Anna Harageones – After Christmas, I buy the mini stockings (originally 4 for $1) at Walmart when they are marked way down. I also try to stock up on their Christmas stocking stuffers (mini puzzles, pens, and yo-yos) when  they are on clearance. I keep these for the next year’s class. I decorate the stockings with puffy paint and hang them on our class Christmas tree. The day before Christmas vacation, I fill their stockings with the goodies. They are always so excited and appreciate. Because I bought the year before on clearance, it doesn’t cost very much.
  24. Vickie Schmidt – Snowman soup— a little bag filled with a package of cocoa mix, mini marshmallows, a mini or regular sized candy cane. Put a little tag on it with “instructions” (they change every year — personalize for class). Sometimes they are put in a little seasonal (plastic) mug from Oriental Trading.
  25. Stacey Reilly– Inexpensive earbuds. Kids keep them in their pencil cases and use them for the computer when they need to watch a video. I buy in bulk.
  26. Tami Terry – Because I do pullout and have over 100 students, it’s impossible, so each year I buy a new game or two for the classroom, and add them to our collection.  This year, Quiddler Junior for the younger ones, and Karma for the older ones.  Last year, Fluxx 🙂
  27. Jennifer Matney – I’ve done decks of cards 4/$1 and make a little book of educational card games that I’ve pulled from several sources. I’ve done cheap educational games or activities from Oriental Trading such as mini Boggle, mini dominoes pkgs for about 50 cents (and I teach them how to play several games and ways to practice math facts).
  28. Jackie Hatcher – I use clip art for a Christmas picture and print off a homework pass. They love it more than the little gifts I always buy.
  29. Amy Marie – I make candy cane reindeer.
  30. Teresa Wilson – I make handmade ornaments for my students with their name and date and who it is from! Salt dough or cinnamon ornaments are so easy!

Question Connection & Advice from Real Teachers

This post is a part of the Advice from Real Teachers series, a collection of articles based on responses to teacher questions on Facebook. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. Your advice and your experience are helpful to other educators!

If you would like to submit your own teacher question, head over to the Teaching Resources Facebook page and look for the link to the “Ask a Question” Google Doc. Even if you don’t have a question, please follow me on Facebook and offer your advice when you see questions from other educators posted.

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!