I don't know about your classroom supply budget, but mine never seemed to take me far after I bought necessities like copy paper, pencils, and chart paper. I LOVE the usefulness of student mailboxes, but paper sorter/organizers can run around $100 for 12 slots (and that is the cheap version!) - not to mention, that won't be enough for one class of students, so you would need 2 or 3! That is a bit pricey! So, I decided to see what I could come up with on my own, and this version will cost you less than $30 to make a complete set - NICE!
First, you will need to preorder some shipping boxes from the United States Postal Service. Look for the free ones, that are wider than a standard size sheet of paper. (NOTE - honest mistake (I really didn't know this), but apparently if you order them, they are legally to be used for mailing as they are intended. BUT, you could reuse boxes that have already been mailed to you as an effort to reuse. OR you could use cereal boxes that are reinforced with packing cardboard from other boxes you might have as well.) The ones I made in my demo are smaller boxes because that is what I had on hand already. These could make for a cute desk organizer as well. :)
Once you are ready to begin your project, you need to decide what you want the inside of your mailboxes to look like, whether you prefer the cardboard look, or want a specific color. I spray painted each of my boxes a matte gray color on the inside with one coat of quick dry spray paint. If you do 2 coats, you would have a much nicer coat - or you could even roller on paint (I wonder how dry erase paint would work so you could then write the student names inside of each of the mailboxes?).
After the paint has dried, cut off the tabs on the one end, and assemble the box, reinforcing with clear packing tape around the joints. Do the same for all boxes in your set.
Next, place the boxes in even rows flat on the table and use clear packing tape to connect the boxes across in the row (not shown). Now, you should be able to place (without taping) the rows on top of one another to see what the mailboxes will look like after decorating. Decide what colors you will be using on which rows.
I used decorative packing tape on some of the boxes, and decorative duct tape on some others, which I bought at my local Walmart in the packing tape aisle and the hardware aisle. Both work equally well. Keep in mind that there is writing on the outside of the boxes, so if you are planning on using a light colored design, you might want to either spray paint the boxes white before decorating, or use the thicker duct tape. Of course, you could use stickers, decoupage, fabric, or paint designs on the boxes instead. I like the tape because it was easy, non-messy, tons of designs and colors to choose from, and looked pretty cute (if I do say so myself). Remember when you are purchasing supplies that you will only need to decorate the parts of the rows that are showing. Don't go way out of your way to decorate those inside faces as they are not seen anyway.
Last, after you have your rows decorated to your heart's content, use the clear packing tape to connect the rows on top of one another to complete the project. The last step would be to make some labels with student names on them and place on the inside of the box so they know where their materials are located.
Of course, these mailboxes will not hold books or other heavy materials, but for basic use throughout the year for returned papers or handouts from the office or even for a drying rack for art projects, they will be perfect for the price! And you can match your classroom theme! What would you use these for in your classroom? I would love to hear it in a comment below!
Enjoy and have fun creating!