Cleaning up at the end of class can be a nightmare because you have all these kids swarming about, some are really trying to do their jobs, some are trying to get away with talking to their friends or horse-playing, and some just sit there and want everybody else to clean up for them. I can dock points on their grade (on the rubric I have a spot for "Effort/Participation") because they didn’t take responsibility!

Also, if a student left a mess I have been known to track them down and require them to come back to the art room to wipe up their spilled paint/clean up paper scraps, etc. (Also, I have been known to require the kids to copy the classroom procedures list instead of participating if they have made it a habit to allow others to clean up for them.) Finally, if a student complains about not being immediately dismissed when the bell rings that student has to wait to leave last!


  • Describe in detail everything the kids need to do, and show them the right way as well as the WRONG way to do it. A lot of students have never been taught how to clean up and they need the invisible made visible. 
  • Set a timer so that everyone knows when it is time. They do not start cleaning up before the timer goes off. 
  • Monitor, monitor, monitor! Don't sit at your desk while the kids are cleaning up - this is a recipe for disaster with any age group. 
  • No one leaves until everyone is "Seated, Quiet, and Clean" ........Dismiss students one group at a time – the first group to have a neat table leaves first. 
  • Also, dismiss an especially helpful student first or make an especially “lazy” student leave last.
  • Take a picture of how you want supplies to be stored and hold students accountable for returning them correctly. 
  • Make a video about how you want students to clean up at the end of class.
  • Holly Lambeth Huber says, "At the end of class (if there is a mess on the floor), I walk around the room and choose a 'secret piece' of trash in my head. Whoever brings it up to put in the trash can wins a new pencil, sticker, etc. Another teacher taught me this. Talk about a clean floor in a hurry!"
  • Here's a great idea to manage clean up during heavy mess days, such as paper mache: STAND ON A CHAIR! Or, stand on a table in the corner of the room so that you can see traffic flow, who is about to throw trash across the room and/or horseplay; THE STUDENTS KNOW YOU ARE WATCHING! This simple act will guarantee more attentiveness to behavior on the part of the kids 😉
  • If kids cause problems when allowed to move freely around the room, don’t allow it. You can have them only get out of their seat with permission, or not at all.
  • Allow students to clean up one or 2 groups at a time so the entire class isn't up at once.
  • See below for clean-up charts/maps – “What are my responsibilities that must be met before I can be dismissed?”
  • If student(s) can’t be trusted to behave and take care of the materials, they should not have the privilege. Period.
  • “Frame” the directions, be very specific about what the kids are expected to do. Use the phrase, “When I say, GO!” to communicate when they need to start the procedure
  • They start the procedure only when you are done giving instructions 
  • Student helpers pass out materials and gather at end of class.
  • Have the kids pass the "Tissue Test." They have to wipe their clean brushes on a white tissue to prove they actually cleaned their brushes! I will stand in one spot while the kids are cleaning their areas, watching the activity (ahem, chaos!). I hold the tissue, and the student has to come to me to pass the tissue test. If color comes out, back the student goes to clean the brush again! They learn very quickly to do a good job the first time because I will not dismiss them until everything is cleaned up to my specifications.  
  • Watch the kids like a hawk! Try to stand in one place (preferably by the sink) while you remind, praise, correct, point out things on the floor, etc. 
  • Occasionally, provide surprise incentives for the kids who are going above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Thank the students who do what is expected, tell them they did well. I like to tell my 6th graders to give themselves a "little pat on the back!"
  • Stack materials to get them out of the way when not in use...label materials/cabinets/shelves/drawers for easy access....baskets or trays of materials on the table make it easier for student helpers to distribute or pick up... use ice-cube trays to keep track of small things like erasers or small pencil sharpeners...have trash cans/buckets at each table for minimizing movement, etc.


  • From Katie Burford Bechtel: "1 paper towel per student at each table for drying own brush when cleaning to change colors; 3 lb. coffee can 2/3 full of fresh water per table, 1 1 lb empty coffee can (for dumping dirty water into), tuna can for each kid - they fill from 3 lb. can. When not in use, they all stack inside the 3 lb. can so one set-up per table. At end of period, everyone cleans out own brushes, paint pans, wipes table with their paper towel and dumps tuna cans into 1 lb. can. One person empties that, one person refills 3 lb. for next class, one person throws away paper towels and everyone leaves paint pans open to dry a little before next class arrives. This works with 40 students in a class with one sink. ... Open paint pans also allows you to see that everyone has cleaned up their stuff. First tables cleaned, inspected get to line up first to leave. When used in HS, only first table gets to line up at the door."


Below is Pennsylvania middle school art teacher Sandra McCarthy's brilliant clean-up sign:

This is my laminated sign I made a few years ago - it is a great reminder for my kiddos and some days I can stand in front of it and point to the bit they still need to work on. Often, I don't have to say a word! They know that if they're not "SEATED, QUIET, and CLEAN" they won't be going anywhere, bell or no bell!

My advice from a middle school perspective:

Watch them like a hawk! They need to be the ones doing 99% of the work – not you – you need to be the coach, praising the ones who are working hard, reminding those lazy kids to get busy, pointing out areas the kids overlooked, etc. Also, dismiss them one group/table at a time (my tables are numbered by group) AFTER you have inspected their areas.

I tell them to sit back down when they are confident their area is clean, and I will come do the inspection. Teach them that they need to be responsible so that they can continue to enjoy their art privileges. It is not only disrespectful to YOU when they don’t do a good job, it is disrespectful to the next class, too. Let the kids get up to do their jobs one or two groups at a time so you can monitor them better. I will dismiss them one group at a time most days after I have inspected their tables. When we are doing clay, I even use a laser pointer to point out the dried bits of clay they still need to clean up off the floor!

I would like to add one thing I have learned when using clay; it is imperative that there is no clay left on the floor due to the health hazard of dried clay bits being crushed underfoot and becoming dust. I have asthma, and I used to have water buckets with sponges for the kids to wipe the tables AND the floor at the end of class. However, this took too long and the kids are not as meticulous as I would like!

This year, I asked our custodian if I could borrow the mop and mop bucket while the clay was out, and he wound up just letting me have it for my classroom! At the end of every clay class, I have 2 student volunteers mop the floor (one student does 1/2 the classroom). Sometimes this does entail sending their next teacher an email to say they will be one or two minutes late! 


Art Room Sound Effects, by Cassie Stephens (for transitions, motivation, and attention getters)

Organization and Clean Up, collection of articles, theartofed

4 Simple Tricks To Improve Your Clean Up Routine, by Kelly Phillips, theartofed

The Magic Word For No Hassle Clean Up, Erica Stinziani, theartofed

Editor's note: Managing student behavior involves far more than discipline techniques. In order to create an environment for student success, the teacher needs to provide quality instruction as well as appropriate motivation. Most importantly, the teacher needs to have the right attitude for leadership in the classroom. Finally, having a solid classroom management plan with rules and procedures set up from the beginning of the year is also extremely important - students need to be very clear about what the teacher's expectations are.

disclaimer: These are a set of ideas about being proactive in teaching based on classroom experience as well as various education authors. Many times there are circumstances in the classroom that are beyond any teacher's control, especially when serving at-risk populations or in environments where those in administration fail to provide effective leadership in a school. Sometimes, regardless of the prevailing theories about teacher responsibility, the teacher is not to be blamed for out of control students. Finally, we do NOT recommend that you put any of these strategies into practice if your administration disagrees with them. 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

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