photo credit: Shelly Bailey
The elementary art classroom can present a unique challenge; the dynamic is different from the regular classroom due to increased movement plus availability of lots of materials! Kids are naturally very excited to be in Art as well! How can we effectively structure their time with us? How can we keep things positive, organized, calm, and provide the best possible art experience for them? What are some tips and tricks that experienced elementary art teachers have found that help everyone (including the teacher!) to have a great time in Art class?

First, make sure there is a classroom management plan in place. What will your rules be? What procedures will you have for transitions? Figure out some way to address behaviors before the kids walk through the door:  studies show that classroom management is the number one proactive thing teachers can do to affect student achievement! 

This is a terrific idea from Carol Janka to organize expectations, making them crystal clear to students: 

Below is a collection of the best ideas for getting students' attention, motivational and behavior management strategies, and classroom transitions. Scroll down for a list of online resources! 


Kindergartenland, by Cassie Stephens, Youtube

    • "'When I say Mona, You say Lisa….(me) Mona….(students) LISA.' Students know when I say this it is time to 'zip it,' fast, and I need their attention." Shelly Bailey
    • "I use rhythmic claps to get their attention sometimes. I say, 'one, two, three, eyes on me, and they respond with, 'one, two, eyes on you.'" Lindsay Mouyal Parris
    • "You need audial cues…clapping in rounds, snaps, a phrase the kids repeat. One of our teachers here did a super cute thing where she wrote down a lot of tv commercials and would start it and the kids had to finish it….Like McDonalds 'ba pa ba baaa…' and the kids would say, 'I’m lovin it' Or Lolly Lolly and the kids would say, 'get your adverbs here' – school house rocks in case you don’t know. Google popular jingles." Shelly Bailey
    • "'GIVE ME FIVE.' Each finger represents an area of attention. For example, 1. Mouths silent, 2. Eyes on speaker, 3. Ears are listening 4. hands are still 5. Bodies facing speaker. The P.E. classes use a clapping signal that students clap back to indicate their attention. I have a seating chart so I can quickly look at a chair and the name on my chart. Sometimes just calling a name or writing a student's name on the board is enough." Mr. Tracy Wilhelm
    • Sprinkle some 'magic smarty arty dust' on them. "I 'sprinkle' my hands in the air, then say, 'When I close my eyes and count to three, if they are magic then when I open my eyes they will look like Smarty Artys with hands in laps and eyeballs glued on me.' When they are all quiet, I say, 'Wow! Ya'll must be magic because my dust worked!' They love it!" Elizabeth Steinmetz Milliner


    • Go Noodle; Youtube video shorts for fun movement breaks or to use as a reward at the end of class.

    Photo credit: Alison Bradley Paul
    • "Fake Paint" students who do well that day..."I use an Artsmart board where the kids earn brushes on a colorful paint palette-- using inside voices, cleanup well, ready to learn, responsible and respectful.... The kids usually fight over who is in charge of the board. 4 brushes for the day is silver, all five is gold and extra is diamond. I fake paint the kids when they leave. It works really great for prek-3. Sometimes I paint the older ones too." Alison Bradley Paul

    • SMELLIES = fruity chap-stick rubbed on a child's hand: "I motivate through stamps and 'smellies.' Yes, even my 5th graders still love a stamp. As they either leave or are sitting they are to put their hand flat on their head. I will apply the stamp or smelly. We always tell students, 'Do not eat, or lick. Don’t rub on your mouth.' It is just like a smelly sticker." Shelly Bailey

    • MYSTERY ARTIST: This idea is from the Art Teachers Facebook group: The teacher watches a "mystery artist" for the whole class period. If this student follows all rules and procedures, the whole class gets a star! The students don't know who the teacher is watching, so they all are more likely to make the effort to behave. 

    • QUIET PALS: "I'm using 'quiet pals' this year with the littles. They are little pompon balls and I glued google eyes on them. I tell the class if they are quiet enough, a quiet pal might want to come out and 'sit' at their table to watch them work. It's been working pretty well!" Suzanne Nall 

    • GOTCHA TICKETS: "I have tried numerous techniques for classroom management, but the one I like best is what we use at one of my schools: GOTCHA tickets. The only reason it works well for us is because the classroom teachers participate. It is a whole-class reward system, which is all you can really use in art; it's too hard to keep up with individual students. We use the system this way: if the whole class follows the rules, stays on task, keeps voice level to a minimum, etc., they get one GOTCHA ticket. It is given to the classroom teacher, who keeps up with how many they've earned in special classes. Once they have earned 10, they receive a popcorn party or some other reward designated by the teacher." Leah Pierce

      (idea from elementary art educator and art therapist Tarin Majure, MA, ATR)
      Give & Take Rewards:
      1. Each student is given 5 items, say paperclips, that are placed in front of them on the table.
      2. During the course of the class a paperclip is removed any time a student exhibits unwanted behavior (be sure students are clear as to exactly what are unwanted behaviors).
      3. Students who retain all of their paperclips receive a reward (a special free draw activity, a piece of candy, etc.)
      * To really inspire students, use 3 - 5 pieces of candy and they get to keep the ones they don't lose.


    • "I have the word 'ART' written on the board and my students know that if I have to get onto somebody (for anything, leaning in chair, blurting out while I am teaching, horseplay, wasting time, off task, disrespect, etc.) that I will erase a letter. They can fix their behavior to earn a letter back. If all 3 letters are erased off of board we stop the art project and have to write art vocabulary definitions (this rarely happens, once or twice a year with one or two classes). At the end of class, if all three letters are still on board, they get a check on the behavior chart. When they earn 6 checks they get a free art day (art games, visit to choice center, go outside to do earth art, watch an art movie, or play an art game-pin the ear on Van Gogh or Roll-A-Picasso drawing game...)." Lindsay Mouyal Parris
    • CLIP CHARTS: "I tell my students if they can follow directions and listen I will reward them. Create a system. It can be simple such as a rocket ship and put astronauts on it…if they misbehave tell them to move an astronaut say to the bottom? Color the ship red, yellow, and green in a progression. Their names really don’t have to be on the clips, just the action of moving one is usually enough to get better behavior. Or, do paint splats. Create a class system where they earn splats to get a free art day. Decide how many splats, or in your case, how many days do they need before the get the free day. I recommend at least 6. I hate giving up a production day so I don’t like them to be close together because it interferes with my projects. You can buy simple sticker charts at the parent teacher store and write each classroom name on it. Give them a star for good behavior and watch it, after they get all their stars reward them." Shelly Bailey
    • Abby Kuhn made the below behavior chart for her elementary classroom. She says, "I'm trying a new behavior game with preK-5th and it's been great so far. Each class has a pin. They can move up to two spaces during one class: one if they kept all their letters (noise monitoring with A R T) and one if all of the tables are clean/organized. When they get to the finish line, they can pick their seat in art during the next class time. Then they go back to start and try the game again."

    Photo credit: Abby Kuhn

    Behavior Management Lesson 1; Principal Gerry Brooks, Youtube


    Elementary Clean Up Tips and Tricks

    Above is a great clean-up song recommended by art teacher Kim Brodie. (Youtube)

    • "I am retired now but taught K-6 for 25 years. I had a small space in my room where I put down a quilt for the students (k-3rd) to sit on and I sat in a small chair and would introduce the lesson. Afterwards students would go to their seats and begin. I would fold up the quilt and have ready for the next class. I found that I had their undivided attention during intro and demo time. Worked well for me:)" Sharon Christman

    photo by Shelly Bailey
    • "If you clean up in a mannerly way, and quickly I will play the “Emotion Game.” This is where the kids line up to leave and pass a bedazzled paint brush. I assign an expression. The child with the best face that looks mad, happy, sad, monster and so forth gets to hold the paintbrush and the person with brush gets to pick the face." Shelly Bailey

    • "I have a rainbow curtain hanging over my doorway as they leave. I tell them as they walk under the rainbow it drops magic glue onto their mouths and it doesn’t release until they get to PE or their classroom. For some reason they like this and it works. If they break the magic glue, the magic art fairies know they were not following directions." Shelly Bailey

    • "Having colored duct tape outside your room will help as well…Make one a line up line, one an exit line…So if they are lined up you can remind them, get on the purple line…or leaving, exit on the red line etc." Shelly Bailey

      photo credit: Alison Bradley Paul
    • Alison Bradley Paul uses a "paint splat" table race in her classroom; she says, "(The splats) are magnetic. A kid is in charge of this. The top one is the cleanest and so on. Then, this is the way they are called to line up. They like to be first to show their classroom teacher." 


    How to calm young children down; Cassie Stephens on Youtube

    • COLOR CODED TABLES: "Classroom layout is extremely important. Does your room allow for easy student access and entry? My room is set up in a U shape and this works very well for me. Each table is sectioned off into colors as well. I spray painted the back of my chairs. But you can hang a colored piece of paper over the tables and this works just as well too." Shelly Bailey

    • U-SHAPED TABLE ARRANGEMENT: "Your supply tables need to be in a location that is easily accessible to YOU, not your students. As much as you might like to have your kids get their own supplies this is just opening doors to discipline issues. Kindergartners and 5th graders need to be treated the same way. Have a rolling cart you can pull around the room to hand out supplies. The U shape enables you to do this quickly; you can walk the inside of the U to pass out what is needed." Shelly Bailey

    • SIMULTANEOUS PROJECTS: Lindsay Mouyal said, "I usually have multiple projects going on when I am trying to accomplish something more complex like printmaking or sculpture (and to be quite honest, I do this with most projects at the Kindergarten level). What I do, is I have something more simple that every child is familiar with for them to work on at their tables (simple line drawings, something holiday themed if it is near that time of year, an activity from my choice center-like free form sculpture using playdoh for example...). Then I have a "station" set up wherever I am (at my desk, at a designated table, etc.) that I pull students to in small groups to work on the more complex project. This way I can better monitor their progress and help refocus them when they get off task. I have also done it before where the activity the whole class is working on (not small group) is reviewing art history posters and looking for and discussing with their table which elements of art they can find in that particular art piece. I do a lesson on elements of art at the beginning of the year...so this helps.  
    • With printmaking in particular, I call my area 'the printing press' and the kids get excited when it is their turn to come to the printing press. They know that if I am not at my table/desk (perhaps when I am dealing with a classroom management issue elsewhere or helping another student) that the print shop is closed for business.
    • EARLY FINISHERS: Another thing I do that tends to help is sending the over achiever students who have already finished around to help others. They enjoy it and so do their peers who need more help. I remind them that there are lots of them and only one of me!"

    Note about elementary rewards:
    Classroom management expert Michael Linsin (author of the book, Dream Class), admits that elementary “specials” have a greater challenge due to seeing much higher numbers of students less often and there is not as much opportunity to develop “leverage.” Although he discourages rewarding good behavior, he admits that it can be beneficial for the elementary art classroom. He recommends that specials teachers set up whole-class reward systems. Also, he does not believe in tangible rewards at all, only intangible things such as “bragging rights” such as; “We have the best-behaved class this week,” etc.  Check out this article at theartofed.com: "A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can't Live Without" 

    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. 

    1 comment:

    Art WithTrista said...

    Great resource for new art teachers and art teacher in a rut!! Thank you!