Art Teacher Hacks for Creating Positive Art Classroom Routines


I’m a big fan of routine and structure.  I know I need it in my daily life, and I believe it’s the key to a successful art room.  Creating routines for your art room will naturally cause your students to feel safe and give them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their art classroom.

Here is my list of Top Ten Positive Art Classroom Routines that I used in my elementary classroom art teacher hacks…

1.  Start with a Positive Greeting

As soon as students get settled into their seats, give them a big smile and say, Good morning (or afternoon) boys and girls! They respond with, Good morning (or afternoon) Mrs. Clay! After this greeting, you have their attention and they are silent and ready for art to start.

2. Give Yourself a 5 minute Breather

If you have back-to-back art classes, wouldn’t you love to have an extra five minutes between classes?  It may not be possible to create the perfect schedule, but you can build yourself a five-minute breather in the beginning of each art class.

Here’s what worked for me:

After greeting the students, start the class with a discussion on a piece of famous art.  I used the Visual Thinking Strategies technique for the discussion.  I had to give up the first five minutes of art, but it was so worth it.  Try it and see what you think…

1.  Pick out a famous work of art to to use for the week. Children look at the art for 1 minute without talking (a breather for me and the students).

2.  Open up the discussion with a simple question, What’s going on in this picture?

3.  Use a seating chart to call on the students by name.  This helps to learn names quickly.

4. The students can say whatever they want about the art, so it is a great way for them to learn that looking at and talking about art is not a scary thing.  By the end of the school year, everyone felt comfortable talking about art.  Amazing!

5.  After 5 minutes, call on one last student to share and then that is it.


Art Teacher Hacks for Creating Positive Art Classroom Routines

3.  Where Did All My Sharpies Go?

The last thing you want walking out of your classroom are permanent makers.  The next thing you will hear is the custodian talking about how some kid got ahold of a Sharpie and now he has to clean it off the bathroom wall.  Yikes.

Above is a picture is of the sharpie block my husband made for me.  It’s simply a block of wood with holes drilled in it.  My students knew where to get Sharpies and where to put them back. I would always station a student by the Sharpie block during clean up to let me know when all the Sharpies were returned.

Art Room Organization Routines: hand washing and brushes

Art Teacher Hacks #4…

Where do I put my paintbrush? &  Can I wash my hands?

Another area to create great routines is the sink area.

Give your students the responsibility of  reading a sign to know how they can be successful during clean up.  These are pictures of my classroom sinks.  I decided after my first year teaching that I needed to label and number my sinks.

I used velcro and could easily change out what each sink was to be used for.  It made a world of difference.  A classroom is fun when the kids feel responsible for their part and know what to do!

Art Room Organization Routines:table trashes

 5. Table Trashes

My students were great about adding their table scraps to their table trash (plastic ice cream bucket) while they worked and it became routine to dump them out during clean-up time and put them under the sign.

Have I mentioned yet how much I love classroom signs?

Art Room Organization Routines: water cups

Art Teacher Hacks #6….

Fill Water Cups in a Tray

Are you individually filling and passing out water cups?

If you find it time-consuming, you will like this simple tip. Choose water cups that fit in a shallow, plastic bin or tray. The cups all stay in the bin during filling, they are easy to carry and pass out, and my students were trained to dump their water cup and put it back in the bin.

 8. Clean-up Freeze

I always said, Cleeeeaaaannn-uupppp, FREEZE! to kick off clean-up time.

Students freeze like statues in their spots in order to listen to the clean-up instructions.  They loved “freezing” and I loved that they were not doing other things when listening is required.

9. Line order, line leader, alphabetical…I can’t keep it all straight! 

Keep a weekly schedule next to where kids line up.  Write down what each class does when lining up.

Is there a line leader?  Do they use line order or do they line up alphabetically?  Rely on what the teacher told you about how their class lines up rather than the students’ vocal opinions.

And finally the last of my art teacher hacks…

10) End with a Positive Goodbye

Finish off your class with the routine of saying goodbye to your students. As soon as my students were in line waiting for their teacher to pick them up, I would give them a big smile and say, Goodbye boys and girls!

They knew the routine to respond with, Goodbye Mrs. Clay! After this greeting, they were silent and ready for their teacher. This eliminated all the individual goodbyes that can disrupt a quiet, ready-for-the-hallway line.

Check out my podcast Art Made Easy, to gain more inspiration and advice from like minded art teachers like yourself.

Amy Clay: Lesson Development for Deep Space Sparkle

What do you think?

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  • Darla Dorsey

    Great plan! I’ve been teaching for years and do all these things except the water distribution. Coming from a watercolor background, I just do it a different way. My husband carved the tops off plastic milk jugs but retained the handles. Kids go into “responsible mode” and fill 1/2 and carry two to a table. We also have dumping procedures for clean-up time. I love all you shared-especially “Clean up, FREEZE!”

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Darla! Thanks for your comment. I love that idea for water containers from milk jugs! With a larger quantity of water, I bet you don’t have to change it while the kids are working as much. Thanks Darla!

  • Lesly Chamate

    Oh this is wonderful ! I’m in need of hacks like these as next year will be my very first year teaching art at a school setting. Thank you Amy

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Lesly! Congratulations on your school art teaching job! Woohoo! You are going to do great! Thanks for your comment!

  • Susie Ellis

    I love these suggestions, Amy! I definitely want to try them! One question, how much time do you put into practicing these routines?
    Susie Ellis

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Susie! The first two or three weeks of school (I saw students once a week), I would spend the last 15ish minutes of each class silently modeling how students needed to practice different routines around the room (coming in, lining up, walking to the drying rack, walking to the sink, etc) and then asked the students what they noticed. It was always amazing to me how attentive they were! Maybe they thought it was entertaining to watch a teacher sit in a student chair and then silently walk over to line up. 🙂 I also did modeling during “Clean Up Freeze.” I found that modeling almost silently (and just giving very concise directions) was more effective than talking without a break through an entire routine. Thanks for your question, Susie!

  • Masooma Haq

    Thanks for sharing such thoughtful ideas!!!

    • Amy Clay

      Thanks for that compliment Masooma!

  • Deanna

    Awesome! I’m going to print it out to remind me next year.

    • Amy Clay

      Hello Deanna! I’m glad you found them helpful! Have a great summer!

  • Julie Elverson-Twilley

    Already thinking about ways I can improve next year, so this was great timing in posting this blog, Amy! My students’ last day was yesterday, so as I’m cleaning, purging, unpacking, and organizing, I’m trying to prep for next year. The sink area is a BIG issue for me. I will def be making signs!!!

    • Amy Clay

      Hello Julie! I’m glad the timing was good for this post! It’s true- now you have some time to pause and think!! Teaching is such a busy job. Great job finishing out the school year and even doing some organizing at the end- good for you! I’m glad you found the sink area sign tip so helpful! I find that students want to do a good job, we just need to tell them how. Enjoy your summer, Julie!

  • Monica

    I will be starting my 25th year of teaching this fall- I am a classroom teacher who LOVES to teach art. Great suggestions! I especially like the water cups in the tray- genius!

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Monica! Wow! 24 years and looking forward to year 25! I’m super impressed!! Thank you for valuing art in your classroom. That is music to my ears! I’m glad you like the water cups in the try tip. Have a relaxing summer and congratulations on so many great years of teaching!

  • Julia

    Luv these ideas!!!
    I am making signs this weekend!!

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Julia! Thanks for your comment! Yes, do it! Make those signs! 🙂

  • Angie

    I love the table trash can tip!!!! I have a small trash can in my kitchen to throw away scraps as I prep meals. It makes prep and clean up so much easier at home. It’s a perfect idea of the classroom too!

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Angie! I love that kitchen tip you shared! I just started using a “garbage bowl” in the kitchen for scraps when I do meal prep and it’s wonderful. Of course our students want the same thing while they are making art! Thanks for your comment Angie!

  • Carolyn Sugimoto

    Great tips! I went to print it, however, and it turned into Russian! Or gibberish:/

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Carolyn! I’m sorry that something happened when you tried to print the post. How bizarre because I don’t know a word of Russian! 🙂 Thanks for your compliment!

  • LaeTitia Johnson

    Great list. Many useful things that I can implement easily, that I feel will make a big difference! Thanks DSS!!

    • Amy Clay

      LaeTitia- You hit the nail on the head in saying that sometimes it’s the simple, easy things that make all the difference in the classroom. Thanks for your compliment!

  • Terri Larner

    Great tips!

    • Amy Clay

      Thanks Terri! I’m glad you find them helpful!

  • Becky

    The famous artwork discussion is a brilliant idea. I’m planning on adding more art history to the next school year. I will be adding this to the class structure. Thanks!

    • Amy Clay

      Becky- The famous artwork discussion is probably my favorite tip in the list because it helped me with names, calmed the kids when they came in, and-of course- we were looking at art! If you search “Visual Teaching Strategies” on youtube, you will find some great example videos. I kept my 5 minute time SUPER simple and just asked the one question “What’s going on in this picture?” It’s amazing to hear what kids see!

  • Cindy Gehrmann

    After stumbling with a tray of water bowls, I decided to carry my stack of empty water bowls with a plastic pitcher of water. I can visit all 6 tables, pour out their water, dish out the bowls and be finished in less than 2 minutes. Bottoms of the bowls aren’t wet either from carrying them in a wet tray.

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Cindy! I’m so glad you problem solved and figured out what works for you! Art teachers are one creative bunch!

  • Marcy

    Brilliant ideas, Amy! I’ve been teaching art for 14 years and am smacking my head saying, why did I never think of that?!” Seriously love the Clean-up Freeze idea! And the water cups in the tray!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy Clay

      Thanks for your comment Marcy! I’m glad you gleaned a few great tips! I know I am always learning and I’m glad you are continuing to learn, too!

  • Cristina Piedra

    Great tips! I’m starting an at home art workshop for kids K-2 this summer and am definitely going to use some of these ideas. The table scraps bin is great. And I am absolutely going to print me up some signs. Clean up freeze is going to become a part of my routine also!!!! Thanks for your advice.

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Cristina! My students LOVED “clean up freeze!” I hope your summer workshop students do to! Good luck with your summer art program Cristina!

  • Lisa

    Love it! Excellent strategies for creating a calm classroom. I used many of these in my room and I was shocked when my principal told me one day, “Your classroom is the calmest classroom in the entire school!” Great post, Sparkler Amy!! 🙂

    • Amy Clay

      Hey Lisa! 🙂 A well-deserved comment from your principal- that’s so encouraging! Art class sometimes gets the bad reputation of being “crazy and out of control!” I’m so glad your room became known for it’s calm atmosphere. It’s likely that your students were able to create the beautiful artwork they did because of your safe and warm classroom vibe. Thanks for your comment, Lisa!

  • Amanda

    Some great suggestions here. I love it. Thank you. I get a lot of ‘what is the point of art’ I Hate art’ etc from aged 13/14 boys…. any suggestions for their negativity?

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Amanda! Great question! I think this could be another post. 🙂 I would stay away from debating with them. You won’t win! Respond with something that let’s them know you: 1) heard them and care 2) recognize their feelings. Something empathetic like “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” might do the trick. The last thing you want is a verbal battle! Nip it in the bud!

  • Monica Kaul

    This is GREAT. Love the cleanup Freeze call. I’m wondering if you have any other fun attention grabbers. For example, when I need their attention, I will say: “1,2,3, EYES ON ME”. Kids return with “1, 2, EYES ON YOU”. Do you have any other interesting sayings for getting their attention during class?

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Monica! That’s such a great and effective call and response! My district used “Responsive Classroom” for management, so I used “Give me 5” to get the classes attention. It went like this:
      me: (clap, clap) “Give me 5!” (finger over mouth and hand raised)
      students: (clap, clap–hand raised to show 5 fingers, voices off)

      The “5” represented the 5 things we do as good listeners. The kids were so used to this routine, that I usually just gave two claps and didn’t even have to say “Give me 5”.

      Great questions and thanks for that tip, too!

  • Carolyn King

    Hi, Amy. Love the clarity here and I am sure each of these suggestions works well for elementary students. Last year, I worked in a charter Middle School with some very challenging students. The group’s were mixed in terms of interest, ability and engagement, but I am pretty certain some of your tips wouldn’t ‘work’ with 8th & 9th graders who are academically much lower than grade level. Do you have ideas or references for me for this age group? Establishing routines was my biggest hurdle for especially the 8th grade.
    Many thanks for all you share!?

    • Amy Clay

      Hello Carolyn! Thank you for sharing from your experience and asking questions. I only taught K-5 art, so I don’t have the experience in middle school that you have. My suggestion would be to make sure your students are aware of your expectations and the consequences of not following them. Following through with consequences is challenging, but so important to establish trust and mutual respect with your students.

      Are there any suggestions for Carolyn, Deep Space Sparkle community? I know there are many of you who teach upper grades that have fantastic tips to share! Thanks!

  • Bari Moulin

    I’m a veteran teacher of many years as well and these are great, positive and usable suggestions!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy Clay

      Hi Bari! Thanks for your comment! I’m glad these tips resonated with you. I’m sure you have a lot of tips you’ve learned over the years, too!

  • Lee

    Great ideas….I used clean up freeze and the trash bucket today
    Thank you for sharing

    • Amy Clay

      Hello Lee! You used “clean up freeze” and table trashes already?! You are amazing! How did they work for you?

  • Kim Cheek

    Love these!

    • Amy Clay

      Thanks Kim! I’m glad you found this list helpful!

  • Janet

    Thanks, Amy, for the wonderful ideas. I am a new art teacher for 2 to 5 year olds (after having taught kindergarten for 34 years). I delight in my new position. Fall 2017, I was given the privilege to design an art program for our school – I had free reign. I began to design a process art studio. That is how I found your helpful web site along with many others. My file draw is becoming full of wonderful resources!

  • Terry Cooper

    I like the idea of building in the 5 minutes of famous artists at the start of class. I am going to try it in the fall. I never seem to talk enough about artists except as they relate to a lesson. This opens it up to about 40 artists per year.
    I have always used one ice cream bucket (filled half way) for each table (7-10) when we use watercolors. I fill the buckets in the morning and have them ready for pickup. Students carry the buckets by the handles with one hand below to prevent spills. I take them to the Kindergarten tables.
    I use “3 alligators” for hand washing for kindergarten -3rd grade. It goes like this. Water on, one squirt of soap, then say 1 alligator, 2 alligator, 3 alligator while washing hands, and your done. Rinse hands. grab 1 paper towel and move to the trashcan to dry hands and throw away the paper towel. Go back to seat. I only have 2 sinks so only 6 students at a time may wash hands.
    Routines like this have worked for me for years.

  • Wendy Woolsey

    Love the water cups idea.

  • Amy R Stern

    I love these practical tips! Great article!

  • Irene Anderson

    Love routine. I don’t have a room, I do art on a cart so I’m in a different classroom each period. No water in rooms so I carry a gallon jug filled with water and dish pans to empty them in after painting. Wish someone would invent a way to have portable water supply and clean up.

  • Irene Anderson

    Love the tips . Will use them in September. Thank you for a great presentation.

  • rlkocher1@sbcglobal.net

    Thanks for organizing techniques that I had not thought of. I will begin using them in the fall and start out with instructions to the kids after instructing myself. ?

  • Sara Scheid

    Many schools are expecting all teachers to use ipads in all classes.
    How are art teachers using ipads in the art class.
    What and how are they using the computer in art class,
    without losing imagination and being creativity???

    • Patty

      This is a topic I’d love to explore but I do know that working on computers or in technology can be extremely creative. There are so many drawing an ddsesign tools that I literally can’t get enough. So fun! I’d love to hear what apps teachers are using.

  • Betsy Reynolds

    Thank you for wonderful ideas and examples. I’m switching from 4th grade to Art, and I’m wondering… do you have any suggestions for an Art room without a sink? Water would have to be brought in everyday, and then dumped and cleaned in the bathroom by the end of class.

    • Patti

      I have the same problem Betsy!
      Anyone have ideas to share?

  • lfeldman

    This past year was my first teaching art. I am definitely going to implement these ideas next year. Thanks for the ideas, Amy.

  • Patti

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Mary Long

    Great ideas, some overlap with mine.
    I will try clean up freeze for sure!
    Thank you!

  • jodeworks2u

    THank you so much !! All very helpful!

  • Jay

    Hello! Thank you for sharing I will implement/ give it a go with the clean-up freeze, that sound more fun way to get students to stop.

  • Marion Entz-Harris

    This is so interesting to me. I”ll think of some questions. Thank you!

  • Susan

    I have taught elementary school for 24 years as a classroom teacher. This coming year I am teaching for the very first time a pre-k – 5th grade art and music class. I need help with knowing what to do in the beginning.

  • Terri Christopher

    Love the Velcro on signs!

  • Celeste

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing them with us!

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