A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can’t Live Without

Today I am thrilled to welcome Michael Linsin with a guest post today.  Michael is the author of the book Dream Class: How To Transform Any Group Of Students Into The Class You’ve Always Wanted, an award-winning book released in June of 2009. He is also the mastermind behind the website and blog Smart Classroom Management. As an author who I respect a great deal, and whose ideas I’ve used to revamp by Classroom Management Plan, I am excited to share an exclusive post that Michael wrote just for AOE viewers regarding management in the art room. Enjoy! 

A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can’t Live Without

I feel your pain.

Having been a PE teacher for eight years, I know all too well the feeling of being at the mercy of classroom teachers.

The greatest challenge for art, music, and PE teachers and others who see their students less than an hour a week is overcoming the bad habits and misbehaviors learned—or tolerated—in regular education classrooms.

When I first became a PE teacher after many years in the classroom, I was surprised to discover that much of what had worked for me before, when I saw my students every day, didn’t work any longer.

If classroom management was less than effective in the regular classroom, I’d spend most of the hour with my students trying in vane to instill basic listening and attending skills and dealing with startling levels of disrespect.

And then a week later I’d find myself doing it all over again—wasting another class period on behavior and then sugarcoating how the class went when speaking afterward with the classroom teacher. “Oh, your students were fine. No major problems.”

So I went on an Indiana Jones-like quest to discover the simplest strategies that did work, that did influence students in such a way that they behaved for me, even as they were hellions in their own classrooms.

I’d like to share with you one of those strategies, which I’ve found to be among the most effective: Creating Competition.

Despite what regular education teachers may tell you in polite staff-room conversation if you pit them in friendly competition against their grade level colleagues, their pride and desire to win will come roaring out.

You can use this to your advantage by grading each class period on a scale of zero to four, based on how well they behave and follow your directions. You’ll then compile the points earned every week until a winning class is announced and a nominal award is delivered.

By using just this one strategy, the resulting change in behavior can be immediate and drastic.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Create a point system based on the four whole-class behaviors that are most essential for effectively teaching your class.
    For example, you might assign one point for walking into class and sitting down quietly, one point for listening to your directions, one point for following your directions, and one point for lining up quietly to leave the classroom.
  2. After each class period, as your students are leaving your classroom, simply let them and their teacher know how many points they earned that day.
    The first class to earn the most points beyond 30—or whatever number you choose—wins the title of the best art class in their grade level. You can award a simple trophy if you wish or a poster they can display on their classroom door.
  3. When the competition is over, start again from zero the very next week.
    This gives the classes that didn’t win a chance to earn the award themselves. It also ensures that the contest continues for the entire school year.

It’s a good idea to create a bulletin board that lists, by grade level, each class you accommodate during the week and how many points they’ve earned so far. The students, as well as the teachers, are then able to track their progress and that of their competition.


In a small but powerful—and visual—way, the point system holds classroom teachers accountable for how prepared their students are when they show up to your art class. And even if they won’t admit it, they’ll love the competition and enjoy needling their grade-level counterparts.

As for the students, it forces them to be accountable and answerable to each other and to their classroom teacher. And because it gives classroom teachers something their students can rally around, it has the potential to help build community and improve behavior in their own classrooms.

And as for you, it gives you the window you need, the opportunity you crave, to teach and instill in your students a love and appreciation of art.

Everybody wins.

It’s important to note that the point system is meant to improve whole-class behavior and is not a strategy for difficult students or specific incidents of misbehavior. You still need a classroom management plan to hold individual students accountable.

Your points, therefore, should only reflect how the class did as a whole. Never fail to award a point based on the behavior of only one or two students.

Bragging Rights

The beauty of using competition to motivate your students to behave is that, unlike other incentives, it doesn’t weaken over time. You see, it isn’t the award itself students and teachers care about.

It’s bragging rights. It’s being regarded as the best that motivates them to show up at your door ready to learn…

Which means you can depend on the point system strategy working for you as long as you need it.

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Great Post. I have felt just like this PE teacher on days.. I am looking into this book. thanks for sharing.

  • I’m going to try it next week!! I’ll be sharing this with our other “singletons” in our district too! I too taught in a regular classroom setting for many years Michael and when I moved into K-5 art, MOST of my discipline and behavior strategies did not work. Very frustrating!!!! I’m anxious to read your book and get some tips!

  • Cathy R.

    I will definitely be trying this one (point system)! My first graders are the toughest out of 8 grade levels. I constantly struggle with classroom management with them. They produce great artwork but by the end of the class I am totally wiped out!

    I may have to try out this book as well….any help in this area is welcomed.

    Cathy R.

    • Anna

      I hear you! 1st grade at the one elementary school I teach at just exhaust me! I have 4 boys who constantly are creating trouble- 2 are inappropriate and sneaky… and then get the other 2 going. I have created a chart for the whole class to earn a star for that day… needless to say they haven’t earned one yet (I just started this semester). Just this past week I have created an individual star chart which seems to be working much better. I also feel terrible for the rest of the students who do a good job in art and behave so I think this new chart will be much more effective. I hope!

  • Chris Lincoln

    Thank you Jessica for highlighting this book and one of the strategies. This is by far my weakest area in teaching and I can’t wait to try this strategy and to read the book!

  • Anonymous

    Great idea!!!

  • I love the idea of competition too. . . I did this EXACT system for a few years. But every year I had the same problem. We are on a five day rotation and it seemed that we always have the same day of the week off! So my Monday classes would never win anything. One day off could throw the whole competition! I could never get it to be fair and the teachers really did play along, so I just gave it up. Any solutions on how to fix that part of the competition?

    • If you’re not required to make up holidays and such, then simply inform the classes you do see that week that you’re going to award points as usual, but you’re not going to record them–because it wouldn’t be fair to the classes that missed. I’ve done it this way a zillion times. The students understand, the teachers understand, and the strategy still works. :)

      • Okay! That will work. I hadn’t thought of that! I was also thinking now of an average. . . we have missed so many mondays due to power outages and holidays and weather what if I averaged 4 weeks? Classroom teachers might understand that!

      • Thanks for the reply, Michael. I had not thought of doing it that way, but it’s a good solution!

  • Aisha

    When I clicked on the Amazon link, it says that the book is out of print…did anybody find it elsewhere?

  • Sounds like a good plan, and easy to stick to. My dilemma is feeling guilty about not spending enough time with well-behaved kids when there are a few others I have to “sit on” the whole time. So, to help with this, I keep a “good choices” list by my door on a clipboard, and I call out 4 or 5 kids during each session to add their names when they are working quietly/following directions – this lets them know that I noticed their good behavior choices and when their classroom teacher receives the list at the end of each class, they usually reinforce the praise.

    • Anna

      I completely agree! I feel like I hardly ever get to tell those students who are working hard- good job- but I make sure I do! I too am always sitting or talking to those who are constantly getting in trouble… *sigh*

    • Jacksong

      This is an excellent idea! I’m going to put one up immediately!

  • I have tried this in the past and while it does work – it can also be frustrating to keep track of who you had when and if you had a sub, if there was a play, or a field trip, a snow day, a PD day — especially if it tends to happen on the same round of kids. I have only seen my Monday kids ONCE this month.

    So take this idea but change it for each class. I do it by table colors – because, well it’s an art room and they sit at table colors. So each table is in charge of earning points throughout class. I don’t have a set number – so if kids are great they get lots of points. If one table is super great they get more than other tables. The table that gets to the top of the chart first – that group of kids gets a small prize — pencil, eraser, sticker…. Start over next class with a new seating chart.

    For older kids take this idea but flip how you give points. Instead of earning points for being good your table gets points when other tables are off task. So if orange table is making swords with their markers ALL the other tables (NOT ORANGE) get a point. Again, I don’t have a set number of points in a class. Sometimes the groups earn 3 sometimes 12 — depends on the day. The group to the top first gets a prize — start over next class.

    The idea of using positive peer pressure is perfect and amazing in the art room. More than once I have seen someone lean over and say, ‘Stop. You are giving other tables points when you do that’.

    • “making swords with their markers” – haha! perfect example. : )

    • I tried many of these ideas but they did not work for me. When I gave individual table groups points there was always one table that fell WAY behind in points. When they figured out they could not win, they gave up completely. The lesson they learned is that you should be good in art class only if you can get enough points to win. I want them to learn that they should be good in art class because the arts are important to becoming a well rounded, educated, interesting person. I think intrinsic motivation is the best motivation for behavior. It’s implementing intrinsic motivation instead of behavior charts that is the hard part!

  • I am seriously considering trying this. But- I have one or two 4th graders that just can’t be serious much less quiet when they are walking in, or listening. What if they ruin it for all? Or even on purpose?

    • Try it the way I posted above – kids are more responsive to smaller group positive peer pressure… some students are way to impulsive to be responsible to the whole group, but when their peers are sitting at their table — the effect is much more concentrated. Also, its easier for you to keep track of who is making good choices and who isn’t.

      If that doesn’t work have them sit alone and try and earn points on their own….

  • Anna

    This is a great discussion and great to see what others are doing to help enforce positive behavior… and that I’m not the only one with some challenging classes:) I teach K-5 Art… most are great classes, just a couple here and there… and it can be great one day and exhausting the next… ho-hum! :)

  • Bonnie

    I picked up a whole second school last year due to the cutting of our classes down to 30 min once a week. The behavior at the new school was rough to say the least. I did this same plan with the classes there. I used a board in the room and posted the individual sticker chart sheets that you can get at any teaching store or even office supply store. I have one for each classroom. They had to earn 30 stickers to get to do the clay project for the year. I used the same 4 point system Michael spoke about. The transitions are the hardest in art class, we have so many in such a short amount of time. I simply marked a dot in the box for each transition they completed following class expectations. Later I go back and put a sticker in the box so the kids can see thier progress from across the room. It is right by the door so the classroom teacher can also see how the class is keeping up. I explained to the kids that if they could earn the points on a normal day I knew they would be responsible enough for something as special as clay. Even my two out of control 6th grade classes of 33 students each got into shape quickly. After the clay lesson some kids did try to get back to their old ways. This year I think I will have them work towards an end of the year reward too.

    I also subscribe to Michael’s news letter and have the book. Wait for it to get in stock, it is worth it. The newsletters he sends out if you subscribe are more helpful than anything. I even require my student teachers to start subscribing to them since most of the problems student teachers encounter are behavior issues.

    Thanks to Michael for linking this blog to his newsletter. Now I have two places I can go when I need inspiration and reassurance.

  • Just got my book yesterday! Can’t wait to read it. I also made a chart for the point system you told us about last week and put it into force yesteday. It is already working. The kids are really excited about trying it. I broke it into 4 ways to get points. They are 1: Let’s get Going, (coming in, getting seated and ready) 2: Listen Up (Used when I am passing out their work and giving directions 3: Way to Work, (work time) and 4: “Git Ur Done”, which is cleaning up and lining up. I have made a chart for each grade with each teacher’s name on it. They know that when they come back in the following week, they can look on the chart and see which areas they might need to improve on from last week. The kids are excited and so am I!! Thanks!

    • I need to break my behavior into 4 different sections, and I like your tag lines for each. Nothing is working right now in my 1st grade art classrooms as far as behavior goes but my current plan works great with the other grade levels. Go figure! :)

    • Lgarvey332

      Hello Mrs. Euken
      I would love to set-up this system in my classroom. I have very little wall space…how did you set this up? Im trying to decide how to make a chart with all k-6 classes and include the different sections.  thanks!!

  • Daevid

    I can vouch for this strategy. I have been doing a slight variation since the beginning of the school year and it works beautifully. I have the class rate themselves at the end of each class. They tend to be tougher on themselves than I would have been! They love it!

  • Rachelle

    I use a 12 point system that works very well. 1 point for entering quietly, 3 points (ART letters are on the board) for working inside voices, 1 point for being in their seats at the end of clean up, 7 points (1 point per table) for having their workspace clean. The kids tally the points with me and I choose one of them to add and record the points by the door. Each month two “Golden Paintbrushes” are given to the class with the most points. The principal announces the winners (one primary, one intermediate) for all to hear. The teachers hangs the paintbrushes in the hall by our school wide paw pride charts for each class. It takes a while for the classroom teachers to be on board but I have noticed them “coaching” their students to earn a 12, building a team for them and I reap the rewards of good behavior and a clean art room. It is a win win. I also choose an “Artist of the Day” who has made awesome choices. He/she signs a door covered with butcher paper and gets a small certificate that I made on the computer. That student will get to sit in the teacher chair where ever they want next art class. I forgot to mention that the GP winners get free seating for a class. If they get it again they get to watch an art movie and have free seating for a class. The third time they get to have a “free” art day. If there is a tie I decide. If there is a holiday the class will get the exact points they got the week before. I have a conduct book for those few that don’t want to do their best. A note will go home if the student continues to make bad choices. It is an easy system that the students help to manage. I put a box around a student’s name on the seating chart when they are “Artist of the Day.”

    • lrichart

      I think this sounds like a great system! I have tried snippets of this, but this seems to not only encourage the group as a whole, but also allows individuals a chance to shine and holds offenders accountable. I will say the few times I have actually had to contact parents, I have seen marked improved behavior. Not counting the one time parents requested their child not attend art anymore. Isn’t it funny that we can have hundreds of students/parents LOVE our art class, but the one negative haunts us for life?

  • Theresa

    Michael -thanks for this post – it couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Let’s just say all the specialists in my building are feeling like the school learning environment has taken a very bad turn over the last few years. The attitude by many homeroom teachers is that once the students leave their classroom they are “off duty” and only delivering the students to us (of course not all – there are some teachers have high expectations in all areas of school). The specialists are then at the mercy of the management style of the homeroom teacher – it doesn’t matter what mix of students we see – some teachers have consistently great classrooms year to year, while others have consistently very difficult to handle classrooms no matter how many teacher tricks we use and high expectations we have ourselves.

    So instead of working in isolation . . . Art, Music, PE and the MRC director are all on board with implementing your management system. We are going to use the same point system you outlined 1st-5th grades that lasts for two weeks with the same 4 criteria in each of our classrooms (we have also created language of what each criteria “looks like” in our own classrooms). At the end of the two weeks, we are adding up all the points and on the following Monday will reveal the best class from each grade level at morning announcements. In addition, we have ordered a large “traveling” trophy that will represent the overall best class in the school for all grade levels. We are very excited to make a positive change in our school.

    However, at the same time that I am excited about making change, I am apprehensive after reading this post on Rewards vs. Relationships  . The article sites the research of Alfie Kohn and refers to “collective reward” as harmful to intrinsic motivation. I would be interested to see if you agree with this article and/or how your management strategy does or does not fit. Thanks!

  • Dan

     I am a music teacher in NYC and I had an incident on Friday with 4 children who have consistently shown inappropriate behavior in my classroom.  My approach to handling behavior problem students includes giving ATTENTION classes to the behaving students – a real fun activity where they get to try different music stations, but the misbehaving students do not get that opportunity.  My A.P. had a “conversation” with me today, when the classroom teacher told her that I asked for 4 misbehaving students to bring classwork that they can quietly do in the back while I work with the 20 other students of the class.  My A.P. told me that “EVERY STUDENT HAS TO BE GIVEN A FRESH SLATE WHEN THEY COME INTO THE CLASSROOM-AND IF THE BEHAVIOR REEMERGES, THEN GO THROUGH THE LADDER OF CONSEQUENCES”  Call me crazy, but if students get a fresh chance week after week of showing inappropriate behavior, how will they ever learn that their behavior has consequences that last beyond the moment it happens.   Sometimes students take advantage of the “always give a second chance philosophy”.  Is there any documentation that the “fresh slate” philosophy of classroom management even  works for chronically misbehaving students? 

    When I am talking about constantly misbehaving – let me be specific – students that physically threaten other students, whine and yell when they are told no  because they did not get to go to the bathroom the moment they asked,  accost other teachers and students in the hallway, and threaten to urinate in the hallway.

    Am I to believe, that I am to treat these students to a fresh slate every week they come into my classroom, without ANY acknowledgement that their behavior in the past is inappropriate and if the past is any indication, will continue to be inappropriate?

    • Dan,
      Great topic for discussion- It’s hard not to hold a grudge. We are doing PBIS training (Positive Behavior Intervention Systems) and they also believe that once you give a positive reward you do not take it away, you only honor the current behavior not what has happened in the past. The behaviors you speak of sound absolutely horrible, though, i and I can’t imagine what you are going through. I hope others will weigh in.

    • Toby

      Don’t you have a serve clause where these kids are send to the office?
      Administration should be assisting in this. Call home? Letter home? I send parent letters home that they have to returned signed to me the next day so i know their parents know about this too. funny how the poor behavior choices stop. It’s a pre-written sheet I can quickly check off things and hand to the student….letting the classroom teacher know as well.
      They are keeping you from teaching at “that” moment. That is when it should be dealt with. Not the next week.
      However every kid has the ability to redeem themselves… “The clean slate” should show they ” learned” from last time and can do better now.
      Just a thought..

  • Carriegiesler

    I have a system in my Art room where I see grades PreK-8th and I do the rainbow reward.
    In order for each class to earn the next arch on the rainbow they must have a total accumulated 12 points.

    Each Rainbow
    Arch is 12 pts.

    for entering quietly

    for working quietly Vol. 1 or 2 (ART)

    Lose of A= volume warning

    1 point
     lose of AR = Silent art

    0 points  Lose of ART = loss of art time =clean up and heads down.

    for proper clean up table (one point per. Table)

    a.Must be completed by the end of the 5 min. clean- up song.

    1 point lining up quietly

    How many points did you earn? _________

    When the class has completed their rainbow they get to have a “Art Center Day”,” pick a prize”, or “open seating day”
    So the sooner they earn ROYGBIV the more incentives they can earn throughout the year.

  • Serenachiang

    It’s great to see this post! It’s also nice to see that I am not the only miserable one who teaches K-5!

  • Giselle

    The problem I have with the competition, whether it’s by classes or by small groups, is that someone always ends up being punished for the behavior of others. My daughter is in a 5th grade class of girls who think nothing of throwing things at teachers, writing profanity on school property, taking food items off other kids’ trays, etc. I teach at the school, and our administration is pathetic so nothing more happens to these girls than a warning (so they’ve had several…). My daughter was so excited at the beginning of the year that her teacher came up with a system for rewarding the class with a movie. But here it is 8 days before school is out, and the class has not earned a single reward since school started in August because the group of 6-8 girls ruins it for everyone. I’ve spoken with the teacher and asked if she would consider modifying her system to allow the students who are making efforts to receive rewards, but her response is that she believes peer pressure will turn around the badly behaved girls. Well, my daughter certainly isn’t going to pressure any of them because she’s terrified of them! It has been a horrific year for her and she won’t be going to this school next year. This means I’ll be teaching an hour away and she’ll have to wait at home by herself for about an hour after I leave and before her bus comes. I blame her ineffective teacher for allowing such a miserable environment that my daughter has no fond memories of 5th grade. 

  • HipWaldorf

    I am sure I read this when you originally posted it, but I am sure glad that I did not remember it.

    I spent this past summer reading Michael Linsin’s book and creating a revised classroom management system for my grade 1-5 art classes.  Based on all his wonderfully informative newsletters and the book, I was very surprised to read that he supports an extrinsic reward system for art classroom management.  I tried this for a few years, but it does not work for students who really struggle to exhibit positive classroom behavior.  Michael’s use of  a warning system, time out’s, letter to parents and missed recess are enough motivation for my less intrinsically motivated art students.  My #1 goal in my classroom management is to not have interruptions and distractions, so students are able to focus on their artwork,  so I would rather focus on encouraging those challenging students than distract the rest of the class by forcing them to help motivate the entire class -as a whole- to behave in order to earn a reward.

    • Hip Waldorf – You know, I was also surprised about the extrinsic motivation, given Linsin’s philosophies.  I do think art teachers are in a special situation not seeing the students often enough to build a routine that touches base daily, however, I ran my classroom exactly like you do. No rewards, and it works just fine. Thanks for chiming in! 

      • Michael Linsin

        Hi Hip & Jessica!

        No, I haven’t changed my tune. This is a strategy specific to those who see students less than one hour a week, and thus don’t have time for building strong rapport and influence–let alone learn the names of more than 500 students.

        The winning class doesn’t receive anything but “bragging rights,” and the teacher should be clear about this from the beginning. There are no personal or tangible benefits, awards, or rewards. The point system is about teamwork, creating competition, and building community within the classrooms. It’s also fun and an easy way to provide feedback to the regular ed. teacher. :)

  • Legolas

    Funny thing is, ALL of the section called “Create Competition” goes against the fundamental tenants Micheal L. wrote on his smartclassroommanagement.com website.

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  • Aloha Buffington

    I teach art on a semi-weekly basis to nearly 1,100 K-fifth grade students at three schools. I used to try keeping updated roles, assigning numbers to each student and including their photos, but the transient rate has increased over the years to more than fifty percent, which means the roles change for every class – loose three, gain four, etc. My workload requires many days without transition or bathroom time. Preparation and cleanup is not even a schedule consideration. On some days, planning is fifteen minutes (on paper) before students begin school and after they leave, which is the time I crawl slowly to my car. Those specialists who teach at one school make me envious, because at least they begin to recognize their students’ names and classroom placements. I have nearly seventy teachers, and feel pleased that we all seem to get along. Lately I find myself feeling like a teaspoon of sugar, which, when added to a cup of liquid is sweet, but once poured into an Olympic swimming pool, is undetectable.
    I can relate to any problem over scheduling presents; from dealing with divergent teaching styles of classroom teachers, as well as the varying physicality of classrooms… This one has an Active board, that one has a computer that doesn’t work, there’s a document camera in one, not the others. Seating is sometimes different from week to week in the same room, Some teachers are adamant that their white boards remain white, and that every scrap of paper is removed before you leave for the next class (you’re already late) while others will help you fling paint and even help clean up. Most aren’t any help, because this is their planning time, and they are often called to meetings.
    Supplies and storage? Never sufficient space for storage. Shifting between grade levels requires different images and appropriate supplies, and I have learned many tricks to improvise deficiencies over the years. I can give an array of problems solved, but would welcome ideas to prevent them. For instance, how does one arrive to class three football fields away from the class you aren’t scheduled to leave for another ten minutes, in four minutes? Remember, you must slip past the storage locker to pick up a different set of supplies. What to do when you fall up the stairs, and drop everything on your way? If transition between classes can be mastered, discipline might be (at least) addressed.
    I plan to use some of the strategies mentioned here, although many seem to be geared toward the tsp of sugar placed into a gallon jug of water at worst. I desire practical advice for my situation. I know I’m not the only overloaded art teacher in America, although I do know I have had the highest number of students of any teacher in my city-wide, public school system for more than a decade. Is anyone out there successfully teaching art to eight classes, in eight different classrooms to six grade levels on most days? I want your secret! How can I focus teaching art to those students who need what I have to give, while avoiding loss of priceless time on the few students who would rather be anywhere else?
    If you are successfully dealing with my situation, please share your strategies.