Classroom Management

Easily Transition Between Back-to-Back Classes Using Tote Trays

This is one classroom organizational technique that I could not live without, and that all art teachers should consider.  I came up with this strategy when my district re-vamped the “specials” schedule and all of a sudden I was teaching 6 different classes each day with no prep time in-between most of them.  I don’t teach the same media at the same time, so transitioning between different grade levels, often means changing supplies completely.

I needed a quick and efficient way to put away one lesson and pull out the next, without any down time.

I knew I couldn’t be searching for materials or sorting through posters.  I needed to be ready to go the minute the next class walked through the door.

The idea is really, really simple.  In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t begin my teaching career using this, but I digress.  To begin, I created a tote tray for each grade level.  I ordered 6 large 16 X 18 tote trays from Dick Blick, but you certainly wouldn’t need to.  You could easily use an up-cycled cardboard flat, box lid or cake pan. Each of these tote trays was labeled for a grade level, kindergarten through 5th grade.


At the end of each week, I organize each tote tray with the supplies that I need for the next week’s classes.

By referencing my digital lesson plans, I know where each class is at and if classes need to finish one project or if they were ready to move on to the next.  I put everything in these totes (except student work).  I cut papers, pull out supplies, add visuals, handouts, manipulatives, books, etc.  The idea is that when I pull out this tote tray, I am ready to teach!

I use smaller tote trays to prep supplies and store them prepped and ready to go.

These totes fit into a larger closet (pictured below), but again this isn’t necessary.  The idea is that supplies are also ready.  For example, I have 8 tables, so I need 8 packs of oil pastels or trays of tempera cakes.  I have found that if I store supplies already doled out and ready to be handed out, I save time and energy.

cabinet copy

Although it was designed out of necessity, once I began using this method I never went back.  It is just too simple and time-saving.  I am more organized and consistent because of this technique and it makes me a better teacher.  As you can see the set up is really quite simple, the challenging part is creating a system and sticking to it.  My last district was on a weekly schedule, so I would make sure to reset my totes prior to leaving on Friday afternoon.  It takes self-control to keep the totes ready to go, but the stress free transitions between lessons and grade levels is definitely worth it.  As an added bonus, this method is very helpful for substitute teachers as well!

How do you keep your sanity as you transition between grade levels, subjects or different media?

Do you have any time between classes or not? What are your transition tricks?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Heather Crockett

Heather Crockett is AOEU’s Chief Academic Officer and a former AOEU Writer and art educator. She is an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment.

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