4 Tips to Line Up Elementary Students with Ease

Imagine you’ve just completed a great day of painting with your elementary students. They worked hard creating beautiful pieces. They were focused and listened for the entire class period. You timed out cleanup time perfectly, and now they are finished and ready to line up. You’re feeling confident and in control.

You tell the class to line up. Suddenly, the entire class runs for the door, pushing to be first and arguing about who is the line leader. There is no line, but rather a mass of students blocking the door. Your quiet, calm, and perfectly composed class is now in chaos, just in time for their teacher to show up at the door to pick them up. Your confidence leaves with the students. You wonder to yourself, “What did I do wrong?”

Most elementary art teachers have experienced a scene like this at least once. My first year teaching was filled with similar situations in which order devolved into total chaos in the blink of an eye. Over time, I developed several successful strategies to help me line up students quickly and calmly.

Here are 4 easy tips to help you line up elementary students with ease.

classroom door

1. Teach through it.

I meet with each of my classes for only 40 minutes, once a week. That’s a very small amount of time to teach a lesson, allow students time to create, clean up, and have time for closure. Because of this time challenge, I often will combine my closure activity with my line-up routine. For example, I may ask the class a series of questions relating to the lesson. When I call on a table, they have the chance to share their response to the question with the class, and then line up. This keeps the students engaged as they find their place in line.

2. Blend it into your cleanup routine.

Elementary students want to be first to line up. This enduring desire is one of the few things you can rely on with young students. I know students will work hard to be in the front of the line. Because of this, I often allow tables to earn the prize of being first in line if they are cleaned up and ready first. This little tip can help to speed up cleanup time as well and keeps the kids on track so you can be sure to have a bit of time for closure too.

3. Make it a game.

What do you do when the class is in line, but the teacher is late? Even the most orderly and compliant group of children will start to become antsy after a minute or two. In these situations, when I am not sure how much time I have, I pull out a game.

My youngest students love to play Simon Says. My older students, though, are not at all into it. For these students, the “Quiet Game” is pure gold. I use this with first through fifth grades. I pick one or two students to begin. These students look at the line and choose a student who is standing quietly. That’s all there is to it. They just need to be quiet to be chosen. Once the student has made their choice, they return to their place in line and the chosen student takes a turn finding a quiet classmate. This game can occupy a class for several minutes. It works so well that I can move around the classroom setting up for my next class as the students play the game. Every class I have done this with has loved it.


4. Wait.

Lining students up before they are quiet and paying attention is a mistake many teachers make. I know I was guilty of this a lot early in my career! By waiting for silence and attention, you are communicating your expectations. This seems so obvious, but sometimes just waiting can feel counter-intuitive. When the class is silent, then you can release them by table to the line. Remember to wait for silence between each table group, to make sure they understand you still expect them to be quiet.

I’m embarrassed to say it took me a long time to streamline my routines for lining up students. The classroom teachers who came to pick up their classes from art early in my career must have thought I had no control in my classroom! I eventually learned the lesson isn’t complete until the students leave the room. These simple strategies have helped me make sure my classes end as well as they begin.

How do you line up your young students?

What tips would you add to this list?

Anne-Marie Slinkman


Anne-Marie teaches elementary art in Virginia. She is a life-long learner who is passionate about providing relevant and meaningful art experiences for all students.


  • Wanda Holmgren

    Each of my tables has a color. Students line up on a color coordinating dot on the floor to keep them spaced out. I also have a line leader spot, which helps designate a spot for classrooms that have line leaders. Each specialist has adopted my “spot” system and it helps the students know what to do in all specialist areas. I used Cricut vinyl and a Fiskars large circle punch to make the spots and the Cricut machine to make the letters for line leader! Works great even though I need to scrape them off (they come off cleanly) each summer and replace each fall after floor is cleaned!


    • Nicole Granese

      Good idea! Thanks for sharing.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      That is a great idea, Wanda! Thanks for sharing.

  • Belinda

    I have them reflect or ask questions to table groups…..once they have answered that table group can line up. i.e. What type of art did we create today? (abstract) What was one way you solved a problem in your art making today? I do this for grades one to five . Grade 1- warm colour groups line up….etc.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I do that as well, Belinda. It does work well and is a great way to squeeze in closure when we are running out of time! Thanks for sharing.

  • Mj

    I enjoy lining my Elementary kiddos after a good day of Art with the games. The Color Game, is similar to eye spy. When the students have an idea of what it is, they quietly point to it. Another game I play is The Number Game, which is where I hold a number behind my back and they have to guess what it is using their hands. Again, this is another quiet one. And last, my favorite is The Quiet Game which is different than the one above. In this one, the whole class tries to line up without making a single noise (this includes pushing in chairs). If anyone makes a noise, the whole class sits down and tries again. But if somebody is making noise on purpose, then they will not get to play. But everyone is so invested in being quiet that I never have to have anyone sit out. I can’t wait to try out your version of the Quiet Game.

  • Wendy Scronce

    Each table has a pencil bucket that is a different color. I ring a bell to signal clean up time. Once everyone at a table has picked up and is standing behind their pushed-in chair, I put a card matching their pencil bucket color on the board. That table is allowed to line up. I repeat this until all tables are lined up. This rewards early finishers and encourages students to be a good neighbor by helping their tablemates clean up. The games mentioned in this article are giving me ideas on how to keep the lines straight, still, and quiet while waiting on others to get in line.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Thanks for sharing, Wendy. That idea is new to me! I may have to try it soon.

  • Lara Dowling

    I have stopped having elementary classes line up in my room. I got so tired of wrangling with a line at the end of class! Instead, after clean-up we all meet on my carpet for any additional closure, and to give them points for behavior, etc. Then I send them out to line up in the hallway, where hopefully they are with their teacher :-). I like the game suggestions for late pick-ups. However, I get no passing time between most of my classes, so usually I have to get going with the next class…

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      It’s hard when you have no transition time between classes, Lara. It looks like you have a system that works for you. Thanks for sharing.

  • Claire S

    Love the ‘quiet game’!

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Thanks! I hope you found it helpful, Claire.

  • JRuder

    If the teacher is late picking up their class, I have my students play the “line game”. They have to be quiet for us to start, and I simply call out types of lines…straight line, zig zag line (take one step to either side), tall line (stretch up on their toes, no jumping! haha), backwards line (turn around backwards), crooked line (lean your body to either side)…etc. Sometimes I’ll also play “smartest artist” while the students are in line where they have to answer a question about the project, but I like playing it as a way to have them line up!!

  • lux_arts

    tried the quiet line game today with my most squirrelly class and it work like a charm! Thanks for the tip!!

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I’m so glad that you found it helpful! It really is magic. I don’t know why, but it is one of the only things that I can do that will keep them independently quiet for several minutes. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • HipWaldorf

    I walk around the tables, to observe if each student has cleaned up and dismiss them to line up. I play top ten music while lining up and the students sing or dance – there is no talking or I turn the music off.

  • Meagle

    The quiet game sounds great! This is a little bit behavior control, since half of the tables line up at a time. But, it is good for color group reinforcement. My 6 tables are labelled each with a color of the rainbow , minus indigo. I line them up either warm or cool first or primary or secondary first. I try to switch each cycle otherwise I get complaints from the kids who claim “You always call the ________ colors first! ” Occasionally I will call the complements of 2 colors at a time once the 2nd graders learn complementary colors.

  • Devan Rushing

    My younger students especially love to “surprise” their teacher. If they are in line and getting squirrely, I ask them to surprise their teacher and that to do that they have to be still and quiet. When I teacher appears I say something like “Oh! Mrs. Soandso, I have NO IDEA where your class went! They disappeared!” They all jump out and yell surprise. I’ve never seen a class get so quiet so quickly!

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