The Best Way to Cover Your Tables and Manage Your Art Room

As art teachers, we all know how challenging it can be to manage a busy art room. How to best hand out and collect supplies, call on students, and dismiss students can be a daunting question. With short class periods, messy materials, and large classes, it can be overwhelming!

Today I will share with you a simple system to organize your classroom using table colors and numbers.

covered tables

Many years ago, I realized that my new classroom was a bit bland. I had beige tables, a beige floor, and beige walls. My principal at the time told me not to hang anything on the walls because they were new and tape would damage them. The ceiling was not an option, either. It was seriously Yawnsville! I needed a way to make my classroom appear more inviting.

At the same time, I was struggling to find a system to manage the rhythms of the art room. I wanted to find a way to hand out and collect supplies with ease. I was also looking for a new system to call on students during class discussions. This simple solution solved that problem and provided me with so much more.

Each year, I cover my tables with colorful plastic tablecloths from the party store.

These are very thin and not at all durable, but the colors are beautiful. I buy one for every color of the rainbow at about 2 dollars each. They fit perfectly on my large art tables. They come in a huge array of colors. I try to get the brightest primary and secondary colors for the art room.

Then I number all my seats.

Each table seats four students. This creates a unique color and number combination for each student in the class. For example, if Michael is at the yellow table, and he is also sitting in seat three, then he is Y3 on my seating chart. Easy, peasy.

covered table

To protect my tables, I cover them with the thickest clear vinyl I can find.

I find this at my local fabric store. It comes in large rolls, so you want to be sure to know how many yards you need before you go out to buy it. I have learned over the years not to skimp on the vinyl. Only the thickest, highest quality vinyl will last the entire year. Sometimes it lasts for two years if I’m lucky!

So, what are the benefits of this simple table system?

1. You can call students by table color.

2. You can call students by number. For example “I need all my ones to come get the sketchbooks for their tables.”

3. You can call on individual students during class discussions. I use Popsicle sticks with each seat combination and pull them to call on kids. For example, “Red table, seat two, what do you think?”

4. You can call on certain color combinations. For example, “Warm colors will use the sinks first.”

5. It can also be a great tool to teach color relationships. For example, I might say “Red table and its complement may line up.”

6. It looks beautiful. I have received so many compliments over the years!

This system worked so well for me, I never tried another system after putting it in place. It is simple, but it streamlined so many different processes in my art room. I am now able to focus more on instruction and less on the messy challenges of managing a busy art room.

What table system do you use?

How do you streamline the management challenges of the art room?

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.


  • Pam Tycer

    Great idea! I love the look. How do you keep the vinyl on the tables? Don’t the kids pick at it?

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Yes. Kids pick at everything! I tape it to the bottom of the tables with 2 inch masking tape. It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well.

  • Blee

    This is a great idea! I have been using a roll of white paper I buy at Sam’s.
    I cut the paper to fit the tables, adding different colored blocks (5″X5″) where the students cup of supplies (pen, pencil, markers, colored pencils, sharpie and eraser) will sit. Then I laminate the paper. It last all year unless someone gets creative :0) and accidentally cuts it. I have recycled computer tables with irregular shapes, so this has worked for me for years.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I love the idea of laminating paper! Thanks for sharing.

  • mary

    I love this idea. I just use stickers with color coded smile faces on the ends of the “wooden table” but I do like the table cloths.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I’m glad you liked it, Mary!

  • Christine Childers

    Yes, how do you secure the vinyl on the tables? It looks like there is something underneath holding them down.

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I tape them with copious amounts of making tape. I make sure that it’s on the underside, because kids love to pick!

  • Jenette Noe

    I color code my tables to be teams, but I skip that tablecloths and vinyl. Instead I have tissue-paper poufs hanging from the ceiling above each table. I have seven tables plus an extra, so I have red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and black, and the extra table is silver. The color coding really helps with storing projects and keeping traffic congestion to the sinks minimal. Oh, and I have a rainbow colored pouf above my desk because I am a part of all the teams!

  • Elithea Whittaker

    what gauge is “the thickest clear vinyl i can find”? i have to buy online, and the site recommends 6-8 gauge for tablecloth covering, but sells up to 40 gauge…?

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Great question, Elithea! I have purchased a variety of different thicknesses in the past, but I would always go for the thickest possible. I would not go for the 6-8 gauge, because the kids will tear it up! 30 to 40 gauge is ideal.

  • Lmbc

    shower curtains work too!

  • Micayla Irmiter

    How do you keep the vinyl attached to the table?

  • Pingback: A Fool-Proof Way to Glaze with Elementary Students - The Art of Ed()

  • Phyllis Bloxson

    I bought tables a year after I started teaching because the art tables were enormous and if my K sat in the chairs all you could see is them from the nose up. When I ordered them I bought them color coded already than I used a yellow paint pen to number the chairs from 1-3. I place my tables in a U shape configuration so that I am not working with them over their shoulders and it makes discussions easier. I have a different team leader each week to get supplies for their table which I call their team. It works great! I used to have color coded signs but by the fire laws we are not allowed to have anything hanging from the ceilings. Big Bummer!!!

  • Thuy Le

    Do most of your classrooms consists of large tables? On our campus, they have required us to have individual student desks. Which is not a big deal, but do ya’ll prefer the tables?