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The Best Way to Start Work Time

Managing volume during student work time will always and forever be one of the most difficult parts of an art class. You can encourage a class of excited artists to calm their voices, and they will be quiet for what feels like twenty-three seconds. You know the feeling when you are trying to help an individual artist, and you can barely hear each other talk because of the sheer volume in your art room. Do not fear. We have all been there.

ART poster

Check out more about this ART volume chart here! 

If you are teaching students virtually, you have the benefit of being able to “mute” your students, but we all know, even that can create issues. From unmuting microphones to blurt something to another friend, to a student forgetting to put themselves back on mute and hearing their dog barking loudly in the background, this situation is far from perfect.

Managing expectations for voice volume during work time in the art room takes constant practice and continual reminders. Typically, the most out of control part of class is the first five minutes of work time. Naturally, there is more activity during the first few minutes when everyone is getting settled, so students’ voices become elevated.

Try starting work time with 5 minutes of absolutely silent focus.

We call this time “First Five” mindful minutes. It has been a game-changer regarding the volume in our classroom. After the first thirty seconds of commotion calms down and students settle in their seats, start a visual timer of five minutes and announce to your class, “First five has started. That means your voice is off, and you should be working mindfully. If you need help, raise your hand, and we can whisper.”

Glitter jar

You can snag this specially formulated glitter jar timer from Nasco that allows the glitter to fall to the bottom of the jar in approximately five minutes.

Or, try making your own glitter jar timer to keep track of “First Five” mindful minutes. You can find many other tips about adding mindfulness techniques into your classroom with Mindfulness in the Elementary Classroom or Social-Emotional Learning PRO Learning Packs.

supply basket

If you use a volume chart in your classroom, consider having coordinating volume markers at student workspaces so they can quickly see and actively change the marker for the volume expectation. Once the “First Five” are up, students can move their pencil clip to a “T” for table talk.

What are the benefits of “First Five” mindful minutes?

  • Reinforce mindfulness and intentional focus by eliminating the distracting sense of sound. Reminding students about the importance of being purposefully present during their artwork creation will help them practice paying attention on purpose. This is especially important if part of your classroom goals or classroom mantra include being mindful.
  • Encourage other classmates to make the right choice. When the whole class is working in silence, it’s easier to manage behavior as table mates keep each other accountable. Especially with elementary students, I will give them lots of positive affirmations and reminders during the “First Five” mindful minutes. Such as, “Great focus, artists! Check our glitter jar. We have just three more minutes left of the ‘First Five,’ then we can chat quietly.”
  • Set appropriate volume expectations for the remainder of the work time. Once students have started work time in silence, it’s pretty magical how their voices generally remain softer for the rest of work time, even after the “First Five” are over. It’s a much more natural progression from silent voices to calm talking than it is to try and ask a shouting class of students to turn off their voices completely.

student working on heart artwork

Remember, you need to find the volume management tool that works best for you and your students. If it is more appropriate for you to try “First Five” minutes with student voices at a whisper, try that! There is no right or wrong way to introduce the best volume practice techniques for your students. Find what works best for you and your classroom routines.

glitter jar

Learn more:

Calming the Classroom Chaos Art Ed Radio Podcast Episode
Classroom Management PRO Learning Pack
Everything You Need to Know About Classroom Management in the Art Room
3 Ways to Handle Classroom Management After the Honeymoon is Over
5 Classroom Management Truths Every Art Teacher Should Know

What is your biggest struggle with volume in your classroom?
What strategies have helped you manage volume with your students?
What time during art class do you feel the volume is at its loudest?

Sarah Krajewski is an elementary art educator in Wisconsin. Her teaching philosophy is mirrored in her classroom mantra: "I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

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