8 Warm-Up Activities To Support Classroom Management and Calm Starts to Class

writing a mantra

Whether you need five minutes of quiet or just a few minutes to take attendance, use an activity at the beginning of class to help. The first five minutes of art class can set expectations and attitudes for the rest of the period. Start off class with calming activities to support students’ focus and  engagement. It also allows students to recenter after class transitions, can help reduce behavior issues, and serve as an extension of your classroom management strategy. Promote a peaceful classroom and stay sane with the ideas below!

Check out eight warm-up routines to support a calm classroom.

art classroom

1. Breathing Exercises

If you watch warm-ups in a choir or band, they often use breathing techniques. Breathing techniques have great benefits for both yourself and your students. Adding deep breathing to the start of your classes can promote a calming effect on the brain! Deep breathing can shut down your brain’s fight or flight response and improve focus. Watch how Laura Gardener uses a chime to supplement her students’ breathing activity.

Below are some more easy breathing exercises to start out your class:

2. Emotional Check-In

It is okay to have strong emotions, and it is normal for students not to understand them. An emotional check-in can help students identify what they are feeling and where it may be coming from. An easy way to incorporate this is to present an emotion wheel. The more simple emotions are at the center and become more complex as they reach the outer edge.

The Feeling Wheel

Giving students the tools to have ownership of their emotions can help them learn self-control and practice communication and expression. Students choose what emotion best fits with how they are feeling. They draw a small symbol or image to represent it. A bonus is that this activity will give you a heads-up on where students are at so you can better meet their needs.

3. TAG Critiques

TAG Critiques are a simple way to provide feedback in the art room. It’s an acronym that stands for:

  • Tell me what you like
  • Ask a question
  • Give a suggestion

TAG Critiques are also a perfect way to incorporate art history and calm students at the same time. Post or project an artwork when students enter the room. Students analyze the art and address the TAG prompts. This is a predictable activity and will provide the structure students crave. Additionally, they are quick, require little prep work, and are customizable to whatever unit or lesson you are currently covering.

TAG critique handout

4. Mindfulness Activities

Mindfulness is a way to take students’ minds off of any distracting thoughts, racing ideas, or unhelpful things their brains want them to pay attention to. It encourages them to draw their attention to the here and now! Body Scans are a type of mindful activity where you ask students to pause and check on themselves.

Simple questions to promote mindful thinking can include:

  • Name three things in the room that are blue.
  • How many colors of shirts do you see in the room right now?
  • What four things do you feel right now?
  • What things do you smell right now?

Questions for Body Scans can include: 

  • How is your breathing—shallow or deep?
  • Where do you feel tense or sore?
  • How do your (back/shoulders/face muscles/feet/neck) feel? Relax the part of the body after checking in with it.

5. Scavenger Hunt

Creating challenges where students have to find specific items in an image is a great way to examine historical artworks and have students focus visually on a piece of art. Distribute small copies of an artwork when students enter the room. Provide a list of items students need to find in the artwork. Give students five minutes to locate and circle all of the items.

6. Handwritten Calligraphy

Many schools have stopped including cursive handwriting in the core classroom curriculum. This does not mean we have to stop; calligraphy is an important part of illuminated manuscripts, scroll paintings, typography, and more! Handwriting requires a focus on fine motor skills and craftsmanship. Play soothing music while students practice to help them get in the zone. Discuss creating and using an “artist signature” as a future application. Let them explore various fonts and writing utensils.

calligraphy drill

Below are some options to get started with calligraphy as a warm-up:

7. Vocabulary Review

All students can benefit from a refresher of vocabulary in the art room. Provide a list of art terms for the unit or lesson you are in. Students write their version of definitions. Create a small doodle to visually show they understand and reinforce knowledge in a new way.

Here are three benefits of reviewing vocabulary:

  1. Students are more invested in their artwork because they understand the concepts, materials, and tools.
  2. Students who may be behind or confused have an opportunity to catch up or get clarity.
  3. Students are less likely to get bored, distracted, or zone out because they understand the information and can participate.

vocabulary definition

8. Personal Mantra

Students create and discuss specific words that encourage and lift them up. Students decorate a small piece of paper with a mantra to spur them on in your class or when they are struggling. They can create a collaborative mural with all of the positive mantras to remind them each time they enter your class. Check out the Instagram Live Make Art With Me episode with Sarah Krajewski, where she shares how to make Paper Mantra Beads.

writing a mantra

Having something for students to do immediately after they come in your door helps them get into a creative and calm mindset. If warm-up activities benefit your classroom management and promote focus—even better! Proactively reduce behavior issues at the beginning of class to keep students on track and ready to create from the start. Try introducing one or two of these activities in your week. Who knows? It can be just the little slice of calm you and your students need.

If you are looking for more tips on how to de-escalate your classroom behavior, step up your warm-ups, or fine-tune your classroom management, check out the links below:

What other calming strategies do you use in your classroom? 

Share a favorite warm-up that your students enjoy.

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.


Rebekah Hower

Rebekah Hower, a middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about creating an engaging and relevant environment for students to discover and experiment.

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