Classroom Management

Keeping Kids Going Strong at the End of the Year (Ep. 040)

As we move through the last weeks of school, it can be tricky to make sure your kids are still learning and progressing. The weather is getting nicer, spring events mess with the schedule, and we need ideas for finishing the year strong. Join Cassie as she talks about her best end-of-the-year strategies, including her Maker Kits (3:45), strategies for free choice centers (7:30), and how to find opportunities to those kids who just love to clean (12:15). Full episode transcript below.


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I don’t know how off the rails your classes have become since, let’s face it, the end is near, but I will just give you a taste of what happened in my art room recently that kind of clued me into just how close to the bitter end we’re getting. I will admit, this was entirely my fault as that’s usually the case with all things going awry in my room.

I get a little bit excited and then I just get everybody else all riled up and next thing you know, there’s something inappropriate hitting the fan. This is how this went down, as my second graders who I love and adore were walking into my art room, I greeted them with the usual greeting, “Hello, my most amazing artists,” but I switched the script on them just at the very end and I said, “Hello, my most amazing fartists,” and how do you think those geniuses respond, because they are the quickest witted little second graders I ever did meet.

They said, “Hello, my most amazing fart teacher.” Yeah. That’s where we are right now in my art room, or, as I should probably call it, the fart room. Let’s talk about how to keep our sanity while keeping those kids still creating at the end of the year. I’m going to share with you today four things that are going to keep those kids motivated, excited and creating up until the very last minute. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.

Today, I want to chat with you about how to keep them going, how to keep them creating, how to put them to work, and how to get their thoughts. That’s right. Let’s talk about how to do all four of those things before the end of the school year.

I know some of you guys who started well after Labor Day, like when everybody should go back to school. You guys are probably thinking, “Listen, Stephens, I still have a whole two months left to go, practically. What are you even talking about?”

Well, I started school pretty much the first of August, so I am counting down until the end of this month. In fact, we get out right before Memorial Day, so don’t hate, just know that I’ve been going to school since the beginning of time, at least that’s how it feels. If you aren’t there yet, just keep this little podcast in your back pocket, because trust me, the end will be here before you even know it.

All right. Let’s chat, first of all, about how to keep them going, how to keep our students motivated. If you’re like me, I am in the art show boat. My students’ art show is next Tuesday and, like a true procrastinator, we still have mountains of artwork left to finish. I have this really bad habit of getting excited and having them start on a new project without us exactly being entirely finished with the last one.

It gets to the point where they’re like, “Ms. Stephens, but what about X, Y and Z that we haven’t finished yet?” Yeah, so, now we’re trying to finish said X, Y, and Z. How do I keep my students motivated? Recently, I came up with a pretty big carrot and they are absolutely loving it. In fact, I just finished a blog post all about it as well as a video, so if you’re a visual person, you might want to hop on over to my blog to find out more.

I’m calling them my makers kits. Basically, it’s a lunch bag filled with things from my closet that I’m trying to declutter, like the mountains of cotton balls, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, pom poms and much, much more, that for whatever reason, I have a tremendous amount of and I no longer want.

In fact, as I am starting to declutter my life, I was putting it in a garage sale stash when I realized I could use these things to not only motivate my students but keep them creating, so here’s the short version. Basically, I open up one little lunch sack per student and I just grab random handfuls of stuff and I throw it in the bag, and then I close the bag.

Then, I tell my students, when they come to art, that today is their day to cash in their table behavior points. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I have a classroom management podcast that goes into tons of detail about this one so you might want to take a listen. Essentially, what it is is for doing the right thing, following directions, cleaning up, their table can earn up to five points.

On this particular day, when I knew I needed to keep them motivated and going, I told them they could cash in their points, but only if they had a perfect score for that day. What were they cashing in for? One of those bags filled with goodies. The deal is, they couldn’t look in the bag. It’s a grab bag makers kit, so whatever is in your bag, you’re to take it home, open it there and use your supplies at home to create something magical and bring it back so I can check it out. That really has motivated my students all the way up to fourth grade.

You could hear a pin drop. Not once did they come up to me and ask me, “What am I supposed to do next,” or the usual, “Where’s the trash can?” Not once, because they were trying so hard to finish up and make sure their table got a perfect score to earn a grab bag. That’s what I’ve been doing to keep my students motivated, which is kind of tricky as we get closer to the end of the year.

Now, let’s talk about how to keep them creating with low mess. Usually, as art teachers, we are all about the mess, but at the end of the school year, I am wanting to make sure that my room is getting cleaner rather than messier. I have this terrible tendency to have them working with messy stuff up until the very last day, and then I’m the last teacher in the building who’s still trying to pack her life up and put it all away because I wasn’t smart enough like all the classroom teachers who had done that a week ago, so I don’t love the idea of not having them creating. I’m not going to bust out a video for them, however, it is great to have those low mess activities so that you can start to get your room put together so you’re not there for the last days after school is let out, trying to still pack up your room.

Let me share with you what I do. The day of our art show, we, which is for me is next Tuesday, we push all the tables out of the way and we set up all of our displays, and if you want to hear more about the art show, then of course you can listen to a podcast all about that, just check the archives. With all of those tables and chairs out of the way for the art show, after the art show I’m not getting all of that stuff back out. What I have discovered over the years is that my students actually really love it that the room looks completely different and that they have this big, open space to kick off their shoes if they want to and lay out on the floor and create.

We call this our free choice centers time. Let me share with you what we do. Now that the tables are all pushed out of the way and the kids are able to sit wherever they want to on the floors, I have bins of origami paper, and inside those bins of origami paper, which is essentially just copy paper cut to squares, you all, don’t get all fancy now, I also have made copies of Easy Origami. Origami is something that my kids absolutely love. They love to work together with origami so they can figure out the directions, so that’s one of my students’ top favorite things to do.

Of course, dry erase boards is always a favorite with my students. They love to use the dry erase boards with my How to Draw books. I also have noticed that my students really love to play Pictionary. I have found Pictionary Junior or even Win, Lose, or Draw Junior at the thrift store, but you don’t even need that. All you have to do is write down things like simple animals for kids to draw or buildings or places. Write those down on index cards, throw them in a box and give the kids some dry erase boards and have them work in small teams to play Win, Lose or Draw. They absolutely love it.

Another favorite is giant coloring sheets. A giant coloring sheet that you can lay out on the floor and the kids can just color in with markers, as well as one of my students’ favorite things to do is draw along with Art Hub for Kids. I have noticed that my students actually pay closer attention to Art Hub for Kids, which is on YouTube. It’s fabulous, if you’ve never used it. They pay closer attention to it if I actually play it without the sound. That also makes it so it’s not distracting to students who aren’t drawing along, and if they’re drawing along with Art Hub for Kids, then they’re usually using a piece of copy paper attached to a clipboard and they’re drawing with a Sharpie.

Last but not least, another thing I love to do is have them, kind of, get ready to decorate the school for next year. I will use my bingo dobbers, my favorite old standby art supply, and I will usually draw out a couple of really giant signs for them and have them either lay on the floor and color those in or decorate them with the bingo dobbers. What do the signs say? They can say things like, “Welcome back,” or, “Art rocks,” or just fun little posters to hang in your room or even outside of the room to decorate it for the new year.

Those kind of activities, though, they can be kind of short lived, so you could set a timer and tell the kids that when the timer goes off, they’re now free to move to another center if they like or you can just let them have the freedom of moving from one to the other. You guys know your class and what they can handle, so give it a shot, see what works. Those are some of my students’ favorite free choice low mess centers to keep them creating.

There are some of those kids who love to be put to work, and a lot of times it can take an entire class, putting them all to work, and they can really do a fabulous job getting a lot of cleaning done for you. One of my favorite things to do is to have them do shaving cream on the tables. How does that look? I have my students clear everything off the tables. They have to stack their chairs, so now that’s done, and then I just walk around and I put a dollop of shaving cream in front of each student, and as a group of four at their table, they just kind of move the shaving cream all around.

They draw on it. We’ve had drawing contests before. I’ll throw out a theme, and together as a team, they have to work together to draw in their shaving cream. They could do this for hours, I swear, and I’m not talking fancy shaving cream. Hit up the Dollar Tree or the dollar store and get the cheap stuff. Your room is going to smell like a handsome man.

Then, when it’s time for them to start wiping it down, I give each table a bin full of warm water and a sponge. I remind them that they have to squeeze the sponge out inside the bin before starting to wipe down the shaving cream from the tables. The next thing you know, you have the most glistening tables, and if you turn it into a cleanest table contest, you will be amazed at how hard they work.

Another thing that you could do is provide students who maybe don’t want to take part in the free choice centers with the alternative of cleaning. I have a handful of boy students who absolutely love to help out and love to clean. For them, I will give them things that I need cut out. I’ve got a student who loves to wash my paint brushes so I always ask him to take care of that for me. I have a couple of students who love taking baby wipes and wiping and cleaning everything down.

Don’t be afraid to ask students to do this. It’s showing pride and showing respect for the school and it’s helping you out considerably. Not only that, another thing that I really love to have them do is also just sort through my supplies and test them out. Markers are the absolute bane of my existence because half the time I’m reusing them, Sharpies included, they’re drying out. If you set up a little table with a blank sheet of paper and a basket of markers that you need tested, let the kids do it. They’ll enjoy doing it and they love helping out.

My last thing that I really love to do at the end of the year, one of my favorites, is taking a class survey. This is where you can get their thoughts and really get some ideas for next year. I usually do this with my third and fourth grade students, and it’s just a simple survey that they can fill out either before class or after.

What does my survey say? My survey asks what their favorite projects from the school year was, and it helps to kind of give them a reminder, because it’s hard for me, even, to remember what we did way back in August, so just go through quickly as a group, all of the projects that you’ve done throughout the year, and on the survey, and they don’t even have to write their name on the survey. That way they don’t feel weird about saying something negative.

They can write down their favorite projects, but make sure they tell you why they enjoyed it so much. You might be surprised. You might discover that they enjoyed weaving because they got to sit on the floor or they really enjoyed working with clay because you did something special or different that time. Just reading that might spark an idea for you in how you approach teaching a certain subject for next year.

Also ask, and this might burn and sting a little bit, ask what their least favorite projects were, because that will also help you think of ways that even though they might not have thoroughly enjoyed a weaving project, it’s in your curriculum, you’ve got to teach it. How can you go about teaching it a little bit better or more differently to help reach those students who didn’t enjoy it?

I also love to know what they would do differently. What is something that you wish were different in my art room? Usually it comes down to, “I wish I could sit next to my friend, or I wish I could …” They always want to sit on the floor. Every time I turn around, my friends are on the floor. Why? I wish I could sit on the floor, so it’s always interesting to put the ball back in their court. If you were the art teacher, what would you teach? What would you like to learn?

I love reading those end of the year surveys. It’s my favorite thing to do during the summer because it really inspires me for the next school year.

That’s quite a bit. That’s my advice on how to keep our kids motivated, how to keep them creating, how to put them to work, and how to get their thoughts on these last days and weeks of school. Thank you so much for letting me share, guys.

Tim Bogatz: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz, the host of Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning into Everyday Art Room. If you’re looking for graduate credits in the next few months, make sure you check out under the courses tab. We offer over 20 online courses designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career, whether you’re looking to develop a new art curriculum, get help with classroom fundamentals, incorporate new technology into the classroom or just brush up on your own art making skills. We’ve got the course for you.

Our online graduate courses are practical, relevant, and highly engaging. They’re also fully accredited and perfect for relicensure, logging hours or earning credits toward your masters degree. Again, you can check out everything related to these courses at Now, let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she finishes the show.

Cassie Stephens: Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mail bag. I have an awesome question today, and I have a feeling that this is a question that a lot of people will have on their minds in the next couple of months. It’s from Laura and she writes, “I have an interview on Wednesday for an elementary art position. Do you have any advice?”

I have been on several art teacher interviews, and the last one I was on was about 12 years ago, so I’m still at my current school. In fact, recently, I was applying, not for another job, but just for something, and they asked for a resume and I thought, “Holy cow, what’s a resume? I haven’t even updated that sucker in, like, 12 years.” My advice to somebody who is going on an interview is, first and foremost, make sure that you are dressed professionally.

I say that being your friend who dresses the most crazy. I would never dress as crazy as I do on an everyday basis for a job interview because I want the job. I like to tell people that for my most recent job that I got, I dressed like Barbara Bush, may she rest in peace. I wore a blue suit, if you can imagine, like, cornflower blue suit with tights and a low lump. I can’t even imagine it but that’s what I wore and that’s how I landed my gig and the next day I was all rainbows and sparkles, so, fooled them.

Anyway, I would make sure to dress professionally. I would be certain to bring a folder, a binder of some sort that really showcases not only your artwork but most importantly your students’ work, project examples, things that you have done in your room. I had an entire folder filled with images of my former classroom and my management plan, just so they could kind of see that I knew, or at least I thought I knew, what I was doing.

One thing that always happened in interviews was that they would always ask me, “Do you have any questions?” I always thought the polite thing to say would be, “Nope, no, it sounds great.” That’s not it. If I were on an interview for a new school now, I would have a lot of questions. May I see a copy of last year’s schedule? Could you please tell me what my budget is like? Are you open to fundraisers? May I please see the art room? Those things are going to be vital for you once you’ve got the job. Just because you need the job doesn’t necessarily mean that you need this job, so keep that in mind, because another opportunity might pop up, and you want to make sure that this gig you’re interviewing for is something that you want, not just something that you need right then and there.

That’s kind of where I would be for advice for somebody going on an interview, although, just like last week, last week’s amazing mail bag question became an entire podcast, I do believe this one could be a podcast all its own. Thank you, Laura, and best of luck with you on your interview. Just remember, if you don’t nail this interview, it’s not the first and it won’t be the last. If you have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way. You can find me at

I really think that the biggest way to keep all of your students motivated to the end of the year is just to soldier on as you always have done, meaning, continue to be consistent, continue to expect the best from them. Just let them know that just because the sun is out, the temperatures are rising and the end is near, that you guys still have some serious art making to do, and I come to you as the least consistent person on the planet. Here I am telling you that consistency is actually where it’s at, especially when it’s near the end of the year. Good luck to you guys on those last couple of weeks and days.

Just know, we’re all feeling it, but it can be so much fun, maybe even more so, at the very end. Have a super great week, you all.

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.