“ART” for a Quiet Art Room

One of the very best things about art class is that students can chat with one another and work at the same time.  I even tell the students that is one of MY favorite things: to be able to talk with them and get to know them in class.  Although a blessing, if voices reach a certain level, learning becomes very difficult.  We all know our number one job is to teach kids art and provide learning for all students.  When voices in the art room become so loud that I can’t clearly hear a student to help them, or talk at a normal voice level to the entire class, I know learning can’t take place.  (I’m sure you’ve had one of those days when you drive home with no radio at all, just to enjoy the silence because your day was so loud!)  Some teachers might say, “Oh no big deal, it’s art class, it’s always loud.”  This is unacceptable to me!  I need to be able to teach and students deserve to be able to think and learn.  A loud and unruly art room is a barrier to these goals and the rights of all of my students.

I have thought of trying many tactics to get kids to be quiet: I thought about incentives, I thought about point charts for behavior, reward systems, but in the end I do not belive in those types of things.  It’s an expectation that learning will take place in my art room.  Because of these beliefs, the simple and effective system that has worked fabulous for me consists of three simple letters… ART.

The letters ART are posted up on my whiteboard with magnets.  If students become to loud, enter art class loudly, or as a whole class start to interrupt me when I am teaching, I take away the “A.”

Gasps are heard among the crowd of students! We just lost the “A.”  To be honest, most of the time this is all that needs to take place.  The students understand, they’ve gotten their warning.  I’ve even had kids apologize to me in the hallway the next day for their class being disrespectful and losing the “A.”  But, if after any amount of time the voice level becomes loud again or the behaviors continue, I will then proceed to take the “R.”

If the class ends up losing the “T” they will go to “no talking” for the remainder of art, no matter the amount of time left in class.  For the younger students, I may even have them put their heads down for 5 minutes.  And to answer the most common question I get from kiddos: No, you can’t earn letters back! To be honest, I only take the “T’ away maybe 5 times in an entire school year, which is a good indicator for me the system is working.

This method does not address specific individual behaviors I may encounter, but is a great way to manage large classes of students (mine are usually between 22-30 at one time) and provide for an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning.  I have not found anything that works better for me!

What are some methods you use to keep the voice levels and behaviors in your art room at a low hum? Please share!

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • isaac

    Thanks, Jessica… great idea! I especially love your distaste for setting up reward systems. Students should work to be on good behavior because it’s the right thing to do, not because they will receive a treat for doing so.

    I am going to consider your management system in the Fall. I follow a similar approach when managing the noise level in class, but I love the idea of a constant reminder of their warnings being present on the board… as well, it provides a small slice of art integration. In my art class I turn off the lights, at which time the voices need to go quiet and students should be ready to listen to any instructions. I will usually give one more chance for them to keep their voices quiet, then on the 3rd warning we go to voices off. This works very well at the beginning of the year… but the lights off technique loses its punch as the year goes on as students continue talking through the lights off warning.

    An added challenge I face in my classroom is horrible acoustics. The floors are tile and the ceiling is a plastic-like surface, providing no noise absorption. Even when students are talking at a reasonable level the noise can be deafening. Our school is moving to a new campus next year, so I am hoping the acoustics will be improved. If not, I am considering some decorative solutions.

    • Thanks for your comment! I think your bad acoustics would be quite the challenge, especially since you are the one who “lives” in that room all day with the noise. Good luck with teaching at your new campus, and thanks for stopping by!


      • jenny

        I tried this and it works well, but what do you do about kids talking during the “no talking time”? Every time I go to no talking, there are still a few kids who just have to try to sneak some talking to their neighbor.

        • Jenny- I think that is one of the downfalls of this plan, because I struggle with that, too. I have written down names, and given it to their teacher at the end of class, or just removed the kid from the table and had them sit off to the side to work. Otherwise, you could just do 10 minutes of silent and go back to talking if that worked better, too. It really depends on the situation! Good luck and I hope it helps!

  • Anna

    I am looking at using this as I do the no lights, remove student to a chair in the back, or if their behavior continues to the hall. However, I’ve got a feeling that once that “T” is taken away, a lot of my students will still have problems with talking… then what? I may have to say if you are talking during the no talking time you will spend xxxx amount of mins with me during recess… or remove them from the table, to the hall, etc. I’ll give it a shot and see what happens- hoping for the best! Thanks!

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  • Matt

    I’ve been reading your posts this week. It has made me think a lot about my management. Great ideas! I’ve tried the ART letters management system in the past and I didn’t have much success. The last two years I’ve set up a classroom management game. I love it (and so do the students). It allows me to give feedback to my students after every class and rewards students without me having to go out and buy candy. I also put incentives on different spots on the game like a “free art day”-I set up different activities and students get to choose what they do for that day. Also if the students are too loud as a group I move their game piece backwards. Here’s the link to my post on that game. http://colfaxmingoart.weebly.com/2/post/2010/10/monapoly.html

    The kids also get competitive. Competitive in art?
    The game can have a theme too. Fun stuff!

    Keep up the good work Jessica. I enjoy reading your posts.

    • Hi Matt! Great to hear from you- I also love your game. The fact that you’ve kept it up for two years really says a lot, and the consistency will pay off. Each of us really needs to find what works for us – that is the most important thing. I look forward to connecting with you in the future- I also meant to ask you- You told me you had a great website for students to learn one point perspective. Can you pass that on to me?


      • Sorry it took me so long to reply, I just noticed you asked a question. I used this website http://www.olejarz.com/arted/perspective/
        It’s not the most fancy website, but it really worked for my middle school students when I taught them. I haven’t tried it with elem. yet. Maybe i’ll try it with my fifth grade. When I did this with my middle school students they created their dream room on Microsoft paint. It’s a simple program that most of them already knew how to use, so I didn’t spend half the time teaching them how to use the program.

        Thanks for posting Angela’s Art Assessment PDF. There’s some good stuff in there.

        • No problem, Matt. Thanks for the site! I am excited to play around with it.

    • Ashley Mcgee

       Just wondering if there is a new link to your game for classroom management?  This link is not working.  I would love to see it!!  Thank you!

  • Wow! This is great. Thanks for linking this because I missed it the first time. I have similar feelings about the noise in the art room. I don’t mind some conversation, but I had when it becomes priority. Thanks for the great idea!

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  • Thank you for your realistic approach to behavior. I agree that it is their job to listen as it is my job to teach, I don’t do it in the hopes of sticker rewards. I am off to make my ART letters now.
    Love your blog!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Jessica. I support art teachers in Philadelphia and saw the “ART” strategy used in one of our teachers’ classroom. It worked great for him as well. He learned of it from the”Incredible Art Department” website. This is another great link for resources. Please share this link on your page. Thanks again. I plan to share your your blog with the Philadelphia Art Teachers!

    • Thanks for spreading the word!! IAD is a great resource I have used in the past as well!

  • Hi, I want to re-arrange my Visual art classes in 2012. I will have two Grade 12 and two Grade 11 classes running concurently. (I also teache grade 9 and 10)

    At present the seniors are in two mixed-ability classes and they all have to work at the same pace. This results in the weaker ones falling behind and the strong pupils not being streched enough.

    the plan is to design an excellerated program for the top pupils to work on while the weaker ones are given more individual attention. This will work on a rotation basis.

    The Grade 9’s – of which there are 8 classes! are at a difficult and very noisy age. I like the game idea used by Matt, but the sheer number of classes makes it so hard to control the noise level. I agree that excessive noise is so disruptive and counter-productive.

    We (in South Africa) are dealing with the legacy of OBE which has been a dismal failure and has lead to a culture of noisy classrooms.

    If anyone has any ideas – please help.


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  • Blue_penciller

    Hi, do you give rewards to your students if they were able to maintain all the letters of

    • No, I don’t. Just a lot of praise and I tell their teacher and make a big deal out of it. Should I be? Maybe. But for now, this works.

  • Khyman

    Suggested reward for a great day in Art….building toward a “free art” day.   My students can earn up to 3 positive a class.  All are based on art room expectations…good volume, following directions, being respective and responsible….  24 positives earn free art.   Free art is a day where students make art of their choice with a few exceptions…not messy work such as with clay or paint.

  • Paigepbyrne

    “Art Break” has worked for many years!  Art Break is a 5 minute time slot, at halfway through class mark that  is absolute Quiet.  I announce “I’m not even going to interrupt you and let me know if your neighbor needs a reminder.  This is also a good time to check out the guidance posted on dry erase board or check in with yourself to keep your imagination flowing.”  We play the radio, classical CD’s & storytelling CD’s.  They love them & can recall/request them!!  Students often forget 5 min has passed and carry their creative mission til clean up! 

  • DMcClelland

    Thanks for posting this! This strategy works great and it’s quick!  I also use a paper traffic light displayed on the white board or door frame for grades 3-5. There’s an arrow or magnet that points to one of the colors on the traffic light. The kids vote for the volume they want in their art studio: yellow for whispering, or red for no talking. I save green, indoor voices, for special occasions like Art Center Adventure or something like that. Students vote by putting their heads down on the desks with eyes closed and raising their hand for their choice when it’s announced. I’m always surprised how many students vote for red, no talking, but usually the majority chooses yellow. We proceed with the majority vote. It also helps me see who specifically needs silence to work in the class, and it’s often the kids who would not speak up and say something if it were too loud. Then I ask the kids, “What should the consequences be for kids who don’t whisper when we’re on yellow?” And they give me suggestions for what they think is fair, e.g. moving their # to warning, etc. We agree as a class and proceed.  It works really well for me. 

  • Steveandlisanelson

    I too have used this technique and found it works well. they even remind me if a letter was taken down from a previous class-they want to make sure it was not theirs!

  • Lauren Frosty

    does this work for high school students too? 

    • I used it for 8th and 9th and it did work. I needed something, they were louder than elementary students!

  • mc

    I do this but use the word “NOISE”. After the third time, the “I” comes down, leaving the word “NO”, which stands for no talking.

  • Anonymous

    I have tried this before with k-8, but tied it to the use of materials. If the class ends on an R or a T, that limits the types of media they can use. This has worked for other teachers, but it wasn’t really working for me (especially grades 6-8) and they remained limited to drawing materials. One of my principals said she didn’t want the students to have limited materials based off of their behavior, and to eradicate the ART chart. It doesn’t really help for volume in general, because when I’ve tried to have a silent art class, the students still talk. I don’t know what to do. I’ve resorted to bribery systems with weekly or monthly prizes, but nothing really works. Any suggestions??

    • Art teacher

      There is very little to no talking in my art room. I have 7 and 8th graders. I explain at the beginning of the year that most people need quiet to concentrate, be creative, and get “in the zone”. I play music (without words) and sometimes they listen to an age appropriate AR book during class (audible.com). They love the stories and are usually quietly working every day. They can take tests on the books too if your school does AR. Also, my principals have all loved that I play AR stories during class. There are days when there is talking. Printmaking, clay, etc. but, they are few and far between. I used to let the kids talk freely every day. They always got too loud. It was very stressful and I had students tell me they couldn’t work with all the noise. I think almost everyone is happier in a quieter and more controlled art room.

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  • maeoju

    Hi Jessica! I am interested in this A.R.T. method for volume and/or interruptions, because I too am challenged by noise levels from time to time. My question is, have you ever been faced with a situation where the class loses the T and is supposed to not talk for the rest of class, and they still talk? If so what do you do?

    • Jessica Lacy

      I know what you mean, I have very loud groups of talkers. I am thinking about implementing this ART technique, but I think for my older kids, adding an essay assignment if they lose the T. I think that is the only real deterrent that I can offer.

      Do you think that would work?