Ditch the Sticker Chart and 7 other Management Tricks

Recently I was exploring a popular online forum for art teachers, and someone asked in a thread about ideas for classroom management in the art room. As I sat and read the replies, I became frustrated and overwhelmed. This person wanted a simple solution, and the answers seemed so complex.

People replied with confusing ticket systems, sticker charts, earning things like prizes and free art time and candy. Ugh. I realize in the classroom setting, these systems work great, but when you see students once a week you just DON’T have time to keep track of all of this!!!  If you do this and it works great, more props to you, but it hasn’t worked for me.

My first year of teaching, I started a sticker chart. If the class did a nice job, they got a sticker. It fizzled after a few weeks. A couple of kids asked about it, but mostly it just dropped off from there. I knew with the busy rush of days, teaching at two schools, and having no time between classes, even the best of intentions couldn’t keep this type of plan consistent.

I thought back to what my mentor had told me.

  • Students should do the right thing in class.
  • It’s not necessary to reward students for doing the right thing; it’s an expectation.
  • Motivators can come in many different shapes and forms.

Boy, she was right.

I do tons of positive verbal and visual feedback, small cheers, little quick games, but I will not sacrifice the health of students (candy) or their art time (fun/free day to watch a movie) or the last 5-10 minutes of art (which could be used instead for a quick assessment or review game) for a reward. Making art, learning about art, and talking about art is what I am paid to do and I am given VERY LITTLE time to accomplish this. The subject matter alone is motivating and fun if you let it be.

I am bringing you a few new tricks and the best of the best from my past management posts to give you some ideas to streamline your classroom management for a new school year.

Remember- we are not grade-level classroom teachers. We require a different set of rules, those of which we sometimes must make up as we go (with a little help from our friends).

7 Management Tricks for a New School Year

  1. Ditch the Sticker Chart (which you already know).
    You don’t have time for it and probably can’t keep up with it. Stick to something you can keep up with, and keep it SIMPLE!
  2. Use Non-Verbal Cues
    By using color cards to line up and clean up, your students will respond non-verbally, keeping the noise and chaos to a minimum.
  3. ART
    Speaking of loud voices, use a simple system for keeping voices and behaviors down with these three letters. No charts needed.
  4. Streamline Your Management Plan
    Use a simple, consistent system for individual behaviors. You’ll see dramatic changes fast.
  5. One and Done
    Make one letter to go home to parents that you can fill out with individual information. Make a bunch of copies and put them right on your desk. DONE. Consistency is key.
  6. Rules are Clear
    Make sure your expectations are very clear and posted in a visible spot in your room. I do a PowerPoint each year that shows students some basic things about the art room and what I expect.
  7. Stay Positive
    A passionate, positive and enthusiastic teacher is transparent. Teaching life lessons in the art room and reminding students to “fill each other’s buckets” is a great way to manage a classroom without bribery.

How will you start your classroom management off on the right foot this year? 

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.


  • HipWaldorf

    I always have believed that no extrinsic motivators are needed and that

    “art itself is the reward”

    So if your behavior is inappropriate and you ignore rules and expectations, as well as my non-verbal clues, then you are demonstrating that you have no intrinsic motivation to participate in making art – so you are removed from the group table.

    It is amazing to see the rewards and incentive toys and Lego sets, etc. some of the classroom and special ed. teachers use to get their less motivated students to work. (A Lego set is $30 – I am not spending my $ for behavior)

  • What a great post! As a teacher we should all be more attune to garnering that intrinsic motivation that is so important and will matter most in their lives ahead. I use a lot of my own parenting techniques in my classroom (things that have worked with my own kids….and it isn’t reward based)…..I like the idea of the powerpoint for expectations and have already planned to present a powerpoint on the first day.

    The key, I believe, is knowing our students….now that is a little difficult when we don’t see them daily. If students are acting up, usually it is for some reason…..that is why differentiation is so important. On the other hand…it is extremely difficult to differentiate when seeing students less often…..ahhhh…the trials of an art teacher!

    Jessica…..how is “mom to be” doing? I am sure you are a little anxious/overwhelmed about being so pregnant and beginning school. I am glad the weather is finally cooler! I am sure the heat took its toll on you! Are you headed to the State Fair? I had the wonderful opportunity to be a judge for the concrete painted cows that will be on display all over the grounds…..that was fun!

    • Cathy,
      I am doing well- A little nervous to be on my feet all day and try to teach being 8 months pregnant. I’ve had to make some adaptions for myself which I plan to post about once i’ve tried them out.
      I assume we’ll get to the state fair at some point, we always do! So cool you got to be a judge. Also attended the Iowa Staw Poll which was kind of neat! I can’t wait to see you at the conference.

  • This is the most frustrating thing. There’s my standards THEN THERE’S THE REST OF THE WORLD! I “go with the flow” meaning whatever the climate of the school is I follow as much as can. So when I taught Montessori I used NO extrinsic motivators. But teaching inner city with tons of “prize” stuff going on I have a point chart for accountability. I reward classes when they earn all the points on the chart with a free choice art day. BUT, their are a few classes where the students barely come to school or come fed, well rested or ready. For those classes I do a food party. That is a big motivator. I’ve been trying to make them healthier too. I do what I HAVE to do and it varies class by class. I find myself constantly changing my expectations throughout the day because of how students come to me. If a student or class is a mess in the hallway I know we’re not going to be taking out the paper mache! And if the promise of a sticker helps them get through that hour. . . I’m not above it! But I am like you and I try my darndest to not promise too much and to make art rewarding enough.

    • Erica,
      I can totally see how with difference circumstances a little bit of motivation like a piece of candy can make the world of difference. We are all in such different circumstances and must adapt accordingly. This is good reflective teaching. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Classroom management is not about managing children, it is managing (organizing) the space to allow for total on task behavior while setting children up for success. Sometimes as teachers I think we want the children to do what we want, and don’t show them how to do it. not necessarily always what is right

    I have found that the most important behavior a teacher can have in class is consistency. Consistency of behavior , constancy of expectation, consistency of marking, consistency of rules, consistency of treatment of children, consistency of love, knowledge of subject matter, and I could go on and on. When we offer the best to children they seem to always rise to the occasion.

    I too, like others have purchased rewards and I usually forget to give them out. It got to the point that during conversation if a child saw something and they asked for it I would give it to them based upon my feeling at the time.:) I have been teaching over 25 years and when I started a sticker or a stamp may have worked but todays generation has “wants” that far exceed what I am willing to pay for for them to do what they should be doing. This generation is also about instant gratification- and life isn’t like that! I have found that the extra time that is put into teaching that is spent with children, after school free art, lunch with the teacher, learning how to face paint, and just listening when a child talks, etc go a long way to motivating students.

    I also think it is very important to understand the stages of child development. Chip Woods has a wonderful book call Yardsticks, as well as a set of pamphlets that share the information about a child from 4-14. It helps to put children’s needs into perspective.

    • Carmen,
      What a neat reply. I will be saving your ideas and thinking about them a lot. I like the way you have compared managing children to managing a classroom. SO TRUE! I will check out the information on Chip Woods. I am very interested. Thank you for sharing.

  • I so agree with you. Being consistent, calm, and present is key to behavior management success. And, I also rather deeply agree that offering a reward for doing what you should do anyway encourages students to change their behavior for the wrong reasons.

    When you point out a student for doing something you dislike, you only effect that one student and s/he may or may not choose to change his/her behavior. But, I’ve found that when I recognize students for being on-task, doing the “right” thing, being kind, helping others etc. MORE students hop-to to emulate the recognized behavior.

    I teach in a TItle I school, and my students don’t have a lot of “rewards” in their lives at all. So, I play behavior bingo. Wherein, when I notice a student doing something “above and beyond” she can put his/her name on the board (it’s huge). We play for 9 weeks and I give out as many “prizes” as students who get a bingo (4 names across). Usually the prizes are gift cards to local restaurants (which I get the managers to give to me for free). This way, there isn’t a reward every time, but a chance for one. I find it to be a way to positively recognize exemplary (and I do mean exemplary) behavior. . .But, it isn’t always handing out stickers and/or rewarding an entire class. It isn’t complicated because it all stays on the board, and the students do all the work.

    So, am I still giving a wee reward? Yeah. But, for my very under privileged kids I don’t think I’m hurting them for recognizing special behavior!

  • Bcr8tiv

    I love all of your suggestions…I am definately making a list of all these ideas for next year…

    I have cards about the size of a business cardlaminated with a stop sign and the words printed below.

     ” Pleas stop what you are doing and make a better choice.”

    I take the card away if they change their behavior if it continues and it stays on the desk, I send a letter/phone call home. I haven’t had to make any calls yet.

    I do not have to address the issue the student realizes they are making a poor decision and they usually trun things around.

     It even lets the rest of the students know, beleive it or not…that I am paying attention to what they are doing.  :) Good or bad… 

     OOh on that note just had an idea, I could make something like a thank you card and place it infront of students who are on task… Instead of disiplining the bad student, a simple reward to the one who is on task. A positive letter could go home….

    • I am really liking the card idea and will have to try it myself! Both negative and positive could work, especially depending on the class.

    • staci

      love this idea!  going to try it this next week! :)

  • Nylah

    Great post Jessica! I love how you have narrowed down what truly works in a situation such as yours. I am curious to know whether you would recommend playing “Mona-poly” with the various classes. I found the idea on one of the art blogs, not sure which one, and thought it was a great idea! But after reading your post and realizing perhaps we need to be consistent and work on what really works, do you think I should put away this idea of playing a game with the classes to see which class behaves well and moves ahead in the game each week? What are your thoughts about this game being included in the class list of motivators? 

    • Nylah,
      I think in the Managing the Art Room class you will be able to sort through this question with yourself and other classmates. For some teachers, the competition thing works great, especially between the other classes, but I have never found it to work well. I see the students so little, that the art projects are usualy engaging enough to entice them. Would you do rewards for the students who move ahead, or would you just simply give them the satisfaction of “winning” – This decision is truly the individual teacher, and the population they teach. I honestly I can’t keep up. The day flies by, and it was not only hard for me to be consistent, but the kids didn’t seem to really care. If fizzles out after a few months… Just sit on the idea. There is no right or wrong.

      • Nylah

        I am looking forward to the class! :) Thanks for your reply.

  • Caitlin

    I’m a new elementary music teacher and I just stumbled across your blog. Like you, I see over 300 kids in my week and 7 classes a day… I’m swamped by the end. I actually googled “sticker chart” and when I saw “Ditch the sticker chart” I thought… oh why not give this a read. I’m glad I did. I really struggle with inconsistency and empty threats. Over the weekend I made letters to go home and sent home 5 today. It felt great to follow through, and also a little less harsh than a phone call home. I’ve since explored this site a bit and a lot of it is very transferable to the music class! Thank you so much!!