Easily Transition Between Back-to-Back Classes Using Tote Trays

This is one classroom organizational technique that I could not live without, and that all art teachers should consider.  I came up with this strategy when my district re-vamped the “specials” schedule and all of a sudden I was teaching 6 different classes each day with no prep time in-between most of them.  I don’t teach the same media at the same time, so transitioning between different grade levels, often means changing supplies completely.  I needed a quick and efficient way to put away one lesson and pull out the next, without any down time.  I knew I couldn’t be searching for materials or sorting through posters.  I needed to be ready to go the minute the next class walked through the door.

The idea is really, really simple.  In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t begin my teaching career using this, but I digress.  To begin, I created a tote tray for each grade level.  I ordered 6 large 16 X 18 tote trays from Dick Blick, but you certainly wouldn’t need to.  You could easily use an up-cycled cardboard flat, box lid or cake pan. Each of these tote trays was labeled for a grade level, kindergarten through 5th grade.


At the end of each week, I organize each tote tray with the supplies that I need for the next week’s classes.  By referencing my digital lesson plans, I know where each class is at and if classes need to finish one project or if they were ready to move on to the next.  I put everything in these totes (except student work).  I cut papers, pull out supplies, add visuals, handouts, manipulatives, books, etc.  The idea is that when I pull out this tote tray, I am ready to teach!

I use smaller tote trays to prep supplies and store them prepped and ready to go.  These totes fit into a larger closet (pictured below), but again this isn’t necessary.  The idea is that supplies are also ready.  For example, I have 8 tables, so I need 8 packs of oil pastels or trays of tempera cakes.  I have found that if I store supplies already doled out and ready to be handed out, I save time and energy.

cabinet copy

Although it was designed out of necessity, once I began using this method I never went back.  It is just too simple and time-saving.  I am more organized and consistent because of this technique and it makes me a better teacher.  As you can see the set up is really quite simple, the challenging part is creating a system and sticking to it.  My last district was on a weekly schedule, so I would make sure to reset my totes prior to leaving on Friday afternoon.  It takes self-control to keep the totes ready to go, but the stress free transitions between lessons and grade levels is definitely worth it.  As an added bonus, this method is very helpful for substitute teachers as well!

How do you keep your sanity as you transition between grade levels, subjects or different media?

Do you have any time between classes or not? What are your transition tricks?

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Jorena

    I have a situation similar to yours.I teach 7 classes a day. I have no counters in my room, so I put two long tables against one wall. I divided it into 7 sections with tape. At each section, I make sure I have all the supplies I need for each grade level. At each spot, I have a stack of class table boxes. I go ahead and stock my table boxes (flats) with the materials they will need so that all I have to do to transition is take up the flats off the tables at the end of class and set out flats on the tables for the next class. Before I leave every day, I make sure the table boxes are stocked and ready to roll for the next day. Like you, I did it out of necessity. With seven different grades a day, I don’t have time to be unprepared..

    • I did design this system out of necessity, but now that I have it down, I can’t live without it!

  • Cat litter trays from the dollar store. boo-yah.

    • Nice. That totally deserved a boo yah. Having purchased them for their original usage, they aren’t that expensive compared to the expensive organizational bins you can find in some catalogs.

    • I second that! Great score!

    • artofed.dev

      This is a much cheaper alternative to the expensive bins…I too have picked up the flat cardboard (cut down) tray top like boxes @ grocery store also..works !

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  • Leah

    SO simple and brilliant! I will start tomorrow!!

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