What’s Your Number? Labeling Student Art Supplies

For many secondary art teachers, we have two “first days of school”, one in August and the other in January. The first-first day in August arrives with fresh faces, boxes of new art supplies and an overall sense of organization. The second “first day”, well, that arrives on a cold day in January, with half used boxes, missing supplies and a holiday hangover. To remedy second semester blues, I have found, over many years of supply chaos that I gently settle into my first days of a semester when I’m ORGANIZED; but organization is more easily said than done.



What’s your number?

At the start of a semester:
•Create blank spreadsheets or charts for each class using a Word table, Excel spreadsheet, digital grade book, ect.
•Assign each student and/or table a number for all numbered class supplies.
•Explain to students the rational behind organizing supplies.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.38.00 PMStart Small.

Look at the immediate issues in your classroom and ask yourself, what is repeatedly broken, lost, and costly or a safety concern. Once you have determined your classes’ daily needs, set out to organize just one problem area and see what happens.
•Use clear, pencil pouches or any other transparent container!
•Select basic tools/supplies that students use on a regular basis.
•Number & label only costly or safety items.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.46.55 PMThen, gradually expand into other areas as you find supplies that desperately need some order.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.38.55 PM


Find your helpers.

Yes, I have become “that” person, but I am not alone. I employ the help of students to make this all happen. I create an example of what and how a supply is to be labeled and organized and leave the rest to the helpers. Also, at the end of each class, students gather and account for all supplies before the class dismisses. Responsibility does wonders for classroom management.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 1.39.21 PM


It can be done.

Finally, many of these ideas evolved from direct observation of student interactions with supplies; however, also seek out ideas from colleagues. Hands-on classes, such as Foods, Sciences, Industrial tech, as well as pre-school teachers, have great ideas for storage and organization. Any teacher that manages large numbers of materials and students has a system. Seek out those teachers and snoop in their rooms.

What are some of your systems for organizing supplies?

How has it changed your classroom? 

What didn’t work, and why?

Jackie Tonhouse

This article was written by former AOE writer and high school art teacher, Jackie Tonhouse.


  • Johanna

    I love this article! Thank you for all of the helpful ideas.

  • Johanna

    I love this article! Thank you for all of the helpful ideas.

  • dette

    I’ve done the old numbering system for craft knives that tend to “go walkabout” and put to bad use elsewhere!!! With other things I tend to use a colour code system, matching coloured desk markers with coloured containers, I’ve even taped coloured tape to each texta in a packet for 16 packets of textas in an effort to try and have the kids be responsible for the shared materials…with varying degrees of sucess! The best thing I ever did was to get the children to bring their own set of art room scissors, which shouldn’t be consumables but were and artline textas, sharpie pens and pencils that rarely lasted beyond a week or two as a school supplied class set. I now have lidded boxes of handmade pencil cases for each class these are given out at the beginning of each lesson as a part of the set up routine. If the kids look after them they rarely have to replace more than a marker or two that runs out for their entire time at primary school. It means I can spend my budget of about 20c per child per lesson on other things!
    The only problem I have with any system is when I am sick or away for some other school buisness and the relief teacher doesn’t understand the importance of stressing the management of the materials and you come back to a mess of bits and pieces and missing erasers and sharpeners!!! It is the bane of my art room existance! ;) Any suggestions for that???? I’ve not come up with one yet that works really well. Recently I photographed what everything should look like added written instructions and stuck it up behind my desk. Hoping that will help!

    • Jorena

      I agree! I always have problems with materials after subs.
      That’s when the erasers go missing etc.

  • Your organization techniques are really impressive! I love the suggestion to snoop in other highly organized teachers’ rooms. :)

    • I agree – We forget to put ourselves in the shoes of other teachers in the building. Think of how organized the Foods teacher must be to prep and cook with students. There must be some management gems from observing him or her teach.

  • krowan

    Thanks for sharing this. Our school doesn’t have much money for the Art department so I want to keep the things we have as nice as possible for as long as possible so thanks for sharing this great organizational idea!

  • Cara Studds

    This works for high school: on the first day of school during course expectations, I explain that students’ studio habits are earned and worth 20% of their grade. Each student is given a supply box and one pencil, sharpie, eraser, scissor and sharpener, each labeled with that student’s number. If students lose any one of those they must be purchased, drawing from their 20%. For example, a pencil costs .5%’ a sharpie 1%, however the sharpener is 5%. I have this listed in the art studio as well. It’s the best results in 10 years!

  • Pamski

    OMG! Brilliant, forget highschool I teach intermediate art, I see 5 different classes a day.

  • Toby

    Yes, my pet peeve after some subs are the materials! If not missing… One sub took all my big pink pearl erasers and cut them up for all the kids… The kids knew that was wrong! So when I have a sub it’s minimal supplies for a reason… Everything costs so much that I can’t have it wasted! (The first thing my student teachers learn).
    I really like the group numbering per table kits… As I have so many classes come through this will help tremendously!

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