Set Up Your TAB Room in 7 Easy Steps

Yesterday, I shared the reasons why I chose to teach a Choice-Based art curriculum known as Teaching for Artistic Behavior or TAB. You know why I changed my curriculum, and today I’m going to tell you how my room changed with it. Changing your curriculum and/or teaching philosophy can be overwhelming, and at times, you might not know where to begin. In fact, if you take AOE’s online class, “Choice Based Art Education” you can learn a wide variety of ways you can teach along the Choice Spectrum, it’s not one size fits all! If you’re interested in implementing choices in your curriculum, I’m here to help ease your fears and guide you as you make the change to choice.

Set Up TAB Room

After researching and reading about TAB, the next step is to set up centers or studios throughout your classroom. One of the most important aspects of a TAB classroom is student independence. To give students independence, they need to be able to freely move around to get the supplies they need. The more organized your classroom is, the more successful your students will be.

Here are seven steps to help you create an organized TAB classroom.


1. Label, label, label.

Labeling supplies is one of the most important parts of TAB. Every supply needs a name and a home. Students need to know what a supply is called and where it belongs. This process can be time consuming, so ask for help. My ten year old niece was an excellent helper when it came time to labeling my supplies.

2. Label supplies with an example photo.

Adding a photo of the supply helps students learn the name and see how the supply should look when put back correctly.

3. Decide how supplies will be organized.

Will you have students pick out one supply at a time, such as a black permanent marker? Or will students take a group of supplies at one time, such as a basket of neon crayons? When you introduce each supply to students, you will need to be clear as to how it’s organized.

 4. Find as many small baskets or buckets for organization as possible.

Dollar stores and the dollar section at Target are great places to find inexpensive storage containers. Recyclable containers such as sour cream, plastic microwave dinner and food to go containers are free and earth-friendly.

 5. Organize your classroom by centers.

These are the centers I currently have set up in my classroom: Collage, Drawing, Ceramic, Painting, Fiber. Other center examples include: Art History, Sculpture, and Technology. Decide which centers will be permanent and what centers will be temporary. For example, my ceramic center isn’t always out since I currently don’t have the budget to allow students to freely choose to use clay. Check out my TAB Set Up Pinterest Board for more inspiration.

 6. Make posters.

Create procedure posters for each center to help increase student independence. There is a plethora of TAB poster examples on Pinterest as well as visuals in the two TAB books I refer to at the end of this article.

 7. Create procedures and expectations for cleanup.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important parts of TAB. I do not want to spend my planning period cleaning up after my students. By being proactive and constantly monitoring clean up, students will understand the expectations. If a center isn’t cleaned or organized, close it for a couple of days. I always say to my students, “The neater you keep the art studio, the messier I will let you get.” Meaning, the more successful they are with clean up and organization, the more “messy” centers I keep open.

In addition to these tips, I highly recommend purchasing and referring to these two books on TAB: Engaging Learners Though Artmaking by Katherine M Douglas and Diane B. Jaquith and The Learner-Directed Classroom by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway. These books have been very helpful in my transition to a TAB set up in my classroom and contain excellent information about centers.

Setting up a TAB classroom is a huge transition. It doesn’t happen overnight. I am frequently moving items and asking students their opinions of what works best and what doesn’t work. Hopefully with time, you will find what works best for your classroom, too.

What questions do you have regarding TAB classroom set up?

Do you have any advice on setting up studio centers?

Cassidy Reinken

This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • Douglas Lloyd

    Hi, I have sort of been doing this with my middle school classes. I’m owndering how you teach art concepts, and techniques. I am also wondering if you are getting the same level of art, like for display purposes? I find that part to be lacking, in my experience so far. Just wondering how to get students best, when they are doing it on their own without the teacher direction. There are always students that excel, but the ones that are not and need that direction. How do you address this? Hope that all makes sense.-Doug

    • Hi Douglas.
      I teach concepts and techniques at the beginning of class, or individually to students. Sometimes I introduce a group demonstration with a material or technique at the beginning of class, and other times I demonstrate a technique based on when a student needs an individual demonstration.
      I would say I am getting higher quality of artwork from some students while those students who’ve always struggled with producing high quality artwork are still struggling. However, at least they’re struggling with artwork they like, which is decreasing behavior issues in my classroom.
      I find in order to get students best, I need to continually have conversations with them about their art. I’m constantly walking around, discussing with students about the process for creating. I’m also asking them questions, demonstrating and giving advice.
      I find they’re willing to take more risks because they aren’t creating the exact same project, so the competition is gone.

      • Douglas Lloyd

        Hi Cassidy,
        Maybe you will aswer this later, but I was also wondering if you pick a theme or how to you say, this is what we are doing for this Unit or whatever? I have been trying out choice boards with my middle school this year. Thanks for your further comments.

        • Currently, I’m picking the theme and my students pick the subject and materials. For example, today I’m introducing their first choice project of the quarter and the theme is “What does spring mean to you?” Students are creating art with different subjects related to spring. They are showing their understanding of the student learning expectations “I can create art that conveys ideas and feelings” and “I can demonstrate creative problem solving.” These are the SLE’s I’m assessing for this project.
          Does this help?

        • Bob

          I’ve been running choice for a year and a half. I’ve had projects that are completely free choice with no theme. When the students start getting stumped for ideas, I start throw very open ended themes. 8th grade just finished Juxtaposition (a post modern principle). We have done games & toys, narratives, dreams & nightmares. Keep it open ended and they will soak it up and create a wide variety of “answers” to the themes.

    • Holly Vlajinac

      I also teach middle school (specifically grade 8) and I agree with you about the quality issue. In my school we see all the students (which is great!) but because it’s not an elective situation, there are students who are interested in making really detailed and interesting artwork but there are also students who don’t push themselves to fully explore the materials and take the art making seriously. I created a hybrid flipped classroom/unit centers situation for my class which has worked better than many things that I have tried in 13 years teaching 8th grade art. At each unit center there is a specific assignment that needs to accomplished and the students work in permanent small groups for the 45 days they are with me. I want to take the plunge into TAB and may try it in the future because I already have the centers thing going but with digesting the idea of showing/documenting solid student growth I am nervous because it would be difficult (I think) to demonstrate growth. Love, love, LOVE so many of these choice based ideas but in this changing climate of how the kids and we, as educators, are assessed I’m feeling cautious about many of the changes that I make.

    • Clark Fralick

      Doug, your questions are good so I will try to answer them as well as I can. I’ve been teaching in a student centered classroom going on ten years. I teach all of my content (technique, art history, etc) during short, extremely focused 5-10 minute lessons to the whole class. After that kids are released to work. Some will work on the skills or topic we just talked about while others will work on projects they have already started. One of the biggest things teachers switching over to TAB worry about is the quality of art work. The quality will look different. Because students are not nearly copying what they see. The artwork is going to look less polished but the thing is it is authentic. When you see work that is made in this setting, you’ll have a better idea where students need work. They won’t be copying your example. I would start asking your students to tell you about what they’re working on. Get them to share their ideas and work with them on developing an idea and then stretching that idea. During my art shows, I hang nearly 1000 pieces of art and everyone is different. In a child centered class room, it’s the students responsibility to develop ideas, to discover what they’re interested in creating. Where do their passions lie. Once you find it, they become self motivated.

  • kpepper

    I have decided to turn my art room upside down and switch from studio based to TAB approach. I teach middle school and have been proud of the incredible artists and the art they produce, so I am a little worried about quality of work with this approach since i have taught skills that build. My schedule is changing as well from semester classes to quarter for all grades so I figured this was a good time to jump in . I have done a ton of research and read books and now I am closing up my room for the summer and trying to get stations organised. My quandry is trying to figure out how best to come up with themes, essential questions, some sort of a map of posing the prompts for students to create their work. Can anyone give some guidance,I am overwhelmed. One more thing, I have 6 large rectangle tables that students sit around, if I move them to make work space at stations-what works best for group demo, recap end of class/share or first weeks of school for seating (would love to replace stools with big chairs!)-these guys seem too big for carpet seating.

  • Ashley

    I would live so much to convert to a TAB curriculum. However, I don’t have a classroom and so I push into classrooms. Any ideas about how to build choice into my program without my own space to do it in?

  • Daniela de Sousa

    I am converting my classroom to TAB. I work at a k-5 public school. This is my first year teaching and the first two months were a struggle. Students were so disengaged and unmotivated – not what I had envisioned at all. I was preparing these elaborate lessons but the enthusiasm ended with me. Anyway, I have set up the centers, labels, and menus. Last week I opened the drawing center and practiced cleaning up. Now I am not sure how to prepare the “very focused” mini lessons, any tips out there?

  • artist123

    Cassidy, can I ask you where you got the clear plastic organizer that’s holding the dried tempera cakes?

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  • Raine Valentine

    This is my first year doing a full TAB classroom….I have a question about targeted small groups for formative assessments in a TAB classroom… does anyone have any suggestions of ideas for this? I’m feeling a bit lost on how I can group my students for assessments while each student is working on a different task. :) Any ideas would be awesome. Thanks!!

    • Sarah913

      My district has been pushing the idea of scales for the last three years and I just had my ah ha moment with them. If you develop a scale, not a rubric, for each standard you want to asses, which should not be project based, you can track student growth over time and group students by a standard they are struggling with, no matter which project they are working on. The big difference between scales and rubrics is usually we use project specific rubrics or very general rubrics that are hard for students to place themselves on. A scale actually identifies different cogative levels of understanding. I think it is easiest to start at the youngest grade and work your way up. For example, we use a 4,3,2,1 scale format: the given standard goes in kid friendly language at level 3. In kindergarten there is a standard that asks students to find something similar between two art works. Having taught and assessed this standard I know that it is actually easier for students at that age to identify what is different between two art works, so I would put that in level 2. Level 2 can have many spots that break down the different cognitive levels until you reach what you feel is a 1. The district says you don’t have to specify what a level 1 or 4 is, but I find it very useful for myself and students. A level 4 is what you think is one cogative steps above the standard. I include a question a student might answer for each level or sub point I put on the scale. Answering of this question should show mastery of that level. I include images for each level and sub point, to help with student use. I developed the questions when I made the scale and it helped me keep the scale aligned to the theme of the standard.

      If I keep track of evidence students have shared for mastery of different levels of the scales I can group them that way. Since, I just figured out that the actual evidence or project does not matter to these scales I am attempting to switch to a TAB classroom, well really I just found out it will be a TAB cart😕. I am going to have a thinking station as one of my centers where I have lesson resources, students posting to Artsonia, and plan check ins with the teacher. This will give me a chance to check in with them ask questions about their thinking and document any evidence that fits on the scale. That is another thing, students can show evidence in more than one level of the scale at a time. On the student kept scales I can just date right on their scale the day I saw or heard that evidence. You are free as a teacher to teach at the three level and only use levels 2 &1 if a student is stuck. Some teachers start everyone at 1 and teach every Level up the scale. Rainie, I know I shared a lot but I hope I explained it enough for it to be useful.

  • Tara Villanova

    I am on cart. Having no experience with a TAB classroom – can I ask those of you have been teaching this way – it is something that can be adjusted to work on a cart?

    • Lee Tee

      After many years of being on a cart, I can tell you that keeping it simple is best. Since classroom set ups are always changing I think it’s best to have a few TAB activities prepared on your cart: drawing, painting (maybe introduce later on), collage. Create a board for each activity on a tri-fold display board. It is large enough to offer lots of info, yet easy enough to carry around when folded up. Have a tub filled with all the supplies necessary for each activity. When you enter a classroom, you can easily set up each tub with its corresponding display board, giving the students the opportunity to move around freely. I found that starting out simple, focusing on routines and procedures was the best for me. Last year, I was given a room and used the same methods to incorporate TAB at different times throughout the year along with some traditional art lessons/projects. This year my plan is to introduce more activities- maybe weaving and sculpture. I hope this helps.

      • Jay

        Thank you Lee for tips sharing a flexible method for TAB.

  • aossey

    So I am planning on experimenting with TAB in my 6th grade curriculum this fall to see how it goes. I see my 6th graders for 9 straight weeks. We are standards based grading (but still tied to a letter grade unfortunately), and my students have benchmark assessments that are district wide tied to the elements and principles of art/design. i am a bit overwhelmed with making the transition. I have been teaching DBAE for thirteen years. I am open to change but I don’t want to create chaos and stress for myself. I also want to be able to authentically assess my students. I also travel between two buildings and as far as I know I am teaching 6th grade at both buildings. Any suggestions on how to go about this?

  • Dorothea Osborn

    I am currently teaching teachers to implement TAB with modifications and am in full support of TAB. the way I teach it is with modification to suit your particular situation/environment. There is no question about the quality of work, learning, organization, reflection, assessment and the like when you learn and slowly implement the program. The TAB program eliminates (almost) behavior problems and engages the students at an appropriate developmental level, increases engagement and knowledge of art, creative process,… the list goes on.

  • Jay

    I am curious about what are “tempera paint sticks”?