5 Stress-Free Ways to Pass Back Art

If you’re not careful, the simple act of passing back art can take even the calmest class and turn it into a world of chaos. Missing names, shouting voices, students stepping over each other to claim their pieces: It’s enough to make you want to hoard the art and never give it back. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are 5 Stress-Free Ways to Pass Back Art


1. Create Table Folders

table folders

Table folders work well because they eliminate your need for calling out names. At the beginning of the year, create a separate folder for each of your tables. Then, have students house their art in these folders for the duration of the projects. When a project is over, you can simply have students grab their pieces from their table folders.

2. Use Portfolios

portfolios with names

This idea is similar, but instead of having a folder for each table, create one for each student. Once every quarter or semester, have students take everything in their portfolios home. If there are larger pieces, you may want to have some grocery bags on hand to help students carry everything. A bonus to handing back multiple projects at once is that you can make a cover sheet for students to take home that outlines what each project is about. You may want to include any learning targets or “I Can” statements that your students addressed. The portfolio method helps families see the students’ projects as a body of work.

3. Make it Part of Your End-of-Class Routine

This method is great if you have a few extra minutes at the end of class. Stand close to the door with a pile of art that you need to return. Then, call students one-by-one. Instead of holding the art until the student gets to you, place it with the name side facing up next to you so students can simply grab it as they walk past you and get in line. This method works great for things that wouldn’t fit in folders such as found-object sculptures or clay pieces.

4. Send Work with the Classroom Teacher

pile of artwork

This idea only works if the classroom teacher is on board. Instead of passing back work during class, send a pile of work back to the room with the classroom teacher. There may be a designated helper in the class who would love to put art in student mailboxes. You never know unless you ask!

5. Don’t Store it in the First Place

If you’re doing a one-day project or an art exercise, and you’re not planning on grading it, don’t keep it in the first place! Have students take it right with them when they leave the art room.

Hopefully, these tips will help make passing back art a more pleasant experience in your art room. Keeping the art organized will help make passing it back a breeze. Unless you have extra time, limit passing things out one-by-one and try and contain pieces in table groups or portfolios instead. Or, see if you can skip the task altogether and send the artwork back to the classroom in one big bundle. It never hurts to ask!

How do you pass back art in your classroom?

Do you have any other tips to share?


Amanda Heyn

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Shari Sysol-Alongi

    This year I thought I’d make paper bag portfolios for all 600 kids. What a HUGE undertaking! I did it all wrong….cutting bags, taping. It’s a mess-but I have to finish it. Kids keep asking when do they get their art back….ugh. I’m going with the pass it back right when it’s done concept from now on. I’ll save a few things for art shows and displays but this year I did it all wrong (and I’ve been teaching 30 years!)

    • You can have learning experiences no matter how long you’ve been teaching! At least now you know what doesn’t work for you :). Maybe you can have some older students help you finish up? One positive is that I bet families will love seeing a body of work.

    • MrsAllanArt

      I have each kid fold an 18×24 piece of paper. (Fold goes on the bottom). I then give them each two 12×4″ strips that they fold the long way – and we glue them on the right and left sides (opening at the top). These flat portfolios store easily. I also color coordinate the side strips by class and art day to easily see where they go. They go home at the end of the year. I can easily find artwork for kids who are moving, and for parents who want to see what is happening.

      • Jacel Jns

        Yes I do something similar to this portfolios. I can’t take credit, learned from another art teacher of adding a sign in sheet. I teach over 800 elementary students. Students glue on on the portfolios is a sign-in, at the top isstudents name, homeroom teacher and grade at the top. As year goes by it turns into a flip chart. The sheet-in sheet students write the date and concept/ what we are learning in art. It helps me also with classes miss days because events or holidays as well as get artwork passed out. Students place the wet art pieces on top of portfolio together on the drying. End of day if dryer slip into the folder.
        This was huge game changer for me. End of semester send home art, portfolios stays but hold to selected pieces to submit to art shows and art events. Parents also see what student did over the year too. Plus I am trying out using iPad for digital recording. So all the information it there to click a pic. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c1d259adba1ac58b9715a1dddf2c554d80c0eb3e14ae6295efb3a853d16acb37.jpg

  • Pamela Tycer

    I have students write their name, room and table number (circled) on the back of their work. This makes it a breeze to sort. I sort it by tables before class, dump it on the tables, the kids find their work and they put the art in their portfolios. Easy!

  • Michelle Mathias

    I keep all art (except maybe a few Kinder 1 day projects). They’re stored in table folders while the project is being worked on and, once finished, place into a large class folder until the end of the year. In the last few weeks, we take a day to pass back all art by putting pieces into brown paper grocery sacks. We label the bag with a paper I create which displays what was learned for each project, by writing our names. We fold over the top and staple the paper on, which helps protect the art from thieves and spills. It’s a fun day- each student gets a small pile of pieces to hand out- and students are excited to see their art once again. They share with their neighbors and get excited about taking it home. I love this!

    • Great idea, Michelle! Thanks for sharing your system!

    • Shari Sysol-Alongi

      I like this idea better than what I’m doing. Thanks for a great idea!

  • Phyllis Bloxson

    I have assigned plastic tubs coded for each class, (1st grade is yellow and each class has a number 1- however many classes that grade has, (Y1, Y2 etc.) I also have commonly used supplies in a lidded container on each table. I choose a team leader each week for each table also my tables are color coded. Each chair has a number 1-3 on it. This weeks team leaders are sitting in chair number 2, this is the only person allowed out of their place to get supplies. It has worked very well as I teach approx. 700 students K-5th grade every week to seven days.

  • cmac

    I put work up to display it and mark it on the wall. When it is time to change boards I dismiss by table and tell kids to take down their art on the way to class.

  • Mary K. L. Jenney

    I have the first few students who enter my Middle school classroom help pass back the artwork, that has been drying on the drying rack, to the other students table locations. It gets done within a few minutes and keeps the early students busy until others arrive. I also have individual portfolios as well as table folders. The students keep their artwork inside their 30 personal portfolios, which are then kept in 7 table folders so it is easy to pass out the folders to the tables. I then have a large folder for each class where all portfolios and artwork are stored. A folder, in a folder, in a folder…things don’t get lost in my classroom!

  • Gemma Flavin

    I save all artwork until the end of the semester when classes change. One of my favorite things to do is on the day when we do pass back work, we do a comparison of the three self portraits we have created throughout the time we have had class. We do one on the first day with very little instruction or help, one in the middle of the semester with instruction and one on the last week that’s more of a fun, more open concept piece of artwork. My students are always amazed at how much their work has changed and improves. We make individual folders that the kids decorate with a name design while artwork is being passed out. It always works out very well and goes smoothly when passing out work because the kids are busy creating their name design.

  • Dan Bell

    I teach 500+ kids K-5 art. I hand back work during and after projects in the same way. Students write their names on the back of each piece. Each class has a tub that I have shelved in Monday-through-Friday order in the back room with a sequence number, teacher’s name and grade. I have three students per table so I have three job assignments per table and one person per table will usually be assigned to “artwork”. These students meet me at the class tub and I give each of them three pieces of artwork to pass out. This takes about a minute to carry out, a little longer for the youngest students.

  • MrsAllanArt

    I teach elementary – and I have the kids help me – but I only give each kid who is helping about 4 pieces at a time, and “no-names” go to a special location. It is quick, and then we can move on to more important things! I also use the table folder approach during projects that take more than one day. I keep all finished work during the year, and it all goes home at the end of the year in a portfolio. I used to send it home during the year, but was frustrated seeing it going out the door crumpled in backpacks.

  • Jenny Orcutt

    I use the folder method and it works very well for me. Each table group has the name of a Famous Artist (Picasso, Monet, Dalí and Miró) and each table has an Artist Helper that changes every month. At the beginning and at the end of the class the artist helper get the folder from the “in progress” Art keeper bin and passes/collects the projects. The folders are made with different colors construction paper folded in half. I made a label for the front and I laminated to make them more durable.

  • Traci Manning

    I’m saying this, not to be negative, but to raise awareness within The Art of Ed community. I teach HS and I feel like 80% of your posts relate to teaching elementary art only. The comments are helpful because other Hs art teachers offer up their suggestions, but the majority of what is posted by AOE is for elementary art teachers, not upper level. I’d like to see a little more balance. Thank you.

  • Berta Newton

    My students make a portfolio. They keep everything there. In order to get their art graded, they must photograph the work with their Ipad and email it to me. I save all of their work in an email file. The get their own art off the bulletin board. At the end of the 1/4, I have the students organize their work from earliest to last. They make a book of their work. I talk with each student about their work. It is great to witness their discovery how much they have improved their skills and creativity. They take their books home and share with family.