ART On Task

Keeping noise volume down and students on task can be challenging in an active environment like an art room. I noticed this year that my 4th and 5th grade students needed a little extra reinforcement to keep their noise volume in check.  So, I decided to add to my classroom decor with a simple ART sign using three wooden paint palettes strung together with fishing wire. My younger students think these paint palettes are nice addition to the art room surroundings, but my older students know these letters hold meaning.

When a class has trouble with noise control or remaining on task, a warning is given and the letter T is turned over.  If the problem persists, the R is turned over and the students must work for 5 minutes in silence.  The last letter (I rarely get this far) represents a silent class (basically strike 3).

This visual warning system has really worked well for my classes. What tips do you have for keeping noise volume down and students on task? 

Theresa McGee

Hello! My name is Theresa McGee and I am a National Board Certified Art Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator teaching in Hinsdale, Illinois. My curriculum is structured around creative thinking and technology integration into the learning process. I have authored eighteen articles for the Tech4ArtEd Column in SchoolArts Magazine and several iTunes U courses for professional development. I've presented at the state and national levels including several online webinars for art educators. In 2010, I was awarded Illinois Elementary Art Educator of the Year and in 2011 I was awarded the national PBS Teacher Innovator award. I love to share ideas that contribute to the art education profession!


  • November 27, 2012

    Jessica Balsley

    I really like how you took this a step further and put the consequence on the back. I’ve used something similar, as seen here:

    However, the back of the palette really sends the message, as you stated, that these symbols hold meaning. I always have people question this method because once all of the letters are down, what happens if kids DON’T stay silent for the rest of art? Most of the time they’ve had enough warnings and know we mean business, and don’t try much. Have you encountered this? I had one group who always tested this, so I had to reverse the system and have the students EARN the letters for good behavior. It worked well for this particular group and I wrote about it here:

    How to Cope When Your Management Plan Fails:

    Hope it helps!

  • November 27, 2012

    Beth Carter

    I have a similar system this year. It is working better with my younger students. The are keeping me on task too!

  • November 28, 2012


    AWESOME! I need this for all my elementary kids! Love the palette idea for it!

  • Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee
    November 28, 2012

    Theresa McGee

    Jessica, you’re right there are always those kids who test you. This system works well for a class, but sometimes certain individuals need a little help understanding you’re serious. If during a 5 minute silent time a student “forgets” to remain silent, then I just add on a few minutes to that student’s time. If during the “rest of the class silent” time a student continues to talk or non-verbally distract others then I just move them to a spot in the room to sit alone. If this student continues to be disruptive from the alone location, I will move this child out of my room. I have had a student sit in the hall or go sit by the office if he or she is disruptive to the learning environment. In this case I work with the social worker or principal to help this student find some self-control.

    But I love your REVERSE earning letters idea! I think this would be particularly helpful for a class that has trouble week after week. Definitely going to keep that one in mind for the future!!

  • January 7, 2013


    I really liked your methed of keeping the kids quiet!!!!

  • August 21, 2013


    I did the same thing but made it so that it is reward system. When they lose a letter they have to earn it back by working with a lower volume. At the end of class, if they have all letters, they receive a paint splotch on their “class” palette. At the end of the nine weeks, if they have 6 or more paint splotches on their palette they receive a special art day where they get to work in centers and rotate. I just started this but so far the kids have really taken to it, especially my 4th and 5th graders. They are really looking forward to that reward!

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