Effective Teacher Talk in the Elementary Classroom

A recent social media post about training students like you do a dog reminded me of when I took our first family pet to training. As the leaders impressed upon me, it’s actually not the dog you’re training but YOURSELF! And this is SO true in teaching. Here are actionable ideas and examples of effective teacher talk in the elementary classroom with direct, intentional, and engaging language.

How to use effective teacher talk in the elementary classroom.

On this page…

The Firmness Conundrum: Insights from a New Teacher’s Journey

New teachers often reach out for help because they try to be “firm” but nothing works.

Sometimes we need an out-of-body experience. We need to step out of the moment to think objectively, not react or overreact, and do something logical and thought out. This is hard for new teachers or when we are in new situations.

Here are a few ideas to train the teacher to be firm, backed with engaging and appropriate activities, learned the hard way by ME, and observed in other teachers in many schools over the years.

Crafting Effective Teacher Talk

The Power of Precise Communication

Effective teacher talk hinges on the power of precision. A common pitfall is the overuse of threats, which often lose their impact over time.

Don’t threaten over and over again.

They are just empty words. Actually, maybe don’t threaten, warn, or cajole at all. Instead, consider engaging activities that direct behavior.

Example: We can’t get rhythm sticks until everyone is sitting in their spot.

Replacement Action: Simply give out rhythm sticks, pick a leader, or choose who is “it” by choosing someone sitting in their spot or doing something else that you consider appropriate. Tell the students why that person was chosen. “Here you go, James. You get sticks because I can see you are sitting down and ready to go.”

The Payoff: The class lesson doesn’t bog down, you’ve made it known that sitting in your spot is a requirement for getting an instrument, and you’ve asserted yourself as the one in charge.

The Art of Mindful Communication

I spent a LOT of time thinking about logistics and language. How I wanted them to move around the room and how I’d phrase my directions.

LESS IS MORE! Avoid falling into the trap of excessive chatter. Overexplaining can cloud directives and overwhelm students.

Example: vocal exploration. If you start out saying, “Now we’re going to echo each other…” or “Now I’m going to sing then you be my echo…blah, blah, blah” you’ve said too much.

Replacement: “My turn (point to yourself), your turn.” (point to them) and then immediately bark like a little dog (high) three times. They WILL echo. Then you follow up with “Yoo (so) Hoo (mi)” then bark like a large dog (low), then an up/down swoop, etc. Or for older kids, just start singing that new song you want them to learn.

The Payoff: Better student focus and engagement.

Communicate Through Student Choice

Empowering students and student behavior through choice is a remarkable strategy. Games like “Charlie Over the Ocean” allow leaders to select participants based on desired attributes. This approach cultivates leadership qualities while promoting desired behaviors.

Example: When playing a group “it” game, student chooses whoever they want as the next leader.

Replacement: Let students choose who is following the parameters of the activity. Play games such as Charlie Over the Ocean that have a leader and tell the leader to choose someone who is (whatever you want here) in their assigned spot, sitting cross-legged, singing beautifully, etc.) to be the next leader.

Communicate With Actions

Don’t group negotiate. (similar to repeated threats)

Example: “When everyone is standing still in the circle we can play this game.”

A kindergarten class had a couple of students in a hold-hand circle who continued to yank on the arms of students next to them.

Replacement: I told those unsafe students to step back and sit down while the rest of us played the game. I also told them to watch how safe and kind everyone was to the person they held hands with. After a minute or two I asked the kids who were out if they had learned how to hold hands and they of course said yes and came back into the game.

Learn more about classroom management by checking out “Classroom Management Tips for a Successful Classroom.”

Adapting to Your Audience: Understanding Classroom Dynamics

You can’t discuss any part of classroom management without addressing quality and appropriate lesson planning. One size does not fit all when it comes to classroom dynamics. It’s not always just about effective teacher talk.

You can’t expect kids to be focused and engaged when you are not planning appropriate and quality learning experiences.

Example: Determine the optimal lifespan of activities for specific grade levels and classes. Flexibility is key – adapting your strategies ensures sustained engagement.

For instance, a 6-minute read-aloud may captivate one class, while a 3-minute version is better suited for another. I’ve taken a 6-minute read for a 3-minute class and paraphrased to turn those pages faster to keep their interest.

Pacing & Variety. In general, the younger grades need lots of different activities: sitting still (listening, singing), moderate (body percussion, instrument play, video play along), active movement (stepping, skipping, circle games, etc.)

Harmonizing with the Experts: Learning from Masters of the Craft

Throughout my career, and during transitions to different schools and challenges, I’ve actively sought out and observed exceptional educators who used effective teacher talk. These professionals possessed the knack for balancing authority and approachability. Incorporating their techniques was a deliberate process, as effective teacher talk wasn’t a skill that came naturally to me.

The True Test From the Students: She Doesn’t Play

Students often offer profound insights. When certain teachers were discussed, kids would remark, “She doesn’t play.” This resonated deeply and underscored the essence of effective teacher talk, the learning environment, and the teacher-student relationship – being genuine, caring, and staying true to one’s words.

“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”

Join the hundreds of other teachers who get timely tips, FREEBIES, and trending videos and music delivered to their inbox EVERY Monday! The Oodles of Music Newsletter!

The Oodles of Music Weekly Newsletter signup for Freebies and timely tips and new creator content.

Success! Use the PW: Oodles21 to unlock FREEBIES on the Subscriber Spot tab in the top menu!

Tideo Easy Orff Arrangement and Sixteenth Note Practice

Tideo, the classic folk song, is a great choice if you are looking for mi, re, do melody and sixteenth note rhythm practice packaged in a step-by-step presentation that includes a fun and easy Orff arrangement.

The classic folk song Tideo with an Orff arrangement, melody practice with mi, re, do, and rhythm practice with sixteenth notes.

Melody & Rhythm Practice

Students will love the singing games/dances while experiencing mi, re, do in the melody (a video Poison Pattern game) and sixteenth notes in the rhythm.

The classic folk song Tideo with an Orff arrangement, melody practice with mi, re, do, and rhythm practice with sixteenth notes.

Easy Orff Arrangement

In C pentatonic, Tideo’s easy Orff arrangement using three ostinati can be expanded to include an optional instrumental B section and an improvised C section.

The instrumental parts are taught using speech and body percussion in easy-to-follow slides. Use this multi-lesson low/no prep format in either Google Slides or PowerPoint.

The classic folk song Tideo with an Orff arrangement that includes 3 ostinati, speech, body percussion, then transfer to instruments.

The Presentation

  • Singing Game/Dance-the presentation teaches a double circle routine.
  • Rhythm-*quarters, paired eighths, and 4 sixteenths in the song.
    • Rhythm-*Eighth note with 2 sixteenths in the B section
  • Melodymi, re, do is highlighted in the presentation
    • Melody-the song also includes high do
  • Orff Arrangement-a 3 ostinati arrangement with additional parts for optional B and C sections
  • Other Instruments: Recorder/Boomwhacker-notation and melodic color-coding using C, D, E, G, A, C’
    • Ukulele-LOVE these pentatonic tunes so one chord, C, the entire time.

*Rhythms aren’t labeled so you can use your classroom rhythm counting system.

My Favorite Part
I LOVE that you can extend the form and add lots of different instruments to the point this fun song could easily become a concert piece.

The resource includes:
A presentation in both PPT and Google Slides versions
video preview of the song arrangement in each presentation
A PDF copy of the song arrangement sheet music

The classic folk song Tideo with an Orff arrangement, melody practice with mi, re, do, and rhythm practice with sixteenth notes that comes in Powerpoint and Google Slides presentation formats.

Join the hundreds of other teachers who get timely tips, FREEBIES, and trending videos and music delivered to their inbox EVERY Monday! The Oodles of Music Newsletter!

The Oodles of Music Weekly Newsletter signup for Freebies and timely tips and new creator content.

Success! Use the PW: Oodles21 to unlock FREEBIES on the Subscriber Spot tab in the top menu!

How to Teach Kids to Play the Ukulele

Even if you’ve never played the ukulele, teaching and/or learning the ukulele is so fun and actually quite simple. We will explore an effective sequential curriculum for teaching the ukulele in elementary music lessons, providing a step-by-step guide to help you engage and inspire your young students.

Here's everything music teachers need to know about teaching kids to play the ukulele. Learn about curriculum, tuning, buying, and storing the ukulele.
Continue reading “How to Teach Kids to Play the Ukulele”

The Best Grandparent’s Day Songs And Program Ideas

Discover how you can create a meaningful and joyous celebration that embraces the spirit of Grandparent’s Day with the best engaging songs and program ideas. Find a new song or idea to make this year’s program fabulous.

Find new songs and program ideas for a Grandparent's Day celebration at your school.

Grandparent’s Day Songs By Theme

Thinking out loud here. According to Google 🤣, the average age to become a grandparent is in your 50s and 60s. If your grandchild is 5-12 years old, that makes grandparents in the 55-72 year range.

In 2023, it means those grandparents were born 1951-1968. If high school (16 years old) was a prime music genre era for most, that means music from 1967-1984 would really resonate with most of them.

Beatles’ Songs

  • When I’m 64
  • Yellow Submarine
  • Octopus’s Garden
  • Love Me Do
  • With a Little Help From My Friends
  • All You Need Is Love

70’s Songs

  • I Just Called to Say I Love You
  • Rainbow Connection
  • Lean On Me
  • ABC
  • Joy to the World
  • Top of the World
  • Love Will Keep Us Together
  • I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing
  • Rockin’ Robin
  • Rapper’s Delight (the first couple of verses only)
  • Greatest Love of All
  • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

80’s Songs

  • Walking On Sunshine
  • I’m Still Standing (wordy so you could have solos on the verses and then everyone come in on the chorus)
  • Celebration
  • Footloose
  • We Are the World
  • Up Where We Belong
  • True Colors

Find more great songs by subject/theme in the
BIG Song Database!

Grandparent’s Day Songs – Singles

Music K8 has LOTS of songs written about grandparents. Some teacher favorites are Happy Grandparent’s Day, So Glad to See You, A Song for Grandparent’s Day, Family Reunion, Blessings On This Day, We Love Our Grandparents, Happy Grandparent’s Day, What Do You Call Your Grandma/Grandpa? and more.

  • “A” You’re Adorable
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Grandma and Grandpa (from Musicplay)
  • A Bushel and a Peck
  • Skinnamarink
  • My Girl/My Guy by Smoky Robinson changed to Grandma/Grandpa
  • Grandma’s Hands by Bill Withers
  • Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days) by The Judds
  • Re-write of All About That Bass

Join the hundreds of teachers who have the Oodles Newsletter delivered to their inbox every Monday morning with the latest content creator videos and resources.

Images of the Oodles of Music Newsletter for music teachers showing helpful tips and trick examples.

Success! Use the PW: Oodles21 to unlock FREEBIES on the Subscriber Spot tab in the top menu!

Ruth Crawford Seeger: Inspiring Young Musicians With Her Remarkable Life!

Ruth Crawford Seeger, composer and folk music specialist, had an amazing career and influence in the world of classical and folk music. Her music was different and exciting because she mixed old and new sounds together. People of all ages still love listening to her music today.

1901: Born on July 3 in Ohio

1919-1921: Attended the American Conservatory of Music in Boston

1932: Married Charles Seeger

1953: Died in Maryland

Ruth and Charles had four children: Mike (folk musician), Peggy (folk singer), Barbara, and Penny. Ruth also had three stepsons Charles, John, and Pete (folk singer/activist.)

Early Music Period (1922-1929)

1920s: Ruth began studying piano performance but switched to composition.

Little Waltz 1922

Try some movement to this piece in ternary form.

Skip around room.Stop and mirror w/a partner
or the teacher.
Skip around room.
Ribbon wands make big looping circles.Create a different pattern on your own.Ribbon wands make big looping circles.
Step/skip around the room.Float around the room.Step/skip around the room.

Music for Small Orchestra 1926

Listen to the last 2 minutes (video is cued to this spot) for the exciting tempo!

Middle Music Period (1930-1941)

1930: Ruth Crawford was the first woman to win the Guggenheim Music Fellowship

String Quartet 1931

This string quartet was her most famous and influential work. Here’s the beginning of movement 4. Can you imagine it as the music for a movie? What would be happening on the screen?

Rissolty Rossolty 1939

1930s: Began writing down and arranging American folk music and working with Alan and John Lomax. Here’s an arrangement of the folk song Rissolty Rossolty.

Risseldy Rosseldy on TPT

This classic tongue-twisting folk song now has a sparkling Orff arrangement for your students in grades 3-6.

Also included is a listening lesson with coloring sheet for Ruth Crawford Seeger’s instrumental piece, Rissolty Rossolty!

Late Music Period (1942-1953)

Suite for Wind Quintet 1952

This two-movement piece is another of her classical modernist works. Pick an animal for each instrument and describe what they are doing in the first 2 minutes of the piece. Bassoon, clarinet, oboe, horn, flute.

How To Make A Low-Cost, No-Tech Jeopardy Game For Any Classroom

Are you in a panic when your school’s electricity goes out, the projector bulb goes pop, you need emergency sub plans, or your computer is on the fritz? Make this no-tech, low-cost Jeopardy board and you’ll be ready for any emergency! Say goodbye to technology and hello to an innovative, interactive, and budget and sub-friendly game that will make learning music (or ANY subject) an absolute blast!

What is a No-Tech Jeopardy Game?

A no-tech Jeopardy game provides an opportunity to combine music education with a thrilling game show format any time and in any situation. A music teacher or sub with no musical background, can walk in and without hitting a power button of any kind, have great learning K-5.

Modeled after the popular TV show, this interactive game allows students to answer questions, earn points, and engage in friendly competition. By transforming your music lessons into an exciting game, you can foster a love for music, encourage teamwork, and enhance student learning in a playful and memorable way.

Did I mention that it folds down to an
easy-to-store rectangle?

Continue reading “How To Make A Low-Cost, No-Tech Jeopardy Game For Any Classroom”

All Around the Buttercup With Easy Orff Arrangement

Are you ready to add barred instruments to classic songs and games? This All Around the Buttercup resource includes an easy Orff arrangement that is taught with body percussion, speech, and great visuals. It includes the classic game and a new one or two with some fun twists. Buttercup is a wonderful song to teach quarter notes and rests and eighth note pairs, as well as so, mi, re, do patterns.

There’s something for kids grades K-3. K and 1st can play a bordun and 2nd and 3rd can add on the melody and a super FUN ostinato.

All ages can play the classic game as well as some NEW versions to kick it up a notch!

With a so-mi-re-do, many teachers use this song to present “re” to their students.

It’s a beautiful example to our youngest students to hear one sound, two sounds, or NO sounds on a beat!

This low prep resource hands you a couple or MANY lessons, READY to teach!

PS: I added a 2nd and 3rd verse in case you want to lengthen it for a performance!