Here’s a class with 4 rows and 7 columns. I usually sat students alphabetically in this arrangement which helped me more quickly take grades and helped with learning names. Unless we were playing drums, K-5 sat on the floor.
My 6-8 sat in chairs and I tried to keep the columns in even numbers so that stand partners were easy to set up. I used a seating chart with middlers where I paired them up in those stand partnerships based on their musical/behavioral skills. I’d put someone with behavior challenges with a student with a strong calming influence, or a student who had good skills and interpersonal qualities with a student who needed help with their music skills.
Looking at the above picture, row 1 and 3 turn around and you instantly have partners. #1 and #8 are partners, # 17 and #24, etc.
To shake this up, ask rows 2 and 3 to switch places, then have row 1 and 3 turn around and everyone has a new partner. #1 is now partnered with #15.
Column 1 and 2 face each other. They are partners. #1 and #2 are partners, #8 and #9, etc. Columns 3 and 4 face and columns 5 and 6. If you have a column 7, quickly pair them up.
You can easily change the partners by pairing the columns in reverse order: columns 7 and 6, 5 and 4, 3 and 2, then figure out column 1.
And again another change: pair columns 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 7 and 6, and 5 will be your odd column.
That’s lots of partner combinations but sometimes with even that many, kids get tired of it. “I Let Her Go Go” is a circle dance partner changing game. We played it a lot. Sometimes if I wanted the kids to work with partners, I’d play “I Let Her Go Go” for about three or four repeats and then I’d say, “This is your partner.” Then I’d give them their instructions for the activity. It added some variety and was very quick to do.
I would quickly point and say, “You 4. You 4, etc” I was pointing to 1, 2, 8, and 9, then 15, 16, 22, 23, the 3, 4, 10, 11, and so on. The last column would be left out, but it’s 4 kids so they are a group OR let’s say there are only 26 kids in your class, then that last group would only have 3 members.
Column 1, you are a group. Make your circle by #22. Column 2, you are a group. Make your circle by #2. Column 3, you are a group. Make your circle by #17, and so on. You’ve put different kids together and quickly spread them around the room.
My circles were in alpha order and could be created very quickly. No running to be by your friend.
If you want two circles, you can just split the big circle in half and ask the two halves to join hands to make the circle.
Two circles can also be achieved by having row 1 turn around and then rows 1 and 2 form a circle. Very little foot movement is needed. Row 3 turns around and rows 3 and 4 form a circle.
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Here are some ideas that worked for me in my teaching. I didn’t use all of them with every class except for Teaching Expectations. The other ideas were used as I needed them. I’d see a deficit and try to fill it with a game, story, or activity that helped the class learn a new behavior.
I found that taking myself out of the game process really helped with classroom management and made for better student-led learning. I’d talk to my kids about leadership. It could be as simple as, “Each time the game starts over, you will be in charge of restarting it.” Many times these games restart multiple times and I would not sing with them or restart the game but rely on students to keep it going. It was never a designated child, just someone who would naturally keep it going. I’d praise the class saying, “I love how you keep the game going and don’t need me.” I’d thumbs up the child who restarted it. I made it clear that they were in charge of the process. When they are first learning this expectation, the song/game will end and CRICKETS! They will look at you, and you shrug your shoulders with an expectant look on your face. Someone will get it and start singing and boom, they all get it.
Once they understand your philosophy, it will carry over into all similar activities. All of this allows you to monitor so that you can go stand/make eye contact with someone getting out of hand or pull someone aside to quietly talk to them. Also, I think it cuts down on foolishness because they see that you are standing back, being watchful, and not distracted by being so involved in the game yourself. Some kids, maybe most kids, are constantly watching you and your focus, eye contact, and presence.
There’s a difference between watching and watchful. If they understand that you are just watching and not addressing little behaviors, none of the above does much good. Being watchful means watching and addressing expectations that aren’t being met. Addressing the expectations can be non-verbal: a slight “no” shake of your head, a quizzical or questioning look at the person who’s a little too rambunctious, a finger to your lips to remind someone to listen, a smile or fist bump to a person who is clearly following the expectations, a quiet encouraging word to a child who is challenged to stay engaged, the “heart” hands to a student who is being a leader or has done something that is a step up for them.
Start class with a routine. Here’s one but there are many others that you can use!
I used this opening routine with K-5. To be most successful, teach it to be done in silence. Insist on silence. It will become a routine and you won’t have to say a word. As they walk in, cue it up and they will begin. This resource offers SO MUCH!
Focus-A calming and focusing routine to begin your class. It sets a quiet expectation to the beginning of your class. It squelches interpersonal problems that they bring in through your door. It frees you (they are following the PPT) to take a breath between back-to-back classes, allows you to have a private word with a student who may be having a rough day.
Global Music-it adds depth to your students’ repertoire of music for a more global perspective. Let them suggest areas of the world to find the music.
Movement-physical movement to calm and focus. Movements that target some of the elements of time, space, and energy, especially levels (high, middle, low), flow, and size.
The 1-2-3 Speech
Summer was always a time for me to sit down and think about what I could do to create a better learning situation in my classroom. Each individual class has a personality formed by the kids and influenced by their homeroom teacher. Some of my favorite classes had kids who were strong positive leaders and the other kids, to a certain extent, followed along. Then there were challenging classes that had no strong student leadership and after considering that scenario, I came up with the 1-2-3 Speech!
You are either a 1, 2, or 3! The ONEs follow the rules, TWOs follow what other kids in the room are doing, and the THREEs don’t always follow the rules. Think to yourself if you are a 1, 2, or 3. You are a ONE if you almost always do the right thing no matter what other kids are doing. You are a TWO if you do what most of the other kids are doing. You are a THREE if you sometimes decide to not follow the rules. Of those three types of students, which do you think concerns me the most? (They almost always say THREEs) No, not threes. While I want the THREEs to make better choices, I know that sometimes they make mistakes and I truly believe that they will eventually become ONEs. It’s the TWOs who I’d really like to make better choices. If they see someone not doing the right thing, I want them to NOT follow along or laugh at them like they think what they are doing is funny and ok. If you are a two and laugh at someone not following the rules, then you become a three.
Goal, Goal, Sub-Goal
We’re all ready to teach that new game, song, or movement but student behavior is preventing us from accomplishing anything. Is the behavior related to not knowing, not understanding, or an attempt at gaining peer/teacher attention? If it’s just one student, that’s another blog post. If it’s several students or a majority, the goal of the lesson needs to be refined. If you coach a soccer team, you don’t say, “Ok, go score that goal!” You lead your team in drills related to dribbling, shooting, passing, and much more that will facilitate creating a good offense and defense. The same is true in teaching.
You may (probably will) need to teach your students how to make a circle, get a partner, stand up, sit down, end a song, begin a song, clap their hands, stomp their feet, and about one million other little items. Of course, you have to take into account the age of your students, also. Teaching kindergarten students to make a circle is an art! There should be a game show called “Five-Year-Old Showdown” or “The Amazing Race to Make a Circle” where the contestants see who can get 25 five-year-olds to make a circle the quickest.
It’s ok to have your class practice some of these mundane activities. It’s actually sometimes VERY necessary and if you don’t do it, students won’t necessarily know that you mean for them to adhere to certain expectations and/or that it is even important to you.
Let’s look at holding hands in a circle.
As a teacher, I might say, “Please walk and make a hold-hand, stand up, circle. Go.”
If someone runs, I make everyone go sit back down and remind them about the safety of walking. (My circles were always alphabetical so there was no running to try to get by a certain person but some would still want to run.) We repeat until everyone walks. If you’ve never given these expectations and you are in the middle of trying to turn it around, you might let them continue after there is great improvement, maybe not absolutely perfect. Little steps.
For the hand holding-trying to hold hands with one finger, pulling sleeve over their hand, air holding (just “near” the other hand), etc. I explain that the hand holding is because we need that strong circle to step right/left or in/out and a necessary part of our activity. Then I usually say, “I only get you 45 minutes a week and our time is so precious. We have to be faster. Let’s practice. Ready? Drop hands. (.5 seconds) Hold hands. (uh, 6 seconds) Drop hands. (.25 seconds) Hold hands. (4 seconds) Come on guys, you can be so much faster!!! Drop hands. (.10 seconds) Hold hands (.5 seconds) YES!!!
Hand Holding Exception-I get it! I would not want to hold hands with the committed nose picker, sleeve sucker, or other ick situations. I usually insert myself into the circle between that child and another who is hesitant.
Hand Holding Effort Declaration-I tell the kids that if you have someone who is not holding your hand, and I see that YOUR hand is extended and making an effort, you are golden and I see that you’re holding up your end of the bargain and don’t worry about it.
At this point, you might be 10, 15, or 20 minutes into the period and you haven’t done anything musical. But setting and practicing these expectations will set a standard and save you so much time in the future. If in two months a class has a problem, you just ask them if we need to practice. They’ll know you mean it and usually say NO and get on with what they need to do.
The Math Lesson
This is for classes that have lots of disruptions.
I’d sometimes do “the math lesson.” On the board I’d start jotting down figures: we meet twice a week for 30 minutes, that’s an hour a week and times 9 weeks is 9 hours and that times 4 9-week periods is 36 hours. Wow, that’s a lot. Ok, let’s see, you’re with your classroom teacher for 5 hours a day (or whatever) times 5 days so 25 hours a week. What? Times 9 weeks is 225 hours times 4 grading periods is 1000 hours. And I only get you for 36 hours the WHOLE YEAR! Every SECOND we aren’t making music kills me. And then relate that to some of the time-wasters in a particular class. This speech puts the emphasis on the time and how precious and meaningful it is for them to experience music and not on the behaviors or individuals themselves.
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A person who analyzes data in order to generate new information.
Ok, we’re going to create some data today! Every time I’m teaching and I’m interrupted, I get a point. Every time I’m teaching and the class is listening, you get a point. So data miners, what does it mean if I get more points than you? What does it mean if you get more points than me? They will totally get it and I will summarize with: If at the end of class, I have more points than you, it means I got a lot of music teaching in and that’s AWESOME! If you have more points, it means we did a lot of time-wasting taking care of interruptions.
(So maybe to make it not a “me against them” sort of thing you could call it the thumbs up side for listening and the thumbs down side for not listening. But I created this on the fly one day as I got more and more frustrated with being interrupted and I guess it felt like, in the moment, me against them.)
If there are more interruptions than listening, then we need to stop doing music stuff and practice listening. Mmm, so maybe just sitting quietly for 5 minutes would help, or me asking a question and as a class we practice raising our hands would give us some extra practice. Fixing the problem needs to relate to the problem.
Ok, here we go! You say the first couple of instructional words or sentences and if you are interrupted, you tally on your side and if you aren’t interrupted, you tally on their side. In the beginning, you want the tallying to be very frequent! Also, mark the tally saying “thumbs down” quickly with no explanation and if “thumbs up” maybe an additional “love it”, “great job”, whatever. If the SAME student is causing the interruptions, change the game because the kids will get upset with them. Tell them that there are times when people have a bad day and if it’s just one person, you will ignore it and give them a tally for listening. You are also letting them know that you notice and appreciate that they ignored the student and didn’t join in with whatever.
Near the end of class, if you are winning, teach to the end and congratulate them. Ask the data miners what they think of the final data. If you see that they are going to have more tallies, tell them that the start of next class, they will practice. Then do it.
All the classes in a grade level don’t have to have the same lesson plan. A class might need something different because they aren’t ready for the same plan as the rest of the classes. Or a class might be ready for lots of freedom and an expanded lesson because the other classes aren’t ready for it.
Don’t be afraid to alter your plans!
The Power of the Timer
How do you keep kindergarten and first-grade students in their assigned seats? Use a timer and make it a game.
We’re going to play the “I’m On My Spot” game. (or whatever you use-carpet squares, dots, tape, etc) When the timer goes off, if everyone is in their spot, the class gets a point. If you can get to TEN by the end of class, we will ??? (whatever will make them extremely happy) As of this writing, it might be something to do with Encanto. 🤣
Set the timer for 3 minutes. When it goes off, if everyone is in their spot, give them a point. If they scoot or roll to get into their spot when the timer goes off, IT DOES NOT COUNT! Don’t let them get away with fixing it after the fact. When they don’t make it, say something positive like, “Ooo, almost. Let’s try again.” Turn the timer to 2 minutes and tell them let’s try again. You don’t have to discuss how many minutes you are giving them. Then slowly lengthen the time as they get better at staying in their assigned place. You eventually won’t use the timer at all until a day that you notice there’s some backsliding and you pull it out again.
Some classes may need an easier goal-when you get to 5 points- or a shorter time period-timer goes off every 90 seconds.
If you are having challenges with more than maybe 30 or 40% of your class, start to let a smaller group of students do the active participating and then add slowly to that successful bunch. Adding in subsets, bit by bit, will bring you success.
Let’s say it’s playing a steady beat to a song and when everyone has rhythm sticks, a few decide to play around engaging others in their shenanigans and many are off-task. Starting over, you only give sticks to one row. Now, I know. On that row are some who had trouble, but when the stated goal is to see if row one can do it, I’m betting all will get their act together. Row one is playing sticks, rows 2-4 are clapping the beat and you are actively looking for the next row who can play the steady beat correctly, stop at the end, put their sticks on the floor, or whatever your requirements are for them.
You inform the class that row 4 did an excellent job of clapping and you are ready to give them sticks, too! So now two rows have sticks, two are still clapping and you progress that way. You may have someone who has sticks who has a problem, and then maybe you take THAT student’s sticks away for one round so they can practice with just their clapping hands.
Alternatives to this are to let a student watch the class and determine which row is ready for sticks. Another idea is to not give by row but to the kids who you know have done a really good job. Then as they are all playing to the song, you don’t have to wait for the end of the song, but can hand out sticks throughout as you see correct behaviors.
I’ve used this idea with free movement, specialized movement, circle activities, and more. I think, in the end, it shows kids that your expectations matter, you are noticing, and consequences will happen if the expectations are not being met.
Slideshow (St. P history, Rattlin’ Bog, Irish Washerwoman, Sing a Rainbow)
The Broom Dance
Follow the Rainbow info
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The Broom Dance
Set up three chairs and two lines of students (facing into center is best) are lined up from the two outer chairs. There are three students sitting in the chairs and the student in the middle has a shamrock (or valentine or snowflake or whatever)
When the music begins, everyone claps the steady beat and the child with the shamrock gives the shamrock to either the person on their right or left. The person who just received the shamrock moves to the middle seat and the two others dance down the lane and join the end of their respective lines.
The empty chairs are taken by the student next in line from each of the two rows.
Use any fun Irish song!
This is a great movement activity for K-2.
Follow the Rainbow
This song by Teresa Jennings is FABULOUS and for the price of the singles kit on Music K8 ($14.95 currently), it is worth it because you can use it any time of the year and you WILL use it every year!
When I needed to shake it up for myself or my K-5 students, I had “Sing and Move Day.” I alternated sit-down singing videos with get up and move videos. It was a great break from the routine and I found that the kids and I both loved (and needed) it.
Pick and choose the videos that are most appropriate for your students. Disclaimer: You should preview any video before showing it to your students.
List of Videos (A Growing Playlist)
Sing: All of You (Encanto), How Far I’ll Go (Moana), Can’t Stop the Feeling (Trolls), Into the Unknown (Frozen), Surface Pressure
Move: Dance Monkey, Ghostbusters, Bruno (Encanto), My Own Drum (Vivo), High Hopes, Happy
If you aren’t sitting in chairs/stools, tap foot on ground or stand up and step in place.
To the tune of This Old Man Valentine, valentine. Won’t you be my valentine? Number 1, number 2, number 3 it must be you. Take my heart along with you.
Sitting in a scattered formation or columns and rows is the most fun, although a circle will work, too. The first child is the leader and has a valentine in their hand and walks around the room as the song is sung. On each of the three numbers, the leader taps the head (or back) of the nearest 3 children. The third child is given the heart, stands up, and holds hands with the leader. The leader continues to slowly walk around the room, meandering in any direction, and when the song gets to the numbers, the child on the end who has the valentine taps 3 heads and gives the valentine to the third child. That child stands up, holds hands with the person who gave them the valentine, and now the group of three walks around the room. The game continues until there is only one child left. When that child gets the valentine, there is only one person left, YOU the teacher. So the end child gets to give the valentine to you.
Roses Are Red
This is a wonderful 6/8 Valentine activity for grades 3-5.
Using the old poem “Roses are Red”, echo speak with body percussion until everyone knows it.
1. Individuals improvise the poem on pitched percussion/recorders. When we do this, we start with someone and just proceed all around the room. I keep a little bass beat on the BX and play a little interlude between each child. It is so much fun and the 6/8 of course is lilting and beautiful!
2. Finish the melody activity-On xylophones have students learn DRMS, DRMS for the first two lines of the poem and then they create the melody for the last two lines. We vote on our favorite and that becomes their class melody. I usually do it in C pentatonic. It would work well on recorders in G major. OR, you could do LDRM in E minor on recorders for a fun and accessible way to finish a melody using the notes EGAB.
3. Building bricks with 6/8-students brainstorm. Three eighth note examples are valentine and chocolate. Dotted quarter examples are love, heart, red, candy. Put combos together in groups to create B, C, D, E, F, etc. sections in rondo form with the song above as your A section. Or pick favorite group creation as the B section for a more simple binary form. These can be transferred to non-pitched percussion.
4. If you’d like to explore writing poems in the style of “Roses are Red”, try changing the colors and then the rhyming words.
Roses are blue. Violets are red. If you agree, You’ve got rocks in your head.
Let’s talk about Bruno! Here’s a new MOVEMENT video for Bruno with the ending movement matching the contrapuntal lines of the ending. This is for parents, classroom teachers, music teachers, and anyone who
The Charm of Encanto
This original song inspired by the Spanish word, encanto, is accompanied by an Orff arrangement, Latin rhythm and melodic elements, and is a great extension to the movie craze that has swept the nation.
It’s a perfect concert selection or classroom exploration of Latin-flavored ostinati!
Colombia, Mi Encanto
Activity Packet from Disney
This packet from Disney is amazing and has information about the characters, Columbia, nature, and music along with printable activities.
With her poetry of words, Amanda Gorman’s “Change Sings” uses a story full of music vocabulary to invite children to be the change in the world with acts of kindness. Here are songs that fit into that theme.
Written for younger singers, this song reinforces the act of kindness themes in Amanda Gorman’s book, “Change Sings.” With lots of repetition and sequencing, this easy-to-learn song is a perfect concert selection. The resource includes suggested movements and opportunities to create your own movement.
I Dream A World by Andre Thomas
This gorgeous melody set to Langston Hughes’ words is in 2-parts which could easily be adapted to a single melody line. In “Change Sings” Gorman writes, “I scream with the skies of red and blue streamers. I dream with the cries of tried-and-true dreamers.” Hughes writes, “”I dream a world where man, no other man will scorn. Where love will bless the earth and peace its paths adorn.”
A composed song about important black leaders and the power of one.
Musician & Song Database
I’ve tried to use songs written by Black artists that are accessible to children. There is a multitude of current songs (or within the past 10 years) that could be used as well that I haven’t added to the list. Also, there are SO MANY amazing Black performers who weren’t composers that you can highlight as well.
African Drumming & Dance
In this series, dancer Rujeko Dumbutshena and drummer Farai Malianga show you how to dance traditional African dances and drums and their place in African history. This is a YT playlist from the Kennedy Center.
Music History, Is Black History
This resource page by Reverb has lots of information about Black musicians who were innovators and had groundbreaking achievements.
Teaching Idea: Let students choose a musician to research, putting all the research together into a timeline of Black music history.
The final student product could be online or hard-copy. ONLINE-a Google slide, Flipgrid video presentation HARD-COPY-poster board, report on 8.5 x 11, info on record-shaped album
Namibia Culture-Bearer, Garth Prince
Prince is a musician, vocalist, drummer, and educator who has knowledge of traditional folk songs of Namibia.
Black Stringband Music
This resource, by musician Jake Blount, has some essential and relevant information about Stringband music but other information about Black music and musicians. Mr. Blount has such thoroughly researched information.
A History of We Shall Overcome
A fascinating and thorough search of the evolution of this famous song. After watching, I definitely subscribed to Genie Deez’s channel because he is amazing!
His YT playlist on Culture & History includes great information on Funk, Civil Rights, syncopation, and so much more.
Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll.
“In Black Diamond Queens, Maureen Mahon draws on recordings, press coverage, archival materials, and interviews to document the history of African American women in rock and roll between the 1950s and the 1980s.”
AMAZING video. I highly recommend watching for teachers and upper middle school/high school students.
The United Parish in Brookline introduced a unique program to help carry on the legacy of this music in Roxbury, and they’re hoping to be a model for others.
“There was growing discomfort around how to use Negro spirituals, appropriately and respectfully,” said the congregation’s minister of music Susan DeSelms.