How to Use Columns & Rows In Your Classroom

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.

Partners

  • 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.

Small Groups

  • 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.

Circles

  • 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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Behavior Management Tips For a Successful Classroom

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.

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Student Leadership in Games

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.

Opening Routine

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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Data Miners

VERB

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.

Subset Success

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.

The Contraption With a Purpose

I was tired of spending my own money on school resources and needed a quick timer so I made this one out of two plastic pop bottles, taped together with salt inside. WHO KNEW what an impact this THING would have on the students! They were MESMERIZED! They wanted to know all about it, touch it, turn it, and hold it.

I used it to time:
-making a circle
-lining up
-putting supplies back
-holding hands in a circle
And many more “timed” activities!

How to make BE KIND, BE SAFE, BE RESPECTFUL Musical

I always hated it when an administrator told us at the beginning of the year to have our class create essential agreements.

It made sense for the classroom teachers because they had, uh, ONE class. But really, what are music teachers going to do with multiple grade levels and sections within a grade level? Post 30 Essential Agreement posters around the room?

I’d make an attempt to do it with each class and homogenize it into one poster but then I kept thinking it was false and homogenized and served no purpose. EVERYBODY comes up with essentially the same things-be kind, be respectful, be safe, be responsible, be patient, be caring, etc.

I thought about what were the biggest overarching problems in my music room and how could I address them. I came up with the below poster. It’s beautiful, right? As I always told the kids, “This is why I am not your art teacher.”

I kept this poster up for years and at the start of every year, I’d call the agreements out one by one and ask for a show of hands, who agreed. Then when I needed to remind them about something, I’d say, “Didn’t we all agree that beginnings and endings are quiet?” It was like a handshake. WE AGREED! Let’s do it!

One year I put each class into six groups and assigned each group one of the essential agreements. I gave them three minutes to talk about why it was important and then each group shared.

A lot of the essential agreements address children who are attention-seeking and many of the agreements are about great practices in performing and learning about music.

Examples

A student seeks attention by playing the xylophones overly loud. Rule: Respect our Instruments and Play Beautifully.

A student seeks attention by being louder than everyone else while speaking a speech piece or poem or singing during a song. The above poster actually was changed to read: Sing, Speak, and Play Beautifully!

During a quiet movement activity, two students talk. Rule: Move Silently

While playing instruments, a student taps another one with a mallet. Rule: Hands to Yourself

At the end of a song, instrumental piece, or activity, everyone starts to talk. Rule: Beginnings and Endings are Quiet!

The group falls apart during a song, instrumental piece, dance, or other activity and some people stop, start talking, complain, etc. Rule: NEVER stop! After a while, I didn’t have to use this one much because they were so used to figuring out how to keep going and when they did, I would PRAISE them forever about their professionalism. I’d say, “Tyrese knew that we forgot the repeat, but kept that next line going and got us all back on track! YES! Good job, everybody!” That’s what performers do-they keep going.

I wish I had started this “musical” essential agreement idea sooner in my teaching career. I hope it sparks an idea for you and you can turn it into a meaningful tool for classroom management and learning.

Once Upon a Time…


Classroom Management Through Storytelling

How to Mesmerize the Young Ones

You’ve tried your attention clap rhythm or your “Class,” “Yes,” or your LOUD voice, and there’s still chaos. Two little ones are turned toward each other deep in conversation, another is lying on their back, one is taking the bar on the nearby xylophone and slowly lifting, lowering, lifting, lowering. There are three that are looking back at you (bless them) and the rest…are not.

I was reading the article, “How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger”, and this paragraph stood out.

For thousands of years, the Inuit have relied on an ancient tool with an ingenious twist: “We use storytelling to discipline,” Jaw says.

Jaw isn’t talking about fairy tales, where a child needs to decipher the moral. These are oral stories passed down from one generation of Inuit to the next, designed to sculpt kids’ behaviors in the moment. Sometimes even save their lives.

For example, how do you teach kids to stay away from the ocean, where they could easily drown? Instead of yelling, “Don’t go near the water!” Jaw says Inuit parents take a pre-emptive approach and tell kids a special story about what’s inside the water. “It’s the sea monster,” Jaw says, with a giant pouch on its back just for little kids.

The article says lots more about storytelling, but I thought, “I’m going to give it a little twist and give it a try.”

Ok, here it is. It really works. In a normal voice say, “Once upon a time…” Their heads will turn toward you, they will stop talking, and you BETTER have something more to say immediately or you’re done.

“Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved to go visit his grandmother. She lived out in the forest and it took a while to get there but it was worth the drive because when he got there, his grandmother always had made his favorite cookies. She and the little boy would go out in the forest and look for animals. The little boy loved seeing the deer and the squirrels, the raccoons and the birds, and even the spiders and insects that lived in the forest. But one visit, his grandmother had reminded him about listening to her whenever she talked because sometimes she could find the most special animals and if he wasn’t listening, he would miss them. He promised her that he would always listen to her and pay attention. They continued to walk and the little boy found a tree with a big spider web. As he went over to look at the web his grandmother said, “Look what I’ve found.” But the little boy wanted to see the spider web and did not pay attention to his grandmother. After he had looked at the spider web he walked back to his grandmother and she said, “I wish you had been paying attention because I saw something very special.” He said, “What did I miss?” And she said, (dramatic pause), “A unicorn the color of a rainbow.” Well, it’s time to go home. Maybe next time you’ll get to see it. And the moral of the story: Always pay attention so that you aren’t missing something special.” The end.

I wasn’t about to have the little boy get eaten by a wolf or mauled by a bear, but just a little reminder to pay attention with the overarching benefit that because I was storytelling (it’s magical, right?), they became a quiet cohesive group for a little while.