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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: lessons for the end of the year (part 2)

Now that my spring break is over, it's back to reality.... and the reality is, once spring break is over, everyone is super antsy and more than a little bit crazy! Last year I shared some of my favorite lesson ideas for the end of the school year in this post, and today I thought I'd share a few more that I'll be using this year to get us all through the remaining weeks in one piece!


Last year, I shared my favorite lessons and activities that require very little preparation and can be done in 1-2 class periods (or part of a period). This year I'm sharing some longer "units" that you could run for several class periods in a row. You could obviously shorten these but they will require some prep work on your part, so why not take a little more time? These are also great to do with any age, so I would suggest picking one and doing it with every grade. In my last school I did one of these at the end of each school year and I did them on a 4 year rotation so that students weren't doing the same thing every year.

These units are perfect for the end of the year because they are all designed to "shake things up"- by transforming the classroom environment, style of teaching/learning, or just the material that you're using, you can keep students on their toes and engaged when they're losing focus and tired of the "same old, same old" at the end of the year.

1. Country of focus

This is what I'm doing right now! Each April I pick one country or culture on which to focus with each grade level, and the students get a chance to really delve deeper and explore the culture through some of its music. You could also pick one country for the whole school to study each year and really go all-in by decorating the classroom with paraphernalia to match the country: a map, a flag, photographs (find them online and print them off), any instruments you have from the country, tokens and souvenirs (ask if anyone from the school community has visited before and brought things back), or words like "hello", "music", or "thank you" in the native script would all help set the mood and create that impact of "ooh, this is something new and exciting" when students walk in the room.

Over the last few weeks I've been posting all of my lesson ideas for each of the countries that I have taught as an area of focus. Click on the country to see more specific lesson ideas for each one:
Brazil
Japan

2. Camping theme

I did this one year at my last school and it was a huge hit, so I am thinking of bringing it back this year! I set up my classroom to look like a campsite by making a "camp fire" in the center of my circle rug (logs made out of paper towel rolls with red, orange, and yellow tissue paper stuck in between the rolls as flames) and putting up pictures of various woodsy scenes everywhere. I had students choose from a list of "camp songs" and we sat around the "fire" singing silly songs. Here are some of the camp songs I will be using this year:
Boom Chicka Boom
I Love the Mountains
Baby Shark
Miss Julie Ann Johnson
There's a Hole in the Bucket
Down by the Bay
The Bear Song
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
Dum Dum Da Da
Limerick Song

You can find more camp songs here and here. Any echo song or silly song that is easy to learn will work- especially ones with movement or motions!

This year I am thinking of taking it a step further and throwing in some review games. My idea is to split up into teams, giving each team a stick and several different pieces of paper cut in the shape of marshmallows with paperclips on them (folded open so they are attached to the paper on one side with a "hook" sticking up to hang on the stick). I can change these for each grade, but basically I plan to call out a letter name, clap a rhythm, or some other musical concept or vocabulary, and the students have to find the matching visual, hang it on their stick, and hold it out over the fire to roast the marshmallow. The first team to roast the correct marshmallow gets a point. So for example, I can review treble clef letter names with 3rd grade by putting a 5-line staff with one note on it on each marshmallow, and then when I call a letter they have to find the correct note. Or I can review rhythms by writing a 4-beat pattern on each marshmallow, and they have to find the matching notation when I clap the rhythm. Or review vocabulary by finding the correct symbol or word when I call out the name or meaning ("forte" or "loud"). The possibilities are endless!

3. Music careers project

This is a great project I have done with students from 4th grade up through 8th grade. Essentially the idea is to allow students to research an area of music in which they are most interested and give them the opportunity to experience what a career in that area would be like. This can get pretty broad (and, hence, very difficult to manage well) so I've found a few ways to make it both manageable and meaningful after doing it a few times.

The #1 key is to limit the scope of the project by giving students limited (but varied) options for careers they can choose. I've found the best way to do it without leaving out an area that students would potentially be eager to try is to keep the job descriptions broad (so, have "performer" as a career instead of "band member", "pop star", and "church organist" all as separate items). By limiting the different options students can choose, I can better help guide students in their projects. I do always, though, tell students that if they are really eager to explore something that is not on my list, they are welcome to make a case to me individually. If I know they can work independently, and they are able to explain how they would go about it, then I allow them to do something different.

The other key is to come up with easy but meaningful ways for students to apply skills from their chosen career to a project that can be completed in the classroom setting, and have those ideas ready for them. So for example, some of the most popular career choices over the years have been performer (students need to pick a song to learn and perform for the class), critic (students listen to a recording and write their own critique), conductor (students conduct a recording or, if there is a group that has chosen to perform something together for a performer project, they can conduct them), composer (students create a piece and either perform/record it themselves, have me perform it, or have one of the students doing a performer project perform it), and dancer (students choreograph and perform a dance to a recording). Some other careers can be more difficult to manage logistically but can be doable: students who want to try teaching, for example, could set up a time to meet with a family, student in another class, or someone else outside of class time, but work on first writing a lesson plan and then looking through and reflecting on their lesson that they videotape afterwards during their class.

It sounds complicated but it's actually not much more involved than putting together some basic job descriptions and possible classroom projects, like the ones I just outlined, having students choose what they want to do, and giving them a couple of class periods to work on it independently. The students love the opportunity to try something different that they are interested in, and the end results are usually pretty fantastic. I often have homeroom teachers, the principal, or other adults come to see some of the final presentations. You can find extensive lists of music related careers here and here to get you started if you want to try something like this in your own classroom.

Not enough time left for a full unit? Try one of these shorter lesson ideas:


I hope you find some new ideas to get you and your students through the end of the year having meaningful fun! I'd love to hear your favorite lessons for the end of the school year too- leave a comment below to share yours!

4 comments :

  1. I absolutely LOVE the camping theme idea!! Especially with the props! I could see myself doing the same, and it would be a great way for guitar students to shine in the older grades. Particularly if they have a chance to work on an accompaniment ahead of time and bring their own guitar. My classes would've went crazy for that :) Thanks for sharing! #fermatafridays

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    1. YES. I am trying to get a class set of ukulele's for my 6th graders through donorschoose right now, so if I can get those I will have them for next year. This would be a perfect way to close out their studies!!!

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  2. Great post! I also do a camp sing along for the month of May and my students love it.. just posted several for Fermata Friday. Several of the ones you posted are unfamiliar to me and I can't wait to try them! Thanks for sharing! Aimee @http://ofortunaorff.blogspot.com

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    1. Ha, great minds! I loved reading your post as well, thanks for sharing that amazing monster list of camp songs!!! They really are perfect for the end of the year :)

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