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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: lessons for the end of the year

Well, we are approaching the middle of May, which means the end of the school year is drawing near (some of us sooner than others) for many of us. Keeping students engaged and doing something worthwhile can be challenging in those last few classes! Here are some of my favorites:

1. Hula Hoop Conductor

I got this idea here last year and my students and I loved it! Basically one person is the conductor and the rest of the class follows them, usually on instruments. But instead of waving their arms to conduct, the conductor moves in and out of hula hoops laying on the floor. If they are inside the hoop, they play. If they step out, they stop. I used 3 hula hoops in different colors and assigned groups of instruments to each hoop (green is metals, red is skins etc). The best part is getting the class to intuitively follow the conductor's movements while they are in the hoop, like playing softly for tiptoe, one big sound together when you jump, or loud when you reach up high. I always conduct the class first so they can get some ideas, and I get a good workout doing it! The only thing I tell them is which hula hoop is for which instruments, and I let them figure out the rest. I start slowly by stepping in and out of one hoop at a time, then I start mixing it up by jumping in and out of two or three at a time, running across, tiptoeing, and doing crazy dances. Once they get the idea I start having students come and conduct and see what they come up with.

This activity is great because it keeps students focused, there is an element of silliness, and it involves playing instruments, which students always appreciate. One way to have students play more than one instrument is to have the conductor take the instrument from someone to become the next conductor.

2. Going Downtown

I like to do lots of dancing and movement games at the end of the year but "Going Downtown" is my favorite. I took an activity I saw at a conference and modified it. To set up the game, separate students into two lines facing each other, with at least 5 feet between the two lines. Try to make the lines even but if there is an odd number of students it will still work. The students are the sidewalks, and the space between them is the street. I tell students to imagine they are on their way to a really awesome party. They are walking down the street with their friend to get to the party. If they're really excited about the party, they aren't just going to be walking calmly down the street- they would be skipping, jumping, doing cartwheels, dancing... One person from the front of each row will be going from the front of the line, down the middle, and joining the back of the line, but they won't be just walking. One person, whose name I call, will be coming up with a fun way to go down the street. The other person (from the other row) will copy them. But they are going to the party together, so they will be going down the street at the same time- not watching the first person and then copying after. Everyone else on the sidewalk moves forward as soon as someone leaves their row to make space at the back of each row. Keep taking turns until the end of the song (I used to have a CD with a song called "Going Downtonwn"- hence the name- but now I use "Walking On Sunshine", which is equally appropriate!).

These are the rules I give my students when we play: wait until I call one of your names to go, keep the street wide, only do things your partner can physically do, and if you can physically do something you should go for it. I remind them that we don't want any traffic jams, so I make sure the next pair doesn't start going until the previous one has gotten to the end of the row. Often the people waiting get busy watching the others walking past them and they start to move in, making the space too small. To avoid injuries, make sure the space stays wide! For the person picking the movement, I give the example of someone who can do back flips and another cannot. If the leader chooses something that their partner can't do, they are disqualified from the game. If the person copying can do something (like maybe a somersault) and chooses not to, they are disqualified. Obviously you as the teacher will have to be the judge of whether something is truly too difficult or not, or if someone is trying to embarrass someone out of spite rather than fun (I've never had that happen, even in my most challenging groups, but it is theoretically something that I am prepared for).

3. Soundscapes

Soundscapes are, as I tell my students, like landscapes (a visual representation of a scene) with sound. We are trying to evoke a certain image with a combination of sounds. There are so many ways to use this concept, but I have used and love the following versions:

Kindergarten/1st: Introduce a set of classroom instruments (at least one more different kinds than there are students) and have them listen to each one. Read a poem, and assign a word or phrase to each student, and have them pick an instrument sound to match the word. Practice having them play the instrument at the same time as you read the word, then see if they can "play the poem" without you reading. Having them sit in the order they play will help :)

2nd/3rd: Assign small groups to a specific location (like the playground, zoo, downtown city, airport, etc) and have them come up with sounds they would hear in that location. Then they need to figure out a way to recreate each of their sounds using instruments, found sounds, voice, or body percussion. You can make it slightly more challenging by telling them they have to have at least one in each category of sound source. It's really fun to have groups draw a scene out of a hat and practice secretly, then have the class close their eyes for the performance and guess the location.

4th and up: The basic soundscape activity for 2nd and 3rd graders still works well with the older students, but for more of a challenge you can extend the concept to less concrete subjects. Since we have an emotional literacy curriculum in our district, I like to give each small group a "feeling word" to describe with sound. You can also connect it with writing by having them write a short story and then tell the story with sound (no speaking words!).

4. Silly Songs

There are some songs that I save for the end of the year because they are just pure fun. Others from the beginning of the year are great to bring back for an encore! "Kobuta" is a fun song from Japan that is fun and easy because it has very few words and it is an echo song. I do silly motions for each animal (like push my nose up for the pig). The best part is when you start creating variations- I have students suggest different feelings and do the song in that feeling. The all-time favorite is always the very, very sad one!

"Pizza Daddy-O" is one that I use at the beginning of 2nd grade to experience call and response, and I love to bring it back at the end of the year. You can have students come up with new dance moves for the ending to make it even funnier.

The list of songs goes on and on, but I'll share one more favorite: Miss Julie Ann Johnson. In the link you'll find the sheet music for the tune, but scroll down to the bottom and you'll see the suggestion from "reader Elizabeth C" (me! that's me!) for how I use the song to make up ridiculous stories and reinforce good singing tone and posture.

Update: if you're looking for end of the year lessons that take up a bit more time (over several class periods), check out this post!

What do you like to do at the end of the year? Share your favorites in the comments!


  1. Thank you! I am definitely trying these with my students. I'm a first year teacher and am blown away by how early the 'end-of-the-year' jitters/unfocused behavior has begun with my students. I'm sure these will help! :)

    1. So true! I was just telling a first year teacher a few weeks ago to be prepared for "end-of-the-year-itis" disease once we come back from spring break and boy, has that been the case.... I'm glad you found these ideas helpful!

  2. Going Downtown sounds a lot like what I use for "Syncopated Cyril" from Shenanigans, only between each pair of walkers, the two lines "cross the street," and then cross back. This gives me another way to use longways set with rules they already know and different music. Thanks! I have also used the kindergarten soundscape idea, but a little differently. I have laid out several unpitched percussion instruments, demonstrating any that the students aren't already familiar with, and having them choose an instrument for each character in a book or song. The student has to listen for the character's name, and then play their sound "on cue." I have successfully used it with "There Was and Old Monster Who Swallowed a Tick," (although any of the books in that series would work, if you wanted to use the seasonally appropriate one), and "I Bought Me a Cat" (if you wanted to use it, there is a hilarious video on Youtube with James Taylor that has large photos of each animal, which helps the students play on time. The horse is especially funny!). Thanks for these awesome ideas! I will be adding them to my end-of-the year repertoire!!!

    1. Ah, I love these twists! I had not seen the James Taylor version of I Bought Me a Cat (which I love). What an awesome resource. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Yes! That's the version of Julie Ann Johnson that I learned from Jill Trinka way back in 1987, give or take a year. My kids love it because they create a new song every time.

    1. I KNOW- it's so much fun! :) And how cool that you learned it from Jill Trinka herself way back in the day?!? I picked it up from a music teacher friend years ago.