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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Class Openers for Elementary Music

The tone we set at the beginning of class can have a tremendous impact on the success of the rest of the period. And establishing routines for the beginning of class can help students transition more quickly and comfortably into music time. This year I'm establishing some new routines for the beginning of class to address a number of goals I have for my students and I, so today I'm sharing those plans with you!

I've had a set procedure for the end of my elementary general music classes since the beginning of my teaching career (read about that in this post), but I've never actually had a set routine for the beginning of class, other than always meeting the class in the hallway and giving them a specific direction for where to go/ what to do when they come in.

There are a few reasons why I've decided to add more structure to the beginning of my classes this year:
  1. Last year there were several times when I had to mediate a conflict from before music at the beginning of my class, and I wished I had something already established that the rest of the class could do independently without needing my help.
  2. I have been looking for more ways to have students take leadership in class.
  3. I have been looking for a way to have students practice reading/ performing solfege more regularly.
  4. I wanted to replace one of the student jobs I used last year with something new.
I think this new plan will address all of these issues, at least to some extent, and will also give more predictability and structure to the beginning of class, which is good for everyone!

My plan is to have a set of warm-ups, or opening activities, that I select from each day. I'll have a word to describe the type of activity we're doing up on the board, and I'll give my student leaders who are assigned to lead warmups as their job any tasks they need to do to get the activity started. Usually I'll still be leading, but this way if the situation does arise it will be easier for me to manage a conversation with an individual or small group of students while the rest of the class gets started on their own more quickly.

The new job I am planning is called warm-up leader, and my plan is to make sure that no matter what the opening activity is, those students have some leadership role to play in it. Depending on the grade level and the specific students who are doing the job at that time, I can give them more or less independence while still encouraging more ownership and leadership within the activity. I'm also hoping that, as the year progresses and the students gain experience, they'll be able to lead the activities more independently.

Here's the "menu" of general ideas I plan to use throughout the course of the year. For each one, I've listed the word I'll have on the board to act as a visual cue as students enter, and the different ways I plan to have students take leadership in each type of activity.

Here's a little more explanation of what each type of activity will entail:

  • Move: a) class face one leader and mirror their slow movements (no music), b) class copies one leader's movements with the steady beat of track, or c) class moves with the music but has to change their movement every time a leader calls out "switch"
  • Listen: listen silently to a piece of music, sometimes with a particular student-chosen element to listen for (what instruments are playing, how loud, what type of mood....)
  • Circle: these will be a continuation of the circle discussions I detail in this post
  • Rhythm: class practices reading rhythms from notation
  • Melody: a) students identify individual pitches, either by solfege or letter name, that leader notates, or b) class sings patterns with solfege names and hand signs that leader selects
  • Play: class echos leader on body percussion or unpitched percussion instrument(s)
  • Draw: vocal exploration, following a line with their voice

I tried to make sure that in every case, the leadership roles are low-pressure. This is supposed to make students more comfortable, not less, after all! And I am hopeful that with the variety of options I have to draw from, I will be able to create predictability without making it monotonous.

Do you use openers to start your elementary music classes? How do you structure them, and what sorts of activities do you like to include? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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  1. I always start my classes with a sensory break- usually calming music or a guided meditation. Mostly the music is classical, but I'll mix it up sometimes with video game or movie soundtracks. Occasionally I'll have leading questions for them to vote on based on the lesson.

    1. Such a great way to make sure everyone is focused and settled for class!

  2. How many of these warm-ups do you do in a given class? How has it been working?

    1. It has been going great! I will definitely share an update on what I have found that works/ needed tweaking once I have all of the kinks worked out, but overall I have really been happy with how it has been going. I only do 1 warm-up each class period- it is intended to be a quick way to get everyone focused that takes no more than 5 minutes maximum (usually less).

  3. How many warm-ups/leaders do you have for each class? And how has it been working out?

    1. I have one of my small groups assigned to lead warm-ups as part of my classroom jobs, so that means (depending on the class size) there are 3 or 4 students who have that job at any given time. Most of the time they will each take a quick turn on something (like they each clap one 4-beat rhythm for the class to echo, etc), or sometimes they will decide on something together as a group (like choosing a discussion question). It has been working out well, and I will be sure to share a full update once I have all the little details sorted!

  4. Love these ideas and I'm making a powerpoint with each "role." Which compositions are on your play list? Do you just have the kids discuss the prompt/question? Not write? Which questions do you ask? thank you!

    1. Hi Julie! The compositions I use are usually based on whatever I'm doing in the lesson that day, so if we're talking about minor tonality I'll have a few songs in minor, or if we're talking about tempo I'll have a few that change speed mid-song. Sometimes, though, it's just a chance to stop and enjoy music- in that case I pull up my "party playlist" which is all of my dance music. Search my blog for "dance playlist" and you'll see all the songs I use for that :) Depending on how much time I want to spend and the age of the students, I'll either have them respond verbally or sometimes I'll write the prompt at the top of the board and have students come up and write silently during the music as they listen and think of answers- it's usually something simple like "describe the mood", "what instruments do you hear?", "describe the tempo/dynamics", etc. Hope this helps! I'm planning on doing an update post on this after using it for the first half of the school year, so keep an eye out for that one!

  5. I always start my music classes with 3 routines: a wellcome video (that it’s related with our session), the attendance and “today we are going to..”