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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Music Incentive Day Ideas

I love using a "reward day" or "music choice day" as an incentive for whole class behavior management, and I know many other general music teachers do as well. It's a great way to keep class time meaningful while taking some time to explore the joys of music-making without the pressure of a traditional lesson format, and it gives students some agency in what they do in class. That said, there are few things worse than a party that descends into bedlam or just flops. Here is how I make sure things run smoothly and keep it fun.


1. Give students choice

I think it's important to give students the opportunity to help choose what they would most like to do to make it fun for the most number of people. Often they surprise me by picking "meaty" activities from previous lessons, and it always gives me a chance to see what my students are interested in and what form of musicking they most enjoy (which is valuable information for planning my future lessons)! 

The way I do this is by having the class come up with a list of ideas and then vote on their favorite. The suggestions have to be music-related and something we can do right then without preparation (I do the voting the same day as the reward day). Each student is only allowed to vote once (makes it easier to count votes), and I have them close their eyes while they are voting (so nobody is swayed by the opinions of their peers, and so that I can secretly veto things I know are bad ideas... ssshhhhhh...). 

2. Prepare some ideas in advance

Now that my classes have done this before they have no problem coming up with ideas, but when I come into a new school and do this for the first time there are always some classes that struggle to come up with ideas for things to do. It's a good idea to have a few ideas in mind to get them going in case this happens (see my list below for some favorites!). 

3. Remind students that fun means fun for all

It may seem counter-intuitive but in many ways I hold students to a higher behavioral standard during reward days- I call them "parties" to my students and I always explain that parties are for fun, and it's not fun unless it's fun for everyone. If anyone is being a poor sport, talking over someone, or ignoring the rules of the game etc, they sit out. Nobody is allowed to ruin our fun. 

I also don't allow students to sit out and sulk because their top choice wasn't selected- I remind them that this was what the majority selected and so this is what the most people think is fun. If they are complaining about that choice they are being negative about something many of their peers think is awesome, and that's rude. I try to give them options if they are reluctant because they are shy (like telling them to just tap their foot if they are not wanting to dance, etc) but I always encourage them to find a way to enjoy the activity with the rest of the class no matter what.

4. Top activities

After doing these for over a decade I have seen which activities tend to work and which ones don't. When students are sharing ideas, I'm usually very honest with them about things I know will go well and any reservations I have about other ideas to try to guide them. Here are some of my students' favorite "music party" activities that I find go the most smoothly, and tend to be most widely-enjoyed.
  • Freeze dance (I have this game down to a science, haha! More on how I run this to make sure it goes well in a future post...)
  • Instruments (students choose one instrument to play. usually I have them watch me to play and stop on my cues, and sometimes I'll have them trade instruments if there is enough time)
  • Talent show (those who want to dance, sing, or play an instrument can perform while the others watch- only do this if you have a very small class or at least 30 minutes for the activity!)
  • Singing games (favorites include Black Snake, Chicken on the Fencepost, We Are Dancing in the Forest, and Grizzly Bear)
  • Four corners (older grades enjoy this more than the younger grades as a change of pace from freeze dance)
  • Just Dance videos (you can look up specific ones on YouTube for students to dance along with)
  • Incredibox (do it as a class by projecting it on the screen- if you have an interactive board they can take turns choosing one sound on the board, or if you don't, they can take turns on the computer)
  • Music drawing/ coloring (this can go a lot of different ways and tends to be popular with the younger grades, especially if they are a quieter group. Music-themed coloring pages are good to keep on hand, or students might choose to draw a picture of their favorite instrument or just something music-related, or they might choose to draw in response to music.)
There's one that I definitely do NOT recommend, and that's musical chairs. At my current school it actually doesn't get requested very often, but at my last school I used to hear this request a lot and I have never found it to work well in the class setting because 1) it takes a lot of time just to set up the chairs, 2) people can get hurt from sitting on each other or pushing each other out of chairs, 3) I find it harder than freeze dance to judge fairly, and 4) for whatever reason, someone always ends up getting upset. Every now and then a class will overwhelmingly vote for it despite my warnings and I'll let them try it, and I regret it every time (and they agree with my opinion afterwards). 

Reward days are definitely not something to use too often, but using them sparingly really gives everyone a chance to let loose and just bask in the joy of music every now and then! With the way I run my whole class behavior management, most classes end up doing two or three in a school year and that seems to work really well. You can read more about my whole class behavior management system in this post:


You can also see lots more ideas on behavior management for elementary and middle school music classes (including how I use centers as another incentive for whole class behavior- another favorite of mine) in this post:


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