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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Am I Cut Out to Teach Music?

There are lots of reasons people ask themselves, "Am I cut out to teach music?". I hear it most in the springtime, both from college students curious about the field, and from weary teachers overwhelmed by stress. My intent with this post is three-fold: to reassure and help burned out music teachers refocus on their "why", to guide prospective music teachers in thinking through career choices, and help struggling music teachers identify possible causes and find a path forward. I do not think there is one way to be a good music teacher, but I do think there are certain "keys to success", mostly in terms of mindset, that can make or break a music teacher's career. If you or someone you know is wrestling with this question, I hope these thoughts bring some clarity!

If you're wondering whether or not you're "cut out" to be a music teacher, here are some important questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I love and respect the children in this community?

I don't mean in a patronizing, "I'm here save these poor little children, bless their hearts" kind of way. I mean do you actually care about their well-being and success, and want to build personal connections with them and get to know them as human beings? If you feel like you don't have enough in common with them to connect with them right now, are you interested in learning (rather than interested primarily in sharing yourself and your background with them)? It's important to ask this question specifically about the community you are in/ entering- I've met plenty of teachers who "love children" but don't realize they have a very specific idea of what children are like that doesn't match the population they are working with, and that leads quickly to resentment.

2. Do I love and respect music?

Do you honestly believe that music is important for humanity or do you think it's just frivolous fun? If the main reason you went into/ are thinking about going into music education is because you want to have fun making music, and you think the primary purpose of music class is for children to have fun or "get a break", then that may be a recipe for burnout. As soon as those 5th graders become too cool for school and tell you everything is boring, you're going to lose your purpose. Sure, absolutely, music is fun! But it is so much more than that. You need to have an honest belief that music is fundamentally important for its own sake and that it is equally important to math, literacy, and other school subjects.

3. Do I have a foundational understanding of music pedagogy?

You can love and respect the students and your subject matter all you want, but if you don't know how to teach effectively you most likely aren't going to get the results you're hoping for. This is a common problem in education in general: people who have a passion for children and education but think they can be an effective teacher without ever learning how to teach. I think instances of these types of people in music education may be higher, though, because of people who enter music education from other areas of teaching (or other areas of music) without any understanding of effective music teaching specifically. Obviously you are going to grow a lot in this area the longer you teach, but if you don't have a fundamental understanding of what works and what doesn't, you'll grow frustrated with your students' lack of progress.

4. Am I disciplined?

This may sound odd, but I really don't think you can last long in the teaching profession without a certain level of self-discipline. So many music teachers fail because they can't keep up with everything! By nature as a music teacher you are responsible for hundreds of humans and to do your job well you need to keep track of all of them. You also need to figure out how to get large groups of children to stand in a specific location at a specific time and do a specific thing in front of large audiences. This kind of stuff doesn't happen by winging it! You may get lucky a time or two but if you don't have a way to keep yourself accountable for all of your responsibilities, you won't make it very far. Sure, all of us drop a ball here and there, and we all hope to be extended grace when that happens, but you can't rely on colleagues or administrators to do your job for you without losing their respect. 

5. Am I a proficient musician?

I hesitate to even say this because I see it blown way out of proportion and too narrowly defined within the music education field. There are many ways to be a good musician- performing at a professional level is not the only way. Still, there is a certain amount of truth to the underlying concept that we ourselves must be able to do what we are hoping our students will be able to achieve in our classes. It will be difficult to be an effective teacher or gain the respect of students and coworkers without it.

What are your thoughts on this topic? I firmly believe that the aspects of a successful music teacher I described above are not innate- all of them can be learned, and all of them are areas in which we can (and should) continue to grow throughout our careers. Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by secondary things in our work life that feel way more important in the moment than they actually are, and it's important to return to the core of what brought us into the profession in the first place. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my list in the comments below so we can continue the professional dialogue!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Soundscapes 4 Ways

One of my favorite lesson ideas to keep in my back pocket is soundscapes. I use soundscapes for sub plans, for when I have to change my lesson at the last-minute, when I need to do a one-off lesson with one class to catch up the rest of the grade, or when I'm just too exhausted to think straight (any of those scenarios sound familiar right about now? just me? ok great...). Today I want to share several ways I like to use soundscapes to give my students opportunities to explore sound sources, using music to communicate meaning, classroom instruments, and more.

For the purposes of this post I'm defining soundscapes broadly as a way to communicate an image through organized sound. When I explain it to my students, I compare it to the word, "landscape"- just like landscapes are a broad picture of a specific place, soundscapes communicate a broad, general image of something.

Here are several examples of different prompts I use with my students to explore the concept of communicating an image through sound:

1. Places

Of course the most common one I use is to have students portray a particular location. Usually I set this up as a small group project, but it can also be done as a whole class activity. I give each group a general location, like a beach, airport, playground, or city street. I have them make a list of all the sounds they might hear if they were standing in the middle of that location. Then I have them think of ways to imitate those sounds using different sound sources: found sounds, instruments, body percussion, and voice. Sometimes if we are working on a particular concept like vocal timbre, instrumental technique, or exploring found sounds, I will limit them to certain sound sources, but most often I will tell them they need to have at least one example of each category.

Once they have their list of sounds, the next step is to organize the sounds into a performance. This is where students tend to struggle the most. It's important to guide them in thinking through how to draw the listeners' attention to different sounds to convey the overall image- maybe some of the background sounds are performed throughout the piece, while others are performed once in a particular order, or layered in on top of each other.

When the soundscapes are ready, I have the audience close their eyes while they listen to each group perform, then try to guess what the location was supposed to be. If they have done their jobs, it should be obvious what image they were trying to convey through their sounds!

2. Poem / Story

The second most common way I incorporate soundscapes is using a book, story, or poem as a prompt. This is a more concrete way to introduce the concept with younger students, because I can ask students to come up with a "sound effect" to go with specific words or characters from the story. I first read the poem or story, then I tell students I want to add some sound effects to it. I go through and assign each student (or small group of students) to a specific word. Depending on what concept we're working on, I'll have them choose an instrument, vocal timbre, etc to match the word. Then I read again and have students perform the sound whenever they hear their word. To make it more like an actual "soundscape", though, it's fun to do it again but with silent reading- this works well if you have a picture book so that early readers can still follow along- by pointing to the words without reading out loud and having students perform their sounds when you point to their word. Then you can discuss how well the sounds communicated the story/ poem when the words are removed. Besides being a great way to explore sound, it's pretty fun to "hear the story" without the words!

Here are some examples of books I use in this way:

3. Silent / Muted Film

This is a bit of a departure from a true "soundscape" concept, but gets to the same idea: show students a short film with no sound and have them add sound effects to it. I do an entire unit on music and sound in movies with my 6th graders each year (here are the materials I use for this), and one part of that unit is learning about Foley: the art of live sound effects. This is a great extension of the idea of using a variety of sound sources to evoke a scene and contextualize this process for older students! Again this is a good opportunity to guide students in thinking about how to organize the timing of each sound: they are quick to identify specific sounds that happen with a specific event, like footsteps when a character is walking or a loud noise when something is hit, but the background noises that are a part of the scene are equally important to setting the scene!

4. Other Prompts: visual/art, feeling/adjective

Another way to extend the concept of soundscapes for older students is to have students use sounds to evoke a non-concrete concept rather than a concrete place or image. I love using this as a way to explore how music can communicate different moods and feelings, and also explore connections between music and visual art. I introduce the concept of conveying feelings through music to my younger students with lessons like these:

With older students I will use the same process as I do for more traditional soundscapes but instead of giving each group a location, I will give them a feeling word or adjective (like happy/ sad/ angry, or jagged/ fluffy/ bumpy, etc). I have each group come up with a list of words they associate with their assigned feeling or adjective, then come up with sounds that they think will communicate that idea. In this case I also prompt students to think about HOW they can play the sounds to communicate the idea- besides timbre, the tempo, dynamics, etc can also communicate a particular feeling.

Soundscapes, however you use them, can be a great way to explore music and sound in a structured way that allows students to be creative and think about the purpose behind the sounds. Are there other ways you have used this idea of soundscapes in your lessons? I'd love to hear about your ideas in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Best Strategies for Teaching Dynamics

The expressive elements of music are something I admittedly teach as an after-thought on many occasions. Obviously everyone knows the difference between loud and quiet, right?? Over my years of teaching, however, I have found that if I don't teach expressive elements consciously and regularly, it is difficult for students to perform expressively when I expect them to, even if they understand the idea conceptually. Today I am sharing my favorite ways to teach dynamics: identifying, performing, and creating with them, from kindergarten up through middle school.

It's worth noting that dynamics (and other expressive elements) are a key element addressed in the National Core Arts Standards for general music. As with many concepts, the expectations in the NCAS go beyond being able to demonstrate and identify dynamic contrast, or even using specific vocabulary and symbols- students are expected to understand how dynamics convey intent in a musical performance. That means it's not enough for students to be able to sing loudly and quietly, or to know that "forte" means loud. Students need to understand the importance of dynamic contrast in music, and be able to use it effectively as a creator and performer.

If you're starting to sweat a little, don't worry. I did too when I first read through the standards and realized how little time I had spent on the WHY of expressive elements. But what I've come to realize is that to develop that understanding, the best thing I can do is give students more opportunities to explore dynamics, from creating, performing, and responding perspectives, and take a minute to make that exploration conscious as they do so. And fostering this understanding for my students is valuable- they are much more perceptive creators, performers, and consumers of music, and their musicking is much more meaningful.

Still a little overwhelmed? Here are some of my favorite ways to get students responding, performing, and creating with dynamics.


The most fundamental step in understanding dynamics is identifying and responding to dynamic contrast. My favorite way to help students demonstrate and explore this is through movement.

1. Big and small 

While listening to a recording (or your own live performance) with dynamic contrast, have students respond to the dynamics they hear by spreading their body wide for loud sounds and scrunching up small for quiet sounds. They can also do a movement with the beat (like swaying their arms or walking) and make those movements bigger or smaller with the dynamics. 

2. Conducting

Students can practice the basics of conducting dynamics by spreading their arms out for loud and putting their hands close together for quiet. Then when they learn basic conducting patterns to show meter, they can practice doing those conducting patterns bigger and smaller to show dynamic contrast as well. 

3. Props

For some students nothing helps the concept "click" faster than a visual, and for dynamics I love stretchy bands. These are especially great for exploring crescendos and decrescendos because they show gradual expansion and contraction so perfectly! Have students show the music getting louder and softer by making the circle bigger or smaller while they listen to the music.

To connect these concepts to specific music vocabulary and symbols, I give students a set of visuals showing the words or symbols and have students point to, mark, or hold up the corresponding one: they can circle or write down the dynamics they hear on a paper, point to the one they hear on the board, or hold up the one they hear on separate sheets of paper.

To help students think critically about the purpose and impact of dynamics in music, I like using stories with younger students and circle discussions with the older grades.

4. Stories

There are lots of books that lend themselves to thinking about how different feelings are conveyed through various musical elements, but these are some of my favorites (click to read the full lesson plans):

5. Circle discussions

With older students, circle discussions can be a great way to get everyone talking about how dynamics can convey meaning and intent. Here is a detailed description, with some specific discussion prompts, of how to run effective circle discussions:


Of course one of the other fundamental components of understanding dynamics is performing with dynamic contrast. I often connect performance tasks with the movement tasks I described for responding to assess their understanding of each: I show bigger or smaller motions and have students respond by singing or playing instruments louder or softer to match, conduct bigger or smaller for students to follow with their performing, or point to a symbol or word on the board and have students sing or play at that dynamic level. 

One key element that I'm working to include more frequently is to take a minute after these performing activities to ask students which dynamic level they prefer for a particular song and why. It's a great way to get students used to the idea that different dynamic levels can convey different meanings and to start thinking critically about why and how that happens.

Of course this type of performing exploration can be added to basically any song or performance activity we're working on- I've even done it when we're practicing reading rhythm notation with 4-beat patterns on the board by having the class, or a group of students, perform the rhythm "forte" or "piano", etc to give them additional practice and get students to apply the rhythm reading to a more musical performance- but especially in the younger grades, I've found one of the best ways to explore performing dynamic contrast is through stories. Here is one example of a book I love to use to explore loud and quiet (click to read the full lesson plan):


One of the best ways to assess student understanding of dynamics and their importance in expressive music making is to use them in composition! This is the area I have been focusing on adding more regularly to my lessons, especially in the younger grades. Giving students the opportunity to create with dynamics is actually very simple- it's really just a matter of letting students choose which dynamic level they want to hear and then evaluating those choices.

Sometimes in lower grades I will specifically question students. I have them choose a dynamic level for a song we are about to sing or play and give me a reason for their choice. But most of the time I give students opportunities to explore creating with dynamics by letting them "conduct" in some way- usually by having one student use the same type of movement and vocabulary exploration I described for "responding" and having the class perform whatever the leader is demonstrating.

1. Big and small / conducting

One of the easiest ways to have students choose dynamics is to have them do gestures of some kind, whether it's "actual" conducting or just moving their hands apart and together, to adjust the volume of the rest of the class' performance while they sing or play instruments.

2. Props

There are a few props you can use to show loud and quiet (like lion vs fish puppets, for example), but my favorite one to use for this is the Hoberman sphere. This is the perfect way for students to practice showing louder and softer dynamics visually, especially including gradual changes.

3. Vocabulary

Of course students can also take turns pointing to dynamic markings on the board, or holding up cards that show different dynamics, to show the class which dynamic level they want.

For older students, I try to work in opportunities for students to make expressive decisions for their original melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic compositions as well. For written compositions, I'll have them practice writing in the dynamic markings on their scores. Other times, I may just ask students to perform their compositions again but include a change in dynamics, after they've performed their composition for the class the first time. This gives them more chances to focus on the purpose of dynamics and the process of making purposeful expressive decisions about dynamics without worrying about writing or specific vocabulary.

What are your favorite ways to teach dynamics? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments! If you're interested in seeing how all of these different ideas are laid out over the course of my elementary music lessons, here is my full curriculum set.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Whistle for Willie: vocal exploration lesson

Vocal exploration is so important in elementary general music as students develop their singing voices, but it's something I often forget to consciously include in my lessons. This book was a perfect way to get in lots of vocal exploration with a story that my younger grades loved hearing- even my shy singers were using their voices with gusto for this one!

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect buying experience or the contents of the article.

This year I used Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats for the first time with Kindergarten, but this would work well with 1st or even 2nd grade as well. Not every page has natural opportunities for vocal exploration but a good portion of the story does!

Before I begin the story, we do a little vocal exploration practice. I model how to follow the contour of a line by drawing a line in the air in my finger and following it with my voice, then have students practice following my line with their own voices. Then I tell students that I am going to have them make different sound effects to go with the story.

In the beginning when the book describes Peter spinning in circles and then up and down, I draw circles, hills, and valleys in the air with my finger and have students follow the line with their voices as I read the words. Every time it mentions Peter trying to whistle, we blow hard like we're trying to whistle.

Later when the book shows Peter drawing on the ground with colored chalk, I trace the line in the pictures with my finger and students follow with their voices. I draw a curvy line for when Peter is following the crack in the ground, and go up high when it says he jumps.

Eventually Peter is able to whistle. This is when it's fun to stop and have the students try to whistle- depending on the age this can be quite a challenge, but there's usually a few who can!

After reading the story, I give each student a pipe cleaner and have them make different shapes and lines, then trade with a partner and sing the other person's line with their voice. The book is a great starting point for any vocal exploration lesson!

I love Ezra Jack Keats, so I was thrilled to find a meaningful way to incorporate this book into my lessons. What other ways have you used this or other stories by Keats? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments! If you'd like to see all of my book-based lesson ideas, you can see them all in this post.

Monday, April 29, 2019

April Favorites 2019

April is always a fun one with spring break, birthday, and some of my favorite lessons to teach- here are some of my highlights from this past month!

1. Spring Break

Normally I choose one picture from my Instagram feed to represent each of my highlights but I couldn't pick for this one so here's three! ;)

My daughters and I had so much fun visiting my grandparents and extended family in California for spring break. We've never traveled anywhere over spring break before because I'm usually in full-on get-ready-for-all-the-events mode at this point, but it was great to put some things on pause for a week, take life a little more slowly, and soak up some sunshine. Most importantly, it has been a while since we've seen my grandparents so it was really special to have that extra time with them!

2. Birthdays and Cherry Blossoms

One of the best parts of having an April birthday for me as always been the sakura. If you don't know, I grew up mostly in Japan, so going to see the cherry blossoms has always been a very important event each spring, and they often bloom right around my birthday! I'm not living in Japan right now but luckily we have some sakura right here in Connecticut that I try to visit each year.

I was well-loved for my birthday this year and because we were traveling the day of my actual birthday I got to stretch out the festivities a good bit this year- bonus! The wintertime can often be tough on the emotions and sometimes as a single parent and lone music teacher in a building that combination can lead to some deep loneliness. Being reminded of all the amazing friends and loving family members I have surrounding me is the best part of my birthday, let me tell you! I was especially grateful for the deepening friendships I have begun to build here in CT, and the old friends that I haven't been the best about keeping in touch with who continue to be so committed to our relationship.

3. Literature Lessons

I've been able to try out several new books with my kindergarten classes this spring and it has been so much fun! I've loved sharing these lesson ideas on the blog this month, so if you haven't yet I'd encourage you to catch up on these- they are all perfect for the end of the school year as well if you need some fresh ideas to keep you and your students engaged when you're all feeling DONE.

4. Music Education Articles

I always love reading and learning from the insights of so many other fantastic music teacher authors. If you don't already, be sure to follow me on Facebook- I share new articles I find each Friday over there! Here are the ones I shared this month if you need to catch up :)

I hope you found some inspiration and fresh ideas to motivate you for the month ahead- May can get pretty busy so I think we can all use a little time to reflect on the highlights from our lives :) If you want to stay up to date on everything Organized Chaos, be sure to sign up here for the email newsletter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Max Found Two Sticks: elementary music lesson plan

I've loved adding more lesson plans based on children's books to my Kindergarten classes this year! One that I've been meaning to use for a long time and just never got around to until now is Max Found Two Sticks. It was a great way to introduce rhythm patterns and get students to transfer speech patterns to instruments, as well as talk about sounds they hear in their daily lives.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect buying experience or the contents of the article.

I've had the book, Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney, on my bookshelf for a while now. It's an obvious choice for elementary music, but for some reason I just never got around to actually using it in my lessons until this year! But I'm glad I finally got to use it, and I'm sure I will be bringing it back next year- it was a great introduction to rhythm.

At the beginning of Kindergarten we spend a lot of time working on steady beat, so it's a bit of a switch when I start asking them to perform rhythm patterns partway through the year. Using speech patterns, then transferring to body percussion and then instruments, has been a helpful way to introduce the concept, and this book lends itself to that process perfectly. 

In the story, Max finds two sticks and starts drumming out rhythm patterns (represented by onomatopoeia, like "pat... pat tat" and "cling, clang, da-bang" in the story) on everything he can find. Often he hears a sound around him, like the passing train or pigeons flying by, and imitates them with his sticks. He uses all kinds of objects as his drums- hat boxes, garbage cans, the sidewalk- to make different sounds with his sticks.

The first time through the story, I had students practice saying the sounds in rhythm after me. I said each one as a 4-beat rhythm and then had the class repeat the pattern several times by speaking the sounds as we went through the story. After reading it once, I told the class we were going to read it again, but this time we were going to try to play the rhythms like Max. Of course we need to use our rhythm sticks! But first we need to be able to play them instead of saying them (because, as it says in the story, Max doesn't really feel like talking that day). 

We went back through the story and found all of the rhythms, practicing first saying them, then saying while clapping/ patting, then just with body percussion. Once we practiced doing each rhythm without saying anything, we were ready for sticks! As I always do with instruments, I made sure students remembered that they will lose their instrument if they play out of turn- I had students set their rhythm sticks down on the floor while I was reading.

Then we read the story a second time, but this time after I said each rhythm, I had students pick up their sticks and first play it while saying it, then play it without using their voice. We went through the entire book this way, saying and playing and then only playing each rhythm as a repeated pattern.

While students were putting away their instruments at the end of the story, we had a brief discussion about found sounds: "What sounds do you hear when you sit outside your house?", "Can you tell me what it sounds like with words?". It was a great way to connect back to the sounds they hear in their daily lives. I also pointed out at the end that in the story, Max didn't have a real instrument- he just used what he had around him to make music. Then students discussed items they have at home or outside that they could use to make music. 

There are so many ways to extend this lesson into more exploration of found sounds, or having students create their own rhythm patterns! I'm sure there are other ways to apply this story to elementary music concepts as well- I'd love to hear your other ideas in the comments!

If you want to see more book-based elementary music lessons, be sure to head over to this post where I have collected all of my lesson plans in one place. I'm adding this one to the list and will continue to add as I publish more lesson ideas!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dance Playlist 2019

I love finding new music to add to my playlist for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and I'm excited to share this year's finds with you today! I always look for music that is age-appropriate for elementary students before editing (so no "kid version" stuff for me) that my older students will also think is cool. If you're looking for more music, be sure to check out all of my lists from previous years linked at the end of the post. Enjoy!

What songs would you add to the list? If you're looking for more tracks to add to your playlists, here are all my previous playlists- I still use these songs all the time and they don't seem to get old!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Snake Alley Band: Rhythmic Ostinati Lesson

In case you haven't heard, I love using books to teach and practice musical skills and concepts, especially with my youngest students. I came across this book at a used book store this summer and finally had a chance to use it with my kindergarten and 1st grade students this week- it was a great way to practice layering rhythmic ostinati with speech patterns while also reinforcing the importance of all the members in music ensembles.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect buying experience or the contents of the article.

The book, Snake Alley Band by Elizabeth Nygaard, is about a young snake who discovers that, contrary to the beliefs of the other snakes, other animals can make cool (and different) sounds that work together with his to make awesome music. As he meets new animals who are eager to join his new band, they each add their own sounds, shown in the book at different onomatopoeia patterns.

The overall message, first of all, is a good one to have: it's fun to put lots of different sounds together to make cool music, and everyone / every instrument has different and equally valuable ways to add to the ensemble. The first time we read the book, I let students naturally say the animal sounds along with me (I adjust some of them to fit into a 4-beat rhythmic pattern) as the sounds are repeated, and at the end of the story, we talk about that message. Sure, there are times when it's fun to play music with just triangles or listen to music with just violins, but isn't it cool when you add lots of different instruments together, all playing different things at the same time? Think about a rock band or an orchestra. What are some of the different instruments that play together in those groups? I also played a few seconds of an orchestral piece and a pop song that I just called up from songs I had on my computer to help them come up with the instruments that play in these groups.

After our discussion, I tell students that this time I want them to practice doing the parts of the animal band themselves. I go through the book again, this time demonstrating each sound by saying it and clapping/ patting the rhythm of the words, then having students copy me and practice repeating it. I wrote the words for each one on the board as we went- it would also be great to write the rhythmic notation for each pattern if you want to use this to reinforce rhythm notation!

Once we've practiced each one separately, I assign small groups of students to each sound and give each group a different instrument on which to play the sound. I have them practice saying and playing the pattern first, then I tell them to "think the words" while the play it without speaking. The last step is to put all the sounds together by layering the patterns on top of each other! For older students we can layer them all on top of each other, but for kindergarten we split it up into small groups- they aren't quite able to stay on their own rhythm independently when too many other things are happening at the same time! It's still a great way to get them working on rhythmic ostinati, and they love the way it sounds with the instruments.

This lesson would work well any time of year, but it was perfect for the beginning of spring! I was also able to use it as a sub plan by having them use body percussion instead of pulling out instruments in my absence, and it worked well too. Have you ever used this book in your music classes before? I'm sure there are more ways to extend the learning- I'd love to hear other ideas you have in the comments!

If you enjoy using books in your music lessons as much as I do, here are all of my other lesson plans using children's literature to teach musical concepts. They are some of my favorite lessons to teach!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Music Lesson on Emotions: Allie All Along

I was so pleased to come across a new book that is perfect for talking about handling feelings in healthy ways, and use it as a springboard for exploring the ways that music can communicate emotions! I used this lesson very successfully with Kindergarten, but it would work well with younger students and with students up through 2nd grade as well.

This post contains affiliate links which do not affect the purchase experience or the thoughts shared here. 

I came across the book Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul a month or so ago and knew I needed it for my kindergarten classes- this book tells the story of a little girl who gets angry and how her older brother helps her work through her feelings and calm down. As he gives her different specific strategies to try and her anger starts to fade, she changes colors from red to yellow to green to blue, and finally back to her normal self, and in each stage the book describes the different stages of anger without making any of them seem dangerous, bad, or unusual.

For my lesson, we first read the book together and discussed times when they have felt angry, and talked about (and even practiced) the different strategies that the author describes in the story to help us deal with anger in healthy ways. Then we talked about different feeling words they know, and how it's normal to feel different ways at different times, and that there are healthy ways to work through them.

Next I told them to listen to a few different songs I picked out and tell me what feeling word they think "matches the music". Here are the pieces I used (but obviously this could be done with a wide range of pieces to match a broad spectrum of emotions):

The students identified all of them almost instantaneously- I had them silently raise their hands, but the majority of them naturally started acting out the feeling with their facial expressions and their bodies as soon as the music started! I just played a few seconds of each one and identified the feeling words with them to make sure they all understood.

Once we had identified the feelings I told them to pretend they were walking somewhere with their families and they were feeling each of these emotions as they walked. I gave them the example that if they were going somewhere and they were happy, they might have a smile on their face and be skipping, but if they were sad they might have a scowl and walk very slowly with their backs hunched over. Then we spread out around the room and I told them to walk in any direction in the designated open space, silently matching the emotion with their faces and movements while the music played.

The students absolutely loved it! I just did it this spring and thought it was a good time of year for this type of lesson as well- we all know tensions can run pretty high this time of year! I think this would also work well as a sub plan. Not only is it a great way to get kids thinking and talking about feelings and healthy ways of expressing and handling them, but it's the perfect early introduction to communicating mood through music. With one class we were able to discuss, at a basic level, how the musical elements helped communicate different moods: the angry music was loud, the sad music was slow, etc.

I love using books to teach lessons, especially with the younger grades! You can find more literature-based lessons in this post. I leave many of these as sub plans, and several of them are among my favorite lessons to teach with my kindergarten and first grade classes every year!

Monday, April 1, 2019

March Favorites 2019

This month was full of fun and music- I can't wait to share my highlights! Music In Our Schools Month has always been one of my favorite months of the year but each year of teaching I feel like it gets better and better, and this year was no exception.

1. Musical March Madness Bracket

The idea itself is not new- I've seen plenty of other music teachers do this in the past- but this was my first year setting up a bracket myself and OH MY GOODNESS I loved it. The whole school loved it. Our speaker system in our building is pretty terrible so rather than playing the songs over the speakers on the announcements the homeroom teachers actually played the songs in their own rooms, and while I usually hesitate to give other teachers any additional work to do for the music program in this case they agreed it was better this way (yay colleagues) and the feedback from them was amazing! If you haven't tried this before yourself, I encourage you to give it a go. Here's my post on how I did it and which songs I used.

2. Daughters' Projects

My daughters are 7 right now and I think they each have about 4 craft projects going right now. I love their creative energy (although I'm not a huge fan of having all these materials sitting around the house waiting to get done)! One of my personal favorites was a series of posters one of my daughters made for our front door. Such a great visual to come home to each day!

3. Hip Hop Unit

I don't have a photo for this one but I have to include it because it has been a long but meaningful journey: I completed my first ever hip hop composition unit with my 6th grade classes. The final songs they created were great, but more than that the process of incorporating the genre more deliberately into my curriculum has been eye-opening for all of us. I already have a million things I want to do differently next time, but I am happy to have taken that first step.

4. Music Education Blog Posts

It's always so inspiring to see the amazing resources other teachers are creating- here are some favorites from the past month. Click on each photo to see the full article.

What were some of your highlights from the past month? Share your favorite stories in the comments below so we can celebrate together! Want to see more favorites? All of my photos are taken directly from my Instagram, so follow me there to see more highlights more regularly. Want to keep up on all my great blog finds? I share those weekly on my Facebook page!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Centers in the Elementary Music Classroom

Just a few short years ago, centers were a totally foreign concept to me. Now I absolutely love them and use them with almost every grade I teach! With limited class time, so much material to cover, and back-to-back classes of all different grade levels, it can be hard to make centers work in the elementary music classroom. Today I want to share some of my top suggestions for making them work for you!

1. Come in with a game plan

It's so important to work out the logistics before you start! Where will you set up each station, what materials will you need, how many students will be at each station, when and how will they switch, and how will you make sure they know what to do with so many things happening at once? Here is my post on how to manage all of those logistics (and answer all of those questions in the simplest way possible):

2. Know your purpose

I say this for a lot of things... but for good reason! Don't just do centers because it sounds cool. What is your purpose for doing centers? When it comes to teaching, I don't do anything unless I believe it will help students learn music better. For centers, I see two main purposes:

     1) to give students a chance to explore/ practice musical skills, concepts, and materials through a variety of learning styles and approaches
     2) to give students an opportunity to experience specific music learning activities that can best be done in small groups (whether because of space/ resources or the nature of the activity)

To make centers truly successful, it's important to think through the reasoning in choosing when and how to use centers, and which center activities to choose. Here are my favorite center activities for elementary music:

3. Use sparingly

If you have thought through the purpose of doing centers then this one will probably take care of itself, but I think centers are best used sparingly in the elementary music classroom. One way I use centers most often that allows me to use them sparingly, with purpose, while also filling an important role in my classroom climate and behavior management, is to use them as a whole class incentive. You can read about how I do that in this post:

Have you used centers in elementary music before? What are your top tips for making them work? What are some of your favorite center activities? Let's hear them in the comment section!