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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Color Teams in the Music Room

If there is one thing that I do that has the biggest impact on my classroom procedures, it is color teams! Color teams make everything easier: transitions between activities, beginning and end of class procedures, student jobs, managing student supplies, assigning instruments, seating arrangements, small groups, and so much more. Today I'm sharing how I use color teams in my elementary/ middle school music classes- if you're looking for ways to improve your classroom procedures, this is one thing I would highly recommend.


There are many benefits to assigning students to groups/ teams, but I think that using colors, specifically, for the groupings has a lot of benefits too: the colors work easily into a bright and cheerful classroom environment without creating more visual clutter, and lots of typical classroom items already come in different colors so you don't have to label things as much. I've seen teachers who label their groupings with composer, instrument, note, or time period names to promote the use of music vocabulary, but those tend to add to the visual clutter when the seating is labeled with those words or symbols, it's harder for students (especially the youngest ones) to remember their team, and you end up having to label everything if you want to assign items to specific groups (more on that in the supplies section below).

1. Seating

The foundation of the color groups begins with seating- I have assigned seating in all of my classes, both for the Kindergarten classes who sit in a circle on the floor and for the older students who sit in chairs. I tell them from the very first day to notice the color to which they are assigned, and I refer to the colors regularly.



I am a big fan of assigned seating for a multitude of reasons:
  • I find that many difficulties with individual student attention, personality conflicts, etc can be solved by changing the seating arrangement, 
  • I can take IEP accommodations and other individual needs into consideration without drawing attention to individuals who need to be in a specific spot, 
  • it gives structure and predictability for students (which all young students need),
  • it makes it easier for me to learn student names if they're new,
  • and it makes the beginning of class a lot faster because there is no confusion or discussion about who is going where.
The other benefit of having color groups with seating is that you have the option of giving some flexibility within your seating arrangement- if you want, you can assign students to a color but not a specific spot, giving students choice while still having most of the advantages of assigned seating I already discussed above.

I do assign specific spots most of the time, but I like being able to incorporate choice when, for example, students move from their normal chairs to the circle- I tell students to pick a spot from their color group, so they have some choice but with limited options, which limits the time it takes to choose and the potential arguments that can arise.

2. Teamwork/ Belonging

The advantage of having designated colors assigned to groups of seats/ spots is that it creates a sense of camaraderie- instead of being forced to sit in a certain spot, which might feel limiting or constricting (at least initially) for some students, they're being given membership into a team/ group/ club! The more I refer to the color teams in class, the greater the sense of belonging it creates as well. Because so much of how I manage procedures is tied to the color groups, it fosters teamwork within the groups.

This aspect of the color teams is really the biggest advantage of the system, especially for older grades. As students approach middle school age, the importance of having a sense of membership and belonging cannot be overstated! Having these small groups established and incorporated into the running of the class promotes that sense of teamwork for everyone. For younger students it gives them the opportunity to practice cooperative skills like shared responsibility, group decision-making, and collaboration. These are critical skills that need to be practiced regularly, and having these teams established in the classroom gives students more opportunities to practice.

This same team spirit plays into incorporating the teams in how I offer positive reinforcement in class. I have moved more and more away from value statements as a form of "behavior management", but there are still certain times when I find positive reinforcement (like, "I see the red team is ready for the next step", or "Everyone on the yellow team is playing on the beat!") appropriate and helpful, and I find it is often more effective to talk about groups rather than individuals. 

3. Classroom Jobs

For elementary teachers, student jobs can be a great way to empower students, and foster important character traits like independence, responsibility, and leadership. It also makes our lives a lot easier and improves the running of the classroom if we as teachers aren't the only ones doing everything! Almost every elementary homeroom teacher I know uses student jobs in some way in their classrooms, but it can be difficult for music teachers and other specialists to use them because we don't see students as frequently.

The solution I've found is group jobs, and I use color teams for that too (duh)! Rather than assigning jobs to individual students, I use jobs that can be shared (in one way or another) by a small group of students. I've written several posts detailing how I do this, but it has been a game-changer for me since I implemented them a few years ago.



This past school year I changed out one of my jobs to add the job of "warm-up leaders" and it was a huge success- I am definitely keeping it for the upcoming school year and this is the happiest I've been with all of my jobs since I started! Here is my post on how I have students lead warm-ups at the beginning of each class:


4. Managing Supplies

One of the procedures that can be time-consuming and difficult for music classes is managing supplies, whether it's pencils and other writing/ drawing supplies, manipulatives, clipboards, or anything else that needs to be passed out and collected. Because we don't see students as frequently as homeroom teachers, it takes longer for students to learn procedures (and for us as teachers too!), so the process takes longer and things get lost, damaged, or disorganized.

Color teams help with this in two ways: by having students assigned to help with passing out and putting away supplies, and by having specific supplies assigned to smaller group of students. Two of my classroom jobs are for handing things out and collecting things, which makes the procedures a lot easier by limiting who is getting things out and putting things away. But the key (and the main reason I like color teams specifically and not just any sort of team labels) is being able to assign specific supplies to smaller groups of students. It's a lot easier for the students putting supplies away to keep things organized if they know to put all the blue pencils in the blue box. It's a lot easier to keep track of who hasn't turned something in yet if you can see that you're missing one from the green team. And students are a lot more responsible and careful with their supplies when they have shared ownership- if they damage something they are damaging "team property" rather than school or teacher property, which is psychologically more removed.


Having supplies assigned to specific color teams also limits arguments over who uses what when there are different colors of the same item. I apply this same strategy to as many supplies as I can (which, again, is why I advocate for using rainbow colors specifically for teams because many items come in those colors to begin with)- I have colored djembes, ukuleles, ukulele picks, and cups (for cup games), for example, all in the same team colors. There's no need for the "you get what you get" discussion with my youngest students with these items because they already know they're using the color that matches their team!



5. Small Group Assignments

Before I had color teams, I often struggled to effectively come up with student groups that would work well together when I needed to do a quick small group activity. Because I take time to think through my student groups when I assign their teams at the beginning of the year, if I'm doing a quick activity in small groups I can easily have them work with their color team and know it will work out well.

I don't always have them work only with their color team though- that would get monotonous and doesn't encourage students to learn to work with different people- and color teams help with the process of assigning other groupings as well. I will sometimes have one person from each team work together, or group 2 colors together, to quickly mix up the groupings without having to think too hard. I can also split the class in half more easily too- warm vs cool colors, or primary vs secondary colors- and get in some visual art vocabulary in the process!

As you can see I'm a big fan of color teams- do you use color groupings in your music classes? How do you use them in your classes? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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