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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2020 edition

After more than a decade of teaching general music I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how to start off the school year. I don't do the same exact lessons every year, but I have a formula that works! But this year... nobody has a "pretty good handle" on anything! My district is preparing for a hybrid model to start the school year with me on a cart, but with almost a month left before the first day of school I know things could change so I'm preparing for all eventualities. Here are my plans to kick off the school year socially-distanced, live online, and through posted online assignments.

A couple of years ago I shared my basic formula for my lessons at the beginning of the school year- if you missed it, you can catch up on that post below. Depending on what my teaching situation is, my plan is to adapt the formula to what I'm doing, so my ideas are based on the normal lessons I detail here:

The basic outline of my normal first day lessons goes like this:
1. Names and seats
2. Tour the room
3. Practicing procedures/ expectations (instruments, singing, movement)

Here are my plans to adapt those elements to different teaching situations.

1. Socially Distant / On a Cart

If I'm on a cart pushing into other classrooms, there's no need to assign seats or talk about the physical space! I can jump straight into an activity that allows me the opportunity to practice names and make an individual connection with each student. For older students I plan to use "Jump In, Jump Out" and just have students stay next to their desks, and for younger students I'll use a few different versions of "Hickety Tickety Bumblebee"- for K/1 I will probably do something like this video, and for 2nd/3rd grade I'll probably do something like the modified version Jennifer shared in her post here- but no matter which version we do I'll have them stand up.

One of the key elements of a fun first day in my experience is to actually try the "procedures" I want students to understand rather than explaining them. As we do things, I can naturally point out the ways we do things that work and don't work to communicate my expectations. The name games will give us a chance to practice using our voices and getting up out of our seats/ moving appropriately with the new social distancing guidelines in the classroom (whatever those may be). 

To practice instrument procedures, I'll do the same thing I normally do and have students echo a few quick patterns after me, using any instruments they may have in individual kits or trying out some "found sound" ideas by tapping desks with pencils, etc. Doing some echo patterns gives me a chance to review rhythms and also practice one of the fundamental procedures in my class: "If you play before I say, you'll make the instrument go away"! If they play out of turn they put their instrument down for one turn, then I have them join back in right away to practice waiting for the right time to play.

I'm not expecting much more than that for the first class period, but if we have more time I'll turn on some music and play some freeze dance! This will be another great way to practice movement in a confined space. At the end of class, we'll need to take some time to practice how we'll finish class and transition back to a different teacher, put away supplies, and sanitize if needed. We'll see what those specific procedures need to be!

2. Live Online

Depending on how things go in the next month, it's possible we will end up having to start the school year virtually- I know many schools are already preparing for this reality! If we do, my hope is that I will be having live class sessions on Zoom or some other similar platform. 

If we're on a live video call, we'll need to practice how to make music together while dealing with technology and sound delay! The first thing we'll practice is mute/ un-mute to make sure students know how to do it and understand why we'll have to mute for group singing. I'll introduce the song, "I Know a Song" and then tell everyone to mute their microphones and start singing along with me. I'll have signs for "mute" and "un-mute" to hold up/ point to and they have to keep singing with me while they adjust their mics accordingly. Every time they un-mute we'll all hear the cacophony of delayed singing, which will hopefully get everyone laughing but also give me a chance to explain why we mute for group singing!

To get students saying their names and using instruments, I'll have them take turns saying their name twice, once loudly and once quietly, while playing an instrument from their kits (or "found sound") with each syllable. It will be a quick way to hear everyone's name and practice waiting their turn- students need to know that even from separate homes they're expected to listen to one another! 

The last thing I'm hoping to do is a few rounds of freeze dance. Not only will it get everyone up and moving but it will be a good opportunity to practice adjusting camera angles if we need to so they can do movement activities (which will be a big part of live virtual lessons for sure)! 

3. Online Posted Assignments

It would be a real bummer if I had to start the year with asynchronous online assignments, but depending on how our district can allocate staffing for students who opt for full distance learning in a hybrid model, it's possible that I'll need to do that for a portion of my students. Hopefully they'll have a way to join in with live classes virtually somehow, but for posted assignments I'll want to practice some basic technology as well.

My first lesson for posted assignments will primarily be a recorded video of me introducing myself and welcoming them to the new year. I'll tell them who I am and what I did this summer, and then demonstrate saying my name 5 different (musical) ways- singing, saying it while clapping the syllables, saying it loudly/ quietly, fast/slow, etc- and then invite them to do it themselves. I loved using Flipgrid for my assignments this past spring, and I know it will be a big part of my teaching for any online assignments this year, so we'll start off the year by making sure students are familiar with how to post videos there. Their assignment will be to record a short video of themselves saying their names 5 ways, including at least one "instrument" and at least one non-speaking voice. I'll include a tutorial in my recorded video that walks them through Flipgrid and how to record so they can see how to do that.

No matter what situation we go back to, this school year will be a year like no other. I need to constantly remind myself to let go and give myself (and my students) plenty of grace! There will be changes and challenges but we will continue to adapt and do the best we can. 

Have you thought about what your first day will look like this year? Or have you already started back? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments! I will continue to save all of my ideas related to pandemic teaching on the page below, so check there for more ideas!


  1. Thank you for all the wonderful ideas. My school is starting fully online and then hoping to transition to a hybrid schedule when they deem it is safe for students and teachers to return. I am definitely planning on starting each class with some stretching. I know kids will be sitting and looking at their screens so it will give them a chance to stretch and get ready for Music. My school is also doing a Block schedule for K-3. I will see certain classes for 6 weeks and then rotate to a new group. Have you had experience with this? I've been looking for some pointers in how to organize this type of schedule for such young minds. Any help is appreciated.

    1. Actually I am dealing with this right now myself- we just switched to a rotational model, which I've never done before. Essentially the way it works out for me, I'm taking what I would have covered in a month and translating that to a week. The way I have my year planned out I already have review built in throughout the year for those foundational skills like rhythm and pitch concepts- I think that's key to making a schedule like this work. You're welcome to email me at if you want to talk about this further!

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've had such a hard time thinking of 1st day activities and this is a great start! Good luck to everyone this year!

  3. Thank you soo much for putting your content together! I am working towards being a Music Teacher and this is such a Great start!

    1. Yay! Welcome to the most wonderful profession in the world! Thanks so much for commenting :)