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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Favorite Halloween Week Lessons

It's the week of Halloween and you know what that means.... kids are HYPED beforehand, and exhausted after. It's also the time of year when music teachers, at least in the U.S., seem to want to go all-in with the holiday-themed lessons. I do not do directly Halloween-themed lessons, but I do try to plan for the general high energy and distraction. Here are some of my favorite lesson activities for the week of Halloween.

First on the point of Halloween-themed lessons: I do not think we have to remove all references to holidays. I actually teach my students about different holidays throughout the year, from around the world. But Halloween is not really a holiday I feel is important for my students to learn about from a cultural or musical perspective, and using it as a theme without teaching about it directly makes students who don't celebrate Halloween feel othered, excluded. When I reference holidays in my classroom it is with the intent of having students learn about the holiday at some level, not to treat it as a "norm". I encourage you to think twice about Halloween-themed lessons before using them this week!

What I've found most successful for this week surrounding Halloween are lessons that are highly structured and require focus and teamwork, but don't require too much higher-order thinking. Without structure and focus the class can easily fall apart, but students are generally too preoccupied and/or tired to be doing any deep thinking!

1. Mountain King Play-Along

OK for those people who want to infuse some Halloween spirit, this is the closest we're gonna get in this post! I like this play along because it gradually speeds up, keeping students' attention, it's easy enough to follow, and depending on what we're doing I can repeat the play along multiple times and have them switch parts. There are 5 parts so I usually do this with 5 different percussion instruments, and it keeps them focused because the parts are not in predictable patterns that allow you to zone out! Split the class into 5 groups, assign each group to one instrument and one color icon to follow, and have them play each time the conductor lands on their icon.

2. Sarasponda

First, just to clear up any misconceptions: my research indicates that this is a nonsense song made in the US, not a Dutch "spinning song" as some sources will say. I can't say my research is super extensive, but if you use this please do your own research before telling students it's Dutch (and if you have credible sources indicating it actually is, please let me know in the comments)!

That said, this is a great one to use because the song is relatively short and easy to learn, and there are a lot of possibilities for stick games and passing games to build in that concentration factor I'm looking for. Here is an example of a partner stick game (for upper elementary- it's on the trickier side), here's an individual stick routine (perfect for social distancing protocols- I used this last year), and you can also do it as a passing game by having students pass bean bags or any other object around on the steady beat (up the challenge by switching directions for the A and B sections).

3. Pass the Beat Around the Room

This is another game that requires a lot of focus! You'll see older students playing in this video but I've done it with younger students (just much slower and we don't take out any words)- I don't recommend this for younger than 2nd grade at the very youngest though.

4. Note Swat

I like this one because it's active, fast-paced, and competitive but still easy to control because there are only a couple of students competing at a time. Write notes on the staff scattered around the board (or if you have flashcards with individual notes you can stick those on the wall). Split the class into 2 teams. Have one person from each team race to find the note that matches the letter you call out. It's fun to give them fly swatters (and keeps them from smacking the board too hard), but I've also done it by just having them point with their finger, and I've heard other teachers have them throw a beanbag or something at the note. The first person to touch the correct note gets a point for their team. I find it works best if I tell them they only get one shot- the first thing they touch is their final answer. That prevents them from randomly swatting at every note on the board!

You can do this with any clef, of course, but if you'd like an image to project to do this with treble clef, here's the one I made for my classes:

What are your favorite lesson activities for the week of Halloween? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments (and I'm sure many other tired music teachers will thank you as well)! I hope you have a fun week- may the force be with us all. 

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