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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

"Finding Myself" Theme Elementary Choral Program

I am not really a person who plans concerts by theme, so my elementary chorus spring concert was definitely not completely tied to a specific theme, but I managed to connect everything together under the loose idea of travel/ identity. All of the songs were great fits to challenge my choirs while keeping them excited and motivated, so if you're looking for some new selections to add to your next concert I highly recommend these!


I always do more non-English songs in the spring concert, so the traveling theme came naturally, and I also knew I wanted to do the song "Who I Am" by Wyn Starks with my older students, so I settled on the loose theme of "finding myself" as a way to tie everything together. The music from different cultures and languages are representative of the different cultural identities we have in our choirs, so they are also a way of exploring our identities/ finding ourselves, and the two pop songs have powerful messages both about being confident in our personal identities and being authentic/ true to themselves, but also the importance of community and friendship.

For context, I have 2 elective pullout choir classes that meet during the school day for 30 minutes once a week. One is a combined 5th and 6th grade chorus, and the other is a 4th grade chorus. This semester I had around 45 in the 4th grade chorus, and about 80 in the 5th/6th grade chorus. I focus on beginning choral pieces with canon and partner singing with 4th grade, and more parallel harmony, a capella singing, solo opportunities, and a mix of traditional choral and pop arrangements with 5th and 6th grade. Here are the songs I used for our concert:

4th grade chorus:
Bonse Aba

5th and 6th grade chorus:

Combined chorus:

I definitely pushed both groups with these songs- we most certainly did not coast to the performance! But they were exciting to learn and they learned so much through the process (and performed them so well in the end). I shared my chorus program from the winter concert, where I did a "stars" theme, in this post (these songs were a lot less challenging since it was the first semester).


If you want to read more about how and why I use pop songs in elementary chorus, here are two posts on that (with a running list of all the songs I have done):

If you want to read my teaching process for canon singing and partner singing in 3rd and 4th grade, here are my posts on that:


And you can catch up on all my posts related to all things elementary choir here! I hope this is helpful for anyone looking for selections for their next concert!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Top 5 New Elementary Music Ideas

As the school year comes rapidly to a close I've been thinking back on all the new cool things I did this school year. I love looking back on things that went well at the end of the year and reminding myself that, although there were certainly a lot of hard things, there are definitely things to celebrate! So today I'm counting down my top 5 favorite new ideas I put in place this school year- maybe you'll find some inspiration you can use next year!

5. Tissue/ bathroom signals

I had avoided having my own tissue/ bathroom signals because I figured it would just confuse the students if they have other signals they use in their homerooms, but I'm so glad I finally just went with it. Some students definitely still haven't caught on and ask out loud to use the bathroom or get a tissue, but most of them have gotten the hang of the hand signals and having the posters right there in front of where they are sitting has definitely helped. Next year I am considering adding a signal for water too...

4. Kwanzaa lessons

I've been doing a Kwanzaa song as part of my holiday sing along for a few years now but this year I was able to flesh out those lessons a little more with some other fun activities that helped my students understand the meaning and purpose behind the holiday a little more, and they were SO into it! The Kwanzaa song was actually far and away the most popular song at the sing-along this year (click the picture above to see all the resources and activities I added this year).

3. Summer one-page planner


If you follow me on Instagram then you already know what this is about... This idea just happened this past weekend and it is definitely one of those, "why didn't I think of this sooner?" moments! I have always made sure to have my summer calendars ready so I can note vacations, outings, summer camps, and everything else in one place to keep track of who is supposed to be where when, but it never occurred to me until this year to put all 3 months on 1 page. Game changer! Definitely not an elementary music-specific idea but as teachers I think it makes such a huge difference at the end of the school year when you have that information organized and accessible, otherwise it's too much to carry around in your brain along with all of the end of year things at school! If you want a free copy of this summer planner (and you're reading this before May 26, 2023) make sure you're subscribed to the Organized Chaos newsletter. I'll be sending out the printable in the next issue :)

2. Frog songs around the world

These songs, and the lessons I did with them with 2nd grade this year, seriously just make me smile. I went down a rabbit hole this spring looking for a frog song from another country to pair with the Japanese frog song I already knew, and found 2 more fantastic ones that have instantly become some of my favorites for this age from Puerto Rico and Sweden (click the picture above to see them all, including the Japanese one)! 

1. Video/ slides sub plans

Maybe it's because I've had to be out of the classroom a lot more than usual the last few weeks because of concerts and special end of year events, but this one has to be my top pick for new things I love (also *cough* don't scold me because I technically started doing this the end of last school year... this was my first full year of using this so it still counts ok?). It may sound like more work than regular sub plans but honestly for me at least, it is way easier to be out now that I am recording myself explaining what to do/ teaching or leading an activity myself and just pulling up the slides for the sub to push play. And it's DEFINITELY way easier and far less intimidating for the substitute teachers (or, most of the time this year, whatever random staff they find to cover me since there are no actual subs). I know not everyone has the equipment to do this but if you do, seriously, do yourself a favor and make the switch- once you get the hang of it your life will be so much easier (click the picture above for an explanation of how I set mine up).

I hope something on this list sparks a new idea you can get excited to try out in your own classroom next year, and I also hope it inspires you to reflect on all the cool things you did this year that went well for you! If you care to share, I'd love to hear your favorite new ideas in the comments. It's good to celebrate the things that went well!

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

How to Talk to Teachers in May

I'm not a fan of countdowns at the end of the school year. I just don't think it's a helpful mindset to be in, and it certainly doesn't help the students when their teachers only seem to care about getting away from them as soon as possible (I wrote an entire blog post about my reasoning that goes into a bit more nuance). But if we stop counting down the days until summer, what will we even say when we greet colleagues in the hallway in May (and, for some of us, June)? What else is there to say besides, "24 more days"? Don't worry, I got you covered :)

1. We got this! *high five*

No really, we do. Sometimes we all need a reminder, in those moments when things feel chaotic or stressful, that we are a team and we have colleagues rooting for us. 

2. Man, they sure do have a lot of energy!

I mean really, I think 90% of the time I think this is actually what teachers mean when they call out the number of school days left as they pass a colleague in the hallway. It can be exhausting herding cats sometimes, no reason not to call it like it is and show solidarity for the struggle!

3. I got you a taco.

Random acts of kindness are always a good idea but surprise food that not only makes you happy but gives you some much-needed extra energy is truly the best.

4. I have a few minutes, do you need anything?

There is a paraprofessional in our building who is the master of this. In between his assigned responsibilities if he finds himself with 10 minutes, he walks the halls and asks the first teacher he sees if they need anything. I really believe he is single-handedly carrying some of us to the finish line this year just by offering support, even if we don't have anything we need at the time. It feels so good to have someone acknowledge all the work you have and offer practical support!

5. What are your plans for summer vacation?

This isn't a hallway greeting as you pass each other running from the copy machine to the bathroom in the 2 minutes of actual "planning" time you got that day, but if you're actually stopping to chat, this is much better than counting down the school days. It turns a negative statement to a positive one that communicates the same sentiment, how fun vacation will be, without taking anything away from enjoying the present either.

How about you? Are you the one who always knows exactly how many days are left and are constantly announcing it to your colleagues, or do you have another way you like to greet other teachers in the hallway? Let's hear it in the comments!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Frog Theme Elementary Music Lessons

This year I discovered several new songs from around the world about frogs that are perfect for teaching a variety of concepts and very accessible for lower elementary and early childhood music, and the students and I have loved them! If you're looking for a fun theme to build lessons around, frogs are such a fun one for this age, or if you only have time for one or two lessons these are all sure-fire hits!

All of these lessons can be done as stand-alone lessons to tie in with skills and concepts you're teaching, or put together to create a fun frog-themed unit that hits lots of different skills and concepts that are foundational for lower elementary grades! For each one I've listed the main skills and concepts I teach with them, with a link to the full blog post that details the lesson activities I use as well as more background information.

1. Små Grodorna from Sweden

-Form/ A and B sections

-Duple meter

-Folk dance


2. El Coquí from Puerto Rico

-Triple Meter

-Instrumental ostinati


3. かえるの合唱 (Kaeru no Uta) from Japan

-Canon singing

-Triple meter

-Instrumental accompaniment


4. Froggy Gets Dressed book

-Classroom instrument playing techniques

-Using timbre to tell a story

-Playing on cue


We have so much fun with all of these and they are really effective for teaching! Do you have more frog themed music lesson activities or songs you love? I'd love to hear more to add to my list in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Elementary Music Lessons Using Pop Songs

I think most music teachers are on board with the idea of using modern/ pop music in their lessons, but the struggle comes in finding school-appropriate songs that are current enough to be cool and meaningful ways to incorporate them into lessons. Today I want to share a few of my favorite examples that I've used recently in my lessons, and how I use them.


1. Whopper Song: arranging

This song has been an ear worm for so many of my students I had to throw it in for my 6th grade lessons on arranging. Honestly for teaching arrangements, there is so much great material to pull from social media because people are always making "____ version"s of trending music- if you come across a school-appropriate trending song, try searching YouTube for "(song title) version" and see what comes up. For this year's lesson on arranging, I showed this original version, then showed this trap version and this classical version to give examples of how to take a song and arrange it for a different genre.

2. Chicken Wing: theme and variations

Last year I used this song as an example of theme and variations for my 4th graders. Of course I used other examples that have more distinct variations but this was a great way to quickly show students how the form is still in use today.

3. Waka Waka and No One: partner song

Did you know that you can sing the chorus of Waka Waka and No One as partner songs? These are definitely less current than my first 2 examples but they are "classics" that many of my students recognized as songs their parents listen to (I know, I felt old when they told me that too). This was a cool way to apply partner singing to more modern music for my 4th graders.

4. High Hopes: eighth / sixteenth note combinations

I used High Hopes with 5th grade to practice performing and identifying eighth/ sixteenth note combination rhythms. To be honest I used it too early- I thought it would be great because it has both combinations (with the eighth note first and last) but it was a little confusing when I used it as a way to introduce the rhythms. Next year I'll wait until they're more solid with what both combinations sound like before introducing this song. 

5. other general ways to use pop songs

Those are a few of my favorite more recent examples of specific songs I used to teach specific concepts, but I use current music all the time in my music classes for:
  • steady beat movement tracks (see my dance playlist here)
  • rhythm reading tracks
  • examples of major/ minor
  • examples of time signatures
  • examples of different tempi
  • examples of different dynamics
  • chorus songs for concerts (see my running list of songs I use for my elementary chorus here)
There are so many great songs out there, and so many great ways to use them, once you start looking! You can read more of my general tips for using pop songs in elementary music (and why I think it's important) in this post. If you have struggled to find ways to incorporate pop music in your lessons I hope this helps inspire you, and if you are already using current songs in your lessons I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Små Grodorna: Swedish Frog Song

If you've been keeping up with my blog lately you know this is my third post about a frog song- I am so excited about this theme for spring, and there are so many fun, accessible songs in different languages that are perfect for elementary music! Today I have a Swedish frog song, "Små grodorna", that I am thrilled to add to my repertoire.


About the Song

"Små grodorna" is a song and dance for Midsummer, which is one of the biggest holidays in the country celebrated between June 19-25 around the summer solstice. The song is made to be sung while dancing in a circle around the Maypole and is very well-known as a song for the Midsummer festival. You can see the notation of the melody here, and the lyrics and translation below:

Swedish lyrics:

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

English translation:

The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.
The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.
No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.
No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

Here is a video from a Midsummer festival showing the movements- basically you show the ears and the tails with your hands in the first half, then skip around in the second half:


Lesson Ideas

This song is perfect for introducing and identifying A and B sections, or same and contrasting sections, because it has two distinct sections in the song that is demonstrated in the lyrics and in the movements. I work on identifying, creating with, and demonstrating A and B sections in grades K-2 and this is a perfect song to add to lessons with those grades. First I sing the song with the movement, telling students to copy me as we go around the circle. Once they've got the movement down I teach them the lyrics, then practice singing and moving. Then I ask them how many different parts there are in the song, and we discuss the contrasting A and B sections. 

If you use it together with the other frog songs I've shared this is a good example of duple meter (see my post here for a Puerto Rican frog song in triple meter as contrast!). The gross motor movement really helps students experience the meter more clearly- I plan to use this one after students have learned other songs in duple and triple and ask them to identify, after singing and moving with the song, what the meter is.

This is such a fun song, I know my students are going to be in stiches when they learn it (and what it means)! This collection of frog songs from around the world is turning out to be one of my favorite song collections ever- in addition to the Puerto Rican song linked above, my favorite frog song I've known almost my whole life is this frog song from Japan. If you know any more frog songs in non-English languages I'd love to hear about them in the comments, and if you've used "Små grodorna" in your teaching I'd love to hear what other lesson ideas you have for this song.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

かえるの合唱 (Kaeru no Uta): Japanese Frog Song

Frogs are a fun theme to use in the spring time, especially with early childhood and lower elementary ages, and one of my favorite childhood songs from Japan is perfect for that age group: "Kaeru no Gasshou" is commonly circulated outside Japan with the title "Kaeru no Uta", but those are actually the lyrics from the first line, not the title. Either way it is a simple song with only a few words for non-native speakers to learn, and there are so many ways to use it in elementary music lessons!


About the Song

I first learned this song in elementary music class growing up in Japan. While not a "traditional" Japanese song- like most music in the Japanese national curriculum (don't get me started) it uses a Western melody with Japanese lyrics- it is now a well-known, well-loved children's song in Japan. 

The Japanese lyrics are:
かえるの うたが (kaeruno utaga) きこえて くるよ (kikoete kuruyo) クヮ クヮ クヮ クヮ (kwa kwa kwa kwa) ゲロ ゲロ ゲロ ゲロ (gero gero gero gero) クヮ クヮ クヮ (kwa kwa kwa)

The translation is basically, "I can hear the song of the frog, kwa kwa kwa kwa, gero gero gero gero, kwa kwa kwa). You can find the sheet music here. This video shows how the song is most commonly used in Japan: as an easy way to introduce canon singing!


Lesson Ideas

Obviously one great way to use this song is to practice beginning canon singing. You can read more about my teaching progression for introducing canon singing in this blog post, but my #1 tip to make it easier for students when they are first learning is to add different motions for each line, like they model in the video above. It helps students keep track of the part they are supposed to be singing, and makes it easier for the teacher to help cue each group with the motions if one group or another loses track of where they are mid-song.

One of the first times I ever used this song in my teaching was to introduce the skill of playing instruments with a song for my Kindergartners. I first introduce the song by telling them it is a song about a frog in Japanese. We discuss the sounds different animals make ("pigs say oink, cows say moo" etc) and then I tell them that in other languages, people imitate the sounds of the same animals with different "sound words". Then I sing the song for them and ask them to find the frog sound words- it's usually pretty obvious on the first try! Then I have them sing along with that part while I sing the first 2 lines alone, and then have one student play an instrument every time we sing "gero" and another play a different instrument every time we sing "kwa" (I like using ratchets and guiros- the frog-shaped ones if I have them- for this). It's a great way to practice the skill of waiting for your part in an ensemble, playing while singing, and practicing instrument techniques.

This year I actually used this song in a new way with my 2nd graders to practice identifying and performing in duple and triple meter, and I am in love with the way these lessons came out! I taught students this song and added instrumental ostinati to it, then we learned the song "El Coquí", a Puerto Rican frog song in triple meter, added instrumental parts to that, and compared the meter of each (you can read more about "El Coquí", and my lesson ideas for it, in this blog post). Because they are both similar in lyrics but contrasting in several musical elements including meter, they are a perfect pairing.

What other ways have you used this song in your lessons? What other frog songs do you know that we could add to the list? I love this as a theme for spring lessons! Leave your ideas and questions in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Dance Playlist 2023

I love finding upbeat, school-appropriate, modern songs to use in my music classes for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and these last few years it has felt especially important to share with all the stress and negativity we're all dealing with. Here are my new picks for this year- be sure to check out my posts from previous years to find more awesome music my students and I love linked at the end of this post! 

My students and I have LOVED all of these songs this year- I HIGHLY recommend them! Don't miss the playlist at the end of this post that includes these songs plus all of my picks from previous years' playlists (this is year 8 of me putting these together, so there are a lot)!


To make it easier to find all my dance party playlist songs in one place, I've put together a YouTube playlist with all of the songs from all of my previous year's lists including this one! Here's the link to the playlist.

If you've missed my playlists from previous years you can see those posts below! Happy dancing :)


Tuesday, April 4, 2023

El Coquí: Puerto Rican Frog Song

I am always looking for more Spanish language songs to use in my elementary music lessons, because I have a large population of Spanish speakers in my school community, so I was thrilled to come across this song from Puerto Rico in my search for songs about frogs! Frogs are a fun theme to use in the spring time, especially with early childhood and lower elementary ages, and this song is perfect for that age group!


About the Song
The title of the song, "El Coquí", is the name of a specific type of frog that is very common in Puerto Rico. It's a tiny tree frog and is named after the sound it makes. It is even a common cultural symbol with references dating back to the 13th century and up to the present (learn more in this article and this one). Here is a notated version of the song, and this video shows the frog at the beginning and includes the song with the lyrics on the screen, as well as a rough English translation version:


Lesson Ideas
I specifically found this song because I was looking for a song for 2nd grade in triple meter- I plan to have students listen me sing the song, learn to sing the last lines that just say "choquí", and identify the meter, then do a simple hand clapping pattern with a partner to reinforce the triple meter feel. Another way I like to have students identify and experience triple meter is through locomotor movement, having students do something like a waltz step around the room (taking a big step on beat 1 and just stepping in place on beats 2 and 3). 

This is also a great song to add some instruments to, to further reinforce and practice performing in triple meter! I am planning to have a couple of students play the frog guiro on beat 1 and other students play rhythm sticks on beats 2 and 3. If I was doing this with older students, I would add pitched instruments, with boomwhackers and bass xylophone playing a simple bass line on do and sol- my 6th graders are learning ukulele and could easily play this one on 2 chords.

Of course there are also tons of other frog songs that would be great to learn in conjunction with this one. I am planning to teach this one in triple meter, and the Japanese song "Kaeru No Gassho" (commonly called "Kaeru No Uta" by Westerners), which is also about the sound of frogs and is in duple meter, to compare and contrast the two songs and tie together with the theme (I've been using this song for years with my younger students- more on that in a future post!). For Kindergarten/ early childhood, "Five Little Speckled Frogs" is another fun one.

This is one of those songs that, when I came across it, I couldn't believe I hadn't heard it before! I am so excited to use it with my students and I hope you enjoy using it as well. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate the Joy of Music

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®) I've been sharing lesson ideas for celebrating the joy of music. I think more than ever we can all use opportunities to be reminded why we love music in all its forms, and our students need that too! Whether it's during MOISM or any time of year, I hope you will make time to bask in the joy of musicking through these lesson ideas for all different age groups.


I am a huge believer and advocate for making learning in elementary music class meaningful and for the importance of music as an academic subject. When I'm planning my lessons, I'm always thinking first and foremost about the concepts and skills that my students need to learn. I stand by those priorities, but that doesn't mean I think music class needs to be serious, hard work all the time! Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the hard work and forget to recognize the pure joy of music. 

It's also easy as music teachers to celebrate and enjoy certain forms of music making more than others because of our own preferences or because of which areas most of our students enjoy, and forget to give students the opportunity to learn to enjoy other forms of musicking through joyful experiences in those other areas! These lesson activities are designed to celebrate many different ways of making, experiencing, and responding to music. I've found it helpful to take a step back and think about which areas I'm not celebrating as much in my lessons, or am not spending as much time on with certain age groups.

For each of the areas below, you'll find lesson activities targeting a range of age groups from early childhood through middle school- often it can be harder to find ways for kindergartners to enjoy listening to music, or for middle schoolers to enjoy singing, for example- whichever areas you may find most challenging to enjoy with your students, I hope this gives you some concrete ideas to incorporate into your own lessons in Music In Our Schools Month and beyond!





What are your favorite ways to show students the joy of musicking in all its forms? I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate Listening

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons for celebrating different forms of musicking. These are the lessons where we just bask in the joy of music-making- what's better than that? And (because I can never help myself) there are always musical skills and concepts students get more practice with in the process. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite lessons that celebrate listening!

*this post contains affiliate links*

1. Abstract Drawing

One of my favorite ways to get younger students to listen to and respond to music, besides movement, is with drawing. Movement is a great way to get younger students to demonstrate concrete musical qualities they hear like dynamics, phrasing, pitch, tempo, or rhythm, but drawing is such a great way not only to get younger students to listen in a more focused (calmer) way, it's also a great way to get them to respond to the more abstract musical message of the music. I use the book Niko Draws a Feeling to get kids to understand the concept of abstract drawing, then turn on a piece of music and let them draw. You can see the entire lesson plan in this blog post- this is one of my favorites for Kindergarten and 1st grade.

2. SQUILT

SQUILT stands for "super quiet uninterrupted listening time", and the point is to listen to a little bit of a longer piece of music and just focus on listening. I love doing this with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. I encourage students to find a place that feels comfortable in the room, whether that's sitting in their chair, on the floor, or even laying down, and I encourage them to close their eyes so they can focus on the sounds. I prefer not to give them a worksheet or anything to fill out during the music so they don't have any distractions, but I usually take the opportunity to have a conversation about what they heard as a class afterwards, giving them time to share their thoughts and observations and then asking some questions about the musical elements they heard to get them to review concepts and vocabulary.

3. Song Brackets

Of course this list would not be complete without mentioning the March Madness song brackets I do for Music In Our Schools Month! This is such a great way to get students to listen to a broad range of musical genres, styles, artists, and time periods. If you've never done one before, the basic idea is to have students listen to 2 songs and vote on their favorite each day, with the winners from each pair advancing to the next round until the students have chosen one song as their favorite. I do this as a school-wide bracket all month long every March, but I know other teachers do it in music class and just have students vote each time they come- this would be perfect for upper elementary and middle school grades to do in class to get them listening to and comparing songs. I choose a different theme each year- I have a blog post here with all of the song lists I've done over the years if you want to try it yourself. 

Those are my favorite lessons for focusing on enjoying listening for each age group- I hope this gives you some new ideas to celebrate music listening with your students! If you have other lesson activities you love I'd love to hear those in the comments as well. 

Want to catch up on the other posts in this series? Click below for my posts on lessons celebrating:

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate Dancing

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons for celebrating different forms of musicking. These are the lessons where we just bask in the joy of music-making- what's better than that? And (because I can never help myself) there are always musical skills and concepts students get more practice with in the process. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite lesson activities that celebrate dancing! 


1. Follow the Leader

I use this activity all the time with Kindergarten and 1st grade to practice steady beat. This is such a simple concept but really gets students to build their "movement vocabulary", be creative, and have fun dancing in a low pressure way. I start a piece of music (I try to have lots of options of upbeat music from different genres on hand for this) and tell them to copy me as I move on the beat. I do lots of different simple movements on the beat, changing every few measures, to give them some ideas to start. Then I tell them that if I call their name, they are the new leader and they should pick a move and everyone will copy them! I usually do this in a circle and just go around the circle taking turns being the leader, so everyone can see each other easily.

A few tips to make this successful: 
  • Keep it moving! Switch leaders every couple of measures and go around the room quickly. At these younger ages we all know their attention spans are short anyway, but I've found if I let any one student lead for too long things tend to get out of hand!
  • For shy students who freeze when it's their turn, I don't let them off the hook but I do give them suggestions. I try to wait a minute and prompt them again to pick something to do, and sometimes that's enough. If not, I ask them to pick from a few super easy options I suggest, like clapping, patting their heads, or patting their shoulders. 
2. Four Square

This activity is similar to Follow the Leader but is a bit more complicated and gives each student more turns- I use this one mostly with 2nd and 3rd grade. Students get into groups of 4 (this can be modified to be done with 3 or 5 as needed) and stand in a diamond shape, everyone facing the same direction with one student at the front as the tip of the diamond, 2 students slightly behind and to either side, and one student further back and directly behind. The person at the front is the first leader- when the music starts they do a dance move and everyone else in their group copies them. The trick of course is the leader cannot see the others in their group, and the others are copying from behind. When they're done with their move, the leader turns to their right and everyone copies them, making a new person the leader at the front with everyone else behind them. The game continues with leaders turning to the side to switch leaders until the music stops.

3. Going Downtown

This activity requires locomotor movement, unlike the first two activities, and is perfect for upper elementary. To set up the game, separate students into two lines facing each other, with at least 5 feet between the two lines. Try to make the lines even but if there is an odd number of students it will still work. The students are the sidewalks, and the space between them is the street. I tell students to imagine they are on their way to a really awesome party. They are walking down the street with their friend to get to the party. If they're really excited about the party, they aren't just going to be walking calmly down the street- they would be skipping, jumping, doing cartwheels, dancing... One person from the front of each row will be going from the front of the line, down the middle, and joining the back of the line, but they won't be just walking. One person, whose name I call, will be coming up with a fun way to go down the street. The other person (from the other row) will copy them. But they are going to the party together, so they will be going down the street at the same time- not watching the first person and then copying after. Everyone else on the sidewalk moves forward as soon as someone leaves their row to make space at the back of each row. Keep taking turns until the end of the song (I used to have a CD with a song called "Going Downtown"- hence the name- but now I use "Walking On Sunshine", which is equally appropriate!).

These are the rules I give my students when we play: wait until I call one of your names to go, keep the street wide, only do things your partner can physically do, and if you can physically do something you should go for it. I remind them that we don't want any traffic jams, so I make sure the next pair doesn't start going until the previous one has gotten to the end of the row. Often the people waiting get busy watching the others walking past them and they start to move in, making the space too small. To avoid injuries, make sure the space stays wide! For the person picking the movement, I give the example of someone who can do back flips and another cannot. If the leader chooses something that their partner can't do, they are disqualified from the game. If the person copying can do something (like maybe a somersault) and chooses not to, they are disqualified. Obviously you as the teacher will have to be the judge of whether something is truly too difficult or not, or if someone is trying to embarrass someone out of spite rather than fun (I've never had that happen, even in my most challenging groups, but it is theoretically something that I am prepared for).

Of course there are many others that come to mind, but these are my highlights for each age group. I hope you can use them to enjoy dancing with your students! If you have other favorite activities and games that your students love to play over and over again, I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. 

Want to catch up on the other posts in this series? Click below for my posts on lessons celebrating:

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate Instruments

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons for celebrating different forms of musicking. These are the lessons where we just bask in the joy of music-making- what's better than that? And (because I can never help myself) there are always musical skills and concepts students get more practice with in the process. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite lessons that celebrate instruments!

1. Instrument Merry-Go-Round

I've shared this activity several times before but it's just that good! And I use it with every age group: it's easy enough for the Kindergartners and it never seems to get old, even in 6th grade. The basic idea is to have everyone sit in a circle, and give each person 1 instrument (either everyone having a different one or at least have a few different ones that you alternate around the circle). Then in some way, shape, or form they rotate around the circle to play different instruments.

The variations on this activity are endless. For the process of rotating instruments I use 3 variations:

  • Verbally tell students to put down their instrument, scoot around the circle to the next spot, and pick up the new instrument
  • Use silent hand gestures to signal students putting down their instrument, scooting around the circle, picking up the new instrument, playing, and stopping (this is a great way to introduce following conductor cues)
  • Use a chant similar to the one used in "Mallet Madness": 1 2 3 4, put your instruments on the floor, 5 6 7 8, hurry don't be late (they should be holding the new instrument by the time they get to the number 8)
For the playing part there are also many variations:

  • Have students play on the steady beat with a recording or with a song you're singing
  • Have students stop/ start playing on your cue (another opportunity to practice following conductor cues)
  • Have students play different ways (fast/ slow, piano/ forte, etc) when you say the words (great way to practice vocabulary) or show a corresponding conducting gesture
  • Have students echo your rhythm patterns
  • Have students take turns improvising a 4-beat pattern, taking turns around the circle
  • Assign a different ostinato to each instrument and layer each one in 
  • Call out instrument names or instrument groups (pitched/ unpitched, metals/ scrapers/ etc) and only those instruments play 
2. Drum Circle Improvisation

Apparently a lot of my favorite instrument lessons involve sitting in circles?!? There are so many fun lesson activities I love to do with drum circles, but for my upper elementary / middle school students in particular I have 2 favorite activities that truly give students a chance to bask in the joy of drumming together: Improv Circle and Groove Pass. Rather than try to explain them, here are videos of each one:



3. Follow the Bouncing Ball

There are many excellent percussion play-along videos out there these days, but my favorites for getting students focused on playing together as an ensemble, my favorite is the bouncing ball play along, and its variation, the funky veggies. I love these because they don't require any notation reading per se, so students can focus on playing and staying on the beat, but they are also the perfect introduction to Eastman counting because they focus on counting the beat numbers within a measure. It's also easy for them to visually see how their part lines up with the others. I assign a different instrument to each line (these can even be done with body percussion) and the best part is they both sound super cool when it all comes together! I've used these successfully with students as young as 1st grade, but I think they work best for 3rd grade and up.



Of course instruments are inherently fun so there are endless possibilities- when is the last time you did something just to enjoy playing together with your students? I hope you can use these ideas to get jamming and celebrate the joy of playing instruments! I'd love to hear your favorite ways to enjoy instruments too- please leave your ideas in the comments.

Want to catch up on the other posts in this series? Click below for my posts on lessons celebrating: