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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!