Elementary Music, Management

Music Centers Classroom Management for Bad Classes

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If you have been teaching music for longer than a day, you will know that not all classes are well behaved. If you have had your kids for a few weeks, you will have already figured out which the “good classes” versus the “bad classes”. It is easy to let the bad classes rule your life—and your lesson plans.

One thing I knew that I wanted to do this year was centers. Centers is the big thing when it comes to education at the moment, and I wanted to incorporate that into my music class.

I know a few teachers who work in schools with many bad classes, and that causes them to shy away from centers activities due to classroom management problems.

I am not going to lie, it took a lot of effort for me to figure out how to do centers with some of my classes this year. It definitely wasn’t perfect by any means, but I did figure out some ways to keep control.

If you shy away from centers due to bad classes, read through this article for some ideas on how to make things better. Because it is possible. It may not be easy, but it is possible.

As a disclaimer, I don’t normally call any classes “bad classes”, but I thought it would be the best way to get my point across!

Also read: Routines You Need in the Music Room

Music Centers Classroom Management for "Bad Classes". Difficult classes and differentiated centers are not usually things that go hand in hand. Find out how to get your difficult elementary music classes to do centers well! Becca's Music Room.


Don’t Make Too Many Activities

This one of the first mistakes that I made. The first (and second and third, I’ll admit!) time that my students did centers, I gave them five or six different activities.

While I have heard that many people do this successfully, it did not work with my classes.

Just being honest.

There was a time restraint, of course. I have 50 minute classes, but they often come late. And you have to take a few minutes for closing and lining up the classes. By this time there’s usually 30 minutes left, including explaining how to do each activity. We never end up with enough time to do everything.

Even without the time restraint, we still end up not having enough time to really dig deal into each of the activities. I fine that 8-10 minutes for each activity is ideal in my class. This, of course, would may be different in your class.

I usually plan three centers—four at the most. This seems to be the best way to allow my students to really benefit from each center.

I found that when I had too many centers, it was too hectic. On top of that, the students didn’t have time to grasp each center as they ought to.

Also read: Keys to Classroom Management in the Music Room


Use Activities the Kids Know

This was apparent to me after our first round of centers.

Not only did I have way too many centers, but the students did not know any of the activities.

The first round went ok, but even just the second center was a mess. I walked around and half of the kids were just sitting there, because they had already forgotten what they were supposed to do.

Nevermind that I wrote the directions on papers for them, they still were not doing anything. Or they were goofing off.

So the next time I did centers, I picked activities that we had done in class. Some of them I changed slightly, added more to it, or used the same activity but new concepts.

This worked so much better.

Since then, I only add one activity that is new, and I station myself at that activity to help. This will keep trouble makers occupied. The more occupied they are, the less time they have for trouble making.

They love playing Bingo, like this one for instruments or this one for rhythm.


Make Groups Small

I cannot stress this enough.

Make. Groups. Small.

Especially if you have bad classes. The smaller the groups, the better.

I know you are thinking—you just told me now too make too many centers!

Yes, I did.

What I like to do is have two sets of the same centers.

So I will have six groups with three rotations. Everyone still gets to do everything, but the groups are smaller. I usually set up three centers on one side, and three on the other side of the room.

Another way to do it is pick an independent or pair activity for half the class, and work with the other half of the class.

Also read: Free 3-5 Music Lesson: Extra Beat, Take a Seat

Music Centers Classroom Management for "Bad Classes". Difficult classes and differentiated centers are not usually things that go hand in hand. Find out how to get your difficult elementary music classes to do centers well! Becca's Music Room.


Keep Everything Contained

When I say contained, I mean keep the supplies contained. Not the kids.

Well, the kids too.

If students do not know where to go for each center, it will be a mess. They will be too close to other groups, or way up on instruments, or whatever.

Give them a place to sit.

This could be groups of desks, tables, a blanket or tablecloth on the floor, etc.

I like to use hula hoops. I put out a hula hoop for each center. My students sit around the hula hoops, and the supplies stays in the hula hoops. I like to also put everything in a box so it is organized.

Also, because I do two sets of the same centers, I color code them. If I have two sets of Kaboom!, then I put them both in blue hula hoops. this way I can say, “Blue hula hoops, go to red.”

You can get hula hoops here or some cheap colorful containers here.


Work on Transitions

This is the most important part of your first round of centers.

Especially for a bad class.

You need a clear signal for when to stop—this can be a saying, a noise, etc. you need to decide what they are to do when this happens—do you want them to clean up, or just freeze and listen to directions? Do they automatically go to the next station, or wait for your signal? These are all up to you.

I like to play a rhythm on the cowbell (this one has a cow print on it!) and have them echo it—this way they can hear it over their noises—and then I say “1, 2, 3, 4, pick everything up get off the floor and freeze.” (I learned it from my mentor who would say instruments instead of everything, but this is more far reaching. I also added the freeze part because I don’t like the kids just going onto the next part without my signal.) Once everyone is up and QUIET, I will say “5, 6, 7, 8, hurry don’t be late.” This is the signal to go to the next center.

You can do whatever you see fit, but this works well for me.

Whatever you decide, make them do it right. Even if it takes the whole class period. Eventually they will do it right and quickly (yes, even the worst of classes) if you make them do it right from the get go.

Also read: Free Music Lesson: Bizet Scarf Routine

So there are some ideas for how to do centers with your “bad classes”. I know it may be daunting, but you can do it. They can do it.


Although to be perfectly honest, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan (find some here!) in case it is not successful. You could consider having enough supplies to have every one do the same thing if centers are not in the cards that day.

I know we don’t want to think that way, but sometimes it is best.

The first time you do centers, I suggest picking all activities that they know how to do so that you can concentrate on procedures until they are able to do the routines easily.

How do you handle centers with bad classes? Let us know in the comments!

Music Centers Classroom Management for "Bad Classes". Difficult classes and differentiated centers are not usually things that go hand in hand. Find out how to get your difficult elementary music classes to do centers well! Becca's Music Room.

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4 thoughts on “Music Centers Classroom Management for Bad Classes”

  1. Sounds like you have some great things going, and I bet students love coming to your class! I agree with keeping groups small, which helps limit the disagreements and excess chatter. In order for me to do this, I like to do six centers: Three centers that they’ve never done before, and three that I ALWAYS do. The three I always do are: 1. Keyboard center with color-coded notes and headphones on keyboards, 2. Simon and Bop-It Center, and 3. iPad Center with headphones and a listening headphones. I have these centers located at stations 1,3,and 5. At stations 2,4, and 6, I do the newer centers. We have between 21-29 students per class, so there are never more than five students in a group.

    1. Awesome! I love the idea of having centers the students can count on every single time. How long do you have students at each center? How long are your classes?

  2. Great advice! I tried centers for the first time this year and need to make some adjustments for sure. Look forward to trying again next year using some of these tips.

    1. Awesome! Centers definitely take some trial and error, but they are so much fun once you get them down. Good luck!

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