Elementary Music, Management

What do I do with fifth graders? Classroom Management

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Ah, fifth graders. What will we ever do with them?

Last week we talked about what to do with fifth graders in the elementary music room as far as lessons go. Check it out here.

Today we are talking about dealing with behavior in fifth graders. Because we all know that no learning can happen if the students are out of control. We also know that what works with the Kindergarteners will not work for the fifth graders who are eleven. And sometimes twelve. And I have at least one who is thirteen.

Please don’t think that I am an expert, because I am certainly not. I cannot guarantee that if you walk into my classroom, everything will be magical. I try really hard, and I am getting there, but still have some ways to grow.

That being said, I have tried a lot of different tactics when it comes to behavior management. I have some things that have worked and some that have not. I have also observed a lot of things that worked/did not work.

Also read: Vamos a la Mar Orffestration

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 2: Classroom management. If you teach elementary music (or elementary art or elementary PE), then you may be struggling with controlling your fifth graders. Don't sweat it. We have all been there. This post has lots of tips and tricks to figure out what to do with fifth graders-- even if you are a new teacher! Becca's Music Room.

A few quick tips….

See how the class acts with the teacher

If you have a particularly difficult class, watch how they act with their teacher. If they go to different classes, try to see how they act with all the teachers that they see. Sometimes you may be having a hard time with a class, but their teacher is having a hard time all of the time. If they are used to wild and crazy with no classroom management all day long, then you are fighting an uphill battle trying to get them to behave for you. It is possible, but keep that in mind.

Review the expectations

You may have seen my Things I’m Doing Differently in my Second Year of Teaching post, but last year, we talked about the rules once and then never again. This year, we are reviewing them almost daily, depending on which fifth graders I have. I have rhythms associated with each expectation (you can see them in my classroom reveal post), and we will clap them at the beginning of almost every class. This also gives me the chance to talk about anything specific that I have seen that I don’t like. It takes like 30 seconds, and I do think it matters. When someone is not doing what they are supposed to, I will literally point to it on the board and remind them of the expectation.

I know it’s making a difference because yesterday, one of my second graders said, “We didn’t do those rhythms!”

Be Consistant

If something was a call-able offense yesterday, then it needs to be a call-able offense today. Don’t laugh at a joke Monday and get mad about the same joke on Tuesday. Kids need to know what you are ok with or not ok with. They need you to be the same person every single day.

Make the Rewards worth it

Now, when you have a kindergarten class, you can start giving out little star stickers to kids doing a good job, and all the others will straighten out. Your fifth graders, however, and probably not going to care about a sticker. You need to make rewards match the age group. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money or that you need to go crazy, it just means that you need to get a little bit creative.

You can get some ideas from my post about cheap or free incentives. You can also get some reward cards from my TPT here. Writing a nice note home can make a huge difference– even with fifth grade!

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 2: Classroom management. If you teach elementary music (or elementary art or elementary PE), then you may be struggling with controlling your fifth graders. Don't sweat it. We have all been there. This post has lots of tips and tricks to figure out what to do with fifth graders-- even if you are a new teacher! Becca's Music Room.

Some bigger tips….


Be very specific (the strike system)

This goes for all of your grade levels, but when it comes to behavior and classroom management, be very specific. Way more specific than you feel you need to be. This is something that I just amped up.

I have always said things like, “You need to do a good job so that you can play the instruments.”

We probably all say things like that, right?

But what constitutes a “good job”? Does that mean that talking is ok but punching people isn’t? Does it mean that you speak to them once? Twice? Six times? Does it mean they sat quietly for two minutes? All students—especially fifth graders—need to know where the line is.

I have started to do a strike system. It seemed really mean at first, but it is so helpful because the students know exactly where they stand. Basically, if a student does anything they are not supposed to—gets out of their seat, talking without permission, being rude, etc—they get a strike.

The first two are warnings. If they get three, they are out—they do not get to do our fun thing that day. This is usually something I was already planning on doing, like playing a music game or using the instruments. If they get four strikes, they are out for the rest of the day. If they get five, then I call mom and they have to write an apology letter either during the next class period or during lunch (they get to choose which one). I see them every day for a week at a time, so I tell them if they get to five strikes twice in a week, then they get actual detention.

Side note– You may not have this problem, but at my school, kids pretty much never stay for detention. That’s why I started doing lunch detentions. And if you do lunch detentions, make sure you document them somehow. I just have a sign in sheet.

I know, it sounds so mean!

But really, it is way less mean than trying to make the judgment call for yourself about whether a student should or should not play the instruments or whether or not you call home. This takes the responsibility off of you and onto the students. They will appreciate knowing what to expect. The students know where they stand, and it allows them to monitor their own behavior.

I have even heard them say, “I’m at two, I can’t do anything again.” This does not mean that they never get to three strikes. But standing firm does make a difference. And they will get it. Even if they still get strikes, they will eventually (eventually) get less.

I have a whole video explaining this here.

Don’t Be Afraid to be Mean

This one goes along with the last one. I told you, it sounded mean, but it’s not. And every time that I do let someone know they have not earned their instrument time or that they have earned a phone call and alternate assignment, I feel mean. I do not feel good.

But you know what is really mean?

What is mean is letting students think that they can have inappropriate behavior and still participate in the rewards. It is not fair to them and it is not fair to the students who did what they were supposed to. If you say something, you have to follow through. Even if it is “mean”.

And you know what I have found?

Time and time again, when I give fifth graders detention or call mom or give them an apology letter, they respect me more. Not in the moment, but the next time they see me, they appreciate me. They will give me a hug. They will smile and talk to me.

I was sooooo freaked out the first few times this happened. I’m like, “I called your mom and gave you detention and now you are hugging me?”

Yes. Because they now know:

  1. Where the line is drawn (that consistently thing again)
  2. That you care enough to not let them off the hook
  3. You mean what you say

Also read: Keys to Classroom Management in the Music Room

Save Your Teacher Voice

We have all heard of the “teacher voice”. I use mine mostly with fifth graders, so I call it my fifth grade voice. (As in, “I should not have to use my fifth grade voice with my first graders.”)

Basically, your teacher voice is your strong voice. It’s not screaming, but it is louder and forceful. It says, “I’m in charge.”

Teacher voices are important and usually necessary.


If you use your teacher voice (or just straight up screaming) ALL THE TIME, they will tune it out. They won’t notice it anymore. They won’t care. I’m sure you can think of a teacher where every time you see them, they are just screaming. Do the kids care? Nope. Are they listening? Nope. Is it helping? Nope.

Don’t be that teacher.

Save your teacher voice for when it is necessary. The greatest thing about teacher voice is the element of surprise. If you use it too much, the element of surprise goes away. I try to only use my teacher voice when there is a serious problem. Usually only if someone hurts someone else or looks like they are about to hurt someone. I can tell that I am using it appropriately because half of the students will look at me with these super shocked faces because they’ve never heard me raise my voice. And that’s how I know it’s working.

Some specific classroom management things…

  1. Have a quiet signal: Have some sort of signal to get students quiet. Or have a few signals to get quiet. I use some chimes. If I ring my chimes, all of the students raise their hands until the sound stops. I use ones like this, but I have seen other teachers use these because they are more mobile.
  2. The points system: I talk about this in this post. This is a whole group reward system. The class works together to earn points for… something. Because of my funky schedule, my classes work towards game time on Friday. They get either 10 or 20 minutes of a game of their choice on Friday if they earn their points. 20 points=ten minutes and 25 points= 20 minutes.
  3. The card system: I also talk about this one in this post. This is individual (this would replace the strike system I talked about earlier). If a student is doing a good job, they get a green card. If they have it at the end, they get to do something special. If they are not doing the right thing, they get a yellow card (it’s a warning). If they continue, they get a red card. That means they get a parent phone call and lunch detention.
  4. The envelope system: I have a video about this which you can see here, but basically if a student does a good job, they get to write their name on a paper and put it in an envelope. On Friday, I pull out three names from the envelope and those three people get a prize.

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 2: Classroom management. If you teach elementary music (or elementary art or elementary PE), then you may be struggling with controlling your fifth graders. Don't sweat it. We have all been there. This post has lots of tips and tricks to figure out what to do with fifth graders-- even if you are a new teacher! Becca's Music Room.

So those are some ideas! This is another super long post, but I feel like this is a really important topic. Read part 1 here— it’s all about lessons for fifth graders.

Also read: Bate Bate Chocolate

A note of encouragement: If this is your first year at a school, it will get easier. I have noticed that my fifth graders this year are easier to handle than my fifth graders last year, and the only big change I can see is that I know these students better.

If you are interested in the FREE MUSIC INTEREST SURVEY we talked about in the last post, or getting access to other free resources, sign up for my email newsletter. I send out two emails a month– usually talking about one of the free resources available in the resource library. Once signed up, you can download and use any and everything in there! Sign up here!

What do you do to keep your fifth graders in line– literally and figuratively? Let us know in the comments!

Happy teaching!


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