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Can I tell you a secret? I love lesson planning! I know, I know, it’s crazy. So many people dread lesson planning but to be honest, it’s one of my favorite things. Part of this is due to the fact that I have found ways to make lesson planning easy– even as a music teacher with a ton of students, a ton of things to teach, and no time to teach it in.
Today, I’m sharing my secrets with you to help you make lesson planning easy and actually enjoy it.
Now before we get started, I do want to say that I have a funky schedule. I see my students for a week at a time, and then I don’t see them for a few weeks. So this week, I see Ms. P’s first grade class Monday through Friday. Next week I will see Ms. M’s first grade class Monday through Friday.
It sounds strange, but it does work better than I thought. It also forces me to be VERY organized, which is part of the reason that I am able enjoy lesson planning.
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Have a Routine to make Lesson Planning Easy
This comes in two different parts: you need a lesson planning routine, and you should have routines in your classroom.
Lesson Planning Routine
Let’s face it: lesson planning takes a ton of time. This is true for everyone, but especially music teachers. We have state standards to teach, but a lot of us are working without a defined curriculum and maybe without even a formal sequence that you are required to stick to when teaching.
Although I LOVE the ability to have complete control over my curriculum and I love the creativity involved, it does make it take even longer.
So, I highly suggest having a lesson planning routine. Basically this means that you set aside a certain planning period for lesson planning. Then you keep it consistent as much as possible.
I find that I like to have two different days of this. Why? Because the lesson planning template I was given was not made for music teachers. It takes me so long to TYPE my lesson plans that if I try to go straight there, it’s very stressful for me.
Instead, I first fill out my lesson plan on a sheet like this one. This is a PDF resource that you can grab in my TPT store. I write it out in here first, then on another day I will go through and type all of my lesson plans.
Basically one day for me, and one for administration.
You may not need two days for this, depending on what your lesson plans look like, but I find it super helpful. The picture I showed is also what I use during class to make sure that I am on track and know what is coming next.
Pro Tip: I save this as an image and put it in a Google Slide document. (On the PDF, just click file > save as > PNG or JPEG > current slide. Or on a Mac, file > export > PNG of JPEG > current page.) This way I can keep the whole year together, and next year I can easily keep track of them.
The other routine that will make lesson planning easy is a classroom routine. This is basically just a structure for what you will do in your class.
You can make this very detailed and always have the same format. (Movement, then song, then concept, then practice, then another song, then book. Or whatever you’d like to do.) Charissa Duncanson from @musicwithmsdunc on Instagram talked about doing this for her little kids when she was on my podcast (you can check out the episode here!). She just swaps out the specific activities so that there is a different story or a different song each week.
I do not have a set routine like that, but I do have some guiding principles. I stick to a beginning of class routine which looks like this:
- Deep breaths
- Review the I can statement using Mirror Words
- Welcome song (1 & 2 grade)
- Solfege or rhythmic echos (1 & 2 grade)
- Movement activity
From there, I typically switch up what we do, but this gives me a good starting point. It also means that I am not completely reinventing the wheel each time.
Also read: Routines You Need in the Music Room
Have a Sequence!
A sequence is a long term plan– what order will you teach your concepts in?
I feel like Kodaly gets all the attention when it comes to sequence, but whether you are a Kodaly teacher or not, you should have a sequence. You need to know what to teach, plus it makes lesson planning easy. You aren’t confused about where to go next.
As far as sequences go, I always suggest that people look at a sample sequence.
This sample sequence from Holy Names University Kodály Center for Music Education is very helpful to see what should come where.
The sequence is not very realistic for people who teach in public schools. There are A LOT of concepts on the list that you will probably not finish.
Here is an idea of what I aim to teach:
Notice that I said aim– as in that doesn’t always happen. Especially with fifth grade– I focus a lot more on trying different instruments than I do on those advanced rhythms. The things at the bottom are things I focus on all year, concepts that they do in class that I can tie in (like stars and planets), instruments I’d like them to play and more.
If you’re wondering why 3rd grade has so many concepts, it’s simply because I find that I can get through a lot with third grade. Something about the age and when I have them in a day– I get through a lot.
In second grade? We barely get through anything. Second grade is a STRUGGLE every year.
I also left out a few things– specifically that I teach styles of music all throughout (we always do a jazz unit in fourth and fifth grade!) and did not add that onto my sequence.
The idea, though, is that you have an idea. I know what I want to cover each year. If I miss something (like this year when I’ve barely seen my students due to distance learning….) I move the concept to the next year.
Sequences are important, but monthly planning is the MAGIC.
At the beginning of the year, I see where my students are and where I want them to be. Then, I write out each month of the year.
Then I break up my sequence into the month I would like to teach it.
This makes sure that I don’t get to the end of the year and think, “Oh, I have nine more concepts to teach.”
Of course, I’ll adjust if need be, but for the most part this keeps me on track.
It also means that I can adjust. I’m not teaching big concepts during December. That’s just not smart. And I don’t teach anything new after Spring Break, because we have testing, field day, field trips, and more. The schedule gets so messed up in April and May that it’s not worth it to me– so we review for that whole time.
Planning that out ahead of time is very helpful.
Of course, I’ll adjust if need be, but having an idea makes lesson planning easy.
Units and Themes
Once you know what concepts you want to teach, you still have to pick activities and songs.
To make lesson planning easy, I like to have a theme or a unit.
Since I see my students for a week at a time, I will try to have a theme for the week. It is often music from a certain region of the world, but it could be anything. We do apple themed activities in first grade, patriotic music in fourth grade, ballet in third grade, alligator songs in third grade, animal songs in second grade, jazz in fifth grade… you get the point.
It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, it’s amazing.
themes help your content to go together, and it also helps you to pick what you are doing. Looking at hundreds of songs is overwhelming– but it you are only looking for train songs with half notes, then there’s a lot less to choose from. This helps with the overwhelm.
Plus, it makes it fun!
Also read: Ideas for Hispanic Heritage Month
Lesson Ideas List
I am always getting asked by people, “How do you come up with ideas?”
Well, here’s your answer: I don’t let them escape me.
Everyone has great ideas, but if you don’t do anything with them, you lose them.
Instead, anytime I have an idea, or I hear a good idea on a podcast or Youtube video, I write it down. You can use a Google Doc, a note on your phone, or a notebook. Just write it down and make sure that you know where it is.
This way, when you’re lesson planning, you are mostly just plugging in ideas of what you’ve already thought of instead of coming up with new ideas on the spot.
Try Something New
One thing that can make lesson planning boring is doing the same thing over and over again.
To fight this, try something new!
I recently had to do this myself. We have been virtual since March, and we were supposed to start having kids in person in January. When we found out that we would NOT have kids in the building, I felt like I needed some new things to keep me engaged and make me want to lesson plan– plus the kids need something new!
I decided to dive into fun, interactive Google Slides, and ended up creating two Virtual Field Trips. I had never done Virtual Field Trips before, so it was fun to try something new and look at the concepts in a new way.
Plus the students LOVED them. They had so much fun.
And anytime my kids have fun while learning about opera is a win for me.
One Virtual Field Trip was about the Opera Carmen (find it here!). I used it with 4-5 grade. The other one was for Swan Lake, and I used it with 4 grade (find it here!). This was perfect, because we learned about The Nutcracker at Christmas.
Review and Adjust
The most important part of lesson planning is to review and adjust.
If you feel like nothing is working, or you are frustrated because you don’t like how something turns out, it’s going to make lesson planning harder!
After you teach a lesson– especially if it’s the first time– THINK ABOUT IT. What went well. What do you need to keep, change, adjust, and stop? Maybe you need to insert a video talking about the concept. Maybe you need the kids to get up and move. Maybe they need more practice before you move onto the next concept.
Whatever it is, think about how you can do better next time.
The good thing for music teachers is that we get a next time– either tomorrow or next week. If the first lesson isn’t great, then you can change it!
This helps make your next round of lesson planning easy because you already know what worked and didn’t work least time.
What do you do to make lesson planning easy? Let us know over on Instagram, @beccamusicroom. I can’t wait to see what you share!