Most music teachers include lots of books in their elementary music classes. I see this all the time on social media, in trainings, and in classrooms. But can I admit something to you? When I was first starting out, I felt like i was very unclear as to HOW to go about incorporating books. Like– what do you actually do with them? (And don’t say read them.)
A while later, and I am (finally!) starting to get the hang of using books in my normal classroom life. So if you are thinking, “I want to use books but I don’t know how!” Then this post is for you.
As you read the book, have students look at the pictures of each of the instruments. Have them mime with their hands how to play the instruments. So every time you say cymbals, students can pretend to hit cymbals together in their hands. When you say cello, they can hold one hand up and use the other to play the imaginary bow.
This gets the students involved in the story annnnd the added bonus is that they are now thinking about how each instrument is played rather than “Oh a cello is some kind of instrument I’ve never heard of before.”
Speaking of which….
Show and Tell
For instrument show and tell, you can read the book and then have students look at pictures or posters for each instrument and talk about how it is played.
If you have any of these instruments (and, btw, you can get a fancy silver kazoo on Amazon for cheap here), bring them in! I love to bring in my cello and show the students what it looks like and how it is played. They are always super amazed (and impressed by my Mary Had a Little Lamb rendition).
Oh course, you probably don’t own a cello AND a harp AND a saxophone AND a flute AND cymbals AND all of the other things, but if you have one of them, it is still going to make a huge difference for the students.
This is what I used for my students this year, and it worked really well. I taught 2nd and 3rd grade about the instrument families. Later on, we read this book. While reading the book, I stopped at each instrument and had the students tell me what family that instrument belonged to. If they were correct, then they got to go to the board and put the picture of the instrument onto the section of the board.
For example, after the shy fellow swallowed the cello, I asked, “What instrument family is the cello in?” Athena says, “Oh it’s in the string family!” Athena walks up to the board, finds the cello, and puts it in the section of the board labelled “strings”.
By the way, Athena is my dog, not one of my students. She is sitting next to me while I write this, so I thought I would include her.
A few days later, I have the student do pretty much the same activity but on a printed worksheet. Students write or draw the names of each of the instruments in the boxes that correlate with that instrument’s family.
Here is the best video I can find that has the melody, although we did it much faster than this.
I use the original book at the beginning of the year with my kinders to show the students the difference between singing voice and talking voice (read about that lesson here!). So I read it one day and I sing it another day.
This one is a little bit trickier, but cumulative songs like this are fun to use with instruments. You assign each instrument a word in the song, and every time the word comes, you have a student play that instrument.
Parts of this book would be perfect, and others would take more creativity. Cymbals and a bell would be easy to come by, but finding an alternative to a cello or harp that won’t confuse the students would be more challenging.
Although, it would be a perfect time to pull out all of the autoharps in my closet that I don’t know what to do with…
If you have done this before or have a good idea for which instruments to use in your classroom, let me know in the comments!
And don’t forget to sign up for the FREE resource library– all you do is put your email in, and you have access to all of the resources in the library (including quizzes, powerpoint, beat charts, lyric sheets, and more!)– and new resources are added monthly! Sign up here!
Is St. Patrick’s Day a big deal where you live? It is one of those holidays that either your city takes very seriously, or no one cares.
Here in Savannah, we take it very seriously.
We actually have the third largest St. Patrick’s ay parade in the US– yes, right here in South Georgia! I looked that up to double check we are still #3, and one of the articles I read said we have the highest density of Irish-Americans for our size– 8%. I did not know that.
Now, I’m going to be honest, none of my kids are Irish. But they still love St. Patrick’s Day, and I am shocked by how much they looooved the music in this Irish lesson! I actually did this K-3, although it is probably best suited for 2-3 grade. Nevertheless, in every class, students were asking me if they could sing it again.
At the bottom, I will link some other ideas if you want to expound upon what we’ve got here!
We start the day out with a well known song as a warm up. We did not previously know any Irish songs (should have planned better!), so each grade did whatever they had done last week.
After that, I told them, “We are going to listen to Irish music today! Does anyone know what holiday is coming soon that has to do with Ireland?”
We learn the chorus to “Tell Me Ma”. I taught it to them by rote– first words, then with the melody. This is actually one of our Musical Explorers songs (find out more about that here), which means I have extra resources to go along with it– that you can access! So I use this page to show the lyrics. You can get the song here.
They sing along with the song for about 30 seconds, and then I pause it. Then we talk about how the chorus is a part of the song that keeps coming back over and over, and the verses are different each time. I have the class pick different ways that we can keep the steady beat, and we change each time the section changes. So I will write something like this on the board:
Instrumental: Pat legs
Verse 1: Stomp
Verse 2: Head
We will listen and sing and do the steady beat, changing our motions for each section. Of course, I am letting the kids pick it so it ends up being different each time.
Instrument time! We looked at the bodhran (an Irish drum played with a stick– you can look at one here) and– with the older students– talked about how it is a percussion instrument. We listened again and played hand drums, since they were the closest thing what we had to the bodhran.
To make it more interesting for my second and third graders, they each played the hand drums. Two students went to the front of the room and played tubanos (I have these!). Everyone was playing the steady beat. We walked in a circle on the chorus and stood still the rest of the time. Each section, the people at the tubanos had to switch with someone in our circle until everyone had played.
Next, I showed the students some pictures of Ireland (I literally just google “Ireland” and click on pictures– but make sure that you do this ahead of time and look to make sure they are appropriate!). We looked at the ocean, the castles, the cliffs, and make sure to show them the bogs.
After explaining what a bog is, I told them I had a song about a bog. They learned the chorus by rote. I sang the verses myself, and had them use their arms to make actions that represented all the things in the bog– the limb and the branch and the twig and the nest, and so on. They joined in on the chorus. And, of course, I played my ukulele (but you could play the guitar or the piano or xylophones or just do it a cappella).
After that, we watched some Irish dancing. Again, my kids are used to Irish dancing because– hello, parade– but they still amaze me with how much they love it. They think it is so cool. One fifth grader told me last year, “It’s kind of like our music, because it’s got a cool beat and then a melody on top.” I thought that was very insightful.
Anyway, I like to have them watch Riverdance, because it is super cool. This is my favorite video so far– I always look for one that have guys as well as girls.
If you have been to any meeting, any class, or had a discussion with any teacher in the last five years, then you would know that the hot topic is differentiation. I hear it all of the the time. And last year I thought, there is no way that I can differentiate in the music room.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Now, music teachers are constantly differentiating without realizing it. I have a whole post about that here (which is really great if you need to prove you differentiate on your TKES!). This post is about being intentional with your differentiation.
As far as differentiating goes, we are certainly at a disadvantage. I teach 650 students– and I know other teachers who have even more. Most of us see our kids once a week. And we don’t have any MAP testing or iReady or whatever programs and tests your state uses to tell us what the kids know.
So… how do you actually get started with differentiation? How much work is it to differentiate? And when do I have time to do it? Let’s talk. Because I promise, it is less work than you think it is.
So where do I start?
The first thing in differentiation is finding out what your students currently know– AKA a pretest. You can do this via paper and pencil, or through observation (I talk about a lot of different options for assessment in this post).
I started at the beginning of the year with a (short) pretest and interest survey that covered the major concepts we are working on this year. If it’s the middle of the year, don’t stress. You can also go unit by unit.
For example, my fourth graders have been working on treble clef notes for a few months now. And some of them are still not totally getting it. So, I gave them a super short quiz which told me how much they know and what some struggles are.
You can actually get that quiz in the free resource library– if you have signed up for the library, than you can click the “Free Resource Library” tab at the top of the page. If you haven’t, then you can signup here to get the password. Once you have the password, you can download anything that you want from the library– and check back, because I add more resources monthly!
You could even just use an assignment that they have done and use it as an indicator– even if it is not a quiz. I did this last week with my fifth graders and their write the room activity which told me that they needed some help with differentiating between the brass and woodwind families. It wasn’t an official “assessment” but it game me the information I needed!
So I have data… Now what?
I am a fan of simplicity when it comes to differentiation.
I take out three sticky notes. Then, I write an X on one, a – on one, and a check on the other. Then I divide the number of questions by three. This gives me the ranges for each sticky note. (I like to get these with the lines on them.) So if I had 12 questions on a quiz, students who got 1-4 correct would have an X, 5-8 correct would be a -, and 9-12 correct would be a check. I also like to put a star by anyone who got 100%– more about that later.
These sticky notes are the basis of my student groupings during centers. I like to have six groups, so I will split the names on the sticky notes into two groups. Each sticky note represents two groups. If they are not even, then I will adjust them (or if I have students who should not be together, then I will adjust them). In general, I will put – with X or checks, but do not put checks with X’s.
It is also how I decide who gets which activity when I am doing something like my treble clef dice activity, which has many different versions for different levels of understanding.
So I have groups… Now what?
So now you have to decide how you are actually going to differentiate. There are three main ways that you can differentiate in the elementary music classroom.
Sidenote– you do not have to differentiate every. single. day. I probably do portions of lessons that are differentiated once or twice a month. Because if you are having a drum circle or playing Lucy Locket… how are you going to differentiate that?
Ok. So. On the days that you do want to differentiate (intentionally), there are three main ways: chunking, centers, and tiered instruction. (Although when you think about it, it’s all tiered instruction.) We’re going to talk about each one so that you know what they are and how you can do them.
Chunking is basically the concept of not making students do things they already know how to do. If you have a few students who are a bit ahead of the others and have proven they understand the material, then they can have an alternate assignment.
I did this in January with one of my treble clef activities. On the pretest, I had 1-5 students in each class who got 100%. Instead of continuing to make them practice every day, I had the other students working on treble clef activities, and they worked on their recorder songs. They were still working– even still working on reading because they had to read recorder notes– but they were not bored while going over material they had down.
This is not something I would suggest doing with every activity, but it is good every once and a while, especially if you have been working on the same unit for a while. (Plus it makes the other kids work harder because they want to play recorder too!)
Next week’s blog post is going to be a deep dive into differentiating with centers, so I am not going to go super in depth here. But there are a lot of ways you can differentiate during centers. It is a great way to give students activities tailored to their skill level without them noticing that different people have different activities.
My centers differentiation is really just in one of the groups. One group is always the teacher group, and that is where I assess and differentiate. Sometime I have different lessons for each group, but most of the time, it is pretty much the same, but with different levels of guidance. So the group where everyone understands may not get any help from me while the group that is struggling will have a lot of remediation.
I really love having a teacher group for centers because I feel like I can give more attention to each student. I actually know my students and their musical capabilities much better now than I used to.
The third main way to differentiate is through tiered instruction. This just means that students are doing different activities based on their levels.
If you are just getting started, this is where I would start. I would pick a concept, pick two activities and split the students up based on data from whatever quiz or observation you have.
One thing I will say is try to find things that are equally fun. Don’t give one group a worksheet and the other one a game. They don’t have to be the same, but they do need to be equally fun.
A few examples are:
Have one set of students play rhythms from flashcards and have the other set make up their own rhythms to play. (You could use these and these.)
If working on treble clef, one set of students can identify one note while the others find words (such as egg) on the treble clef. You can check that out in my TPT product here.
Have some students matching notes on the staff while others match notes and staff and recorder fingerings. Or have the second group write notes onto the staff because that is more difficult than matching.
Have both groups play a game like Kaboom!, but give one group more difficult rhythms. (You can get levels 1 and 2 in my TPT)
Have students create measures of rhythms with words. (Kind of like in this or this) You can give the lower group only one beat rhythms to manipulate and the higher group one beat and two or three beat rhythms. They will have to work harder to make sure they have the correct amount of beats in the measure.
When playing instruments, you can tier up by having staff notation and tier down by having just the letters or the letters inside of the note heads.
Have one group finding all of the letters in words on the treble clef and the other group coming up with their own words (like BAG or EGG or FADE) to put onto the treble clef like on this.
Have students play hands together instead of alternating hands on the xylophones.
Those are just a few ideas to get you started, but you get the point. It seems sooooo daunting– “I not only have to come up with lesson plans, but now I have to do twice as many!”– but once you start thinking of ideas, it is much more simple than you think.
Also, if your school groups students into classes based on ability level, you can differentiate for whole classes. Even with whole group lessons, I will adjust based on the collective understanding. For example, last week my students did an Orff arrangement of a Japanese song called Star Festival. One group did a great job with four different instruments and different patterns on the xylophones. In another class, it was a hot mess. So I ended up making the arrangement easier for the second class (I took out the glockenspiels and changed the xylophone part to hands together on the steady beat) and they were much more successful. And yes, that counts.
So how often do I have to differentiate?
That totally depends on you! Personally, I think as music teachers, we don’t need to do this every day. I do centers once a month with my upper grades, and I usually do one other differentiated activity in the month– but it depends on what we are working on! Right now my fifth graders are working on Orff skills and drum circles, so, frankly, I am not worried about differentiating right now. Music is inherently differentiated (don’t believe me? Read my post about the differentiation you are doing without realizing it here.)
With my younger students, I really don’t differentiate much at all. That may sound bad, but it’s the truth. I am much more concerned with them singing, playing, listening to music, and more.
Some lessons also lend themselves better to differentiating than others do. That’s why I keep going back to treble clef activities– they are so easy to differentiate!
Basically, you know your students. You know what is best for them. So you should do what is best for them. Sometimes that means tiered instruction, sometimes that means centers, and sometimes that means whole group drum circles. Do whatever is best.
Do you differentiate in your elementary music classroom? How do you do it? Let me know in the comments so that we can have even more ideas!
Is there a game at your school that your students beg to play? Like all of the time? That’s the Monkey Game for me. I know that it teaches piano and forte to the littles and crescendos and decrescendos to the older students, but they do not care. They want to play it all the time.
Seriously. I’ll say, “We’re going to play a game!” and they’ll say, “The Monkey Game?!”
No. It’s not always the Monkey Game.
It actually got to the point where I was so sick of it that I started telling them we couldn’t play it because it took too long to get the drums out.
Anyway, this is a game that teaches crescendos and decrescendos (or piano and forte, if you differentiate). I learned it from my mentor teacher during student teaching, and I do not know where she came up with it. But it is so much fun.
Why do I call it the Monkey Game? Because we use a stuffed monkey. In your class it could be the bear game or the owl game or whatever depending on your stuffed animal collection.
First, discuss what crescendo and crescendo are. I like to have the students say the words with a crescendo and decrescendo. So when we say crescendo, we crescendo. When we say decrescendo, we decrescendo. I also like to have them move their hands up and down to show the dynamics. Then I project them onto the board so that we remember them.
Then, have a few students come up to the tubanos in the front. (After the long discussion about how we do NOT LEAN ON THE DRUMS, of course)
Have one student hide the monkey. They are the hider. (We always let a piece of the monkey stick out to make the game go a little bit faster.)
While that person hides the monkey, another student goes in the corner and closes their eyes. They are going to be the finder. Once the hider is finished, have the finder come out and open their eyes. They are now going to walk around the room and look for the monkey.
The people at the drums help find the monkey by playing with different dynamics. If they are close to the monkey, they play forte. If they are far away from the monkey, they play piano. This causes lots of crescendos and decrescendos. Throughout the game, ask the students, “Was that a crescendo or a decrescendo?”
The students at their seats watch, and I usually tell them they can help by playing on their legs or the ground if they want to. This helps those friends who just cannot sit still have an outlet.
Once the monkey is found, switch out the people. I usually let the drummer stay for two rounds before switching them.
Easy peasy! It’s kind of like hot and cold but with music. I know some people play Lucy Locket in a similar way (I don’t– you can see how I play here)
There you have it– the most requested game EVER in my elementary music room. I think I am going to break down and play it right before Spring Break…. They always need a little extra incentive to do a good job around Spring Break.
What is the most requested game in your elementary music classroom? Let us know in the comments!