Elementary Music, Management

What do I do with fifth graders? Classroom Management

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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3-5, Elementary Music, Lessons

What do I do with Fifth Graders? Lessons and Tips

If you are a brand-new elementary music teacher, you might be thinking—what do I do with fifth graders? Well, even if you are not brand new, you may be thinking– what do i do with fifth graders?

If you haven’t started teaching yet, you may be confused. Let me explain.
We all know that the first year at a school is usually the hardest. On top of that, the oldest students in the school are usually the hardest. For most of us, that is fifth graders.

Why are they so difficult?

Well, the biggest thing is that they may not know you yet. They just met you. They only see you about once a week, and they do not trust you yet. I know that that stinks, but it is the truth. It takes a long time for the kids to get used to you and trust you. And this is even harder for the older students.

There is a saying, “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
You may be thinking, Well that’s great, but what do I do NOW? Because I still have to teach them!

That’s what I’m here for.

This post is all about what to do with fifth graders when it comes to lessons. What do you actually teach them? Next week I will be posting again about how to deal with fifth grade behaviors.

Before we get started…..

We have to figure a few things out. The first thing is to figure out what the students already know. You may not be able to do this until the first few weeks of school, but it is so important. You need to know if what students know and what they are used to—singing, instruments, watching movies, doing worksheets… You would be amazed by how varied the student’s musical education can be before you get there.

How do you do that?

First, you want to look at your room. Obviously, if there is not a single instrument, they probably were not playing instruments. Or if the instruments have a one inch thick layer of dust on them, they were probably not playing instruments. If the instruments look well loved, then they may be more used to them.

Second, ASK. Ask the other teachers what they have heard the students doing in the music room. Ask the kids—yes, you can do that! You can give them a super short survey. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like last year, what they like to do, and what they want to do. You can get a FREE music interest survey from my free resource library here. There are a few templates for different grades and thoughts so that you can use whatever you would like to do.

If you have already gotten the password, then you can click the picture below to get there.

FREE Music Interest Survey as part of the new free resource library on Becca's Music Room. There are two versions-- an older student and younger student version. Find out whether your students love instruments or singing or dancing-- and what their favorite things are! Becca's Music Room

Third, try things. Once school has started (I’m writing this in October, so school started a while ago), you can just try some different things. You will find out very very quickly whether or not students are used to doing something.

For example, if you ask students to use scarves to show you high and low (like I talk about in this blog post) while listening to a song and they look at you like you are completely crazy and don’t even know what to do with the scarf, they are probably not used to using scarves or movement.

That doesn’t mean they won’t do it or they won’t love it, it just means it is new.

When you try new things you can also see what the students seem to be liking/not liking when you try something new. They may not love everything, but they may surprise you with what they do like.

Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty: What do you teach?

Also read: Boomwhackers and Science

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 1: Lessons and Tips. Trying to teach music to fifth graders? Don't know what to do? Read this article to find out what tips and tricks to help keep those students engaged! A few ideas and a FREE RESOURCE to help your elementary music class. Becca's Music Room

Use Lots of Instruments

In any music class, the number one thing to keep students engaged is playing instruments. It’s hands on, it’s learning, and students are more likely to behave if they can play them. Seriously, if I tell students we are going to play the instruments today, they will try SO MUCH HARDER.

Your fifth graders may or may not want to sing or read music or listen to classical music, but they want to play instruments.

If you don’t have instruments, see if you can get some. Even if you just get drum sticks, they will go crazy. Seriously, put a drum stick project on Donor’s Choose. You can drum on the floor or on the chairs if you don’t have drums.

Recorders are also a good choice, since they are small and relatively cheap. A lot of schools are able to have students purchase their own recorder. If you go that route, do not let them bring the sparkly pink princess recorders that are $1. They do not sound good. I have these Yamaha ones, and a lot of other blogs I have read also seem to have them.

If you have some instruments, you can do African drumming or Orff or whatever you want really!

If you are new to the general music instrument world, I would suggest using a book or curriculum. Artie Almeida’s Kidstix program is really great, and all you need is drumsticks and coffee cans and tambourines (which are also relatively cheap). Recorder Karate is really popular for recorder, although I have not used it. (We are starting recorders for the first time next week!)

Play Some Games

All children love games, especially fifth graders. There are tons of musical games– the Kodaly curriculum is basically built off of singing games. Here are a few of my favorite singing and non singing games:

  • Extra Beat Take a Seat: This one is sooo much fun! We play it with rhythm sticks, but you can play it with just your hands too. It’s all about counting rhythms, and I like to bring in some rhythm reading as well.
  • Chicken on a Fencepost: I played this for the first time with my fourth graders yesterday, and they had a blast. It was so much fun. I plan to teach it to my fifth graders as well, although I am a little bit concerned about them freaking out about holding heads. Ideas? Let me know in the comments.
  • King of the Mountain: I have not tried this one yet, but it looks like fun. It has to do with rhythm reading, and that’s always good, right?
  • Button You Must Wonder: My students love this song. One person stands in the middle. Everyone else is in a circle, and they have to pass a button (or button like object) around the circle without the person in the middle noticing. At the end, the person in the middle tries to guess who has the button. You can play it with younger students but I think it is better with fifth grade because they have figured out how to be sneaky with it.
  • Freeze Dance: Always a winner. If stopping music mid-phrase kills you, you could try using a signal like a maraca to tell kids when to freeze and when to move.
  • Rhythm Hula Hoops: Break the class up into teams. Have four hula hoops (or three or whatever meter you’d like) out. Say a rhythm and have students figure out how many people to put in the hula hoop (one for a quarter note, two for eight notes, etc). Each student represents a sound. First team with the correct rhythm wins! Note: I like to make the first hula hoop a different color, because I have had issues with students creating the rhythm backwards.
  • Poison Rhythm: This is my go-to. You do a rhythm and students echo it back. One rhythm is poisoned. You can tell them what it is or just have it written on the board. If you do the poisoned rhythm and the students repeat it, then they are out. Last one standing is out!

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 1: Lessons and Tips. Trying to teach music to fifth graders? Don't know what to do? Read this article to find out what tips and tricks to help keep those students engaged! A few ideas and a FREE RESOURCE to help your elementary music class. Becca's Music Room

Get them Moving!

We all know kids need to move. Getting them moving to music is a really great idea. I love to use movement to teach form, but you can use it for high and low, to talk about instruments, etc. Here are some of my favorite movement activities:

  • Parachute: Parachutes are actually decently cheap, and the students love them. I believe mine is 12 feet and it fits really well in my classroom. We did this parachute routine to Star Wars last year and the kids loved it!
  • Scarves: If you have been reading my blog, you probably already knew that one was coming. I loooooove scarves! I have a Bizet scarf routine you can read here, a routine to Sempre Libera here (yes, you can get fifth graders to listen to opera if you put a scarf in their hands), and a post about creative movements with scarves here. I would also highly recommend the book Parachutes and Ribbons and Scarves, Oh My! by Artie Almeida. It is fabulous. There are two routines for the Nutcracker and I use them both pretty much every year.
  • Folk Dances: If your kids are not used to folk dancing, they might be weirded out at first, but I promise they will love it! You can use recorder music or have students sing the songs. My kids think that this one is super cool, because it looks like stepping (sidenote– the teacher in here was totally my music education professor. And no I did not learn this from hime, I just looked up the video). I have not tried Alabama Gal (yet!), but I plan to incorporate it this year.

Make it Easier– Do Some Units

If fifth graders are stressing you out, calm down. Make it easy on yourself. A great way to do that is through units. A unit is basically a bunch of lessons all tied together by something. It can make it easier to find resources because you are looking for something specific. Students will also find this really helpful because they know what to expect, and they will learn everything really well.

You could do units based off of instruments. You could do African drumming for a few months and teach the students African songs and work on rhythms. you could do a recorder or piano unit if you still have those old keyboards in your room (I do, and I totally use them!). You could even do a unit on Orff instruments where you play Orff instruments and you sing and read treble clef notes.

You could also go off of a theme. You could do seasons– teach the students songs about fall and dance to songs about fall and everything. You could do a unit about a certain country. I do this a lot and my students always think it is so cool. We will learn about a certain country and sing their songs and play their instruments.

You could pretty much do a unit about everything.

They May Surprise You

You will be amazed at what can happen when you try things. Just because you think the kids won’t like to to sing or use scarves or whatever, they might. My fifth graders really don’t mind singing– even the boys. If I hadn’t tried to get them to sing, I wouldn’t know that.

If you want to do something and you are not sure whether it will go well or not, just try it. Keep a back up plan in mind, but still just try. They may surprise you. My principal says students rise to the level of expectation you set for them.


So there are a few tips! Sorry for the super long post (my word counter currently says I’m at 1857), but I hope it was helpful! If you want to get that FREE MUSIC INTEREST SURVEY we were discussing, sign up for my free resource library! This is exclusive content for my email subscribers. Don’t worry– I will only send you two emails per month, usually talking about the new resource that is available. Sign up here!

What are your favorite activities for fifth graders? Let us know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

What do I do with fifth graders? Part 1: Lessons and Tips. Trying to teach music to fifth graders? Don't know what to do? Read this article to find out what tips and tricks to help keep those students engaged! A few ideas and a FREE RESOURCE to help your elementary music class. Becca's Music Room

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