How I run Centers in my Elementary Music Classroom

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I love using centers in my elementary music, but sometimes it can be hard to see how they actually work in someone’s classroom. Although we can talk about ideas, lessons, rules, etc; it’s not the same as seeing centers in my elementary music classroom.

Since I can’t invite all of you into my classroom, we’re going to discuss how centers in my elementary music classroom work– from the timing to the ideas to the rotations, we’re going over everything. 

If you’re ready to get started with centers, you can start by downloading The Ultimate Centers Ideas list. It’s completely free and has pages and pages of ideas for activities that you can use with general music centers– plus, it’s organized by topics including rhythm, treble clef, composition, instruments, and more. 

Click here to get instant access free!

graphic that says how i run my music centers with a picture of an elementary music teacher in a blog post about how i run centers in my elementary music classroom by becca's music room

The details in my room

Ok, first off, let’s talk about the nitty gritty details of centers in my elementary music classroom. 

We always have three different centers, but I split the kids into 6 groups. I do this for two main reasons:

  • 3 centers is the perfect number for my class
  • 3 groups of kids is way too many students at one station

Instead of having the kids only split into 3 groups (which could be 6-10 children in each), I split them into 6 groups. Then, I set of the centers so that there are two of each center. They are doing the same things, just on different sides of the room. 

If a student is on the left side of the room, they stay on the left side of the room. If they are on the right, they rotate to the stations on the right. 

Having smaller groups helps with cutting down the chaos and helping the classroom management side of centers. 

One of my groups is always a teacher group. Since there is only one of me, we have two groups combining at one station. I promise, this is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. I simply have two groups come to the front carpet. When they switch to the next group, the left side goes back to the left and the right side goes to the right. After about one class period, the kids get it. 

Also, make sure you write down the groups to help with this. 

Since I differentiate in my small group, I typically start the rotations with the students who need the most help working with me. This way, when they go to do independent work, we have just reviewed what we are doing, so this helps them. I take the highest group of students last since they are able to do more of the activities on their own. 

Plus, I always know where to send the groups which is super helpful. 

graphic that says how i run elementary music centers without losing my mind by becca's music room

What do centers days look like?

Here’s what centers in my elementary music classroom look like: 

  • Students come into the classroom, and we do our typical stretching routine. 
  • Then, I will tell them that we are doing centers. 
  • I explain each of the centers briefly. 
  • We go over our four centers rules for centers.
  • I put them into groups. 
  • Students have 6 minutes at each station. There is a timer on the board. 
  • When the timer goes off, they have 1 minute to clean their station, stand, and freeze. (This is also using a timer on the board)
  • Students switch to the next center, etc.

Now, I cannot tell you why 6+1+6+1+6+1=35, but somehow, we only ever have time for three. This may be due to the amount of prep that I give them, or because they come late. Either way, three is what works for my students, so that’s what I do. 

What we do in centers

We always have three centers activities.

Our activities usually they follow this outline: 

  • Teacher group: Working with me on the remediation or the most complicated parts. I write down grades as students do the activities and I observe how they are doing.
  • Worksheets: Most of the time (not always!), I will have one group doing something that they turn in. This ensures that they are on task and I have a second grade for the day. These can still be fun, but something to show mastery.
  • Game or instruments: The third station is what I consider the fun station– either games or instrument playing. 

This isn’t something that I feel I ALWAYS have to follow, but having a basic template helps you to pick out activities quickly and easily.

It also ensures that you have plenty of grades and are assessing students throughout– I typically get two grades on a centers day!

Sometimes I do change it, and we might have two games or a game and an ipad activity. It really depends on the concepts we are working with. 

graphic that says how i run my centers in elementary music in a blog post about centers in my elementary music class from becca's music room

My classroom management in centers

When it comes to classroom management, there are a few main things. 

First of all, I have a classroom management strategy on the normal (read about it here). It still applies. 

Secondly, we discuss things specific to the groups. We have four special rules for group work: 

  • Work the whole time
  • Be respectful to your group
  • Do not leave your group
  • Voices on level 2

I tell the kids that if they do these four things, we will get two points at the end of class. 

At the end, I’ll ask them. Kids are honest, so they will tell you if people were not on it. If we followed all of the rules, they get two points. If they followed most, then we get one. 

I am typically at a teacher group, but I position myself in between the teacher group and another station. Always position yourself so that you can see all of the students. The group that is further away is typically the one with the least amount of stuff– think worksheet, games that are just laminated paper, etc. Nothing valuable because they are too far away. 

When we switch, I stand in the middle of the room for proximity control.

Finally, if there is someone who cannot handle the centers, they sit in the corner with a packet of work. 

My favorite activities for centers

There are so many fun activities for centers, so choosing is difficult. Here’s a few of my top favorite:

  • Popsicle sticks: Have students use popsicle sticks to build stick notation rhythm.
  • Kaboom: Write rhythms on cards or popsicle sticks (or print them out here). Students take turns pulling out a card and reading it. If they get it right, they keep it. If it’s wrong, they put it back. If they get a Kaboom! They put them all back. (You can also use this with treble clef, solfege, etc.)
  • Chrome Music Lab song maker: Use Song Maker to create solfege patterns. Students just click on the box to make a pattern. It’s color coded with the boomwhackers (yay). I like to use task cards to guide students as they make different solfege patterns. Just have them match the picture on the card. Get them here.
  • Xylophones: Give students solfa patterns to play on the xylophones! Or have them make up solfa patterns to play on the xylophones.
  • Treble clef toss: Make a large treble clef (you can draw this on chart paper and laminate). Have students toss bean bags onto the staff, then name the note they landed on. Alternatively, you can have them pull out a card with a note and try to get the bean bag to land on that space or line.
  • Bingo chips/minierasers words: Give students laminated staves, bingo chips or mini erasers, and a bucket or envelope that has words in it– only using the letters A-G. Pull out a word and put it on the staff. Then you can switch to dry erase markers and have students draw them on the staff.
  • Headbands: Print out cards with names of instruments. Have a student hold a card up to their head without looking. The other students give hints about what instrument it is (it’s in the brass family, it is made of metal, etc). The student holding the card has to try to guess.

If you want more ideas, download this freebie with 12 pages of ideas for elementary music centers.

Click here to get instant access free!

I hope that gives you a picture of how centers in my elementary music classroom work! If you still have questions, shoot me a message on instagram @beccamusicroom and let me know what you need to know! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Happy teaching!


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