Centers, Differentiation

Your Simple Guide to Differentiation in Centers (for music!)

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Doing centers in the elementary music room has a ton of benefits, but one of the main benefits is that it supports differentiation. Differentiation in centers is so easy because the students are already split up into groups– so giving them assignments on their levels is much easier.

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!

a graphic that says differentiation for music centers from a blog post on differentiation in centers for music teachers by becca's music room

Start with data

First off, you need to know where your kids are. In the classes before the centers class, you’ll want to do an activity where you can assess the students’ knowledge on the concepts you are working on. 

Here’s a few easy ways:

  • Put questions on the board (like these for solfege or these for rhythm) and have the students show you on their fingers the correct answer (1 or 2). Write their answers on their seating chart.
  • Have students write rhythms or melodies on white boards and notate who is doing this quickly and correctly
  • Actual tests of exit tickets

I use exit tickets and tests out of these rhythm assessments that are in my TPT store. They include quick exit tickets as well as longer, full fledged assessments and they are perfect for this. 

You can purchase them here.

Then just grade, and go!

Sort kids into groups

After you have the results, sort students into groups. I do this very simply by putting on sticky notes or on the back of their seating chart and x, a line, and a check.

Checks are students who already understand the assignment completely. A line is a student who is almost there, but not quite. An x is a student that needs a lot of help. 

After you have that, sort them by number. I know that I always have 6 groups, which is typically about four students per group. I like this method because I typically end up with more than one group for each section of kids, so if there is a kid who should not be with another kid, I separate them.

Finally, don’t forget to separate students who can’t work together.

If you don’t have enough students for a full group (if there’s only two check students), then you can combine them with others. Don’t overthink it. 

Also read: End of the Year Activities for Upper Grades

a graphic that says differentiation in centers for elementary music from becca's music room

Think about complexity

When it comes to differentiation in centers, you want to think about the complexity of the activity, not the content. 

I typically choose activities that are very, very similar, but more or less complex depending on the group. 

You don’t want to add more work for the students who are performing higher, but more complex and higher level activities.

Differentiation in kids’ stations

I always have two kid stations and one teacher station. 

In the kid stations, the activities should be simple enough that students can do them on their own. Now, you can have completely different activities at two different stations (maybe one on one side of the room and another on the other), but I like to keep things simple but allowing the students to choose their complexity. 

Here’s a few examples of what I mean: 

  • Use two different worksheets and let students pick which one to do
  • Have students have the choice to copy rhythms from flashcards onto white boards or make up their own rhythms.
  • Have students have the option of making up their own rhythm or doing partner dictation.
  • For solfege, give students the choice of making up their own patterns or putting notes on the staff from cards with patterns on them. 
  • Have students make up a rhythm or melody, write it, and play it. They will naturally make it easier or harder on themselves, plus students who have mastered the content will get more done.
  • Give students letters and have them put the notes on the treble clef staff. They can either do one letter at a time or a word that can be spelled with the letters (bee, gate, etc.)

Students can naturally differentiate with a lot of musical concepts without you having to do anything or very much. 

Read more posts about centers here!

a graphic that says how to differentiate in music centers the easy way in a blog post from becca's music room

Differentiation in the teacher group

Finally, in the teacher group, we do more differentiation. This is my main point of differentiation in centers. 

Again, I focus on complexity. Here is an example for rhythm:

  • I say the name of a rhythm and students hold up the correct one (identifying)
  • I say a rhythm and students create that pattern with manipulatives.
  • Students come up with rhythms in partners and make them with manipulatives.
  • Students make up their own pattern and play them on instruments.

As you can see, there are different options using the same materials and the same basic idea. They just become more complex or less complex depending on the group that I am working with. 

As you come up with your teacher station, think: How can this be less complex? How can it be more complex.

Remember Bloom’s taxonomy? It goes (least complex to most complex): remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Here’s some info in case you forget everything you learned in education class (because didn’t we all?!)

So identifying is always less complicated than creating. 

Another way to do this is to just change the amount of help. Higher group = do it on your own. Middle group = give some help. Lower group = explain as you do it. Walk them through the concepts. Share your thinking and steps with them so they know what to do. 

a graphic that says the stress free guide to differentiation in elementary music in a blog post about differentiation in centers from becca's music room

That is the run down for differentiation in centers! The good news? This gets easier and easier as time goes on. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. It can be simple. 

Have you used differentiation in centers? How did it go? Let me know all of the things by messaging me over on instagram @beccasmusicroom. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Don’t forget to grab your free Music Centers Idea list to help you get started! 

Click here to download free!

Happy teaching!


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