Top Five Music Classroom Essentials for Back to School
I feel like I could write a whole book on helping music teachers get ready to go back to school, (and yes, I'm going to-). because there's just so much energy, planning, organizing, making, even thinking (!) that goes into the beginning of the school year. And, if done right, your preparation can set you, the teacher, up for success as a teacher and your students as learners. I'm sharing the TOP FIVE music classroom essentials for Back to School. Yes, there are more ideas and things to consider- and you can grab those ideas from some of the other blog posts I've written. You'll find the links at the end of this post.
But this post is just the top five things that I feel are essential to my classroom. And they are the ones I've put the most time into as a teacher. Interestingly, some of these things aren't even covered in your teacher training. And because teachers across the country and around the world teach in so many different and diverse environments and circumstances, every one of you may need something else in addition to these five things. But still, I think that these are the top five essential things music teachers must have to be ready for back to school.
1-SONGS AND GAMES
3- CLASSROOM DECOR
Seems overwhelming, right? Hopefully some of my ideas will help you get started-or beef up your preparations a bit more. As always, I'm here to help you and you'll find some free resources in this post too!
1-SONGS AND GAMES
I like to begin each class with a hello song and so I've established different songs for each grade level, but you can use one or two songs for your first week back to school. When I first started teaching, I used the songs that I already knew.
“This is the Way We Say Hello” to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”
I changed the words to be;
"This is the way we say hello, when we come to music."
"This is the way we clap our hands, pat our knees, stomp our feet, beat our chest, blink our eyes, nod our head."
You can ad lib. your own verses!
There's also this fun favorite:
Hello there (echo)
How are you (echo)
It’s so good (echo)
To see you (echo)
We’ll sing and –(echo)
We’re all here together again-(echo)
Greeting students with a hello song is a great way to build classroom community and establish yourself as the teacher. I walk around the room and look into each student’s eyes as I sing to them. I’m letting them know that I care about them and that we’re going to have a wonderful year together.
I’ve also used thematic songs to welcome students back to the classroom. This year I wrote “I’ve Got the Back to School Blues”. I wrote it to help students feel okay with NOT wanting to come back to school. It’s got a bit of humor and truth in it and I’ve found success using it with my 5th and 6th graders. After I show the video I ask the students to get into groups and make up actions to the lyrics. Then I have them get up on the little stage in my room and perform the song. Everyone joins in on the Chorus. This is a Free Video Resource in the Sing Play Create TpT store.
What’s your favorite hello song?
Even this year, I had to change my first day lesson plan for one special class. I had a group of very young Kindergartners come into the music room and I knew right away that my planned lesson was NOT going to work. So I went to an easy chant to get them settled in their spaces. I have sit spots in my room and I had them all sit down. I was hoping to get everyone quiet and to stay seated long enough to tell them my name and begin my “welcome back to school” presentation.
I sat down on my little stool and I began patting my knees without saying anything. I was patting and watching them. Slowly everyone joined in and we were all patting our knees together. Anytime someone blurted or yelled out I would stop talking and just pat my knees. Then I began my story.( ad lib here)
“Let’s go on a train ride!” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Let’s take the train down the track” pat, pat, pat, pat
“See the horses in the fields” pat, pat, pat, pat
“See the cows eating grass” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Keep on going don’t look back” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Let’s go through the canyon” (sway to the side) pat, pat, pat, pat
“See the water rushing in the river” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Let’s go up the mountain” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Now we’ll have to go slower” (slow the pats down until you get to the top)
“Now we’re at the top of the mountain- high in the sky by the big sun”
“Now we’re going down the mountain” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Faster, faster down the mountain” pat, pat, pat, pat (pat crazy- out of control- but stay in seat)
“Slowing down now as we get back to the station” pat, pat, pat, pat
“Slower, slower, slower- STOP!”
“Whew! We made it all the way around the track!”
“Did the engine fall off the track? What would happen if it did? (It would crash)
That’s right- and we must stay in our spaces too! Everyone show me your space.”
I then took them to the jungle where we saw a lot of different animals (which they acted out). Finally the train had to be done for the day.
Then I grabbed my guitar and went right into “If You’re Happy and You Know It”- which most children know.
My biggest rule is: I CAN STAY IN MY BUBBLE SPACE
So, I made up verses to reinforce the concept of “personal space”. In between each verse I’d remind the students to stay on their dot and in their “bubble space”.
“If You’re Happy and You Know It”-
touch your toes
shake your hips
touch your nose
jump up and down
hop on one foot
pat your knees
clap your hands
Once I got through the two activities I was able to have them sing the hello song. That pretty much filled up the entire class time due to the behavior interruptions.
The one other thing I like to teach is a whole brain- call and response- get their attention and get them quiet- trick. I sing “Class” ( on sol mi) and the students echo back “Yes” on the same pitch. I then will sing it in different styles or high and low voices.
After I teach the rules I ask my students to sing this song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You know it”.
Most of all, I’m hoping my students learned that we’ll be singing, and moving in the music room and that they need to stay in their bubble space and to be quiet when we’re not singing, and to listen to the teacher. It was rewarding to hear from one little boy, as the class walked out the door, “my favorite part was the train ride!”
Another tradition I’ve established is that after I have students line up quietly, they give me a SILENT thank you-in sign language. The teacher’s like it because it helps the students transition from music back to walking quietly in line through the hallway. I also think it’s good for the students to say thank you!
Building classroom community is so important in those first days of music class. I like to establish connections through games and songs. There’s one game I like to play that helps me with names and also with learning something about my students. I’m not sure of the “title”, so I’ll call it: “My Name is ;”
Everyone stands in a circle.
Pat knees on the Steady Beat (I also use a small hand drum to keep us together).
“My name is Ms./Mr. ________________
I come from ________________________
And I like __________________________
1-2-3-4 (I count the beats aloud to give students time before their turn)
After the game is over, I tell students to “connect” with other students who like the same things. If there’s no one to connect to, then I tell them to use a second or third choice. One thing I’ve done over the years is to establish different games for each grade level. That way I establish a tradition for that grade. Then students move from one grade to the next, they don’t get bored with the same games. Or, you can use a new game every year for everyone! There’s a lot of different ways to organize your back to school lessons.
I also like to use the song “I Like You and You Like Me” in the primary grades.
Something else I’ve used that really captures the attention of my primary students is the word MAGIC!
What kinds of traditions can you or have you established in your classroom to start or finish music class?
#3 CLASSROOM DÉCOR
Who likes to decorate their classroom? “Not I” said all of the barnyard animals and ME. I have to admit- it’s my least favorite thing to do! I absolutely hate taking staples out of the walls and I hate stapling things on the walls. I decorated my classroom with a black and white theme so that I could change the other colors or add to it easily through the years.
I also like to have some motivational posters in my room. I made this one. You can download the FREE RESOURCE HERE
But, classroom décor is important because the kids need the VISUALS! One thing I’ve learned is to put pictures and posters of music elements at EYE level so students can see them better. Another, is to make the decor fun yet, practical. I love these Mallet rules that I purchased from I HEART TEACHING MUSIC.
Another thing I did this year was to organize the room to accommodate CENTERS. I wanted to place the materials the students need in the centers in different locations around the room. The goal being consistency and ease of set up.
I plan on posting music elements as we learn them, on the big red sheets that will reinforce and help students when they are working on Centers.
The long tables will hold xylophones and I’ll put some posters up on that wall to help them with the notes and songs.
It’s fun to have a theme for the year too. This year my theme is “BE A MUSIC SUPER STAR”
My message is; “You don’t have to wear a cape to be a super hero”. I ask the students to think about their favorite super hero. If they don’t have one, I suggest that they think about a person they look up to and admire. I ask them if super heroes always win? “NOPE!” But, super heroes always DO THEIR BEST! And, that’s what I ask them to do- their best!
Then I ask my students what it means to do their best in the music room? Some classes can answer right away- Singing, playing instruments, moving-dancing. Some classes need a little nudge to the right answer. I’m trying hard to help my students be okay with their efforts and to communicate that do their best in music is SUPER!
I have charts for each day of the week. Classes earn a star sticker for each class when everyone follows the rules. (five rules-five points on the star). I ask the students if they “stayed in their bubble space” and they answer the questions with a thumbs up or down. For now, I’ll have the whole class answer the questions together. I also choose two “super stars” to take care of the sticker and the questions. They are like monitors. I will ask them to help be in the classroom and to monitor behavior.
I like to have all my music programs chosen before school begins. Sometimes I don’t have all of them figured out-but since I’ve been teaching for a while, I am now able to rotate my programs about every four years.
I like the programs to focus on the student’s music skills. I typically don’t do programs that have a lot of speaking parts either. Most of the teachers at my school do not want to practice parts with the students, and my schedule doesn’t permit me doing it- so I’ve used chants, or jokes and short lines for most of the programs. The students really like the chants that we do in between the songs, and it’s an effective way to keep the program moving along.
Many of my music programs involve the classes performing on instruments, showcasing a dance or game from another culture and demonstrating the singing skills of that grade level. For example; 1 class will be playing Orff instruments in one song, singing a round and performing a folk dance from Israel. Each class in the grade level will perform material from a different country for an amazing multi-cultural music program.
I think the most important thing would be to outline when the programs are going to be and to choose a “theme’ or idea for the program and the skills you’d like the students to demonstrate. Then, most likely the songs will be easier to choose.
I created a Multi-Cultural Music program sampler LINK HERE (I have not as yet, finished the completed program)
Once I have all my dates in the planner including concerts and programs I can then go and organize my lessons. They are organized around the standards. My state has it's own standards and I've gone through them and selected the essential ones that I can teach in a school year. I also have I CAN statements for each of them that I put on my board, or I write them in...
Since I've been teaching awhile, I have tons of lessons to choose from and have a sequence of skills worked out for each grade. I usually plan them by the month. There are many curriculum planners on TPT and I urge you to check them out. I organize the big concepts and standard lessons for the year and then leave some space for things I might want to do new or change. I like to have an overview for the year- but flexibility to change things if needed.
I also block the program dates in the calendar and count backwards about ten to twelve school weeks so that I know when to begin to get ready for the program.
I also want to make sure I'm covering the essential standards the rest of the year. As much as possible I try to correlate the standards between grades-but sometimes it's just impossible. I teach Keyboards in 4th and Guitar in 6th and I'm adding Ukulele's to 3rd grade...so the standards and lessons are going to be very different from each other.
You might want to look at grouping your lessons K-2 and 3-4 or sometimes even K-3 if you are implementing new skills like Kodaly for the first year and adapt them to the different grade levels as you catch them up on the concepts.
I do try to block out themes for the whole year. I have a Multi-cultural music theme, a Music History/Style Theme, a Connect to Social Studies Theme. This may seem overwhelming-but it's totally worth the time to do. Start with one quarter at a time and don't try to do more than is realistic.
I don’t have a Free Resource yet for planning, but you might like to check out:
There's so much more I could write about getting ready to go back to school--but I think and hope I've given you enough ideas to help you find your best way back to school- or, just follow the yellow brick road😊to get your brain thinking about what's important to you and what you need to do to create or implement one or these essential things in your classroom.
I sincerely wish you the best during your first week of school and hope that you'll be able to keep calm and centered throughout the year.
Looking for more Back to School Ideas?