Saturday, July 26, 2014

Questions to Ponder as You Setup Your Music Classroom

It is that time of year again.  Time when teachers try to savor the last few days of summer by dreaming about how they will set up the most beautiful, functional and perfect classroom that Pinterest has ever seen.  As I begin my 20th year of teaching I have realized that I have tried a lot of new ideas during the back to school blitz.  Some have been fabulous.  Others have been not so great.  Some ideas I have tweaked and now use all the time.  Other ideas didn't make it through the first week of school!  (Class pet.  LOL!  What was I thinking?)

 So rather than give you a list of the good, the bad and the ugliest classroom set-up ideas, I thought I would walk you through thinking up your own plans.  Be warned.  All of these questions may have you thinking that you’ve stumbled across the Riddler’s blog!
Setting Up the Music Room
How will students move through your room?  Sit in your classroom and imagine how students will enter, get supplies and find a seat.  What things will slow them down or distract them?  Move those!

When it is time to dance is there space?  Will you have to move furniture each time?  If so, what are some ways you can teach students to do this for you?  Consider using a chart to let students know what format the room needs to be in.  My students love to rearrange the classroom!

How the room is usually set up.

For choir days or if we are working on material for a program.

Empty floor with all of the chairs stacked in the back.

Great setup for circle games, drum circles and lots of activities.

How will students get needed supplies?  Will there be an office station where students can get paper and pencil?

Where will you house hand sanitizer and Kleenex?  (May I suggest near a trash can?)

Do you keep clipboards for your students to use for writing activities?  What will you store them in so that they fit when students just toss them in?  I’ve learned that to keep the classroom traffic flowing you should place clipboards a good 8-10 feet from the pencils.  Trust me.
Will students have open access to instruments?  How will you store and label instruments so this process goes quickly?   Some instruments may need to be hidden.  How will you do that?

Stupid pencils.  Every year I try something a little different and every year I am convinced that nothing works!  Lol.  I keep a pencil can because students never remember to bring a pencil each time.  This works well when getting supplies.  The problem?  Disappearing pencils.  I go through hundreds of pencils a year!  How will you handle the pencil problem?
When I taught computers I added a label with masking tape to remind students to leave the pencil they borrowed from me in the lab. 
Space for Students
Where will students be for most of the learning?  Floor, carpet, carpet squares, chairs, risers?  How will you optimize this space to keep students on task? Will you use a seating chart? 

Space for You
Where will you be for most of your teaching time?  Will you be at the piano?  Your desk?  Standing at a podium?  What will you sit on for those rare moments when you can sit down and teach for a minute or two?  I use a stool at the piano so I can see everything in the classroom even while sitting.  Instead of sitting on the floor I have a preschool sized chair that I sit on when I lead the little ones.  That being said I really do end up sitting on the floor a lot!

What supplies do you HAVE to have near you when you teach?  How will you store those?  I call mine a “launch pad”.  I have my remotes, iPad, attendance/seating chart book, lesson plan sheet and whatever manipulatives I may need for the day. 

The Rest Area
Will you have an area for separating students that need a moment to get calm or collect themselves?  What will that look like?  How will it work?  Can you stick to it?

Lining Up
Will students line up in your room? In the hall? 

Will they line up by rows? By numbers? By shirt color?  Will you honor classroom line leaders and cabooses? (You don’t have to, you know.)

What will be the student cue for lining up?  Is there a lining up song?

Will you recognize student awesomeness when they line up?  Sometimes I give out little certificates or treats before they leave.

What kinds of things do you want up all year long?  What will you change to keep your room interesting?  Do you need to post daily announcements?  What spaces in your room are a little ugly and need covering up? What unusual things can you decorate?  (ceilings, trash cans, doors, windows, the backs of chairs, etc…)
Some boards I like to leave up all year:
Musicians are Writers     Careers in Music    Quotes About Music

Paper Work
What is your plan for handling the ton of paperwork that will cross your desk?  Folders? Drawers? Binders?  I use a combination of things to tame my paper monsters.  Right now I’m really into 3-ring binders.  I’m using this one to keep things organized.
One way I organize papers for the week is with days of the week folders,
Whew! What a list!  Hopefully you have a great plan to create a beautiful and functional space for your teaching adventures this year.  I look forward to seeing your photos!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gifts for Teachers-Leadership Symposium 2014

I was privileged to present "Making a Splash with Staff: Make and Take" at the Missouri State Teacher's Association annual Leadership Symposium.  In this session we talked about ways to improve staff morale and help create a joyful work environment.  We talked about special days and activities that local teacher organizations could plan for teachers and staff.  We also made a few little gifts for teachers.  :-)
Merry KISSmas and a CHAPpy New Year-fill with chapstick and chocolate kisses.

Notable Year-music note duct tape makes an ordinary water bottle look cute.  Add a drink mix and a little ribbon for added flair.

O-FISH-al Welcome Back

This is a great way to package up several gifts.

A fun (and healthy) idea for treats in the lounge.  This would be fun to give students too!

For the Love of Duct Tape - Little Classroom Makeovers

I know.  I know.  You may not be thinking of heading back to school yet, but I'm already starting to feel the itch.  What changes will I make this year?  What cool new Pinterest ideas will I use this year?  What will my bulletin boards look like?   Lesson planning seems to happen all year long and I already have a few great ideas to begin the year.  Right now I'm thinking about decorating. 
Last year I dabbled with duct tape to dress up a couple of old file cabinets.  I used a solid color (although the patterns look FABULOUS!).  Each drawer was a different color.  I like the solid colors because they don't show how messy I was applying the tape!
The before and after shot below shows the completed cabinets. I love rainbow colors AND black and white patterns.  I guess you can see that in my color choices.  The rainbow paper is wrapping paper that I found at Wal-Mart.  Since they are metal file cabinets I added a few magnetic clips and used this space to post calendars, announcements, schedules, etc...
Not finished with the duct tape and wanting to keep the same color scheme I transformed an ugly set of metal mailboxes by adding a strip of duct tape horizontally.  I then printed out a list of class names and added them on top of the duct tape with a piece of scotch tape.  Easy to change next year and what an improvement!

This year I have some lovely music note duct tape to play with!  I'm still pondering where it will go.  Maybe a permanent bulletin board border?  I guess we'll see. :-)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pull up a Plate and Let's Make a Bulletin Board!

So, I have a secret to share with you.  I LOVE PLATES!  I have a large collection of paper plates that I use all the time in my classroom.  We will use them for listening or movement activities, but my favorite way to use them is on a bulletin board.  These plates are called ZooPal plates and are made by Hefty.  Unfortunately they stopped making them!  :-(

Here are a couple of my favorite bulletin boards that I have made using this cute little plates.

Music Touches Lives
For this display the ZooPals are arranged to resemble an orchestra or a choir.  The little speech bubbles near them have quotes about the benefits of music education or quotes from famous musicians and composers.

Making Music Together
This was one of the fastest bulletin boards ever! 

Wild About Music
The background is a tablecloth that I picked up at Walmart.  Around the title, Wild About Music, are things that are associated with music class:  concerts, recorders, reading, writing, boomwhackers, choir, band, etc...

I love making bulletin boards with this playful plates and will miss them.  Has anyone seen them in their stores lately?  Maybe I can ship them in from somewhere!  LOL.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Character Education Bulletin Board Ideas

I like to make bulletin boards. :-)  I wish I had more time because I would adopt several neglected boards in my schools and make them beautiful.  Although I make many music bulletin boards (duh!) I also have made quite a few bulletin boards about character education.  I thought I'd post a few of those ideas here.

A Picture Perfect Year Begins with Good Role Models
This bulletin board features pictures of our teachers and staff.  Pictures were printed to the copier in the workroom to save the expense of having the photos printed at a photo lab.  This was quite an attention grabber!

Perseverance:  Keep Plowing Through
This bulletin board went up in January, a month that often brings snowy days to Southeast Missouri.  On the snowballs are things that are coming up in the semester and things that students need to keep working on: spring concert perfect attendance, test prep, play day, etc...

Respect:  BEE Respectful
There are three beehives on the board.  One says "Respect Yourself."  Another says "Respect Others." The last one says "Respect the Property of All".  Around the beehives are little bumblebees that explain what the hives mean.  For examp around the "Respect Others" beehive the bees say "their ideas", "their space", "their family", "their successes" and so on.

There is No Room in Our SCHOOL for Bullies
This simple bulletin board let every student join in on the anti-bullying message.  The board was covered with blue paper and an aquatic border.  Each student in the school was represented by a fish with their name on it.  It was quite an impressive display and the students loved finding their names and the names of their friends.

Compassion:  Be an Angel
I love Kindergarten art!  This bulletin board contains the definition of compassion (that's what is on the purple sheet in the middle) and paper plate angels made by the Kindergarten class.

Honesty:  Can You Find An Honest Abe at Our School?
 The teachers and staff were such good sports!  For this bulletin board they put on a fake beard and eyebrows to match their Abraham Lincoln hat.  If that wasn't enough, then they had their picture taken!  LOL.  This was great for showing the students that there are great role models around them every day.

Forgiveness:  Don't Go Breakin' My Heart
I think this board went up in February and the theme went well with Valentine's Day.  The little hearts that make the border for this display say things like "So sorry." "It's okay!" "I forgive you!" and "Let's make up!"
Need some more ideas for bulletin boards that teach good character?  Check these out these boards.
You can also download Patch of Politeness for free.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Workin' the Workstations: Tips and Tricks

This is the third blog post in a series to help you make workstations work for you!  See the first post, Getting Organized for ideas about how to plan and organize your supplies and time.  See the second post to learn what you can do in a workstation.  This post contains a HUGE list of ideas.
You’ve organized your classroom for workstations, you’ve planned the activities that you would like to do with your students and now you’re ready to go!  Here are a few ideas to make sure that workstations are working for you.  

Hang on!
If you have never had students work in centers in your classroom don’t plan to be at one of the stations for a few class periods.  Often I plan myself as a station and will work will small groups of students on matching pitch or reading music or vocalizing or a million other things.  Unless you are comfortable with the group that you are working with, I don’t advise doing this until you’ve “trained” them to work in stations and rotate at the appropriate time.

Instead use this time to walk around the room.  Notice which students are natural leaders.  Encourage reluctant participants to be a part of the activities.  Quite the noisy groups.  Praise the hardest working groups.
Track Student Success
Use a simple spreadsheet to record student success.  I use a very basic rubric to mark as I walk around the room while students are working in stations.  I’ve discovered that I can’t mark every student at every station during every class period.  I mark what I observe and draw a line through the centers that I don’t observe.  I suppose if I didn’t stop to interact with students I might be able to make it through everyone during each rotation, I just don’t make that a priority.  Take a look at this simple sheet that can be used to track students during workstations.

Assess the Activities
While walking around your room taking notes on student behavior and achievement don’t forget to evaluate the activities.  Are they easy to complete in the time each group spends at the station?  Is there a learning goal for each station?  There doesn’t need to be, but there should be a purpose.  Even the “just for fun” centers should have a purpose.  For example at the reading station I will let students choose any of the books to read.   What learning is taking place there?  Well…I don’t know.  Not always, anyway.  The learning that takes place here is student led.  Perhaps they are reading about a composer or a musical adventure.  Maybe they are reading a rhyming book and working on pace and rhythm without even knowing it.  The purpose is to give them experience with literature that enhances a music skill or exposes them to a musical concept.

Sometimes one of my stations is Singing Puppets.  I’ll toss a few puppets in the box with some Wee Sing songbooks or lyric sheets and students are instructed to only use their singing voice at this station.  Often this results in students “singing” their conversations while using the puppets.  What’s the point?  Well…it’s fun.  Sometimes fun should be the purpose.  This fun activity though is meant to get students singing!  Silly songs, serious songs, with a friend, on their own…singing!  I’ve watched students that will never, ever sing a hello echo to me blossom with a puppet on their hand.

Music vs. Noise
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “Make music, not noise!” I’m sure I could comfortably retire by now!  Sometimes workstations are noisy especially when dealing with an art that is composed of sound!  Encourage students to work as quietly as they can and to use voices that are reasonable for the activity they are completing.  Don’t be surprised when their enthusiasm and excitement drive that sound a little louder.  Just keep reminding them “Music.  Not noise!”

Don’t Give Up
No, seriously.  Don’t give up.  I’ve tried lots of different activities in workstations.  Some of the activities have become favorites and I use them all the time.  Others make me ask “What was I thinking?” and draw little frowny faces in my plan book.  Sometimes an activity that I think is absolutely teacher-of-the-year-brilliant goes as well as a first year teacher trapped in a bathroom with 30 kindergarteners in a tornado on the day after Halloween with the class ferret and a broken jar of fire ants.  It’s just not pretty.

Sometimes I’ll try it with the next group just to make sure that it is horrible.  Sometimes I’ll tweak it just a little bit and see amazing results.  Scrapping it or saving it can’t always be based on the way one group handles the task.  Try putting the idea on a shelf and coming back to another time.

Workstations are an amazing way to add student centered learning to your classroom.  By organizing, planning and experimenting with workstations I know that you’ll be astonished with the results.

Looking for some activities for your music workstations?  Please check out my bundle of music workstation activities.  I think you’ll be pleased with the variety of activities you will find in it.

What tips and tricks can you share?  Link up below to share ways that workstations work in your classroom.  You don’t have to be a music teacher to share your ideas!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Music Workstations: What Can You Do at a Workstation?

This is the second blog post in a series devoted to Music workstations.  Check out the first blog post about Getting Organized for Music Workstations to learn about planning and setting up your teaching space.

In this post we are going to talk about what students will actually do at each workstation.  Often the activities that I have students complete in centers are ones that we've already done as a whole group.  This gives students confidence and results in less off-task behavior.  Not every activity lends itself to this kind of introduction so I always try to include a task card or directions at each station.

In the lists below you'll find links to blog posts (mine and others) and products (mine and others) that may help you in planning and creating activities for your students.

So...what can students do at a music workstation?


Use puppets and Wee Sing songbooks, lyric sheets from songs you are working on or seasonal songs to get students singing!  I always tell students that the puppets can sing only.  No talking.

Include lyric sheets and have students cover part of the page with sticky notes, poker chips or painters tape and sing through it.  Great for memory work!

Vocalizations-Such a fun way to help students explore their voices.  My kiddos love this one and this one.

Encore-I love this game!

Play Instruments

Print out simple folk songs that are color coded to Boomwhackers or hand bells.
Rhythm Stick Reading  (also try Maraca Rhythm Reading, Triangle Rhythm Reading, Tambourine Rhythm Reading and Rhythm Instrument Reading which uses several instruments.)
Pick a story or poem for students to read.  Have students add sound effects while reading it out loud.
Recorder Composing Station
Xylophone Composing Station

Work on Rhythm


Swat the Rhythm
Noodle Notes
Craft Stick Rhythms
Rhythm Blocks (Mega Blocks)
Play Dough Mats   (get them here)
Musical Yahtzee (Layton Music) 
Use Martha Stanley’s Mighty Music Grid to practice drawing notes, composing simple rhythm songs to clap together and more. 
Rap It, Clap It, Music Match It  (I love this one and this one.  Oooo!  And this one is free!)


Practice Identifying Pitch Names


Treble Clef Twister
Staff Wars on the Smartboard or tablets, kids love this!  (Shhh!  Me too!)
Flashnote Derby
Bottle Cap Staff-Such a fun way to practice placing notes on lines and spaces, identifying pitch names and “spelling” on the staff.
Create an Original Mnemonic Device –Have students brainstorm new sayings to help remember the lines and spaces of the treble clef staff.
Matching Games
Flashcards and Worksheets
Swat the Staff
Caterpillar Rhythms-See them in action here.

Learn About Instruments

Mystery Instruments  A brown paper bag, a classroom instrument and a detective sheet.
Read about instruments. 
Apps to Try:  JazzyABCs, Garage Band, Virtual Drums, Mini Harp, Music Keys, Piano Pals.  Wow...there are so many more amazing apps I could list here, but to save time I'll let you link me up in the comments section.
Instrument Family Punch Cards
Misspelled Instrument Punch Cards
Instrument Coloring Sheets
Watch videos about instruments from YouTube.  I love the ones that show how an instrument is made.


Read Books and Articles about Music and Musicians

Set up a classroom library!  There are many great books about music, instruments and composers that students love to read.  Books that are also songs are great choices as well as books that can be read rhythmically. 

Composer biographies are great for upper elementary.  Check out for free biographies and worksheets.

Composer Coloring Sheet and Bulletin Board –Bulletin Board pieces could be used in a center.


Listen to Great Music

Set up a listening center in your classroom and choose music that coordinates with things you are studying in class.

Add listening sheets to the station to encourage students to listen for specific musical elements.


Color and Write About Music


Color by Symbol
Color by Dynamics
Meet the Composer Coloring Sheets
Composer Writing Prompts
Younger students can write or draw about music.
Musical Writing Prompts


Play Games


Dynamics Dash and Dynamics Tower-from Denise Gagne’s Music Centers Kits 1 and 2
Bop-It and electronic Simon Says -They are great for rhythm, coordination and melodic memory.
Candy Land-convert and use for note differentiation.
Musical Jenga
Amy Abbott from Music al a Abbott has a great selection of music themed games.  Check them out! 


Everything Else

Talk About Tunes- Students pull out a topic and everyone in the group takes a turn answering.

Teacher Time-Be a workstation!  Use your time with each of the groups to assess pitch matching, instrument skills and more!

Whew!  That's quite a list to get you started!  This is really just the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many student centered activities that we can plan as part of our regular curriculum that really let students take the lead in their own education.  They are fun and engaging for students and easy to set-up and assess for teachers.

Do your students work in centers or workstations in your classroom?  What kind of activities do you do?  Share with me in the comments.  I'm always looking for another great idea to get kids singing, reading, playing and moving!

The next post in this series will be filled with tips and tricks for making workstations work in your classroom.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...