31 December, 2017
Reflecting halfway through the school year

Reflecting halfway through the school year

Happy 2018! I hope you've all enjoyed the holidays. I had a great time relaxing with my family!
This year, my break is rather short, and I'm going back to school January 2. With the short break, I've had to do some reflection during break to make sure I was in the right mindset to go back! Here are a few ways I've reflected on my school year thus far:

Reflecting halfway through the school year: Thoughts about reflecting and planning for 2018 in the music room

Where have they been?
Now is a great time to look at my year plans and previous lesson plans to see where my students have been. Are they "on track" or did we get a bit behind? Which concepts have they learned so far? How is their understanding? Do they need more practice or are they ready to move on? What worked well? What didn't?
A note here: don't feel guilty if your kids are behind. Almost every year, at least one of my grade levels gets behind. I look at my year plan and shake my head at where I thought they'd be and where they actually are. But the time they've spent is time well spent--they know the concepts more fully than if I had rushed them through it, just to stick to the plan!

Where are they going?
If you've created year plans for every grade, now you can look at each year plan and see where the kids are going (more on year plans in this video.) Which concepts do they still need to learn? Do they have a musical program coming up? How much preparation do they need? Do you want to keep the program line-up as is or tweak a bit?
I took some time over break to figure out what would be going on for each grade level for the month of January (especially since I have a student teacher starting the third week of January.) I found this set on TpT and find it a very visually appealing way to keep track!

You don't necessarily need to write a ton of details in this file, since you may already have that information in your year plan, but just having a way to keep track of the main concepts, songs, assessments, etc. that you'll be doing for each lesson is super helpful! It also is great for keeping track when there are days with no school, snow days, assemblies, etc.

What do I still want to try?
If you've been to workshops or a conference lately, or if you've been active on Pinterest, you likely are excited to try out something in your classroom and you just haven't had a chance yet. I've been toying around with the idea of doing Genius Hour--or something like Genius Hour--with my 5th graders near the end of the year, so I'll have to do some reading and planning between now and then before I can implement it. Is there a dance you want to try with your students? Maybe you want to start ukulele? Bucket drumming? Whatever it is, now's a great time to make plans!

If assessment is on your list of things to dive into in 2018, then my 5-day musical assessment challenge is perfect for you!

Free 5-day musical assessment challenge: Includes 5 days of helpful emails, FB live videos, and more, all about assessment in the music room!

The musical assessment challenge will start Monday, January 8, and will run until Friday, January 12. Each day, we'll explore ideas for different grade level assessments, so that you start 2018 with fresh, new ideas for assessing in the music room!

Each day will include an email, a Facebook Live video with assessment and teaching strategies, and a discussion in my Facebook group. You will have a short task to complete each day of the challenge, and if you don't have time for one day's challenge, you can still move onto the next without any problems!

To sign up for the challenge, fill out the form below:
I'm looking forward to hosting the challenge and helping you and your students! Happy planning, and Happy New Year!

04 December, 2017
Fun activities for December in the music room

Fun activities for December in the music room

With December upon us, today I'm teaming up with Amy Abbott to blog about my favorite December activities for the music room!

Fun activities for December in the music room: Lots of ideas for your elementary Christmas  music lessons!

The kids are SO excited this month! Here are my favorite activities to keep them engaged and celebrate winter holidays while still practicing musical concepts and skills:

#1: Singalong
Whether you simply sing through your favorite carols in your room or have a school-wide singalong, it is SO fun to sing holiday songs with your students! If you're looking for more information on directing a singalong, check out this blog post.

#2: Picture books
I love using children's literature as much as I can. Here are some of my favorites for December:

#3: Play dreidel
After singing my absolute favorite Hanukkah song "When oh when," I love to play dreidel with my students! I bought a dreidel at Target and then play with candy. Great way to teach about another holiday while having lots of fun!
#4: Christmas Carol Bingo
If you feel like all your kids want to do is listen to Christmas music, this set is a super fun way to let them do that while improving their listening skills!

#5: Listening lessons
Since it's December, I love having students listen to music like the "Nutcracker" (for activities for the "Nutcracker," check out this set.) For a simple listening lesson, you could have students listen to "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and move, with ribbons or scarves, however they think the music sounds. You could also download this freebie by Cori Bloom to have students respond in writing to music.

#6: Rhythmic practice
For a fun and easy way to practice rhythmic concepts during December, you could have students read flashcards for rhythms they know with four beats in between each card, to a piece of music, or they could perform a rhythm pattern as an ostinato. For example, students could listen to "Feliz Navidad" while reading rhythm patterns for ta and ti-ti.

Here's a set that I just made to help practice ta and ti-ti. With this set, students choose their center, and try to finish all four centers to get to the North pole first! 

What are your favorite activities for December in the music room? Feel free to comment below, and make sure to head on over to Amy Abbott's blog to read her favorite activities!

19 November, 2017
Songs and Activities for Thanksgiving

Songs and Activities for Thanksgiving

Since it is Thanksgiving week, I thought I'd write a quick blog post today with a round up of some fun ideas for your music room this week!

Songs and activities for Thanksgiving in the music room: Includes a round of blog posts with lots of great ideas for your elementary music lessons!

Here is a post I wrote with a few different ideas for the music room, including using turkeys to write rhythm, a picture book for thankfulness, and more! (Click the picture to go to the post.)

Amy Abbott just wrote this post with lots of great ideas for Thanksgiving, including a stick game, turkey beach balls, and more!

Here is a post by David Row, from Make Moments Matter, about the Thanksgiving song, "Over the River and Through the Woods."

Jennifer at the Yellow Brick Road wrote this blog post about one of my favorite call/response songs, "Shoo Turkey."

Tanya is a blogger with the collaborative blog, the Kodaly Corner (which I also contribute to), and she has a variety of songs and ideas in this blog post:

Last but not least, Tracy King (the Bulletin Board Lady) wrote this blog post with lots of great ideas for Thanksgiving in the music room!

What are your favorite songs and activities for Thanksgiving in the music room? Feel free to comment below, and I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving!

05 November, 2017
Lesson planning for the upper elementary music room

Lesson planning for the upper elementary music room

Upper elementary can be a tough level to teach. They are sometimes "too cool" for school, and self-conscious of their singing voices. Academically they are advanced, yet musically they may need the basics. In this blog post, I'll detail my tips for lesson planning for the upper elementary music room. Keep reading for how to receive a free upper elementary music lesson with songs, materials, and more!

Lesson planning for the upper elementary music room: Blog post includes strategies, games, links to songs, and a link to a free lesson plan with songs, visuals, and more!

A little background about my situation: most of the fifth graders I teach, I've had since Kindergarten. I know, I'm very lucky! But I have been in other situations, where they needed a lot of help with the musical basics, where behavior was an issue, and where students didn't want to sing. Here are my suggestions for teaching and planning for upper elementary:

Choose songs and games wisely
When choosing song literature for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, I am very careful. I make sure to choose songs that I know kids will love, yet can be used to teach concepts on which they are working.

Here are some links to blog posts with songs and dances that upper elementary kids love:

Chumbara (blog post by Amy Abbott)
One, Two, Three (blog post by Amy Abbott)
Four White Horses (post by Beth from Beth's Music Notes)
Oboshinotentoten (found in this blog post)
'T Smidje (dance, blog post by David Row)

Pull concepts from songs
It's not uncommon to hear people talking about which songs work well for certain concepts, like which folk songs work well for teaching half note, or which work well for teaching low sol. I do often start with the concept and then brainstorm songs when I'm planning for lower elementary, but for upper elementary, I sometimes do the opposite. First, I come up with a list of songs that I think would work well for the upper elementary music classroom, then, I decide which concepts would work well for that song.

"Ye Toop Doram," found in this blog post, is a great example. I knew as soon as I learned it from my Level III teacher Joan Litman that my upper elementary students would love it...so I decided afterwards which concepts I could pull from it. It works well for low la and for syncopa. You could also use it for tam-ti, or dotted quarter/ eighth.

Give students a challenge
Students in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade may need some music foundational basics, but academically, they are ready for a challenge! Here are a few ways I've given students some challenges to keep them on their toes, while teaching them the basics:

  • Partwork rhythm: Take the rhythm to two songs and stack them on top of each other, in two different colors. Then have half of the class read the rhythm to one song while the other half of the class read the rhythm to the other!
  • Cup game: The activity found in this blog post is really challenging, and great for building partwork skills!
  • Beat in feet, rhythm in hands: This is also a great activity for building partwork skills! Have students walk around the room, keeping the beat, then put the rhythm in their hands as they sing a specific song. It's pretty tricky and will give them a challenge!
Make it relevant
As much as we have a curriculum to teach and have things in mind that we want to do with students, sometimes we have to sit back and listen to them. What do they want to do? Now, in some cases, you'd have kids tell you they want to listen to inappropriate rap songs, and of course you can't do that. But if you can pull something from what they tell you, or what you hear as you listen to them talk about music, then they will be that much more engaged.

"The Best Day of my Life" by the American Authors is a good example: kids at my school LOVE the song, and it's completely appropriate. I've tried this Orff arrangement for the song, I've had kids perform the song on a program, and I've used it to practice re (since the melody is d s m s m s m r d/ s m s m s m r d). In all three instances, kids were super excited. For the longest time in my teaching, I didn't touch pop music at all (as I detail in this blog post), but I realized that on top of students being more engaged, they were able to transfer their knowledge from folk song to pop song, which we definitely want them to be able to do!

Another way to make students relevant is to figure out which games they are playing on the playground and bring those into your music classroom. One night before a choir concert, I saw a bunch of my upper elementary students playing a game called Silent Ball, so I adapted the game for Sandy's Mill to include that; check out this post for the song and the Silent Ball game. By listening to them, you will give your students ownership of what they do in music class, which goes a long way!

Give students choices
Just like using relevant music and activities can give students ownership, so can giving students choices. Whether you simply ask students their opinions about something you're doing in your lesson,  you have students compose, or you try any of the ideas in this blog post, choices create buy-in and engagement.

Looking for more ideas for upper elementary lesson planning? Click on the picture below to receive a free upper elementary lesson plan, with songs, visuals, and more!

Free music lesson for upper elementary: includes songs, visuals, and more!

What are your lesson planning tips for upper elementary music? Feel free to comment below, and have fun!
22 October, 2017
Halloween Picture Books for the Music Room

Halloween Picture Books for the Music Room

Since Halloween is just around the corner, I'm blogging today with four of my favorite picture books for the music room during Halloween!

Halloween books for the music room: Favorite picture books for your elementary music lessons!

Two of the four books I'm blogging about aren't specifically Halloween books, but because of their theme, can work really well during this time of the year! Here goes!

Go Away, Big Green Monster

A few years ago, I saw this book being read at my daughter's daycare and fell in love with it! I decided it would be a great book to add instruments to...so here's what I do:

First, I just read the book to students and we discuss it. Before the second reading, we decide as a class which non-pitched percussion instruments should be played for each body part. For example, for eyes, a few students might play the finger cymbals. For the nose, a few students might play wood blocks. For the mouth and teeth, some students might play the gathering drum, and so on! Every student would have an instrument and a specific part.

 Here is a video of the book being read, so you can get an idea:

On "Don't come back!" all students could play three times (like three quarter notes.)

You could also have it be cumulative, so that for eyes, the students with finger cymbals play, for the nose, finger cymbals AND wood blocks play, etc. Then, when the body parts are going away, those students assigned to that body part stop playing.

This is a fun way to have students make musical choices, AND become more comfortable with playing instruments.

Who Killed Cock Robin?

The song "Who Killed Cock Robin" is one of my favorites. Here is the notation:

Who killed Cock Robin: a great song for Halloween. Blog post includes three great picture books for Halloween in the music room!

I sing all of the verses in the book to this melody. The book does not repeat all of the same phrases as the song does. For example, in the book, "Who killed Cock Robin?" only happens once, but I repeat it so that it matches the song.

The kids absolutely love figuring out the mystery in this picture book. They try to figure out who killed Cock Robin...was it the sparrow? The dove? Or is Cock Robin even dead?? There are clues spread throughout the book, and it's a great way to teach the song!

Disclaimer: I would save this gem for third grade or above, as little ones tend to get a bit scared!

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat

There are tons of books in these series, based on "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly." This is a great version--with the old lady swallowing a bat, a cat, a ghost, a goblin, and more! Singalong books are great for improving students' listening skills, and for having them sing along! (Read this post for more of my favorite singalong books!)

Ghosts in the House

I found this one at a book fair several years ago. The illustrations are just beautiful, and it's a great book for vocal exploration. You can have students make ghost sounds each time a ghost appears in the book, and you can also them create their own ghost pathways, like described in this blog post.

Looking for more Halloween activities for the music room? These no prep worksheets are great for this time of year!

What is your favorite book for this time of the year? Feel free to comment below, and Happy Halloween!

15 October, 2017
Beat passing games

Beat passing games

I've been posting lately about great games and hand jives for upper elementary, and in today's post, I'm writing about beat passing games, which are also a favorite of upper elementary students!

Beat passing games for the music room: Great singing games for the upper elementary music classroom!
So what are beat passing games? They are games in which the beat is passed from one person to the next. Typically, at the end, the last person to be hit is "out."  They are GREAT for reinforcing steady beat. It is so much harder to pass the beat than it is to keep it on your lap, so whether your students have a solid foundation of beat since Kindergarten and need a challenge, or if students are just learning steady beat, these can be very fun and rewarding games for upper elementary!

A lot of my students seem to play "Down by the banks of the hanky panky." Although I don't play the game with my students, I sometimes refer to it so students understand how we'll be playing a beat passing game. Here is a video of the singing game:

One of my favorite beat passing games is "Oboshinotentoten." It is an African-American folk song that I learned from my friend Sue Leithold Bowcock. Here is the notation:

Oboshinotentoten: A great beat passing game for upper elementary! Blog post includes a couple other beat passing games!

For the game, students stand in a circle with hands facing up, their left hands under their neighbor’s hand and their right hands above their neighbor’s hand. When the song begins, one student crosses their right hand over their body to tap the hand of their neighbor on their left. The beat continues around the circle until “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” If someone gets their hand tapped on “5,” they are out; if they pull their hand away in time, the person who was trying to tap their hand on “5” is out. The person who is “out” goes to the middle of the circle until more people join him/her, and two games can occur at the same time.

And here is a video of my students from my graduate course at DePaul University playing the game:

The game is great for teaching syncopa, and for practicing re and/or the do pentatonic scale.

Another favorite beat passing game is "Freddy Oaka," which I also learned from Sue! Here is the notation:

Freddy Oaka: A great beat passing game for upper elementary! Blog post includes a couple other beat passing games!

The game is a twist on the typical beat passing game: everyone sits in a circle with their left hands palm up under their left neighbor’s hand, and right hands palm up over their right neighbor’s hand. One person starts at the beginning of the song, crossing their right hand over to their neighbor’s left hand to the beat. That person hits the next person, who hits the next person, etc. Whomever is hit on the word “no” chooses a number between 2-20. That person starts, taps the neighbor’s right hand, and the tapping continues until the designated number; that person who is about to be tapped pulls their hand away. If the person does not pull their hand away, they are out and they go into the middle of the circle. If the person does pull their hand away, the person who tried to tap is out and goes into the middle of the circle. Another game begins in the middle when there are three students, so that two games are happening simultaneously!
The song is great for teaching tika-ti and low sol (and fun side note--the beginning sounds just like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"!)

These games are wonderful for passing down songs, because kids will often play them on the playground, teach them to their younger siblings, etc., which is exactly what we want them to do!

What are your favorite beat passing games? Feel free to comment below, and happy teaching!

08 October, 2017
Liza Jane: A great song for upper elementary

Liza Jane: A great song for upper elementary

Today, I'm sharing another one of my favorite songs for fourth and fifth grade...an old standard called "Liza Jane."

I learned this song while in Kodály Level II at Capital University, with Bruce Swank. Here's the notation; it can also be found in 150 American Folk Songs.

Additional verses:
I’ve got a house in Baltimore, Lil’ Liza Jane.
Street car runs right by my door, Lil’ Liza Jane.

I’ve got a house in Baltimore, Lil’ Liza Jane.
Brussels carpet on the floor, Lil’ Liza Jane.

I’ve got a house in Baltimore, Lil’ Liza Jane.
Silver doorplate on the door, Lil’ Liza Jane.

The song is great for several concepts. Typically, like I said in my post about the song "Sandy's Mill," I would only pull out the hardest rhythmic concept from a song to teach it, which in this case would be tam-ti, or dotted quarter/ eighth. But because the first four measures only have syncopa, or eighth/ quarter/ eighth, I've used it to teach that. Melodically, it works really well for high do! I've also used it for mi-re-do, for older beginners, by only using measure 4 (for more materials for older beginners, click here.)

As far as games go, when I learned it from Bruce, here's the hand jive he taught us: 

Students face partner.
Clap own hands, clap partner’s right hand,
clap own hands, clap partner’s left hand,
clap own hands, clap front of partner’s hands, 
clap back of partner’s hands, clap front of partner’s hands

Clap own hands, clap partner’s right hand,
clap own hands, clap partner’s left hand,
Clap own hands, clap partner’s hands (one hand up and face down, the other hand down and face up), then switch 2x.

I presented in North Carolina several years ago, and took video of two of the attendees doing the hand jive. Here it is in case you are a visual learner and need to see it in action!

 Pin this if you want to refer to this post later:

Liza Jane: A fun song for upper elementary music! Includes a video with the hand jive!

Looking for visuals for this song, or for ideas for syncopa? Check out these sets:


Happy teaching!

01 October, 2017
Sandy's Mill: A fun song for upper elementary

Sandy's Mill: A fun song for upper elementary

Today, I'm sharing one of my favorite songs for fourth and fifth grade...a fun song called "Sandy's Mill."

I learned this song while in Kodaly Level III at Capital University, with Joan Litman.  Here's the notation:

Sandy's Mill: A fun singing game for upper elementary!

The song is great for several concepts. Typically, I would only pull out the hardest rhythmic concept from a song to teach it, which in this case would be ti-tam, or eighth/ dotted quarter. But because the first two measures only have tika-ti, or 2 sixteenths/ 1 eighth, I've used it for tika-ti. You could use it for tim-ka, or dotted eighth/ sixteenth, but it's not the best song for it, since the sixteenth note is an inner anacrusis. Melodically, it works really well for high do! I can't think of any other songs that have the motive d' l s m, so it's great to use for that.

The song also works beautifully in a round!

As far as games go, when I learned it from Joan, here's the game she taught us: 

Students sit in a circle, passing a playground ball to the beat. On the word “pom,” they switch directions. Any time the teacher plays the hand drum, they also switch directions! A student volunteer can also play the hand drum.

This is great for practicing steady beat, and for that reason, the song would also work really well with older beginners who need practice with steady beat (click this link for a set for older beginners.)

Last year, before a choir concert, as I was waiting for all my kids to come in, I saw a group of students play a game called "Silent Ball," and immediately was in love with the game. The idea of silent ball is that one student starts with the ball, and throws it to another person, who throws it to another person, etc. The trick is, students have to be completely silent when they do this. If they don't, they are out! Other reasons they can get out are:
  • If they giggle
  • If they "chuck" the ball (or throw it so hard/ high/ low that a student has a hard time catching it)
  • Does "snake eyes," or looks at one person while throwing to another
  • Throws to the person next to them
Since the game seemed to be such a hit with my students, and since we were already playing a playground ball game with "Sandy's Mill," I decided to use it as a second game. Students sing the song, then play one round of silent ball until one person is out, then sing again, etc. I typically do it several times until maybe 5-6 students are out.

I hope your kids love it as much as mine do! Pin this if you want to refer to this post later:

Sandy's Mill: A fun singing game for upper elementary!

Looking for more ideas for tika-ti or high do? Check out these sets:


Happy teaching!

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