Friday, December 3, 2021

My Top 5 ways to keep planning stress low and engagement high

Ya'll. This year is hard. SO HARD. However, now that we are in December I have found a few things that are really helping me with planning this year to keep stress low and student engagement high. Check out my list below of my Top 5 planning tips (in no particular order). 

1. Utilizing awesome websites to help teach concepts in a kid friendly way. 

Want to compose? Use Chrome Music Lab to focus on form, or specific solfege.  Use Groove Pizza to focus on Time Signature and rhythm. 

Classics For Kids has a lot of great games to help explain musical concepts as well.

Need a kid friendly way to define terms so students understand?  Have them research to make flashcards or other games to practice- giving them a bank of websites that may help such as:   - This website even has listening examples to accompany many musical words!  Thank you to Celeste (the student of one of our EKM readers) for showing me this website. I love the way the definitions are so clear and concise. - This one has listening activities, instruments of the orchestra activities, a page for teachers, and a page for families! 

2. Themes

Almost all of my lessons, especially in K-1, have some sort of theme that guides me while planning. I can connect our concept songs, any listening we may be doing, and any story books together to make a seamless lesson. 

Recent K-1 Themes have been Thanksgiving (lots of turkey and pie songs!), Birds (Bluebird, Old Mr. Woodpecker, Cuckoo in the Clock, Old Mr. Owl, Turkey songs, Aviary from Carnival etc.), Ocean (Larry the lobster, charlie over the ocean, etc.) and more.  Check out a previous post on Winter themes HERE

2-4 themes are often looser like Travel in 3rd grade (From Hungary to Japan, to different US states, all while practicing DO and prepping Tika-Tika) or Autumn (So many great listening examples and autumn songs for all ages to practice so many musical concepts!) 

3. Planning the same activities for each grade level (just changing the difficulty)

Often my plan outlines for each grade look exactly the same. If I'm doing melody flashcards with 2nd grade, I'm also doing them for 3rd and 4th.  If I want to practice writing melodies on a staff using manipulatives, any grade that has been presented some solfege is doing it so my materials for each group are the same.   Games students of all ages love in my classroom include: Poison Pattern (both rhythmic and melodic), Rhythm Football, computer melody and rhythm games (like PDF or Smartboard games or Boom Cards), the Vote Game, and rhythm/ melody tag (students can only move on the given rhythm/ melody pattern) 

Listening examples are an awesome activity that can be adapted across grade levels. We recently did an Autumn Leaves compare/ contrast activity where we listened to Nat King Cole's Autumn Leaves and then Ed Sheeran's Autumn Leaves (different songs) and each grade was able to use age appropriate vocab to describe the similarities and differences. Younger students were able to float like leaves during the song and then freeze in tree pose to give their bodies something to do while listening.  This would work great with snow songs as well! 

Example lesson skeleton:


Song 1

Melody Flashcards (with last card leading to song 2)

Song 2

Add instruments using Ostinato (ostinato is isolated rhythm from song 3) 

Song 3

4. Mini Group Projects

These projects are with-in one class period but really help me assess who still needs help with our concepts.  I may have groups create movement/body percussion showing the rhythm of a song or create new body signs to represent solfege. Or maybe students are getting into groups to come up with a new way to define and practice one of our vocab words (this works GREAT for tempo and dynamics words!) Students love teaming up and it really helps them become facilitators of their own learning (and I can just supervise and help as needed). 

Recently, students created a 4 beat pattern using quarters, beamed eighths, and beamed 16ths and added body percussion- choosing one action for each type of note (quarter = clap, etc.)  They then presented to the class and the class had to ID the rhythm just from watching the performance.  Students LOVED it and I got to see who was able to create a pattern, keep a steady beat, and apply the body percussion as they were presenting. 

5.  Using my and my students FAVORITE activities

Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed this year I pull out a tried and true activity that I know students LOVE (and I love teaching).  Students really pick up on the mood of their teachers, so when you are in a rut- think back to why you chose to teach music in the first place and pick a favorite activity that brings you joy.

I have favorite lessons connected to books and different listening examples that really can be inserted into my plans at any point in the year. Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger and I Promise by Lebron James are two examples of awesome books with lessons that can be adapted to any age (Click the book titles to be taken to lesson ideas).  La La La and Journey are both books shown while classical music is playing to help enhance the story.  Love the Nutcracker like I do? Pull out an activity at any time during the year - it doesn't have to be December to learn about Tchaikovsky or do movement activities with props to Nutcracker Music.   Check out a ton of Nutcracker ideas HERE

Speaking of movement activities- I LOVE props like Ribbons, Scarves, and Basketballs so any time I am feeling stuck, I am sure to plan a favorite movement routine to work on Form, Rhythms, Melodic contour, mood, and more. Check out my youtube channel to see some of my favorites! 

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