It's the First Day of School, Now What?

Greeting from Colorado!  This is Amy from Music a la Abbott and I, like many of you, are gearing up to go back to school.  This means readying your room,  creating your specials and/or daily school schedule (for the lucky ones like me), getting class lists, writing yearly plans, monthly plans and the sometimes daunting first day lesson plan.

For me, the first day lesson plan is one of the most important days of music of the entire year, if not the most important.  It's with this lesson that you will set the tone and expectations for the entire year.  A little side story related to the first day plan: my son was an August baby.  An August baby that was due on the 16th, the first day for teachers to report to school.  Because of this I did not start the school year that year.  I think it would be safe to say that that year compared to my first year, if not was harder than my first year.  Being new to writing long plans I was oblivious to the fact that I need to let my sub know ALL my procedures and for the rest of the year, October-May, I was dealing with the same behavior and routine problems.  So, having lived that I can attest to the importance of the first few music classes of the year!

That being said, I do NOT go over all my expectations on the first day of class.  Let me walk you through a stand first day lesson in my class.

I always meet the classes in the hallway outside my room.  Always.  There are no exceptions to this except when we are preparing for concerts and I am meeting with 3-5 classes in the gym.  The students always start by following me into the music room, in follow the leader progression.  I give them this direction in the hallway on the first day: follow me, do what I'm doing and if you know the song I'm singing please join in.  If it's a new song, listen for patterns and join me in singing when you're ready.  This is the only day that I actually sing with my kids.   After this lesson I give them the direction that if they know the song they should take over the singing once we're in the room and if they don't know the song listen for patterns or specific about the songs because I'll have some questions for them.  What I want to do is have the music making start immediately once they're cross the threshold to my room so they know that this, music making, is the first and most important thing in my room.

The first day I choose songs which are active, standing up and moving songs.  My standard first day song for 4th and 5th grades is "Going to Kentucky":

It's played in a circle, which is perfect since that's the way I led them into the music room.  We walk and do the actions while I sing it a couple times. (walk the first phrase.  Shake on the shake it part and pretend to drink on the milk shake part.   On "round da doo bop" they spin in place, on one foot then stomp on "one, two."  At this point on "turn around. . . . until you make a stop" I spin my finger, like I'm stirring something with it.  Then after about the 3rd time I ask for a volunteer to go in the middle and I make it a "big deal" that's it's really hard but I say this with a really silly look on my face so they know that it's not. Once there's a volunteer I tell them all they have to do is on the "turn around. . . .. until you make a stop" is cover their eyes, put out their arm with their pointer finger pointing and spin until the word stop.    They person that they point at is the next in the middle.

Now this is a more "daring" activity for the VERY first activity of the year.  Why?  First you're asking 4th and 5th graders to do something individually in front of their peers.  Peers, no mind you, that they either just met or have only had a couple days with.  But in all the years I've been doing it there's always been a volunteer to start the singing game.  Here's the other piece: after the one student volunteers and I tell him or her their job I assure the rest of the class that if they are landed on today they do not have to take the turn in the middle if they do not want to.  I'm planning this and building this purposefully into my lesson to establish trust.  With this activity I'm letting them know that it's okay for them to tell me their boundaries of comfort with activities and in turn, they see that I respect and acknowledge their boundaries.  This immediately starts to lay a foundation of trust.  We all know that as students (especially our boys) as they get into 4th and 5th grade can become more hesitant singers.  The more they trust you the more they will perform for you.  We also do a real quick 1-2 question session of appropriate behaviors during this.  Ie. is it okay to laugh or point at the person in the middle?  Is it okay to make a mistake? Again, setting up the foundations for trust.

With my younger grades we'll do some traditional hello songs.  With 1-3 grades I usually do a mixer.  With 2nd and 3rd songs that have partners that change like "Good Morning" by Jim Ryan or "Bonjour Mes Amis".  With first grade I don't do the changing partner songs because not all of them had kindergarten music so they wouldn't all be successful with it. 

With my kinders when I greet them in the hallway I tell them that we're going to play follow the leader. This is the only grade level that will come into the room not singing. They need to know how to follow me into the room, and find that circle before I can ever expect to have them sing and do it.

Now, I'll be honest, I do not go over any drills (fire, tornado, lock down) on the first class.  Again, I want to lay the underlying tone that music is the most important thing in this room.  I spread these out and go over them over the course of the next two-three lessons.  I then build these drills into one of the concentration portions of my lesson.  (I'll be blogging about my lesson format on my Music a la Abbott in the next few weeks).

The rest of the lesson consists of an echo song (the whole class echoing), vocal exploration, another song.  With the older classes (second-fifth grades) we'll then do some rhythmic review and then we'll play some more singing games.  With all the grades I'll work in some type of instrument activity.  I want them all to sing and play an instrument the first day of music.

Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, "what about going over rules?", "what about your seating chart", "what about routines?"  The one goal of this lesson, besides some rhythmic review for the older kiddos is setting the tone for music and letting the students know that music making and active participation is the most important thing in music class.  

Throughout all these activities I'm going to be asking 1-2 questions about expected behavior before we starting playing instruments, a singing game or doing an activity.  These questions are specific to the behavior that I'm wanting and looking to see demonstrated in music class.  And I'll be honest, my questions are focused on expected vs. unexpected behavior.  "What would happen if. .. . " "Would it be okay to. . .. " "How do you think we should. . .. . " type of questions.  This way I'm not spending 5 minutes talking to them about behavior but instead it's organically built into the lessons.  And it's more communal and joyful for them and for me.

Regarfing a seating chart, I don't use one in a circle.  I do quickly remind them (as I've had most of them before) and inform the new students that when it comes to sitting in a circle how they come into the music room is how they'll sit on the floor.  If that means they're next to their best friends that's okay with me.  However, if where they're sitting is a distraction to class after one warning they'll be moved.  I know a lot of people believe in seating charts in the circle but I really want that community and to be honest, the way it's set up, it's not been a problem.  They will eventually have a seating chart on the risers, but I usually don't assign those until the 3rd week of school.  This allows for any shifting between classes, new students, etc. to simmer down.  Once I have that seating chart we do practice how to go to the risers, how to come off the risers and how their riser seats can be moved to the floor (so that I have "row" seating on the carpet area).

My routines are established gradually. It's like all things I teach, I scaffold it.  If I spent the whole first lesson on routines, rituals and rules they wouldn't be too excited to come back.  I want them to go home with songs to sing to their parents and with an eagerness to come back to music.

I'm sure I do things much differently then many of you and the beauty is that there is not right or wrong first day lesson! I just thought I'd share a typical first day lesson for me. As I've got back to school brain I hope that it all makes sense! I'd love to hear some of your strategies and successes with your first days!!!

Happy School!!!


  1. I've never seen that singing game! I would LOVE to see a video if you can record one of your kids! :)


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