The First Week Back: Setting the Stage

Hello and welcome back to the new school year!

I just completed the third day of school. In my district we started on Monday and the first week is a full-days-back-to-school-week; we might as well jump into the school year with both feet!

I've been reflecting on the most important things I need to establish during the beginning of the year and I know I'm setting the stage for a positive music experience for the whole school year.

Sing, Move, and Play
Obviously, I want the students to enjoy making music right away. Before we talk about rules or procedures I start each class of the new year with a lively song or dance. The students are reminded of how fun music is and they relax while they are focused on the music.

Here are a few "sure thing" songs and dances I've used this past week:

1st Grade: That's a Mighty Pretty Motion
1st graders get those beat motions going!
2nd Grade: Circle 'Round the Zero
Students can't resist skipping around with the momentum of this song.
This song can be found in Susan Brumfield's First, We Sing! and at the Holy Names Song Collection.

3rd Grade: We Like Spinach
This calls for solos, and the 3rd graders are happy to sing solo because it's short and they get to share their favorite food! Currently I have a competition between my 3rd grade classes to see how many students can sing the response in tune. This song can be found in Jill Trinka's Little Black Bull.

4th Grade: Old House
This is a great low la review for the students. During the next class we'll include a Jenga building game for rhythm review.

5th Grade: The Tailor and the Mouse
5th Graders love to sing the response, "Hi diddle um mum feedle!"

Connect, Bond, and Share
Some students are apprehensive about the coming school year. I need to establish music class as a safe place where they know it's OK to take musical risks.

Children, especially the young ones, need to see their teachers as care givers in addition to educators. I always end the first first grade lesson by singing and playing my dulcimer. I take a moment to look at each student while I perform. What a unique connection we can build with children through music! If you don't already, I urge you to perform for your students and share that side of yourself, children need that experience.

Another powerful way to end a class is to read a musical book to the students, not with the document camera,  but seated in front of the class. John Feierabend's picture book adaptation of The Tailor and the Mouse (mentioned above,) is a very fun to read once they know the song, (and I believe that 5th grade is not too old for an occasional excellent picture book!)

Procedures and Rules: Practice, Practice, Practice!
After three days of repeating the first day of music class with each group of students, ( during which many rules and procedures are covered), I'm eager to get going on music making for 100% of the class time! But then I stop and remind myself of the importance of laying that solid foundation of procedures and routines the students will depend on and grow from. Each year the population of children I teach have demonstrated the increasing importance they place on structure and routine in their school day. Sometimes it seems school is the main place they get to experience the clear structure and routine they need to thrive in music.

Many of the rules and procedure review opportunities come naturally; we need to make a circle to play the game, so we practice transitioning from a line spot to a circle spot. In the coming lessons, I'll be dedicating time each class to reviewing procedures. This doesn't necessarily translate to me talking to them; students can digest the necessary information even better if I involve them creatively.

This week I'm using Aileen Miracle's Scenario Cards from her Rules and Procedures for the Music Classroom set with my older students. The cards give examples of students following or breaking  rules. After splitting students into groups, I give each group two cards: a scenario of a situation where students were following a rule and another where students were breaking a rule. Each group has time to read and discuss their scenarios. Then each group "performs" by acting out their scenario to the class and reporting which class rule the scenario demonstrated, or if their chosen scenario breaks a rule, they share an alternate choice.
With the younger students, I've acted out scenarios to start a class conversation about our rules.
For variety, I'll ask the class to "pair and share."

Another way to practice is to time procedures using a stop watch. For example, I time the class and see if they can transition from our floor staff line spots to lining up at the door in less than a minute. We might practice one procedure three times during a class period to see if we can "beat" our previous time. The novelty of using these different techniques allows the practice of procedures to stay fresh and fun while avoiding tedium. We Kodály-inspired teachers are found of making lists of rhythmic and melodic practice activities, why not have a list of classroom procedures to practice? (Hmmm...)

I hope you are having a productive and happy back to school time at your school! Keep singing, playing, and moving with those lucky students!


  1. Wonderful post, Tanya! I love the selection of songs. And thanks so much for the shout-out...I love what you're doing with the small groups! :)

    1. Thanks, Aileen! One of my goals this year is to allow more student small group time, it's so beneficial for students to be able to share and reflect outside of the large group instruction mode.

  2. Great post Tanya! I too love the song selection! The first day is such a balance of music making, setting the tone and teaching classroom expectations. Love how you covered it all!

  3. I've never heard "We Like Spinach!" I can't wait for Jill Trinka to present at KMEA this year. I am sure I will be snatching up every one of her books!

  4. Yes, you definitely need all 4 volumes of Jill's books and the CDs - they are on my "Books I Can't Teach Without" list. I''m excited for you to see her present! A couple of Jill Trinka sessions at a NMEA, (New Mexico), conference was my first exposure to Kodály and that set me on my Kodály path! She is so knowledgeable and passionate about our folksong heritage.

  5. I really like your post. As I just completed my first year as an elementary music teacher, I know I need to make some changes for next year. One thing I would like to change is to do at least one movement activity a week. So, I already have my first week planned thanks to you! I will be checking your blog so I can learn more songs. Do you have suggestions of websites or books that I could get/use to help me achieve my goal? Thank you!


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