Just as Jamie talked about in the previous post, kids will be open to whatever you bring to them if they love you and they love coming to music. I look for activities that are going to get kids moving, playing name games, mixing, and singing together. It’s important to me that kids have a blast in music and leave with big grins on their faces looking forward to the next class. (This is true of every lesson, but FUN is especially a focus of the first few weeks.) Though expectations are an important part of a first day lesson, I only spend five minutes on explicit teaching of the “rules,” and the rest of the lesson is spent actively practicing the expectations through the kinds of games, dances, and songs we’ll be doing the rest of the year. Below are some of the students’ favorite activities from this year’s fist few lessons:
- K/1st: Page’s Train (fast/slow; names)
- 2nd: Jump Josie (circle play party with cumulative partner choosing)
- 2nd, 3rd: Julie Ann Johnson (closing song with guitar where students get to decide where Julie will travel, how she'll get there, and what she'll do. They loooove this one!)
- 3rd, 4th: Sasha mixer (Energetic and easy-to-teach mixer)
- 4th, 5th: Funga Alafia (I used as a chorus for a name game. Students would create 4-beat ostinato patterns for the class to copy during singing, then four individuals at a time would say "My name is _______" and the class would echo. Great synco-pa prep , and ripe with extensions for drumming and instruments! Amy Abbott has nice slides and notation for teaching Funga Alafia in her back to school set!)
- 3rd, 4th: King Kong Kitchie (Closing song with call/response and verse/refrain that 3rd and 4th grade love. Also a great tika-tika prep.)
- 5th: Se se serese se (Brazilian clapping game that 5th grade always devours. Once students got the clapping game, we practiced accelerando/ritardando with it. My source for this one is Daphne Fix who collected it in Brazil.) After a lot of requests, I've added the notated version below the video. Hope this is helpful!
I have met specialists who say, “I could never keep track of all these names.” I get it, it’s hard. Most of us have more than 500 students. However, we teach such an intimate, emotionally powerful, and personal subject that I believe it’s incredibly important to learn each and every name. One trick I use is seating students alphabetically by first name in three rows. This is their “home base” in my room, and for the first few lessons, I lead pitch matching activities and name games in these rows to help myself connect faces with names with my seating chart. If I am really struggling with certain names, I let those kids call me “Bob” until I get it right. This is motivating for me, and they think it’s hilarious!
Assessment is Essential (But make it fun!)
One assessment game I used with a lot of success in the first lesson helped me get an idea of where the students were at with literacy skills. Students passed a ball to the beat of a song I played on the Recorder. (You could also use recorded music with a nice strong beat.) Whoever had the ball when the music stopped got to select a “mystery activity” on the SMART board. The activity was on a card that flipped around and gave a task to the students.
Some activities were silly, like “Switch places loudly and obnoxiously in the circle, then practice responding to the quiet signal.” Others helped students get to know me like, “Ask Mrs. Beese which instruments she plays.” A few others got at musical skills: “Read some rhythms!”; “Name this mystery tune,” or “Read some melodies!” I got a sense very quickly of where students were at on skills, and recorded where each class kind of broke down in my flashcards so I could formulate plans from this group data. (I also let the students know that this was going to help me plan lessons for them.)
If you don’t have a SMART board, you could use a ball like this, sold in most pet or baby sections of stores and put the tasks on laminated strips that kids have to pull out of the ball if they get it when the music stops. (I got this idea from James Harding, my Level II Orff Instructor.) I've used this activity on the first day for a few years and students LOVE it. I plan to bring it back to review concepts as the year progresses.
Once I got a sense of my students’ skill sets, I planned just one lesson at a time until the end of September. I kept track of songs and activities by grade, and used concept plans from my Levels training, but I saved my hard core long range planning until the first weekend of October. Waiting allowed me to adapt my sequence to fit student needs. Though I could go on and on about long-range planning, I'll just say a couple of things. At a new school, I have to be flexible with my sequence. For example, I am starting my 3rd graders with mi-re-do, even though they have never labeled sol-mi-la (or worked with the staff) simply due to the content being more engaging for this age group. Also, there are some songs and games I think are so important for students to know that I will do similar rep with K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 this year before branching out into grade-specific concepts and rep as they progress.
Repeat...and Repeat again!
One of my goals this year, particularly with the younger grades, is to repeat core songs for at least five lessons. I have already seen great results in pitch matching with Kinder and First. Kinders that couldn’t match the echo the first couple times are nailing the pitches the fifth time around on “Johnny on the Woodpile.” Students also become much more independent with material and can lead themselves to a much greater degree.
In order to make repetition more palatable for myself, and interesting for the students I use a variety of methods.
- One of my favorites is to use video game language of “passing a level” to teach increasingly difficult steps in a dance or even increasing challenges in beloved games like Chicken on a Fence Post. (In C.O.A.F.P., Level I is a simple circle, Level 2 a moving circle that stops when gates open, Level3 a moving circle that doesn’t stop when gates open, Level 4 Concentric circles, etc.)
- Here’s an example of keeping things fresh even when students know a dance very well from my previous school. This is Tideo, and I change up the number of windows they have to pass before the chorus. (This was part of their showcase where we invited parents to music class in the spring.)
- I also borrow strategies from my Orff training and add instruments and B sections of improvisation to make repetition more enriching.
- Finally, I have been having older students lead transitions by creating 4-beat rhythm patterns that the class echoes. I then let them “drop the mic” using a crocheted fake microphone. They LOVE this, and I get some more informal assessment in.
I hope everyone is off to a great start and might be able to adapt some of the above strategies to your situation. Have a great Fall!