Talk Less and Teach More Music | Tips for K-5 Music Teachers

Metallophone with mallets and sheet musicI recently presented a workshop for some of my former colleagues. The title of the workshop was “Facilitating Music Literacy in the Elementary Grades”. Music literacy is our main focus and it is essential to integrate music reading activities into every lesson. One important factor to make that happen is to talk less and teach more music.  During the presentation a younger teacher asked me, “How do you do that?” Good question!

These techniques have become second nature to me. But I am a very demonstrative person and these methods may not come so naturally to people who are more reserved.

How to Talk Less and Teach More Music

Use Simple Vocabulary with the Bare Minimum of Words

When a teacher’s directions get too detailed, kids tune them out anyway. So, it is beneficial to use very simple commands such as these.

  • Echo me.
  • Do this.
  • Follow me.
  • My turn.
  • Your turn.

These simple directions are often the best way to communicate with special needs students who may be mainstreamed into music classes. But they are effective with all students as well.

Use Silent Signals – Actions or Sign Language

I did teach a core set of sign language vocabulary to all of the students in my classroom for many years. Although sign language pairs very nicely with music, it is not necessary to know sign language in order to give silent signals. Actions that are immediately understood work just as well. Below are some signals that will be universally understood.

  • Teacher – both hands in to chest (indicates teacher’s turn to sing or play)
  • Teacher – hands palm up out to students (indicates student’s turn to sing or play)
  • Teacher – arms straight out pointing toward line of students (indicates student’s in straight line)
  • Other universal signals & motions
    • Stand up
    • Sit down
    • Come here
    • Follow me
    • Stop

When necessary, I  send a student to the safe seat without saying a single word. I simply point at that student then point directly to the safe seat while still participating in whatever activity we are doing. This prevents a power struggle that words can often bring on. If the student does not respond, simply repeat your signals while continuing class.

Develop your own core signals using sign language and/or body language. You can already communicate way more that you think without any words.

Transitions & Friendly Reminder Songs

Plan for smooth transitions. Make sure supplies are available and easily accessible. Students should know the procedures for getting instruments and supplies. Use “Friendly Reminder Songs” to fill those transitions and correct minor misbehaviors. No one likes to be nagged. Once again, students will simply turn you off anyway.

I wrote a series of “Friendly Reminder Songs” to help establish and reinforce daily classroom procedures. These are very simple songs that I shared with my primary teachers as well. This series of songs include the classics below.

  • Write Your Name
  • I Will Not Interrupt
  • Voice Off, Voice Off Time to Walk in the Hallway
  • Criss Cross Applesauce
  • Taking Turns
  • Clean Our Room
  • I Will Not Whine
  • Cooperation, No Tattle Tailin’
  • Eyes on the Teacher, Eyes on the Board

The best part about using these songs is the spirit with which they are sung. Have fun with them. They truly are “friendly” reminders. They should be sung as such. You can create your own friendly reminder songs to fit any situation.

Write Simple Directions Into Your Lessons

Write simple instructions directly into your PowerPoint lessons. Consider making them a different color or using a bold font so that they stand out. And, simply point to the directions as you begin an activity.

Observe, Re-evaluate, Modify

This tip sounds so simple, but it is not. KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR STUDENTS. Observe what they are doing. Read their subtle, and not so subtle, body language. Are they beginning to “check out” on you? Will a simple change of proximity correct that? Do you see a look of confusion? Do you need to give a simple clarification? As teachers, we should be constantly vigilant about maintaining student focus, understanding, and engagement but it doesn’t take a lot of words. In fact, too many words have the opposite effect.

Be Organized. Do NOT Ask Kids to Sit & Wait During Class

If you want to talk less and teach more music, you have to be “uber” prepared. Lesson plans should be organized so that one activity flows immediately into the next. I LOVE using PowerPoint to organize lessons. It is a simple click or tap of the white board and we are into the next activity. If there are audio files, I have them linked directly to the lesson. Asking students to wait wastes valuable time and creates problems.

You Can Talk Less and Teach More Music

You can do it! I taught for three days with absolutely no talking. I had completely lost my voice. It was so bad, I could not even call the doctor. I had to go to her office and hand the receptionist a note to get an appointment.

Side note: When you cannot talk, people respond to you as if you cannot hear. They write back to you. This happened at the grocery store, doctor’s office and the pharmacy.   🙂

In conclusion, by learning to talk less and teach more music, you will enjoy teaching more, your students will enjoy learning more, and best of all you will teach more music. Give it a try.

Auf Wiedersehen!

What techniques do you use to keep class running efficiently? Leave a comment below.

2 thoughts on “Talk Less and Teach More Music | Tips for K-5 Music Teachers

Leave a Reply