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How to Create Lessons for Positive Elementary Music Classroom Management

The way you design and deliver your lessons has a profound effect on elementary music classroom management. See the helpful tips below.

Do you ever wonder why some elementary music teachers seem to teach awesome lessons without any interruption or inappropriate student behaviors? There is no such thing as a perfect elementary music classroom or a perfect teacher. But your lessons and the manner in which you deliver them have a profound effect on classroom behaviors.

See the tips and techniques below to help create a positive climate in your elementary music classroom.

3 Upper Elementary Students Smiling

Everything Relates to Everything!

This mindset is essential as you create your lesson plans. When you teach FUN engaging activities and implement them with NO wasted class time you help create a positive classroom climate and AVOID misbehaviors.

Classroom management is a complex issue which has many factors and some of those factors are beyond our control. Let’s take a look at several of the factors which we CAN control.

Structure Activities with NO Wasted Time

Begin each class with a transition activity to engage students as they enter the room. If possible, begin the activity in the hallway so students in the back of the line are already in full participation mode.

Smile, nod, and make eye contact with EVERY student as you sing or chant together while they enter. Your transition activity should capture students’ attention and have everyone participating as they sing, chant, snap, clap, etc. and perform their way straight to their ASSIGNED SPOT.

For more on how to use transition activities, take a peek at this post –  10 Tips to Integrate Music Reading into Every Elementary Music Class.

If you use a classroom agenda, have it on the board so students can see it as they enter. Then move directly to the first activity.

Move Immediately from One Activity to Another

Use as few words as possible as you move from one activity to the next. If doable immediately jump into the next activity without any directions. Use sign language and/or simple signals to SHOW your students what to do.

Kids innately want to do. They do NOT need to hear a long silique about what you’re going to do next. If you need to give oral directions, keep them VERY short and direct. See this post for more ways you can Talk Less and Teach More Music which includes simple signs and signals you will want to use with your students as well as short 2-word direction prompts.

Organize Lessons in PowerPoint or Google Slides

Organization and preparation are key! When you design your lessons in presentation software you’re able to move immediately from one activity to the next even if the songs or activities are from different resources.

Copy and paste, import, or take a screenshot of each activity and add it to a slide(s). Include everything you need for each activity on the slide(s). Upload audio files for easy access. If you use another platform (Quizlet, Kahoot, Virtual Field Trip to the Symphony, etc.) include the direct link to the activity on the slide. Include learning targets on each slide or as an introductory slide prior to the activity.

If your administrator requires you to turn in your lesson plans, print your PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation with 6 slides per page, and you’re done! If you write notes in the notes section of your presentation, print 3 slides per page with notes. The images are still big enough to be read.

Embed Directions into Your Presentation

 Embedding directions into your presentation has many benefits.

  • Allows you to talk less and teach more. Depending on the level of your students you may be able to point to simple succinct directions and jump right into the activity without saying anything at all.
  • When you use different modalities, you reach more students. Students who struggle with aural comprehension may perform better when they SEE the directions. And, hearing-impaired students will definitely benefit from being able to see written directions.
  • Keeps teacher on track. With everything music teachers have to do swirling around in our heads, it’s easy to get sidetracked. When the directions are embedded into your presentation this is one less thing you have to worry about.
  • Allows a sub to deliver your lesson. Depending upon the musical knowledge and skills required, it’s much easier for a sub to deliver your lesson.
  • Reduces power struggles. Some students do NOT want to be told what to do by a teacher. But when the activity directions tell them what to do that’s okay. I know this doesn’t make much sense since you’re the one who created the presentation but this does happen.

Revamp and Improve Your Lessons

When a lesson does NOT go as planned, it’s easy to revamp your PowerPoint or Google Slides. Immediately make small tweaks or switch out any elements you would change before you deliver this particular lesson again.

Consider involving your students in this constructive criticism. How do they think this lesson could be improved? Students may catch a misspelling or typo. Correct it in class and thank them.

Track Class Completion of Each Activity in Your Presentations

Repetition and practice are important. Music activities are NOT a one-and-done event. Most of the time, we repeat each activity at least 3 times. Most elementary music teachers have multiple classes of the same grade level and it can be a challenge to keep track of which classes have completed which activities.

Assemblies, holidays, snow days, and a plethora of other events can disrupt our carefully-planned schedules and throw off our class sequences. A simple chart embedded into the corner of each slide tracks exactly where each class is with each particular activity.

I include a small editable chart as indicated below.

Checkboxes for Classroom Completion of Activities

The top row indicates each third-grade class. The bottom row shows how many times each class has practiced this activity. Students enjoy seeing their progress and get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from seeing these tiny charts.

This chart also helps the teacher keep track of what “add-on” activities each class has completed. Sometimes we may have only had enough time to start an activity. In this case, I mark it with “S” for start.

Or, if some but not all students got to have a turn I may mark an activity “2+”.  This lets students know we will come back to activity #2 and everyone will get a turn. All turns are recorded on my activity record in my grade book.

Add-On Activities Keep Lessons Fresh

Add a new element each time you practice an activity to keep your lessons fresh. These add-on activities should reinforce the lesson learning targets.

Ideas for some add-on elements are below.

  • Hand claps
  • Movement
  • Props – scarves, parachutes, etc.
  • Games
  • Simple folk dance
  • Body percussion
  • Orff instrumental activities
  • Add harmony – rounds, descants, layer partner songs, etc.

Have Alternate Activities Ready

For students who choose inappropriate behavior, have alternate activities readily available. Alternate activities might include the following.

  • Body percussion moves to match the playing of a rhythm instrument.
  • Play a laminated paper xylophone instead of a real xylophone.
  • Perform a movement activity without the props.
  • Do the dance moves alone near the safe seat (time out chair).
  • Another dance option is “finger dancing” at the safe seat. Students use their fingers to reenact the dance moves.
  • Paper and pencil activity instead of a game.

Do NOT allow students to be disruptive. Give one reminder, then take action.

Deliver Lessons with Enthusiasm

Choose FUN songs and activities YOU like and enjoy. You want your students to like and enjoy your classroom activities. And they will see through the façade if you try to fake it.

Make eye contact and connect with your students. Smile and enjoy the activity together.

Use Flexible Classroom Routines

Schedule SHORT music reading activities first when students are fresh. These music reading lessons should lead directly to a game, instrumental activity, or other FUN activity to reinforce learning.

Break up any long portions of your lesson with movement. This movement can be as simple as moving to the book corner when you read a story.

See this blog post for more about creating efficient and effective classroom routines.

High Expectations are a Crucial Element of Elementary Music Classroom Management

Challenge your students and give them the tools to be successful. They will live up to your expectations. Create rigorous but attainable activities with differentiated options for students of varying abilities.

Provide Differentiation

You do NOT want your advanced students bored with oversimplified activities. But you don’t want your struggling students to give up because an activity is too difficult. A few ways to differentiate activities are listed below.

  • Create differentiated Orff accompaniments. This could range from a simple steady beat on a fun rhythm instrument that students don’t get to play often – temple blocks, cabasa, etc. Or, a simple melodic accompaniment on Boomwhackers or barred Orff instruments.
  • Label the pitch names. Print a copy of the music for students who need additional help. Label the pitch names on the note heads to focus student attention on the notes. If you write the pitch names above or below the note, this does not help reinforce musical concepts.
  • Provide additional guided practice. See below.

Accommodate with More Guided Practice

Provide more rote practice to help students who struggle. This could include the following.

  • Echo practice. Increase the length of phrases as student performance levels rise.
  • Chunking. Break down activities into smaller phrases or chunks.
  • Sing rhythm patterns. When you practice rhythm patterns from songs, sing the patterns to help reinforce the melody.
  • Point to the notes on the whiteboard as students read the rhythm or pitches. Always face students so you can gauge their comprehension.
  • Teach body percussion moves that imitate instrumental accompaniments for specific instruments – pat knees for bongos, clap for tambourine, slide hands for sand blocks, etc.
  • Say and play. Chant or sing a pattern 4 times and then immediately play it 4 times.
  • Reverse chaining. Try learning the end of a song or instrumental accompaniment first. Student confidence grows as they play through the piece.

You Don’t Just Teach Music

As music teachers, we also teach a whole host of other skills including SEL, Social Emotional Learning or SEAL, Social Emotional Artistic Learning skills. Many of these standards are naturally built into our lessons.

A compassionate elementary music classroom with carefully chosen activities fosters the following SEL or SEAL principles and more in almost every class session.

  • Listening skills
  • Nonverbal and verbal communication
  • Cooperation and team building
  • Confidence and REAL self-esteem through achievement and building music skills
  • Positive messaging through songs
  • Opportunities to be expressive and creative with improvisation and composition
  • Positive forms of self-evaluation
  • Growth and improvement mindsets

Not all states have developed SEL or SEAL standards yet. Click to check the SEL standards in your state.

You Can Create a Positive Classroom Climate

There is NO SUCH THING as a perfect classroom. You’re NOT missing the one secret ingredient. But these strategies can help you structure and deliver lessons which have a BIG impact. You can create a more productive and positive elementary music classroom management system.


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