Time is precious in elementary music class. It’s important to integrate music reading into every lesson with an efficient teaching strategy.
There is never enough time in the day, especially in our elementary music classes. I know you feel the time crunch. Even with these time constraints, it’s possible to integrate music reading lessons into every class if you use an efficient, sequential teaching strategy. And, you can have FUN doing it!
So how do you integrate music reading activities into every class when you also have to prepare for programs and assemblies, and deal with the day-to-day stressors of the classroom?
The ideas and tips below provide actionable tips to help music reading become a priority and a reality in your elementary music classes.
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10 Actionable Tips to Integrate Music Reading into Every Elementary Music Class
Every school and every music classroom has unique specific needs. But, we also have many things in common. All of the tips below are beneficial for any elementary music class.
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Use a Standard Lesson Plan Template and Establish Routines
Your lesson plan template should include a balanced lesson with interactive and FUN music literacy activities scheduled near the beginning of the class period. This ensures you do not run out of time for your prioritized activities.
A lesson plan template also helps to establish routines for your classroom and students respond better to predictable routines. This does not mean you don’t ever vary from these routines. But, routines help students feel safe and in control.
Take time during the first few weeks of school to teach and practice your music classroom routines and procedures. It will be time well spent. Music teachers are lucky because we have many of the same students for several years in a row. This makes it easier to establish routines in the upper grades.
Use Fun and Focused Transition Activities
Start class with some type of activity as students enter the classroom. This helps focus students’ attention and provides a natural transition.
Transition activities can have multiple purposes.
- Review a familiar song or rhyme.
- Set the stage for a specific activity.
- Echo sing.
- Vocal warm up.
- ROD (Rhythm of the Day), etc.
Echo songs work especially well for welcome activities. You can even teach a new song as students enter the classroom.
Be strategic with your transition activities. Plan with purpose.
Social Stories Can Ease Transitions
Social stories can help special needs students who may have more trouble with transitions. I have a FREE editable resource, Going to Music, A Social Story to Ease Transitions. This story is 100% EDITABLE. You may use it as is or you may customize the story to match the routines and procedures of your music classroom.
Ask the student’s paraprofessional or aide to read the story to the child each day before they come to music. Modify the story as needed to help each individual child.
Start Class Immediately
Begin your welcome or transition activity as students come through the door. Smile, make eye contact, and sing to each child as they enter.
Whatever transition activity you have chosen, it should lead students directly to their assigned spots and prepare them to begin the planned music reading lesson. Students who are actively engaged and feel comfortable and “noticed” do not cause disruptions.
Schedule Music Reading Lessons When Students are Fresh
Order your lesson plan template so your welcome/transition activity is first. Then, after your students are seated music literacy activities are next.
Student attention naturally ebbs and flows. Both students and teachers are more focused at the beginning of class. This is when music reading should be the focus of the lesson. Music reading is a priority. Priority items should be completed first.
Less is More in Elementary Music Class
Pare down your plans and plan with purpose. Choose a smaller, targeted repertoire that teaches sequential music literacy elements. Then, use add-on activities such as games, instrument accompaniments, harmony parts, etc. These add-on activities keep your music literacy songs fresh for several class sessions.
If you do not already have sequential, targeted music reading lessons, take a look at our multitasking Music Literacy Activity Bundles.
Each bundle includes complete sequential song-based music reading activities targeted toward specific rhythm and pitch elements and add-on activities to keep each lesson fresh for multiple class sessions.
Music Reading Lessons Should Be Short and Lead to Other Fun Activities
Follow these three steps to give students a simple, concrete method for reading music and demystify the process.
After you read and sing the targeted song, the lesson should lead into a FUN, related activity that reinforces the targeted music reading skills.
Use Add-On Activities to Reinforce Music Reading
Again, the actual music reading portion of the lesson is very short and should be presented as a precursor to an activity. This helps build excitement around learning to read music. Examples of add-on activities are below.
- Movement activities
- Instrumental accompaniments
- Ostinato patterns
- Round, partner songs, descant, simple harmonies
See this post for more on Teaching Young Children to Read Music and Developing Music Literacy Skills.
Repetition, Assessment, and Take It Home Pages
Repetition is important for children and adults as well. Every time you teach a lesson, students should need less and less help. And, remember, to sing for children, not with them. I confess this has always been hard for me.
As a general rule of thumb, I teach each music reading lesson three times. Then, the third time we complete the “Take it Home” pages which go along with each lesson in our Music Literacy Activity Bundles.
These Take it Home pages are designed as quick observational assessments. The simple authentic assessments help teachers identify students who are reading independently and those who need more practice.
Build excitement for “homework days.”
Our Take Home pages are VERY short and I build anticipation around this culminating activity. My students look forward to and actually cheer on homework days.
Side note: I did not teach them to do this. Students started to cheer for homework days on their own.
So What is Students’ Homework?
Students use the assigned Take it Home page to demonstrate the 3 steps of reading music for someone at home. That’s it!
- Read the rhythm.
- Sign and sing the pitches.
- Add the lyrics and sing the song.
Since our music reading songs are short, the whole process takes around one minute. They have nothing to return and you have nothing to grade.
Some students have even created notebooks and/or folders for all of their Take Home songs as they build their repertoire. Others have extended their learning by playing the song on the piano or a digital xylophone app.
Although I do record grades for Take it Home pages, this does not create any pencil/paper grading. We use a partner check system and I simply record an observational assessment as students sign and sing the song “into the grade book.”
Click to see more about how to use Take it Home Pages as Assessments.
Side note: When parents, other teachers, and administrators see students rising music literacy levels, this builds advocacy for your music program. But ensure your students can read the music independently before you send the activity home.
Use Fun, Sequential, and Targeted Music Reading Materials
When you introduce only one new element at a time, students will learn quickly and be more secure in their learning. Each music reading lesson should be targeted toward one musical element. And, lessons should be sequential and build one upon another.
It is important to use multiple lessons and several different songs to teach and reinforce the same concept.
For instance, if your targeted element is quarter note/rest patterns, teach at least three separate activities with this same targeted element and practice each activity during three class sessions before you add eighth notes. This gives young students time to internalize this concept and read the rhythms independently.
This may seem like students progress too slowly, but I promise it will be time well spent. There is no sense in simply “covering” a learning objective You want your students to become independent music readers and this takes a little time.
This repetition gives students who didn’t get it the first time another chance to learn the concept. And it gives all children time to develop and sharpen their skills.
When you teach and practice the same musical elements in different pieces, this allows students to generalize and apply their knowledge to different songs and activities.
If you need NO-PREP complete music reading lessons, check out these sequential Music Reading Activity Bundles which include games, instrumental activities, printable Take it Home Pages, digital online activities, and more.
Kodály Method: Prepare, Present, Practice
You do not have to follow the Kodály method verbatim. Most elementary music teachers adapt the method for their classroom and integrate other methods as well.
I use an eclectic approach and integrate a lot of Orff and some Dalcroze activities. But, a modified Kodály method forms the backbone of my music literacy lessons.
All elements you present (teach) and practice should have been prepared aurally prior to naming and presenting the elements. Do NOT skip this preparation stage.
When children learn to read text, they must have learned oral language first. You should use the same natural sequence when you teach young children to learn to read music. Students should have a solid foundation of songs and sounds prior to the presentation and practice stages.
I do advocate that you start with standard notation and not stick notation. For more about notation see this post about Standard Notation vs. Stick Notation.
Have all your materials ready to go and move directly from one activity to the next. Dead time invites disruption and wastes precious time, even if it is only 30 seconds.
If you use recordings, upload all of your audio files to your computer. Organize your lessons in PowerPoint or Google Slides with each audio file linked. If you use online resources include the direct link in your presentation. This alone saves a TON of time and keeps class moving.
We are Music Teachers
Even with the limited amount of class time we have, it IS possible to teach music reading skills. We are music teachers and that’s a part of our job.
Although our discipline is entertaining, we are not simply entertainment. It is important for us to integrate music reading activities into every class. We owe it to our students to help them develop their music literacy levels to their fullest.
When you teach music literacy skills in a simple efficient manner, this maximizes the time in your elementary music classes and prepares students to excel in the middle and high school music programs. You make a difference in children’s lives.
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