How to Involve ALL Students ALL the Time

There are always going to be some students, whom for whatever reason, are reluctant to engage in music class activities. These tips to involve all students will increase participation and engagement in your elementary music classes.

Increased engagement equals higher achievement levels and increased confidence. Read on for some tried and true techniques that you may want to try in your elementary music classroom.

Elementary Music Teacher Tips to Increase Engagement | Involve ALL Students ALL the Time

Tips to Involve All Students | Discussion

Ditch the old question/answer format where only one student responds to the teacher’s questions. Instead. . . . .

Require ALL students to respond to All questions.

For some students, the individual question/answer routine is intimidating. They might be afraid they will not know the answer, they may think other students are “smarter” and always answer faster, or they may not want the attention on them. For others, they may be bored with the same old routine.

Try the following techniques to involve all students in all classroom discussion.

Answer Using Sign Language

Require all students to answer every question with sign language. One of my favorite ways to practice treble clef note names is to display a note on the white board and have all students give the answer in sign language. Students love learning sign language. And for note names they only have to know the first seven letters of the alphabet. Easy peasy!

Elementary Music Teacher Tips to Increase Engagement | Involve ALL Students ALL the Time

I have students hide their answer hands somewhere where no one else will see it. Most of the time they hide it under their shirt. Then when I say “show your answer” they all show their answers at the same time. This gives everyone some think time and holds students accountable for giving their own answers and not just copying their neighbor’s answers.

I also have a sign language chart on the back of the piano that students can check if they need a little help with the signs.

Answer Using Signals

One of my favorite ways to use this similar technique is with “What Do You Hear?” assessments. I display 2-3 rhythmic or melodic patterns on the board. Each pattern is numbered to make for easy identification.

Again, students hide one hand so no one will see their answer.  I perform one pattern and students put the number of their answer on their hidden hand. I perform the pattern again and instruct students to “point and check” their answer (with their free hand). When I say “show your answer,” we all reveal our answers at the same time. This turns into a very exciting game for all.

Answer Chorally as a Group

Similar to choral reading, I prompt ALL students to answer aloud at the same time. I use a signal to prompt students to “fill in the blank” and say the answer together. I ask the question with my closed hand to my chest and give students a few seconds think time. Then I extend my hand palm up to the class to signal for their answers. 

There is often one student who wants to “beat” everyone else and answer as fast as they can. If that is the case, I have that student “turn off their voice” and they “lip say” the next few answers. When they are ready to answer with the group they may “turn their voice on” again.   🙂

Turn and Talk With Partner

This is a good technique to use when questions have many possible answers or it is an opinion question. This allows every student to have a chance to verbalize their ideas.

These turn and talk sessions are usually very short, 30 seconds or one – two minutes at the longest. To bring the group back together I usually summarize student answers by restating student responses that I have heard. “Raise your hand if your  group said something like this.” 

Tips to Involve All Students | Making Music

Build a Singing Culture

It takes time to build a singing culture in your classroom and at your school. But there is no better time to start than today. Below are tips to involve all students in singing and performance activities. These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Lip Sing | Magic Microphone

One technique I like to use is to “lip sing.” Lip singing helps students learn the words, rhythm, and melody in a nonthreatening, fun way. I often have lip singing contests to see who can match my voice the best without ever making a sound. I even give out “tickets” to the winners. Students go all out to win.

Anytime students are unsure or when they have a sore throat they may lip. Just by providing this option, I have found that engagement increases. I believe it is because students are given time to become more familiar with the song before singing. It helps to build their confidence and thus engagement.

For K-2 students, we often use our “magic microphones.” We make a fist and hold it up to our mouths. This becomes the microphone. To turn our microphones on, we point our thumbs up toward our mouths. To turn our microphones off, we lay our thumbs back down. It is a simple but fun technique. 

Choose Quality Music That Will Engage Students

Life is too short to do anything less than quality music literature. Start with simple folk songs from various cultures. Choose a variety of styles and genres including foreign language songs. Include a few quality pop songs with positive, aspirational messages.

Year after year, I dropped songs and activities from my lesson plans that were not my favorites. Now, when I introduce new songs and activities, I often say, “This is one of my favorites.” I have had this response more than once, “You have a lot of favorites.”

Yes, I do! I like a variety of music and everything I teach has a specific purpose. Cull your repertoire for any pieces that aren’t your favorites and don’t meet a specific need in your classroom. With so much quality music, there is no room for “time-fillers.”

Plan a Variety of Activities

Your students are a varied group of individuals with different interests and preferences. Plan a variety of activities including singing, playing instruments, recorders, listening, composing, games, movement, etc. Teach all of those activities with energy and genuine enthusiasm. Your students will respond in kind.

Build Advocacy for Your Program

Build advocacy for your program by developing music literacy skills. Parents and administrators will notice. Click to read this post if you need more information about Increasing Music Advocacy by Developing Music Literacy.

An integral part of the process is providing opportunities for students to share what they have learned in your classroom. Read more about How to use “Take it Home Pages” to share student learning.

If you don’t have time to create your own Take Home pages, check out these Music Reading Bundles which all include resources to celebrate and extend learning at home.

Turn Silent Students Into Active Participants

Silent students may not be causing any problems but they are not engaged and they are not learning at the level at which they could. Silent students often think they are not important to  your class or your school. They may be insecure. Use these tips and techniques to help build students’ confidence in a positive nonthreatening environment. 

Using these tips, you can involve all students and increase engagement. Do you have more tips for increasing engagement? Leave a comment below.

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