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11 Easy Ways to Involve ALL Students in Elementary Music Classes

Do you have any students who are reluctant to participate in elementary music classes? See these tips to involve all students all the time.

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Some students are reluctant to engage in music class activities. These simple tips will increase participation and engagement in your elementary music classes.

Increased engagement equals higher achievement levels and increased confidence. This is what every teacher wants for their students.

Take a peek at the ideas and techniques below and begin implementing a few of these strategies in your elementary music classroom today.

Smiling students following their teachers' actions in elementary music class

Classroom Discussion is NOT the Boring Old Question/Answer Routine

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

Require ALL students to respond to All questions.

The individual questioning routine is intimidating for some students. Timid students 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. Others may be bored with the same “yawn-out-loud” routine.

The following techniques will level the playing field and involve all students in music class discussions.

Require ALL Students to Answer ALL Questions and Give Think Adequate Time

Require all students to answer every question using sign language. This is the perfect way to practice treble clef note names. Display a note on the whiteboard and have all students answer with signs.

Students love learning sign language. And for treble clef note names, they only have to know the first seven letters of the alphabet. Easy peasy!

smiling students following their teacher's actions in elementary music class

Have students hide their answer hands where no one will see them. (Students often hide their hands under their shirts.) Then, prompt students to “show your answer” so they all display their answers at the same time. This gives everyone think time and holds students accountable for giving their own answers and not copying their neighbor’s answers.

I have a sign language chart on the back of the piano so students can use it if they need help remembering the signs. Sign language is a natural partner with elementary music classes.

Observational Assessments using Signals are an Easy Evaluation Tool in Elementary Music

“What Do You Hear?” observational assessments work well with sign language or signals.

  • Display 2-3 rhythmic or melodic patterns on the whiteboard with each pattern numbered for easy identification.
  • Students hide one hand so no one will see their answer. 
  • Play one pattern while students listen.
  • Students put the number of their answers on their hidden hands.
  • Repeat the pattern again and instruct students to “point and check” their answer (with their free hand).
  • Repeat the pattern one more time depending upon the level of your students.
  • Prompt students to “show your answer” so all students reveal their answers at the same time. This often turns into an exciting game.

If you’re recording this as an evaluation, use at least 3-4 questions and record student scores quickly to keep class momentum going.

Answering Chorally as a Group is a Natural Fit for the Music Classroom

“Fill in the Blank” questions work well for this technique. Ask the question and prompt ALL students to answer aloud at the same time. Use a signal to prompt students to answer together.

This simple signal works well.

  • Keep a closed hand to your chest.
  • Give students a few seconds of think time.
  • Then, extend your hand palm up toward 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 this happens, have the student “turn their voice off” and “lip say” the next few answers. When they’re ready to answer with the group, they may “turn their voice on” again. 😊

The “Turn and Talk” Technique Gives All Students a Chance to Be Heard

This is a good technique to use when questions have many possible answers or if it is an opinion question. This allows every student to have a chance to verbalize their ideas and practice listening closely with their partner.

In elementary music classes, these turn and talk sessions are short – 30 seconds to 1-2 minutes max. Bring the group back together restating student responses. “Raise your hand if your group said something like this. . . . .” 

Building a Singing Culture in Your Music Classes Takes Nurturing and Time

A few students may initially be reluctant to join in on music-making activities. Do NOT pressure these students. 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 a good place to start, but they’re the tip of the iceberg. 

Techniques to Build a Singing Culture – Lip Sing and Magic Microphone

“Lip singing” helps students learn the words, rhythm, and melody in a non-threatening, fun way. When you’re learning a new song, consider holding lip singing contests to see who can best match the teacher’s voice without making a sound. Consider giving a small token to the winner(s) if your school gives out “tickets” or other rewards. Students will go all out to win these lip singing contests.

Anytime students are unsure or when they have a sore throat, give them automatic permission to lip sing. When you provide this option, I have found engagement increases. This is because students are given more time to become familiar with a song before singing it. This helps to build their confidence and thus engagement.

For K-2 students, try using “magic microphones” when you lip sing.

  • Make a fist and hold it up to your mouth. This becomes the microphone.
  • To turn your microphone on, point your thumb up and toward your mouth.
  • To turn your microphone off, lay your thumb back down.

The magic microphone is a simple but fun and effective technique. 

Choose Fun Quality Music That Engages All Students

Life is too short to learn 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 which were not my favorites. Now, when I introduce new songs and activities, I often say, “This is one of my favorites.”

My students respond, “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 pieces that you don’t enjoy teaching and that 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 to Appeal to the Interests of Your Students

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 these activities with energy and genuine enthusiasm. Your students will respond in kind.

Build Advocacy for Your Program by Developing Music Literacy Skills

Parents and administrators will notice. An integral part of building advocacy is providing opportunities for students to share what they have learned in your music classroom. Only a small portion of what students learn in elementary music classes is demonstrated through performances. “Take it Home Pages” help students share their learning.

See this post for more about Increasing Music Advocacy by Developing Music Literacy.

Use These Techniques to Turn Silent Students Into Active Participants

Silent students may not be causing any problems but they’re not engaged and they’re not learning at the level at which they could. Silent students may be insecure. They may think they’re not important to your elementary music classes or even your school.

Use the tips and techniques above to help build students’ confidence in a positive non-threatening environment. 

New Reluctant Students Will Jump Onboard When They See Others Participating

Once you have established a singing culture in your elementary music classes, reluctant students will jump right on board. I have seen new students walk into the music classroom with a “chip on their shoulder” and walk out with a smile on their faces the first day they attend music classes.

You can involve ALL students and increase engagement.  🎵

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Meet the Author

Terri Lloyd is a former elementary music teacher with over 25 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Science in Education, and a Technology Certificate in Instructional Design.

She is currently active in music education through blogging, workshops, and curriculum development. She serves on the music staff at her church and volunteers for an after-school children’s program. Terri is an active musician in the community, performing in a local Big Band, pit orchestras, and various events.

More Ways to Connect – Instagram, Facebook, YouTube.

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