Directors' Toolbox

Back to School: Tips from Teachers

August 14, 2018

J.W. Pepper talked to current and former teachers during one of our summer workshops to get some ideas for starting the school year right. Here are some of their thoughts on topics including class preparation and lesson planning in the weeks ahead:

School Year Checklist 

Ensure that:

  • Classroom expectations are established and displayed prominently in your classroom.
  • Welcome letters are prepared and other paperwork is in order, including a list of supplies needed, a schedule for upcoming performances and other important dates, and information on the boosters/music association for the parents.
  • Relevant email contacts are loaded.
  • Seating charts are created.
  • A list of recommended instrumental repair and rental shops is created for band and orchestra parents.
  • Repertoire for the beginning of the year is chosen, and sheet music is on seats or organized in student folders.
    • Decide if you’d like to see the makeup of your class before choosing works for concerts or later lessons.
  • Supplies are stocked and ready to go.
    • Ensure you have everything you need, including folders, filing boxes, and other accessories. To help organize your supplies, here’s a checklist of essentials for band and orchestra.
    • Make your room kid friendly – add colorful posters and create bulletin boards that are informative and fun.
    • Stock up on flexible and reproducible resources for chorus. Dynamite repertoire can be found in these collections, and you never have to worry about changing class numbers in your ensembles. You can simply make more copies, project to your smartboard, or utilize tablets.
    • Make certain you have adequate chairs and music stands in good condition.
  • Fun and relevant activities are set up in your class Learning Management System (e.g. Schoology, Google Classroom, Apple Classroom).

Icebreakers

  • Get-to-know-you games and collaborative activities to build a positive synergy in your ensemble
  • Name games
  • Rhythm games
    • The teacher says aloud a favorite song, food, etc. – and makes a beat on a bongo or other instrument. Then the class passes the instrument around the circle – each student names his or her own favorite and makes a rhythm to go along with it.
    • Explore resources like The Rhythm Reader or Rhythm Rescue for more rhythm and musical games and activities.
  • Other activities that can be leveled for different age groups

View this blog from the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME) for more ideas.

First Weeks of School

  • Sing or play music from the first day:
    • For choral or instrumental students, learn a simple song in one class and bring the students to the principal to perform.
    • For new instrumental students, after showing them how to put their instrument together, start teaching them how to play one or two notes immediately.
  • Try fun vocal warmups, orchestra warmups, and band warmups.
  • Make one of the first songs you teach the school fight song or alma mater so that they can perform or lead the school at assemblies, pep rallies, etc. – you will win bonus points from the administration!
  • Try to give students success as early as possible by possibly including a fall concert or other performing opportunities – explore autumn or Halloween songs for chorus or Halloween pieces for concert band
  • Use canons and rounds for chorus. Mix the voice parts up, and focus on attaining a good unison blend.

 Longer-Term Planning Ideas

For chorus:

  • Consider voice placement by voice color (tone/timbre). Have each student sing individually and categorize their voices as bright, dark, etc. Alternate voice types (e.g. dark voice with bright voices on either side). Move students to different spots and listen for how different groupings affect the sound. See how students perform when they can hear themselves and their neighbor better since the vocal color next to them is different:
    • Change placements by song if you need a richer, darker, or lighter sound.
    • Try putting different voice parts in the middle, such as the sopranos and alto 2s, to see if it helps with tuning.
    • Move students from song to song during a concert if needed.
    • Allow students to sing different voice parts for different songs. This allows developing voices to work on their range and harmonizing abilities.

For all music classes:

  • Try multicultural songs:
    • Ask students from different cultures for ideas.
    • Ask parents to teach a song or dance.
    • Use rhythms and instruments from other cultures.
    • Try multicultural works for orchestra, band, or choral
  • Use pop songs or other songs from stage and screen that are fun and that your group will love to do. This can be a great way to attract new students to your ensembles during the first few weeks of school when they can still add new classes. When your students are having fun in music class, they’ll tell their friends!

Extra Help

  • For new teachers, learn as much as you can from other teachers and by attending workshops.

 What other tips do you have? Leave your ideas in the comments.

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