Friday, December 21, 2012

Caroling in the Classroom

One of the traditions I started the first year our school was open was Caroling in the Classroom.  On the morning of the last day of school before winter break I take the 5th grade members of chorus around the school and we sing one carol in each classroom.  Our students, teachers and parents love this.  This year we sang Rudolph and I had a very expressive soloist add her own movements to go along with her part. 

We don't go to every classroom, that would be hard to do because we have around 7 classes per grade level, plus VPK and ESE rooms.  So, I put a sign up sheet in the mailroom about a week before we go caroling and allow teachers to sign up for a time.  I know that most classrooms have a packed schedule of holiday activites, so this gives teachers the option.

Here is the sign-up sheet I use:

Some years I have had a majority of teachers sign-up.  When that happens I ask for chorus parents to volunteer to guide a group around the school.  I then split the 5th graders into two groups and we divide and conquer.

If you would like this form, you can request it in the Freebie section of my blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Velcro Crafts

I didn't think I would be posting again until the New Year but I received a cute gift today that I thought was worth sharing.  One of my colleagues, a first grade teacher, stopped by with this gift:

I have not seen velcro crafts before and I was very excited about how I could use these in my classroom.  Here's a pic of what comes in the package:

This morning I experimented with hanging a few.  They are really easy to put up, takes just a few seconds.  I created a little area to display notes and artwork from students.  I chose a spot where my kids will be able to see their creations when they are waiting in line.

I'm thinking these could be fun for an eye spy game while in line.  Or any number of other activities.  I'll have to see how I can use them.  I'll post any games or other ideas I come up with!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cleaning Instruments

Today I had a bit of a wake up call.  I'm usually pretty good about wiping certain parts of my room down every week or few weeks but I have been a little bit more lax about it this year.  In passing today I found out that one of my kids has a staph infection, which is a contagious bacterial infection.  My brother had the misfortune of contracting one from the gym in college (not a fun thing to go through!). 

Since I know what he went through, I quickly sprang to action wiping down every surface this child may have come into contact with, plus more.  It was a good reminder of how vigilant I should be.  I know the custodial staff comes in and cleans certain parts of my room everyday but there are other things that they aren't responsible for that I could be taking care of.

Some of the things I try to wipe down frequently are:

Baskets that store frequently used supplies like pencils.
Door Knobs
My desk
Recorders (Normally I disinfect them in a bin but every once and a while, I run them through the dishwasher.)

In addition to this list, I think I'm going to start doing the following (at least quarterly):

Switch out pencils - I'm talking a brand new set

At the end of the year I always clean all of my instruments with a mild cleanser.  I take the bars off, gently wipe them, let them dry and put them back on before storing my instruments away.  I repeat this process with my mallets and some of the other small percussion instruments.

Something I want to try doing is open the lines of communication with my teachers.  Occasionally someone will mention an illness or infection that one of their students has contracted but sometimes I won't find out until many more students have traveled through my room.  I think it is important to know, especially about the more serious viruses, so I think this is something I'm going to work on with my classroom teachers.

Before using any cleaning products check your districts policy.  I know that our district is very strict about aerosol sprays (Lysol spray, Glade products, etc.) because of the effect they can have on allergies and asthmatic students.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Countdowns Begun

Yippee!!!  I made it through the holiday concert.  My kids did an amazing job tonight.  We performed at our local Barnes and Noble, which was a nice change of pace.  They cleared a nice space for us and our parents crammed in around the bookshelves and it ended up being a nice intimate setting.  I think I will definitely do another concert like this but maybe with less instruments.  I tried to limit it but then it felt like I took everything but the kitchen sink.  I'm not good at packing light.

This morning we had our dress rehearsal at school and I snapped these photos of our set up.  Typically I like to use my FlipForm risers for our orff set up but after being sick this week I didn't feel up to any extra movement.  Instead, I used my stash of carpet squares for comfier seating, as well as boomwhackers.

For one of the musical selections we were using boomwhackers with octivators.  I like how they sound when struck vertically against the floor, so the carpet squares were great for this.  When you strike them against tile floor you get an awful plastic sound, not ideal.

Now the that our performance is over, the countdown to winter break is on. 10 days to go!  :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hula Hoops for Recorder

I'd like to say I haven't posted because I've been caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season but, unfortunately, it's because I have been sick.  Usually I get my first cold from the kids in September as I'm adjusting to all of the germs surrounding me but this year my body waited until the week of my concert!  What a great time?!?!  Oh, well.  It is working it's way out of my system and I can't wait for it to be gone.  :)

A few years ago I saw a teacher in my district present a lesson on using hula hoops to reinforce BAG on Soprano Recorder.  (I feel awful, I can't remember who gave the presentation, I'd love to give her credit.)

Basically, you need 3 hula hoops laid out in a column on the floor.  Each one represents one of the pitches; B, A and G.  The hoop that is farthest from the students is B.  My hoops are different sizes because I found them at the dollar store.  I don't really care about the size difference but I do like to use different colors when I do this.  I find that the dollar store hoops are good for this because they are smaller and easier to jump if you want to do a skip from B-G.

I start the warm-up as the conductor.  If I am standing in a hoop, students respond by playing the appropriate pitch.  If I am not standing in any of the hoops, then it's a rest.  After my turn, I select at least 2 students to take turns as conductors.

This is an easy little warm-up and a good way to review fingerings for BAG.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jingle Bell Dance

The other morning I had to suddenly change my plans for Kindergarten because I had forgotten that the class I was going to see that day were my Spotlight Performers (a monthly featured class).  I could have taught my planned lesson but it would not have been great for film, so I decided to swap it with the lesson for the next rotation, Jingle Bells.

After settling on doing Jingle Bells with them, I decided why don't we do a dance!  Great for steady beat, and same/different.  So, I quickly came up with a dance to go with the version of Jingle Bells I had (Frank Sinatra).  Using this video as inspiration, I created a little dance for us to do.

Since I was planning on doing this with Kindergarten, I made some changes.  We really have not done any dances before, I thought a circle would be a bit much.  Can you imagine it?  I could see kindergarteners crashing into each other while others called out "No go that way" "Nu-uh that way".  :)  So, instead we used scattered formation.  

The Frank Sinatra recording is a bit different than the one in Dr. Amchin's video, so here is what I did with my little ones.

Formation:  Scattered

Introduction - Still for 8 beats

32 beats - sway hips from side to side (This one gives me the giggles.  If you try it you'll see what I mean!)

Jingle Bells - same as in the video, play the rhythm of the words, then walk hand in hand with your partner to the beat in any direction, repeat 

32 beats - sway hips again

Wave Goodbye

I am sure this is probably not the most fantastic dance out there but the kids enjoyed it, great practice of steady beat and it didn't take long to teach.  We were able to learn the dance and do half of the lesson I had originally planned.  

If I had more time to work on it, I probably would go ahead and do the circle.  I think my K kids could handle it with more time but this was one of those last minute things.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Videos

There are some very cool videos being pinned and I thought I would share some of my favorites so far...

The Maccabeats (Kids L-O-V-E this!)

Jingle Bells 17 Ways

Judy Garland - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (I just love this one, personal favorite.)

Creating a Program: Making Things Fit!

This is the 3rd installment and final (for now) of a series of posts on creating a program.

Something that can be hard to do is find pieces that fit a theme that you have come up with.  Often I start my program with one musical selection that I'm excited about and build the program around that piece.  Last year the piece that inspired me was Lo Yisa Goi (a beautiful Israeli Folk Song).  From that piece I decided to build a concert that traveled around the world visiting different holiday traditions.

What I find difficult is finding pieces that are age appropriate for my groups that fit the theme I have selected.  It can be maddening to round out the concert with that last musical selection.  Another reason that this sometimes stumps me is because I like to have a balance of choral, instrumental and movement in my performances.  Let's face it, we have all been to that monotonous choral performance.  I don't want my concerts to feel that way, so it sometimes makes planning a program more difficult (it may also be my anal nature).  :)

Some tricks I have learned along the way are:

1.  Create your own arrangements.
I have to admit, I did not feel comfortable with this until I took my Level I.  It really helped me better understand how to write for barred instruments and my kids.  This has really opened up song selection because an interesting arrangement and form can drastically change a simple folk song while making it more appropriate for upper grades.

2.  Transfer melodies to recorder.
Once you have created those holiday arrangements, how about performing the melody on recorder.  While most parents don't like to hear their kids practicing this instrument at home, they are very impressed when they perform a melody on it.

3.  Simple Melodies
Besides creating a more complicated harmonic accompaniment, think about how you can up simple songs for older grades.  Can you add movement?  Extend the form?  Add ostinati?  Sing it as a round?

4.  Package Performances
Sometimes package performances have a great script but the musical selections are okay.  Can you replace one of the intended musical selections with another holiday tune.  Or, can you insert other musical selections other places in the musical?

Did you miss the first two posts?  Links are below:

Creating a Program: Theme
Creating a Program: Favorite Resources

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love the holiday season!  For me it starts with Halloween and runs through New Years.  I just love everything about this season; the food, family, music, lights, etc.  Today I started my series of holiday lessons with my students and it really made going back to work a bit easier.  The kids eyes sparkle every time they hear music from the Nutcracker and it is just precious to watch.

This year I am trying out Artie's Parachutes and Ribbons and Scarves, Oh My!; there are some wonderful Nutcracker lesson ideas and I am loving them already.  Now, I was a bit of a slacker over Thanksgiving break, I was supposed to go out and buy 3 sets of plastic plates to use in a lesson for March from the Nutcracker but do you think I got it done?

Well, I remembered this morning about 20 minutes before my kids arrived for our lesson, so I had to improvise.  Here's what we did:

1.  First listen:  enjoy, think about where you have heard it before.
2.  Discuss the piece where it comes from and composer.
3.  Second listen:    listen to a section at a time and decode the form.  (This turned into a great
     discussion of the music and differences between sections.)
4.  Talk about Rondo Form
5.  Learn movement for A - I gave them movement for this.
6.  Create movement for B and C.
7.  Move with the music.

While I could have used one of the other lessons Artie created, I liked doing this because it turned out to be a great foundation.  I feel like from here we can move on and try out some of  the other fun activities from the book.  It was a happy accident.

Something else I'm trying out is focusing on a holiday per grade level.  I'm starting this year out by trying it with 1st grade.  We will be focusing on the music and traditions of Hanukah.  I have found that it can be frustrating to try and fit every holiday in, especially on my extended rotation, so I'm hoping this will be more impactful than jumping from holiday to holiday.  My plan is to continue with this by selecting a holiday per grade level with music that supports our goals during that time of the year.  I'm just trying out my lessons this week, I'll let you know how it goes.

Hope you like the holiday design!  My home is semi-decorated, so I thought my blog should have some holiday cheer too!  :)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Easy Dry Erase Worksheets

Wow, Thanksgiving flew by.  I have had a fantastic week of family and relaxation.  In my county we have a week off for Thanksgiving and mine kicked off with a baby shower.  I hosted a shower for my SIL's first baby.  This is also my first niece!  I'm a little sad that the week is over now but I know that the lessons to come over the next few weeks will be a lot of fun and then more vacation!  

I have posted pictures of some of my sub plan resources before but I thought I'd share some pics of the kids in action.

Last year I found that it took forever for the kids to draw a staff before we could get down to business.  While I think it is important for them to have practice with drawing the staff, sometimes it takes too long and isn't a priority in the lesson.  So, this year, I copied the staff and put the copies inside of sheet protectors.  These are so easy for activities with the staff. (One side is the treble clef staff, the other 3 line staff)

Here's a couple of examples of how I use them:

We were working on singing/reading and notating SMD on the 3 lined staff.  While it wasn't the focus of the lesson, some also added the rhythmic notation.

My older kids worked on name that note in small groups.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First Grade: Thanksgiving Rhythms

I wasn't planning on doing much with my 1st grade class today because they had gotten ahead of the other classes and it was their Thanksgiving Feast, so I figured they would be wound up.  But, then I realized it was my gifted class and I thought showing a video would be more work than just doing a lesson with them, so spur of the moment this is what I decided to do.

I had seen this worksheet pinned (it's a free download from Teacher's Pay Teacher's):

I like this worksheet a lot but I hadn't planned this out, so I didn't have copies and didn't have time to download it.  Plus, this may have been a bit over my 1st graders heads.  So, instead of 2 beat rhythms, we simplified to words that matched Ta and a column of words that matched ti-ti.  

I was impressed with the words they came up with, especially Mayflower.  It took a bit of prompting but they discovered that it combined the two note values.  Now, this was my Gifted 1st grade group, so I'm not sure this would have worked quite as well with my other classes.  

Once we had our lists, we used white boards and in pairs created 8 beat rhythm patterns.  They could use any of the words they wanted but they had to make sure and practice clapping their rhythm.  After about 6 minutes of writing and clapping, we performed our rhythm patterns for each other.  

Afterwards, I recorded a few of the groups performing their patterns.  What was great is some of them were already trying to use ta and ti-ti instead of the words to read the patterns.  

Take a look at the first pattern in the video.  These girls used Mayflower and figured out on their own that it would take up two beats.  I thought that was pretty spectacular for 1st graders!

Pease Porridge: 1st Grade

There are a few of those poems and songs that I use across grade levels and Pease Porridge is one of them.  I have posted a 3rd grade Pease Porridge lesson and this lesson is one I did recently with 1st grade.

We reviewed the poem from Kindergarten while keeping the steady beat.  I told them we were going to be detectives and decode the rhythm of the poem.  (EXCITING!)  They helped me keep the beat while I notated ta on the board.  Once I had notated the beat for all 3 phrases it was time to decode.

I have got to remember to write things lower!  I'm a little dense and keep doing it, so I bought a little green stool so that my poor little ones can reach.  You would think that after 6 years I would have figured it out. that not the cutest little bow!

We started by finding the silent beats and replacing ta with a rest.  Once that was complete we moved onto beats with two sounds.  Finally we played the rhythm of the whole thing using the words of the poem and ta's and ti-ti's.  They loved this and it didn't take long to do.  I'm sure you could extend this activity with instruments and in other ways but for this lesson it was enough.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trip to the Concert Hall

Yesterday was our trip to see our local orchestra.  Each year they do a tremendous job of putting on a fantastic concert for our 3rd - 5th grade students.  Some of the highlights from this year:

In the Hall of the Mountain King
Pomp and Circumstance

There were many other pieces but these were a few of my personal favorites from this performance.

My favorite part of this event is selecting two 5th grade students, one girl and one boy, to represent our school on stage singing the National Anthem.  There is usually a group of about 10 to 12 kids from the schools attending the concert who go out and stand in front of the orchestra and sing.  What a special moment for these kids!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Link Fixed

There was a broken link in the Freebie section of my blog.  If you are interested in the Specials Newsletter, the link is now fixed.

Featured Product: November

I know this is a bit earlier than usual but with next week being Thanksgiving break, I wasn't sure if I would get to it then.  Check out this month's Featured Product.

Fall Leaves

My Kindergarteners loved singing Fall Leaves and working on high/low sounds this week.  There is a cute little song in K Game Plan that I used with this activity but any short song about leaves would work.

The idea for this activity also comes from Game Plan but the visual is one I made myself.  After singing the melody, I would play a high/low sound on the glockenspiel (the instrument we have been working on playing) and a student would place the leaf on the visual.  It took about 7 minutes to give everyone a turn but singing in between helped keep them from getting restless.

I like to pair an activity like this with some movement because little bodies can only take so much sitting.  After we did this, we sang another song about leaves and created movement to go along with it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Favorite non-Christmas Songs

To go along with my previous post, what are some of your favorite non-Christmas songs?  I know we can all probably benefit from a few new ideas.  Please leave your thoughts in the box below.  Thanks.

Creating a Program: Favorite Resources

This is the second post in my series on Creating a Program.  Last week I wrote about coming up with a concert theme and this week is all about some of my favorite (holiday) resources.  Below are some of them.

Anything by Randy and Jeff is perfect.  They have a number of publications that are perfect for the holidays; Highlighting the Holidays, Making the Most of the Holidays.  Check out all their publications  here!

The link below is to a cool book with short stories that are perfect for orff dramatization.  Add a few sound effect instruments and they are a lot of fun.  Plus, these are a great jumping off point to create your own stories for Orff Dramatization.

The Duet Recorder
Recorder Duet
Duet Time
Recorder Express

I'm not big on using recorded sound tracks, so all of these resources have orff accompaniment or none at all.  If you are looking for a performance track I would look at Music K8.

Next week's post, Creating a Program......making things fit.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Carpet Squares, Take 3!

Yet another way I use my carpet squares for rhythm.  The rhythm is created using rhythm sticks.  Repetition, repetition, repetition is the name of the game with kids.  I find that they don't get bored with this even thought it is, in reality, the same thing.  Put a twist on it and it's brand new!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thanksgiving Freebie

I love using my pocket chart for rhythm/composing activities.  I recently used one during 2nd grade to learn about unbeamed eighth notes.  It is easy for kids to manipulate the rhythm cards and create patterns to play.  These are some halloween rhythm cards that I used recently with my 2nd graders but I also have Thanksgiving and Christmas sets.  Below is a sample of the Thanksgiving quarter note cards.  If you would like to download and print a set for your classroom visit the Freebie section of my blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fantasia 2000

One of my favorite videos to share with the kids is Fantasia 2000.  The music is fantastic and the cartoons are beautiful to look at.  What I like most about this video is that you can show it in short segments as part of the lesson.  For example, I have been preparing my students for our trip to see the orchestra and today we learned about Pomp and Circumstance.  It was great to show them the video to help spur conversation about what Elgar intended when he wrote the piece and how we use it today.

I know it is sad to say, but I'm sure you have been there too, I had a moment today when my patience was completely shot.  I didn't want to take it out on the kids so, after teaching the beginning portion of the lesson to 2nd grade, I put on Fantasia 2000.  It gave me a breather and I made a game out of it.  Every time I paused the video, they had to be able to tell me what the dynamic was in the music (which was what we had been working on).  They loved it and it gave me a minute to compose myself and muster up a bit more patience.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

People Rhythms

People Rhythms are one of my favorite ways to help kids with visualizing rhythm.  What I have found is kids have a really hard time understanding that eighth notes are 2 sounds on one beat and this, plus repeating the definition, really helps.

I have a stack of carpet squares that I picked up from a design center that was closing.  They were completely free and I use them all the time; sometimes for a friend who needs a defined space to stay within, other times for bass xylophone players to sit back on between songs.  There are many options but I always have a set of four at the front of the room for rhythm activities.

Recently, we used them to discover two sounds on a beat.  I play the rhythm of the words in a song that we are working on (this time Big Black Cats from First Grade Game Plan) and lead the kids in discovering the rhythm.  I allow students to come up and gently rearrange the rhythm until we have matched it to the song.  The kids love being a part of the people rhythm and reading people rhythms.

I have also used these carpet squares for carpet rhythms.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Instruments at Target!

I stopped at Target this evening to pick up a couple of things and could not resist taking a peek at the $ section.  I was excited to see a bunch of $1 and $3 toy instruments.  Now, I would never use these during a lesson but for my Maestro of the Month backpack they would be great additions.  I didn't pick up any just yet because I want to look in the backpack and see what I need but I won't wait too long because I'm sure they will get picked over.  What I remember seeing are:

Egg Shakers
Jingle Bells

I know there were more, I just can't remember now.  This would be a great way to create a reward backpack for your students.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Creating a Program: Theme

Recently a teacher who follows my blog emailed asking about how I start or come up with a concert program.  Over the next few weeks I will post about this; how I go about creating a program and putting a twist on package programs.  I hope this is helpful as you plan for your holiday performances or for another later in the year.

This may sound crazy but I start planning my winter program in May!  I don't finalize anything but I want at least a vague idea of where I'm headed and what date I'm working towards.  I find that starting my year with these events semi planned helps give me direction and lower my stress level.  It doesn't concern me that I'm not sure which kids will be in my group because I can always tweak things later to meet the overall ability of the group.

My winter concert is more on the traditional choral side of things.  Most of our singing is standing on risers with some stationary movement.  However, I do like to add some dances in with small groups and our orff group does all of the instrumental parts and some highlight pieces as well.  In addition to all of this I like to have some sort of script and offer some kids the opportunity of a narrators role.  I usually create this script so that it fits the theme of our program and highlights some of the skills involved in the performance of the piece.

When I am planning for this event I always like to start with a theme.  One year it was A Passport Through the Holidays another Toys.  Usually a specific piece inspires the theme.  For my Passport Through the Holidays concert it was Lo Yisa Goi, an Israeli Folk Song.  While this piece is not a traditional holiday piece, it had a great message that is prevalent at the holidays.  Once I have the theme it is easy to focus in on what other pieces of music would fit well in the program.

You can make just about any theme work.  Here are some jumping off points:

-by composer
-by region
-by holiday
-by subject (i.e. toys)

And on and on....

Since it is close to the holidays, what are some of your favorite themes for holiday programs?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Questions about Hooded Sweatshirt Costumes

Over the weekend someone asked some questions about my post on Hooded Sweatshirts and I thought that the answers were something that everyone might like to know.

Q: Where do you find solid colored hooded sweatshirts?

There are a few places you can find sweatshirts but I like to start at Target. They usually have plain sweatshirts in both the men's section and the little boys section. Sometimes the boys XXL and XL are big enough to cover the leggings. I have also ordered them through Amazon.

Q: Do you provide the costumes or do you ask parents to provide them?

I often provide the bulk of the costume for my students but things like leggings are something the parents are responsible for. I make sure to state this in my contract at the beginning of the year so that I don't have any issues come concert time. I try to put parents in charge of as little as possible because it can be hard for them to find what they need. Since I have a better idea of what I want for the costume, it's easier for me to purchase things for the kids. If it is something that they are going to need privacy to change into, then I ask parents to provide the item. Most of the costumes parents make for me or that I purchase can be slipped over clothing. To help with this, I charge an activity fee at the beginning of the year that covers a chorus shirt, costuming and any other needs.

Q: Where do you find the different colored leggings?

After talking with my chorus Mom's I have found that they order the leggings online or purchase white leggings and use Rit die to get whatever color they need. You can find Rit die at Walmart.

Q: How do you get parents to help?
I email my parents frequently and send email newsletters once a month. Anytime I need help I ask and usually within minutes I have several responses. When we first opened the school I didn't have that many volunteers but I have found being sociable is a great way to form these relationships with the parents. Recognizing faces, talking to them in the hallway and most importantly recognizing them for any effort they have put into your program. When a parent helps me, I recognize them in our program, talk about them at the end of concerts and send them hand made Thank you cards made by the kids. Actually, my kids love this too because they get to sign the inside with whatever color they want! Kids are so easy to please. :)
Another way to encourage parent involvement is to support your PTO. My PTO are so supportive because I support them. This year we are performing at the Barnes and Noble book fair. Not really a huge deal on my end because I always give a winter performance but for them it means 90+ kids and their families attending the event.

To see the original post click here. Do you have any other questions about hooded sweatshirt costumes?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seat Numbers Part 3

I posted this beautiful picture of my risers with their seat numbers back in August.

They looked beautiful, all evenly placed but I don't know what I was thinking.  I cut these tiny, cute, little, petite squares of contact paper that just overlapped each seat number by a bit.  Ha!  They lasted like that for all of 3 days.  After they started falling off left and right, I cut bigger squares and I must say they lasted a long time but over the last two weeks they all started biting the dust.  

You can see there aren't many left!

I have them piled on my desk, new contact paper ready but they have been laying there unattended for the last few days because I can't figure out how I want to proceed.  Do I re-contact paper them to the risers or is there a better way?  Any suggestions out there?  I must admit the contact paper works well  but at this rate I would have to redo them at least once a quarter and I know there has to be something that is more practical than that.  While I know that I probably don't need them at this point, my kids know where their seats are, I want something permanent that I don't have to redesign next year.  So, until I come up with a solution, they will sit on my desk!  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Woodwind Family

I have mentioned before that I have been doing a unit on Woodwind Instruments with my 2nd graders but I thought I would create a post that compiles all of the resources I have been using for this unit.

I like to use the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's website for recordings.  They have done a great job of recording each instrument playing Twinkle, Twinkle and an orchestral excerpt.

Some of the images of the instruments on DSO's site are great examples but others run on the small side; even when projected onto the screen in my classroom.  In these instances, I use my Peter and the Wolf signs.  I made these a few years ago for a fun Peter and the Wolf lesson and I can easily project the name and image of the instrument from my doc cam.

I give my students an experience with a famous piece for each instrument we learn about.  For the oboe, we listened to the Afternoon of a Faun, the bassoon Peer Gynt, etc.  I display a picture of the composer on the screen with their name and the name of the famous piece.  Depending on the instrument and piece, we may also do a listening/movement activity.

Students take notes on each instrument and the famous piece it is featured in.  Here are some images of their notes.

They aren't anything fancy but they help the kids keep the information organized.  I think the part that has been the most impactful is drawing the instruments.  I make sure to emphasize some of the physical features of the instruments like the bocal on the bassoon, the difference in bell size of the clarinet and the oboe to help them distinguish between the instruments.  My kids have been easily able to discuss the differences when we played our review game.

Our notes only take about 5-8 minutes at the beginning of the lesson.  These sheets have a backside with more boxes to take notes on other instruments.  I leave drawing the instruments for when we have extra time.  Some lessons there may not be anytime to draw instruments but other days they may have time to draw 2.  It just depends on the class and the day and sometimes my mood!  :)

Another thing I like to do when I have extra time is play videos of the instruments we are learning about.  I posted these videos in October.  If you have an oboe or clarinet video you like, please share it in the comment section of this post.

There are a lot of things I don't mind getting behind on because I know I can catch up.  But, when I have a sub one thing that I do let them teach is the instrument.  I have them read from "The Story of the Orchestra" by Robert Levine.  There is great information and pictures in this book.  It's not just great for a sub, I like to read from it as well!

It's the end of the first quarter, so we have been playing Jeopardy as a review.  My kids LOVE this!  It only takes about 20 minutes to play, so it doesn't take up my whole lesson.  It has definitely been worthwhile to take the time and play the game before moving onto the next instrument family.  I found my Jeopardy template on Powerpoint Games website.  There are a few things I'm not crazy about, like the text colors and size, but for a free template it works!  The template on their site is blank, so you could use it to create a review game for any concept you are working on.

Each team gets a sound effect instrument (use 3 different timbres).  The team to buzz in first gets to answer the question (I don't care if they answer in the form of a question).  If they answer correctly, they get the points.  If not, the other teams can steal.  If no one gets the answer correct, then no one gets the points.

I play in 3 teams because of my seating arrangement.  After each question the instrument is passed to the next team member so that everyone gets a chance to represent their team.  After buzzing in I give the team a few seconds to discuss their answer.  For the listening examples, I make them wait to buzz in until I have given them a thumbs up or stopped the recording.  If you don't specify, no one will be able to hear because the kids will be buzzing in.

-Try and provide as many real examples as you can.  I brought in my flute and it gave my kids a much better perspective when it came to the size and shape of the instrument.  Videos are also great for this.
-Buy a few reeds.  I have examples of clarinet and bassoon reeds and I'm hoping to collet others.
-Provide multiple listening examples.  The more the kids hear these instruments the better.

This 9 weeks we will be working on our next instrument family.  Here is a preview:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I may email/send home more newsletters than most, but I think it is sooooo important to keep parents informed of what is going on.  In addition to emailing parents reminders and updates about after school performing events, I also help organize our quarterly special areas newsletter and send e-news to specific grade levels throughout the year.  Below are some of the templates I use to help keep my parents informed.

Clef Notes News is the newsletter for my performing groups. 
 This is just the view of the 1st page of the document.

Specials All Around goes out quarterly to help inform parents about what is happening in special areas.  
This is just the 1st page of the document.

If you are interested in these templates, you can request them in the Freebies section of my blog.

Monday, October 29, 2012


It's the end of the first 9 weeks in our district and time for reflection.  I feel like I have posted a whole lot since June and I know that when I visit other blogs I often wonder what a teacher uses certain resources for or reasons why they have laid their room out a specific way.

Do you have a question about something in my classroom?  Or anything else about me or the way I teach?  Please feel free to leave questions or comments in the box below.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Singing in the....

During a 1st grade rhythm activity this week I had a little interruption.  We were working on labeling ti-ti and it was the meat of my lesson, the kids were just making the connection to a previous lesson when all of a sudden I heard a little voice singing.  I looked around to try and figure out who was randomly singing when I remembered I had just sent a child to the bathroom!

The bathroom is at the front of my room.

This isn't the first time this has happened.  It seems that the popularity of singing in the bathroom was something I was unaware of (at least outside the shower) and it isn't relegated to the younger grades.  I have had K-3 students singing in my bathroom, which makes me giggle every time.  :)

Friday, October 26, 2012


I am so blessed to have a job that I love.  Working with kids is wonderful and making music with them, even better!  But, let's face it, being a Music Specialist is not my life.  It's a fun job I do to make money to help support my family.

So, I find that it's important to do fun little things for myself while at work.  One thing that I like to do is Countdowns.  This is something just for me.  Countdown to the next vacation, holiday, or special event.  I keep it on a little calendar next to my desk.  It's not something I dwell on but a nice little reminder of something special to come.  I don't count weekends, just work days.

With that all said,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Treble Clef Words

I can remember doing Treble Clef worksheets in middle school and enjoying them and my students still enjoy doing this same activity.  Throughout the first 9 weeks of school I had my 5th graders work on writing their own Treble Clef Words.  

Using notebook paper, I made a sample; I traced the lines of the notebook paper to create a staff and then drew a Treble Clef.  When I introduced this idea to my classes, I had them write the music alphabet at the top of their papers.  I found that this made it easier for them to come up with words because they could visually see the letters rather than have to think of them off the top of their heads.  I demonstrated the word "Add" on my paper and how to use a bar line to separate the words on the staff.

I was quite impressed with some of the words they created; defaced, beaded.  This was not something I spent a lot of time on.  The papers were kept in their music folders and when we had a few extra minutes, they could work on writing a few more words.  

This week was the end of the quarter, so I went through their folders and picked out some of the best work to share in the hallway.  I copied the treble clef staff onto some colored paper and then slipped them into sheet protectors.  (I cut the 3 whole punched part of the sleeve off.)  

The reason I displayed them this way was so that I could change out the words from time to time.  I wrote the name of the child at the top of the sleeve using a dry erase marker and then attached an index card to the bottom of each staff.  When flipped up, the index card reveals the answer.  

Afro Circus

Today was our annual Book Character Parade.  Each year our guidance counselor does a fantastic job of creating a week of events to celebrate being drug free and the week culminates in students and teachers dressing up as some of their favorite characters and parading around the school bus loop.  

Each year our specials team has a theme.  One year we were witches, another characters from Alice in Wonderland but this year was the most fun!  We were all Marty from Madagascar 3.  Don't know what I'm talking about?  Watch this!

We paraded around the school in all our afro splendor chanting lyrics that were similar to Marty's.  (In reality the chant changed each time we started it!)  Below are two of my teammates Mrs. P and Mrs. M.  We opened the school together a few years ago and now I can't imagine my day without them.  

I know this is not really on topic but something fun that I enjoy from year to year.  While not part of my classroom, I think it is important for specials teachers to participate in these events.  The kids notice and so do the other adults (parents and teachers).  It's a great way to show that you are an important part of the school.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rhythm Building Blocks In Use

This week we sang about the zoo and created a B section using the Rhythm Building Blocks.  Here are the words my students came up with to match the rhythms on the blocks.  Each class was slightly different but ti-ti ta seemed to always be kangaroo.

More on Rhythm Building Blocks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Recorders: Hallelujah, the counter is clean!

I finally got rid of this recorder mess!  It seems that my counter and desk have been over run with recorders and other materials for the last 3 weeks and I am happy to be rid of it.

I finally handed out the last recorder order!  I do this a bit differently than many of the teachers I know but it seems to work well with my kids.  After collecting all of the orders at the beginning of the year (you can see my order form here) I place an order with West Music and my school cuts a check using the money that is in my account.  

Once the order arrives, I sort them and attach each students order form to the recorder and write their name on the plastic sleeve.  I don't waste my time trying to put their name or initials on the actual instrument because it tends to rub off.  After everything is sorted I hand them out when their class comes to music.  This gives me a chance to go over caring for the instrument and rules about when to play their recorders (i.e. not on the bus!).

It has taken me awhile to get this process down to a science and it works for me.  What are some of your recorder ordering tricks?  Is there something you do that makes it easier to distribute to your students?  

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Spaces Spell FACE!

In 4th grade Game Plan there is a suggestion to have students make a face so that they will remember that the spaces spell face.  So, for the past 3 years, I have had kids make faces to decorate our music room.  I love seeing what they create from year to year!

The sign was created by a 5th grade students older sibling.  I told her what I wanted and she made this beautiful sign!

I give this as a homework assignment.  These are the faces I have had returned so far.  I don't get 100% participation but most of the kids end up bringing theirs in.  I give each student a paper plate and they can create any face they want, using any medium they want.  They can cut their plate, add more paper to it, anything goes as long as its a face.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October's Featured Product

3rd Grade: Pease Porridge

The first quarter seems to be mostly review for my kids.  There are a few new things I introduce but more of it is content that we started last year and I find slightly more challenging activities.  This past rotation we reviewed downbeat, bar lines, and measures in 3rd grade.

After working to figure out where the strong beats were in the poem and adding the bar lines, we used body percussion to practice 4 different instrument parts.  For this lesson, I used a SMD melody so that we could review singing these patterns, finding them on the barred instruments and in some classes notating them on the staff (this was an extension that I did not have time for with all classes this rotation).

Pease Porridge Hot  Rest  Pease Porridge Cold Rest Pease Porridge in the pot nine days old Rest
S        MM       S               S        MM        S              S        MM       S  S   M   S     M     D

Snap to show the strong beats.
Pat to show where the quarter rests are.
Clap the rhythm of the words.
Sign the SMD pattern in the melody.

Formation:  Seated Circle

I set the instruments we were using around my staff rug.  We used xylophones (SMD), lollipop drums (strong beat), triangles (rests) and rhythm sticks (rhythm).  We transferred the parts to each instrument and then played them altogether while singing the melody.  We rotated clockwise one instrument, reviewed the parts and performed it again.  This process was continued until everyone had a chance to experience playing each part.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Understanding Lyrics

I know that it is important to help my students understand lyrics but today I realized that I may need to take a bit more time to make sure I'm doing this.

During my K lesson we were working on the poem This Little Pig from Game Plan.  As we were echoing the text I was surprised by how they were speaking the text back.  In the 3rd phrase it mentions the word "Snout" but instead of hearing "This little pig shows us his snout", I heard "This little pig shows us his SNOT"!  After stopping and talking about this word, there were giggles all around.

I have always been careful about discussing lyrics with deeper meaning and words that I know were well beyond their years but I never thought about this word.  Lesson learned, we may need to make sure and discuss what a snout is before echoing.  :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Video and Photos

I had a conversation recently with a younger teacher about using photos/video of students, so I thought it might be something good to post about.

Before taking, posting, or using pictures/video of your students make sure:

  • Each child pictured has filled out the photo/video release form for your school.  I know each child at our school is given one of these forms at the beginning of the year and our registrar keeps track of who has/has not completed one.  Be mindful of this because there are some families who do not take pictures because of cultural/religious beliefs.
  • If you have an after school group, make sure to get separate authorization.  While I'm pretty sure my district form covers using photo/video of these students, I like to have something at my fingers tips.
  • Think before you post a picture/video.  Do I need to reveal the identities of my students?  Is this a safe site to post something? 

I may be a bit extreme when it comes to posting pictures of kids but there are so many people out there who aren't respectful of young people.  I do have all of my after school groups fill out a release but I use this for showing videos on the morning announcements and for pictures I occasionally hang in the hall way.  It is very rare for me to reveal the identities of my kids.  I prefer to take pictures showing them from the neck down or to blur their faces using Photoshop.  This is what makes me most comfortable.

Monday, October 15, 2012

SFOC Guest Post

I was recently asked to write a guest post for the South Florida Orff Chapter's Blog.  You can check out the post I wrote and all of the other great resources here:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What is your school like?

Part of why I started this blog was to network and learn more about other music teachers.  Over my 5 years, I have noticed that there are big differences from school to school in my own county.  So, I'm wondering what your school is like.  What is your enrollment?  How many music teachers are there at your school?  How often do you see your kids?  What are your responsibilities outside of your instructional time?  Do you have after school performing ensembles?  Do you do grade level performances?  What makes your program special?  (Of course the answer to that one is you!  But what are some of the special things YOU do with your kids?)

Here are my school facts:
  • Enrollment: 830 (I think that is the most recent total!) We don't ever seem to stop growing and they are actually building more housing that is supposed to be completed in December!
  • Music Teachers: Me and our strings teacher. She is at our school in the AM two days a week to work with our 4th and 5th strings students.
  • Schedule: I see my kids once every 7 days for 45 minutes at a time, 35 minutes if it is a Wednesday. Some grade levels have more than 7 classes which means the 8th class has to split. I would say I typically have 18-20 little ones and with the older kids 20-24. Some of my classes end up a bit larger with the ESE students that are pushed in for specials.
  • Duty: I am responsible for monitoring students during arrival and dismissal.
  • Performing Ensembles: I have two groups, chorus and orff. They meet once a week each for an hour.
  • Grade Level Performances:  I don't do grade level performances.  When our school opened we were part of an Arts Integration grant, so classroom teachers took on the responsibility of grade level performances that incorporated what they were learning.  Since then, this tradition has continued and I only assist with these events.
  • Special Things: I am all about celebrating success from the very small, to the very large. We celebrate funny reactions, birthdays, finding our singing voices, and many more special occasions. Music should be enjoyable! I find celebrating these small moments helps my students feel more comfortable which means I get more out of them.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Parachutes and Ribbons and Scarves, OH MY!

I'm soooooooo excited!!!  This week one of my parents mentioned that she wanted to donate something to our music program.  After asking how much she was thinking of gifting, I sent her a list of materials that were around that price.  I can't tell you how excited I was this morning when her little one walked in holding Artie Almeida's Parachutes and Ribbons and Scarves, OH MY!

I have been sitting here looking through the pages and getting more and more excited about the fun lessons I will incorporate this year.  I love Artie's stuff and I can safely say (even without testing this with my kids) that this is a resource well worth purchasing for your classroom!  Below is the link to this book on West Music.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1st Grade: Spooky Rhythms

I happened across a post on The Sweetest Melody and it inspired me to do some Spooky rhythm patterns during my 1st grade lesson this rotation.  We've been working on reviewing ta and rest from the end of kindergarten and experiencing eighth notes.  After singing a song that had eighth note patterns that we moved to, we looked at our Ghost rhythms.

I asked my kids to tell me how these rhythms looked different than the rhythms we read during our last class.  They said "Some of the beats have 2 ghosts".  So I asked them what they thought would happen and their response was exactly what I wanted "there will be two sounds".

So, we played our spooky rhythms saying ghost for one sound on a beat and spooky where there were two sounds.  Oh my goodness did they love this!  Afterwards I gave them an opportunity to compose their own spooky rhythm.  I kept it to 4 beats since this was our first composing experience this year.

I didn't have any Halloween themed manipulatives but these worked.  I had some cardstock that was cut into 8ths and some button shapes that had been donated.  I separated them into baggies, each bag had 4 pieces of cardstock and 8 buttons.  The cardstock is to represent the beat and the buttons the notes.  These are nice because I can use them throughout the year.  I think I will give each group 8 beats next time for a longer composing experience.

Hear is some video of my kids working on their rhythms.  Sorry my voice is so loud, you can't really hear it in the video but the class was kind of loud as they worked in their groups so I had to speak up so my little ones could hear me.  Unfortunately, my cell phone picked my voice up more than anything else because I was so close to it.

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