Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rhythm Warm-Ups- Increasing Engagement Edition.

I recently finished a class on gender and learning styles with Kelley King. It was a class full of "a-ha" moments for me that led me to change the way I do a lot of things in my classroom.  I have seen some big changes in my students and classroom engagement as a result of the strategies I learned, so I thought I would pass on a couple tidbits to you!

Here's a big one...

Boys need to move. We have all heard a million times that it is important to keep students moving and vary instructional styles, etc. However, reading this book really shifted my perspective on how and when boys need to move. I always thought that including a game with movement, a hand jive, body percussion or something along those lines was enough for my "kinesthetic learners." I felt like a was doing a pretty good job of keeping my students engaged!

As I dove into this book, I began to observe my students more for some of the tendencies the authors were describing. I realized that as soon as we dove into the "high concentration" sections of my lessons, many of the boys were fidgety, distracted, or less-engaged than I had previously thought. I decided to try out some of the strategies I read in "Strategies for Teaching Boys and Girls," and I have already seen amazing results! One activity I have developed is "Music Walk," which is included in my Pick-A-Stick rhythm warm-up set.

Music Walk

During my lessons, one time I saw students' attention really wane was during any sort of flashcard review. I use a lot of flashcards as transitions, quick review, etc., so I needed to find a way to make them more meaningful to more students. Here's how I did it.

  1. Give every student a flashcard
  2. Play a fun and engaging song (think- ABC by Jackson Five) for students to walk around the room to. 
  3. Pause at random times. When the music pauses, students have to partner with the person closest to them and read their flashcard to their partner. Then they switch cards (giving them a new flashcard) 
  4. Start music again and repeat.
One tip for success- it helps to have a spot for kids to go if they don't have a partner. I have a red carpet dot in my room that is the "Land of Lost Partners." I also tell my students that during a Music Walk, we don't hear any English, only Rhythm! 

My students love to go for a Music Walk, and they all get quality practice reading rhythms in the process. I often see students helping each other when they speak a rhythm incorrectly, and the engagement level of my boys is WAY higher when I use flashcards this way! 

Telephone Rhythm

I have always known the games were a HUGE motivator for my students, by this class drew my attention to how much boys thrive in competitive environments. You have to set boundaries, encourage good sportsmanship, etc. to keep things happy and fun, but using competition in the classroom can lead to REALLY high engagement levels. Before break, I used Aileen Miracle's "Build a Snowman" as a boys vs. girls challenge, and they were BEGGING to repeat it. (You can check out her product here...

Another competition game I use as a rhythm warm-up is Telephone Rhythm. This is a great "low-energy" activity to get your kids focused back in and practicing rhythms. 
  1. Divide the class into 3-4 groups. I find that groups no bigger than 10 works well. Mine are generally 8. 
  2. Have the students sit in a line. Have the first students come up to get the "message" (a note-card with a 4 or 8 beat rhythm written on it.)
  3. Students go back to their line and whisper the rhythm to the next person, just like in the game, "Telephone." 
  4. The message gets whispered all the way down the row, until it reaches the last person. The person at the end writes the rhythm on a notecard or whiteboard. 
  5. When every row is finished, the teacher checks the rhythm. Correct rhythms earn 1 point. 
  6. The last person becomes the first person and you repeat the game (giving more students chances to write (decode) the rhythm they hear).
  7. You can choose how long to play- first to 5, 10, etc.
Your room will be near silent as the kids try to pass on the correct rhythm. :)  I am working on a Telephone Rhythms file that will be available on my TpT store soon! 

If you are interested in learning more about boys and girls in the classroom, I encourage you to check out this book...

Happy New Year!

P.S. I am in the process of looking for Spring music for my choirs. I found a piece called "Skylark and Nightingale" by Audrey Snyder, and I am in love! If you don't know it, I encourage you to listen! It has some beautiful spots for teaching vowels and very approachable two-part harmony! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Congratulation Labels

One of my true loves is children's choirs. After having conducted elementary through high school choirs, singing in collegiate and professional choirs, and listening to hundreds of recordings and live performances, I am convinced that there is no sound more beautiful to my ear than that of a child singing.

Today I am going to share one of my tips for motivating your singers in choir. Before I do, a little background on my choral work...

I currently conduct three ensembles. My school choir is about 90 voices and is a non-auditioned 4th and 5th grade ensemble. Outside of school, I conduct the two training choirs for the Boulder Children's Chorale. These choirs are made up of about 40 1st-4th grade singers. All of my ensembles rehearse once a week for 45 minutes, outside the school day.

With such short rehearsal times and large ensembles, I have been challenged to figure out how to work on individual musicianship and singing skills while still teaching my singers quality repertoire. One technique that I have had with great success are my "Congratulations!" labels. These are simple labels I print on to Avery mailing labels (30 per sheet) that I pass out during rehearsal. I actually got the idea from a first grade teacher who gave her students a label that said, "Congratulate Me" when they completed their entire reading list in the classroom.  I modified the idea to fit my needs and created labels like...

"Congratulate Me! I sang with beautiful tone in choir today!" 


"Congratulate Me! I sang with perfect vowels in choir today!" 

When I catch a student doing something in rehearsal that is noteworthy, I just walk up to them and give them a sticker. I love these labels for several reasons:
1. They allow me to quickly acknowledge individual students without stopping the rehearsal
2. They motivate students to improve their individual performance
3. They give students a conversation starter with parents- I have had many parents come to me saying things like, "Lucy was so excited to get her sticker in choir today. She told me all about singing in her head voice."
4. They are super easy to make and use!

My students (especially the younger singers) love getting recognized during rehearsal. I always love seeing a student smile when I hand them a sticker, and usually they continue to work hard and improve throughout the rehearsal after they have been recognized. A little positive encouragement can go a long way towards keeping your students engaged and excited about choir!

I have posted a set of choir labels for you to download and print on my TpT store for free! Just visit my store at...


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rhythmic Improvisation

I'm so excited about some of the feedback I have gotten since launching my blog! Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read and comment! As promised in my last post, I am going to dive into some of the warm-ups from my "Pick a Stick" jar. Today's focus? Improvisation!

Teaching and assessing improvisation were among my greatest challenges as a beginning teacher. Those of you who know me know that I love structure, organization, and predictability. So, improvisation was definitely outside my comfort zone!  I had very little experience with improvisation in my training and struggled to find ways to help my students improvise that were meaningful, feasible, and engaging.  Thankfully, I was able to watch and learn from a few AMAZING teachers who opened my eyes to a new perspective and approach to improvisation. Now, I love improvisation activities and my students do, too! They are a great way to practice rhythms (and melodies), encourage creativity, and keep your kids challenged and engaged. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for me for rhythmic improvisation.

1. Setting Parameters

Improvisation can quickly turn from a purpose-driven, meaningful learning experience to mass chaos if you aren't careful! Students love to improvise, but they also love to be silly and goofy. Therefore, I always try to give my students clear expectations and guidelines for rhythmic improvisation activities.  I specify the number of beats or the rhythms that students need to include in their improvisation in order to keep them on-task and learning. I also use my parameters as my basis for assessment.

2. Using Visuals

One of my biggest "a-ha" moments came last year when I saw a video of a teacher leading an improvisation activity for her students. She provided a visual of the empty beats for students to follow while they improvised. I have adapted her work to create a rhythmic improvisation warm-up I call, "Finish the Phrase." I use templates like these one to guide students through 4 and 8 beat improvisation ...

While students improvise, I help them by tracking the beats with a pointer or my hand. I have seen a HUGE improvement in students' ability and willingness to improvise rhythms by using this template. Now, whenever my students draw "Finish the Phrase" from the warm-up jar, nearly every hand immediately flies into the air. They think they are hilarious when they say, "rest-rest-rest-ta" or, "tika-tika, tika-tika, tika-tika, tika-tika" and they love the challenge of making their rhythm different than the people who have gone before them. Using these templates, I can include an improvisation activity in 2 minutes of my lesson.

Even though most of my students love to improvise, I definitely have kids who struggle. Therefore, I also try to use visuals as a way to help them feel more comfortable and successful. When we are playing a game like "Drop 4, Add 4" or doing improvisation away from the board, I offer my students notecards that have beat bars drawn on them, so that they can track the beats while they improvise. They are super simple, like this...

As students become more comfortable, I encourage them to work away from using the notecards. However, they are a great tool for getting started. Even if you simply draw beat bars on the board, giving students sometime to track helps it feel less scary and more manageable! 

3. Adding a "background" layer

I have found that my student's are more engaged when I add a background track to our improvising. One of my favorites to use is "Limbo Rock" from Rhythmically Moving CD 2. You can also use a simple GarageBand loop to add some spice to your improvising!

4. Keeping it Simple

As you can see, all of my improvisation warm-ups are very simple. I have used these activities with 1st graders all the way through middle school choirs and have found them to be easy, fun, and (most importantly) great tools for practicing the skills we are learning.

I would love to hear how you include improvisation activities in your classroom! If you are looking for more ideas on improvisation, check out my TpT store for my complete set of rhythmic improvisation warm-ups and activities! In this kit you will find all my explanations and materials for "Drop 4, Add 4," "Swap 4,""Finish the Phrase," and using rhythmic improvisation flashcards.  You can also download my free sample set! 

Friday, December 20, 2013


Let's be honest. Teaching elementary music requires a TON of lesson planning and prep work.  My goal is always to make the most of my students' time in the music room while minimizing the amount of prep work I have to tackle.  One strategy I have used to help cut down on my prep time is "Pick a Warm-Up." It requires a lot of up-front work, but it will save you a ton of time in the long run!

I have a jar of sticks in my classroom that have different rhythmic and melodic warm-ups on them.  I have color coded the sticks, so that all the rhythm warm-ups are blue and the melody warm-ups are green. I allow a student to pick a stick from the jar, deciding our rhythmic (or melodic) warm-up for the day.  I always reserved the right for "veto power," in the event that they draw a stick that I don't think will work well for the day or rhythm we are practicing. However, I rarely have to use it.

Here is what my sticks look like...

As you can see, some of the rhythm warm-ups in my jar are:
I Have, Who Has
Telephone Rhythms
Post Office
Poison Pattern
Music Walk
Drop 4, Add 4
Four by Four
Morse Code

Over the course of the next few days, I will explain each of these in greater detail. However, today I am going to start with a class favorite... Tic-Tac-Toe!

My students LOVE playing rhythm tic-tac-toe, especially when it is boys vs. girls! This is a great way to help your students get practice with new rhythms.  We always start by reading the entire board as a class, which is great for your students that need additional guidance or practice. From there, we divide up into two teams to see if one team can perfectly perform three rhythms in a row for TIC-TAC-TOE!

For complete instructions and a free sample board, you can visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store at...


A great extension for this activity is to have students create their own boards. I often use this as a way to assess students writing rhythms. You can check to see if they understand note values and durations, make sure they are notating rhythms correctly, and also allow them to be creative! A template for building your own board is included in the Tic-Tac-Toe set on my TpT store.

My students always have a great time making their board and playing against each other. I have even caught students creating boards at recess!

Whether you are practicing quarter and eighth notes or tim-ka and tam-ti, Rhythmic Tic-Tac-Toe is a fast and fun way to get your students reading rhythms!


Welcome to My Classroom!

Let me begin by introducing myself.  I am an elementary music teacher and children's choir director in Boulder, CO. I am in my sixth year of teaching and have taught K-12 general music and choir over the course my career. Although I love working with older students, my heart truly belongs to teaching young children, and I am so happy to be back to teaching full-time elementary this year!

I have a Master's Degree in Music Education from Colorado State University, specializing in Kodály Methodology. I have also completed one level of Orff Schulwerk training and have served on regional boards for the American Orff Schulwerk Association. My passions include children's choirs, instructional technology, and teaching music literacy in the general music classroom.

I have to admit, I feel like I am a little late to join the blogger world! There is so much amazing work being posted on teaching blogs and TpT that it can be a little intimidating to dive in! However, I hope you will find some ideas and inspirations on this blog that make your day-to-day life in the music room a little bit easier!

I am going to begin my blogging adventure with a series of posts on some of my favorite melodic and rhythmic warm-ups for the general music classroom and choir rehearsal. Please check back often for ideas and tricks that will help your students on the path to music literacy!