I once interviewed a teaching candidate after she did a lesson that was…difficult to watch. The children weren’t following her line of questions and were losing interest in what could have been an exciting activity. “Did you stray from your lesson plan at any point in the lesson?” I asked her. The answer was a proud and firm “no.”
But you should have! I was screaming in my head.
Did she not see that the children weren’t with her, or did she not have the flexibility to respond accordingly? The fact is, sometimes you lose the kids. Maybe they can’t follow your planned process; maybe the activity is too hard, too boring, too easy; or maybe it’s just not what they can handle on that day at that time. (We’ve all had that class that comes in after someone’s birthday cupcakes.) But every good teacher needs to be constantly assessing the situation and adapting as they go.
Sometimes this means slowing it down, or narrowing the focus. But sometimes it means throwing the whole plan out the window and doing something completely different. You should always have some activities that are ready to go at the drop of a hat.
Here are five of my go-to plans:
1. Have some backup singing games or rhythm games at the ready for whatever grade level you teach. These should be games with a song easy enough to teach by rote in a matter of minutes. Some of my favorites for little ones are: Charlie Over the Ocean, Lucy Locket, Who Has the Button?, Brown Bear, or All ‘Round the Brickyard. For older primary students I could use some of those, but might use: Al Citrón, Circle Round the Zero, or—my students’ favorite—Pass the Beat Around the Room.
2. Sit down at the piano and let the kids MOVE. I ask the kids to spread out, and they move responsively to whatever I play on the piano. The focus may beat steady beat at different tempos, or I may be switching styles. Sometimes I’ll play different “characters” and ask them to move like mice, swans, zombies, or something else. Or I may use it to practice rhythm recognition.
3. If you’re not so comfortable improvising at the piano, have some action songs at the ready. I’m sure you do anyway, particularly if you teach early years classes. But even older kids can get on board if it’s presented in the right way.
4. Do a circle game that doesn’t require a lot of teaching up front.
5. Read a book. I have a small library of picture books in my classroom, and reading a book is a great way to bring everyone in. Presentation is key here, as a squirmy group of kids might not be ready to sit and listen to a book. But present it with a bit of mystery, or by introducing a strange character/event/storyline, and even the wildest children can have a complete shift of mindset. When they are with you, be sure to start with a quiet, calm voice to seal the deal.
You are probably already thinking about some quick go-to songs and games that you could pull out of your back pocket on a bad day. You know your students, and hopefully you know what they respond to.
The biggest takeaway here really is that you can recognize when your class is losing it, and you are ready and willing to respond to what they need in that moment.
If your planned lesson isn’t going to be as effective as you’d hoped anyway, let it wait! Listen to your students’ needs, and you’ll ALL have a better music class!
Your turn now: What are your go-to songs, games, or activities, for when you need to change course on the spot?