Do you use music in your classroom?

Here’s the deal: I love music. Like really, really love it. Listening to live music cleanses my soul and I spend more money on iTunes than I’d like to admit. In another life, I’d love to be the person that picks the background music for movies and tv shows, and I have been writing down meaningful lyrics in a journal for as long as I can remember. I have different ringtones for the people on my cell phone just so I can hear a song that makes me think of them when they call. (Of course my best girlfriends ring All The Single Ladies.) The right song can bring me out of a funk, express that which I can’t seem to find the words to express myself, and take me back to a certain place or time. My memories stay alive in the music that I love.

So when I went to a training about music in the classroom my first year of teaching, it made perfect sense to me. Of course we should use music in our classrooms to create associations and connections, to help lock things into memory, to set the mood, and to keep us from saying, “Okay kids, line up,” five times a day when we could play a fun song instead. The students in my room know how much I love music and I incorporate it into our day as much as possible.

Think about it: What if you could play a song to tell your students to line up or come meet you at the carpet? What if you could give them the duration of a song to complete a task rather than counting down the last 10 seconds? You’d certainly have to hear your own voice less often.

Last August, I sat down with my trusty iTunes library (Lord bless it) and started to outline our “Routines” playlist. The following is what I came up with. (Click to enlarge)

While a song is playing (ie. line up song or come to the carpet song), the students are free to dance, talk, or move about. However, as soon as the song is over, their task must be completed. (They have to be standing in a straight line and silent or sitting quietly on the floor waiting for announcements.) This is really helpful for my squirmers that just need to move (including myself). Plus, it builds classroom community when we all dance together. (Who doesn’t feel closer after a short dance party?)

We are very blessed at our school in that we have iPod/iPhone/iTouch players in each classroom. However, my first year I used a CD player and it worked just fine. About halfway through the year, I got smart and made one of the classroom jobs “Class DJ” so that I could have a student pause/play/control the volume without it taking all of my multi-tasking power.

In addition to our Routines Playlist, I also play instrumental music as our writing music (but not always). Some of my favorites are Jim Brickman and Helen Jane Long. Sometimes I use Pandora for writing music as well. I type in Clair de Lune (Team Edward shout out) for the song and it creates a great playlist for background music. I also used short and fun songs to time a task. For example, I might say, “You have until the end of These Boots Are Made for Walking to have all of your pieces cut and glued.” Surely this is more fun than “10-9-8-7-6-Hurry up-5-4-3-I mean it-2-2 and a half-1.” I also put together a playlist of fun, current hits to play in the background during group work or individual work that don’t require silence. (This was the most time consuming task in that I had to proof every song for bad words or suggestive lyrics. Gosh, music is intense these days.) Jeff Anderson, my favorite grammar instruction guru, also suggests lots of music tie ins for grammar and writing instruction. (I’ve used Shop Around for Express Edits.) Tanny McGregor, a comprehension guru, has lots of music connections for the comprehension skills she teaches. (I’ve used The Marvelous Toy.)

This year I will be teaching US History and I’m working on a playlist of United States Geography. (New York, New York, Chicago, Sweet Home Alabama, etc.) I’m also moving up to 5th grade with last year’s class (How luck am I?!) and I’m not sure if my kids will want new routine songs, or if they will want to keep the same ones. I know for sure that we are going to pack up to Proud by Heather Small as a means of beginning a discussion about our day. (The chorus to the song asks, “What have you done today to make yourself feel proud?“) My dad suggested that I use the Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? theme this year since I’ll be back in 5th grade. I’m thinking it would be a great pre-test pump up song.

Anyway, however you choose to use music in your classroom, I encourage you to make it fun and engaging. Let your students be part of your selection team. Have a class DJ. Let them dance! Give them a break from boring school. (Come on, all kids are a little bored some of the time.)

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