Music to Manage Your Classroom

By Brent Vasicek on January 5, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

 

 

So, you are making dinner in the kitchen while the television runs in the living room. You have completely lost track of time. All of sudden, without even looking at the clock, you realize it is 6:00 and the news is starting.  What gave you this great epiphany? Was it your radio alarm clock? Or is your internal clock that precise?  My guess is that the news program theme music triggered a brain cell that alerted you that it was 6:00.

Music is a powerful tool, one that can tell you it's time to watch the news — or help you manage your classroom.  

Images courtesy Renjith Krishnan.

 

  

The Rules

Just as Pavlov trained his dog to salivate to a bell, you can train your students to have a conditioned response to music. Before we talk about when to use music, let's go over the rules:

  • Be Consistent — This is the hardest rule to master.  I would advise introducing musical elements slowly into the classroom.  Experiment with the effects.  It can be pretty cool.
  • Do Not Overuse It — As with anything, knowing when to say when is important.
  • Have a Purpose — Music in a classroom without a purpose is counterproductive.
  • Make Sure It Is School Appropriate — It might seem obvious, but be sure you know the lyrics (or the hidden meaning) of any song you pipe into the ears of children.

Some of the Times I Use Music in My Classroom:

Before School — I put on some upbeat pop music about five minutes before the morning bell.  This energizes not only me, but also the students as they enter the room (see example).  I play music so consistently (see rule #1) that if there is not music playing in the morning, then the students know that they are not allowed to enter the room. How about that? Classroom management without even having to be present. 

To Start School — The moment the bell rings to start school, the lights go off, the music starts, and the day gets rolling.  We play a theme song to start our day much as a theme song starts your favorite television show.  This is usually an upbeat tune, and it's accompanied by some simple motions to get the students moving around and giving high fives to their peers. It is a good wake-up call. For more details, see my post on starting your day with a clean beginning.

During Transitions — I have ten-second, 30-second, and one-minute sound clips.  After the first few weeks, the students know exactly how long they have for a "Turn and Talk" or to transition to the next subject. Once you have conditioned them to respond to your songs, it is amazing to watch the talking in the room stop as the end of the song approaches. 

Setting the Tone — Who hasn't cried at a Hallmark commercial? It's not the acting. It usually has something to do with the music. Play upbeat songs to energize. Play classical music to calm.  On Fridays we share our highs and lows from the week, and I use tunes that tend to be more sentimental.

Challenging Students — There are times I will play a new song before, during, or after a lesson.  My students learn that I do everything with a purpose. Eventually they try to connect the lesson to the song. I tend to do this a lot in reading because making connections is a great comprehension strategy. 

As Lessons — Songs do have deeper meanings. To challenge my highest readers we analyze the literal and beyond literal meanings of song lyrics.

End of Day — Just as we started our day with a song, we end with a song and a little "Bye, Bye, Bye" routine. See my post about clean endings to the day.

Absence of Music — Again that pesky rule #1 comes into play. I consistently play music every morning and for every transition, so when students enter the room without music, they realize I might be setting the tone for a serious discussion. 

Music 2 Renjith Krishnan

Yes, music can be a powerful motivator and tone setter.  It is a pleasant nag in the ears of the students signifying what they should be doing next. Your homework assignment is to pick one or two times during the day to try it out.  Do it for two weeks. Reflect on the effect it has on your students' behavior. I will share some of my playlists in a post in a couple of weeks.

What music selections do you use in your classroom and for what purpose?

2I2 Trademark 2010 Vasicek Fa la la la la,

Brent

www.mrvasicek.com

 

2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's classroom.

 

Comments

Hi Brent,

Thanks so much for all of the information. I was googling music in the classroom and came across your site. I teach fifth grade and would like to begin incorporating music (as background) in my classroom for some parts of the day. However, I'm not up on itunes or players and was wondering if anyone had suggestions for cd's that could be purchased? I read about Dr. Jean on amazon, but wasn't sure if that would be young for fifth graders. I'm thinking of starting with classical, but didn't know if there were any other suggestions for more fast paced music that would be "safe" to play? I'll have to take a look at the television tunes website - that sounds great! Thanks for your advice.

Jen

Brent, I would like to use music to help my kids transition efficiently. How do you get your sound clips into certain lengths of time?

I play classical music on low most of the day while my students work. It masks the sounds from the classrooms on either side of me. (We have thin walls!) It also reminds them if they are being too loud in centers or stations. One of the best benefits is that the music calms my asbergers student and another ED student. I use the music with wrap-ups to practice multiplication facts. They love to rap their factors! I also do music that is upbeat for breaks as well. Indoor recess & parties call for special jazz or rock. I find adding motions, rhythm, and/or rhyme to vocabulary helps my students remember it beter over longer periods. Music is essential!

Dawn~ Yet some more great ideas and uses for music. I totally agree. It *is* essential! ~Brent

From Ashley~

I am a student teacher for fourth grade... I stumbled upon the your "Music to manage the classroom" page on the scholastic website, and I instantly thought it was such a great idea! I tried the music on Monday but was still unsure on how to implement it into the routine. Unfortunately, it did not work as well as I had envisioned but I forged ahead. Today is Wednesday, and my class is completely getting the idea! It would usually take my students roughly 15-20min to take their bathroom break at the begining of each class. Now that I started the music, mainly cupid shuffle and ChCha slide, it only takes them 6 1/2 minutes to complete their bathroom trip. They are so anxious to "dance" in their seat that they finish their business in record time. I can't thank you enough....my supervising teacher was so impressed. :)

Awesome! Thanks for the story, Ashley. ~Brent

Brent, Great post, as always! :)

I teach 1st grade, and I use music for our center transitions. However, it has a twist- I use Dr. Jean science/math songs to incorporate into our reading time. A few songs titles include: "Parts of a plant", "Money Song", and "Continents". Students sing along with the music, reinforcing math and science concepts. And since they are singing they can't be talking! Each song is about 1 minute long.

We also have a morning and afternoon song routine which I love. It doesn't just help the kids- it helps me too!

Ashley, Thanks for the comments! I totally agree that music is just as effective to keep teacher motivation. I have used a few songs from the good ole Dr. Jean as well. Most of her songs apply to lower elementary, but there are a few I can squeeze in without too much resistance from the students. Keep on singin', Brent

Response to #1 Getting Response from Song Writers. I have gotten some, is sometimes like writing to authors. When I lived in Nashville I got a lot of responses because it was a local school and Nashville is full of songwriters. The students do look forward to responses. I had a friend that did all of her Langage Arts to Motown Tunes and they found a Impersonator for Diana Ross who was also an attorney that wrote to them. So there is another route to go as well.

Melissa~ Very cool! You are sparking all sorts of flames in my brain. Brent

I teach Language Arts through music a lot. We listen to the song and talk about the type of speech that is in the lyrics and then we do a response to literature about how we connected to the lyrics. We have also wrote to song writers before. The students love doing this and get so excited.

Melissa, I love the idea of writing to song writers! Did you ever get any responses?

Brent

Brent,

I love using music in my classroom. I have a song that I play in the morning. The students know that when this song comes on, they have 4 minutes and 30 seconds to be on the rug and done with their morning math.

I also have special writing music. I use instrumental music when we are doing writing. If I do not put it on right away my students are asking for the writing music.

We also use music sometimes for what I call brain breaks. When we have been working hard or need a break. I will play the chicken dance. We all get up do the chicken dance and when it is done we go back to work.

Thanks for all your great posts. I use rating the day in my classroom. It has really helped keep the kids accountable to their behavior throughout the day.

Rose

Rose, Thank you for the comments and confirming the effectiveness. It truly is amazing at how music can effectively be used to manage your day. Plus it is fun! ~Brent

I started using "Theme Thursday" in my classroom to motivate 5th graders to look at lyrics. I have been picking many songs that have powerful messages for all ages. The next weeks, I will turning it over to the students to bring in music. Of course, it must be approved the week before being used in the classroom. Here is a link to my wiki which contains some of the songs I have used http://team207.swsd.wikispaces.net/Theme+Thursday.

Erik, Thank you for sharing the link. I like some of the songs that you included and will incorporate them into my own lyric studies. I will post a list of some of my songs in a few weeks. I can't wait to see what songs some of your students pick and will be checking back often! ~Brent

I had a student say to me this week, "You love your music, Mrs. c!" I was so glad she noticed.

I too use music in my classroom on a regular basis. In fact, I'm not me if I don't have music around.

I even break out in song while teaching concepts. As simple as taking a definition or a math step and saying it to a rhythm! The kids love it.

Our line up song is the "Andy Griffith" whistlin' tune. I don't have to say anything but play the music and the students know what to do. It is the quickest and quietest way to get the students to line up without a threat or a reward. They simply love hearing the music.

We use a Phineas and Ferb "So Long Perry, so long" for our good bye song. Another way to keep a chaotic time of day at bay.

The list goes on with my music! I am glad I have found a kindred mind.

I have downloaded most of my tv clips from www.televisiontunes.com This is an INCREDIBLE site with hundreds of clips to download for FREE from tv.

I have often said that I have wanted a theme song for my class, but have been unsure how to incorporate this. What do you do?

HOPE!!!! You are not kidding. That website is awesome! Thank you for sharing it on the blog. I think I know what I will be doing for the next couple of hours.

Here is how I incoporate a theme song. Each Friday we reflect up on the week in our weekly Highs and Lows ceremony. Basically, we sit in a circle with the lights down low and some sappy music playing in the back ground. When each person has shared their highs and lows from the week, we stand up and sing "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarskon (another great one is "Lean on Me"). By the end of the year my fourth and fifth graders get that the song symbolizes them breaking free, growing up, and moving onto the next level of their education.

Thank you again for that website! Brent

I have found that listening to music while studying has greatly improved my test scores. I decided to do a little experiment on the types of music and how good my test scores were. In the end, I found that classical, "red light", and other completely instrumental genres were the best studying soundtracks. After doing a little research online, I found that when listening to a song with words, your brain automatically tries to memorize the words to the song, whether you realize it or not. So while it is still beneficial, listening to music with lyrics are trumped by music without.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure how classical music would do in grade school classrooms, due to lack of interest.

Either way, I am still impressed by your expertise in the classroom and out.

Say it, Mean it, Do it.

Mystery Pupil, Thank you for sharing the results of your little mind-music experiment. I do like to expose students to classical music because, well, it is just good to know I suppose. They often hear the more popular classical tunes during the 4th of July or in the backgrounds of commercials. They can connect the two. The main reason I use classical though is because of the lack of lyrics. They are not distracted by the need to sing.

SI. MI. DI., Mr. V.

Sounds great!! I love music but have not incorporated it into my classroom as effectively as I would like to. This year I am teaching 5 year olds so it should be a good opportunity to teach with music. Thanks for the article.

David~ I found it very effective when I worked with first graders. Good luck and stay tuned for my classroom playlist. ~Brent

Brent, Do you have a school email I could email you at? I am a first year fourth grade teacher in the Middle East. I am interested in the music thing but not sure how to do it in my class.

Sure I will send it your way. Brent www.mrvasicek.com

What do you find is the easiest way to manage all of your sound clips so that they are readily accessible at any given time? Do you use a computer to accomplish this or a carefully programmed CD player?

Great question! I use a laptop with iTunes on it. It allows me to quickly search for songs. It also allows for me to make playlists for the day or certain activities. In a few weeks I will post my favorite songs for certain parts of my day. ~Brent

Our new favorite upbeat song in the morning is Firework by Katy Perry. The beat gets everyone energized and the message is a profound one.

We love that song, too!! Great message and very upbeat! ~Brent

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