September 10, 2012

Using Music in the Classroom

Do you use music in your classroom?  I've always liked the idea of music in the classroom, but in the past two years, I have embraced it so much that if I forget my ipod at home, I don't know what to do!!  I learned a bunch of tips and tricks about how and when to use music in the classroom when I attended a five day training in Quantum Learning in 2011, and continue to work on how to use it effectively.
 At my school, we are lucky enough to have speakers in the ceiling that I can connect my ipod or computer to with a simple aux cable, so it's super easy to use music.  Before this, thoguh, I used a set of iHome speakers and my ipod.  I have several "school friendly" playlists that I cycle through during the day...

Here's a rundown of music in my day...

Our Playlists
1. Begin each day with an anchor song:  An anchor song is a song that you "anchor" to a specific task or instruction.  At the beginning of the day, the kids know that the music means unpack and turn in your homework as fast as you can, grab your book box, and be at the carpet with me by the time the song ends.  Last year, we used the song "Dynamite" by Tai Cruz.  This year we are using "Walking on Sunshine."  I kept the same song all last year to encourage routine, but by spring I was completely sick of it...I haven't decided yet if I am going to stick with "Walking on Sunshine" or change it up...maybe second trimester.

What it looks like in my room: I turn on the song in the morning after I have greeted each student at the door with a smile and a handshake (a critical part of my relationship building--read more on that here).  I then stand at the front of the room clapping my hands to the beat.  Once students are unpacked and ready to go, they come up and join me, clapping along.  Midway through the song, I increase the clapping, clapping on the off-beats as well.  The kids have to watch to keep up with the beat.  This is their signal to "Hurry up!!" and get to the carpet.  I've trained them to listen for a certain point in the song that means it's almost over, which is their last warning to hurry up and get to the carpet, at which point I increase the clapping to even faster.  When the song is about to end, we hold our hands open and do a big clap together, saying "Whoooa!" (a Quantum thing), and start our day.

Why I love it: Routine, routine, routine.  And classroom community--we start our day as a group, on the same page, with energy.  It sets a positive tone in the classroom and starts our day on a happy, upbeat note. The kids are all included and part of something special that is unique to our classroom.  Also, it energizes those kiddos who come in sleepwalking. ;)

2. Transition Music: Just like I anchored a song to our morning routine, I anchor a couple of songs to transitions throughout the day.  I keep all of these "anchor songs" in a separate playlist so that I can find them on my ipod quickly and easily when the time comes.

"Anchors" Playlist
What it looks like in my room: I have a song linked to "Get ready for math," which is my students' signal to pack up and leave for math if they switch classrooms, and a signal to the students' that come to my classroom for math that it's okay to come in the classroom and get started on their Math Message.  (Current song: "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac)  We also have a lunch transition song, which signals the students that it's time to get lunch bags and line up, as well as time to come into the room after lunch.  (Current song: "Hey Soul Sister" by Train)  In the afternoon, the kids listen for "Firework" by Katy Perry as a signal that it's time to line up and go to specials.

Why I love it: Again, ROUTINE!!!  My kids know what's coming next by the music!  Also, when they're lining up for specials, for example, they are usually quietly singing "Firework" instead of talking to neighbors.  :)  Not only is it adorable, but it keeps them from being crazy and is another special community thing in our classroom.

3. Clean Up Song:  When it is time to clean up at the end of the day, I play my last anchor song that signals the kids to CLEAN ALL OF THE THINGS!  I am a stickler for a clean room--I believe that the kids need to take ownership for the cleanliness of the classroom and understand that it is THEIR job to keep the room clean, NOT the janitor's job.  Clean up is really the ONLY time they are allowed to frantically run around the room, and somehow linking a song to it reminds them that they are actually supposed to be cleaning during this time.  Our current song is "Who Says" by Selena Gomez, and they know that by the end of the song they are supposed to be sitting on their desks, packed up, ready to go, with a clean floor beneath them.

What it looks like in my room: After we have written homework in our assignment notebooks, I turn on the music and go around from table to table checking that homework has been recorded correctly and stamping assignment notebooks.  Until they receive a stamp, the kids must stay seated.  I turn on the music at this time, and when the kids have a stamp, they may begin their cleanup.  THEY MAY NOT GO NEAR THE COAT HOOKS.  Seriously.  After my first disasterous year teaching, I realized that nothing creates chaos like letting every kid run and get their backpack at once.  The kids are to be CLEANING during this time.  After everyone has been stamped, I will turn the volume down for a second to get their attention, and call one table group to get backpacks.  I then turn it back up, and a minute or two later repeat this to call another table.  This keeps the kids cleaning and keeps the coat rack from getting overcrowded.  It also saves my vocie, as I've trained them to listen for the quieting and for their table to be called.

Why I love it: Routine.  Seeing a pattern?  Also, it gets our floor clean, gets the kids packed up, and gets us out the door quickly and efficiently.  I no longer have to scream at kids to get the scraps off the floor or to stop shoving over by the coats.  Also, like I said earlier, the kids get into it and sing as they clean.  It's adorable and a fun end to our day.  I find that if our day ends on a sour note, it puts me in a bad mood ALL AFTERNOON LONG.  I am never in a bad mood listening to Selena Gomez. :)

4. Classical Music during Writing & Testing:  This is hardly a new idea.  Everyone has heard about studies done using classical music and learning.  Who knows if they're true, but I figure it can't hurt.  The kids typically love the classical music during writing time (I call it our "quiet writing music"), and last year I started playing it during tests too.  I try to get the kids to have a positive attitude about testing--I've trained them to cheer when I say, "It's time for our test!"  :)  I know, I'm a manipulative teacher...but I think it really helps them!  I talk about tests as an opportunity to show what you know, as a "moment to shine."  Having the quiet music playing keeps the atmosphere calm and positive during testing.

How it looks in my classroom: Simple--I just turn my ipod to a playlist of Beethoven and Mozart and keep it playing REALLY QUIETLY.  Easy enough.

Why I love it: Like I said, it keeps things light and positive, and if there's any real possibility of a "Mozart Effect," I'm willing to try anything!!!
"School: Classical" playlist
5. Music during work time: If kids are working on something like a math worksheet or other quiet activity that doesn't involve reading or writing, I will play my "relaxing" music playlist--a collection of chill, relaxed songs with lyrics.  I keep writing/reading music classical because I find the lyrics distracting, but during a social studies activity, I find that the kids can focus just fine with the relaxing music and that they really like it.

How it looks in my classroom:  When it is time to begin work, I will turn my ipod to this playlist and keep it pretty soft.  I'll let the kids know that they should ALWAYS be able to hear the music, and if they ever can't, it's because they are too noisy!  It's a good way to help them self-monitor.

Why I love it: The atmosphere it creates in the room is WONDERFUL.  Anytime people come into my room at this time, they always comment that they love the mood.  I find that creating a positive, calm atmosphere in the classroom has a billion positive effects on the kids' learning.  THat's why I also try to keep the lights dim and the colors soothing. Every little bit helps!!
"School: Relaxed" playlist
6. Upbeat music during "fun time":  Every once in awhile, I'll decide our class needs a fun movement break and we'll get up a play a game that involves a little bit of noise and moving around.  During this time, I'll reach for my "School: Upbeat" playlist of fun, mostly-current music and put it on in the background.

How it looks in my classroom: Similarly to the relaxing music, I use this music as a way to help the class monitor their noise level, teaching them that they should be able to hear the music at all times.  When I need to get the kids' attention again, I turn the music UP a ton, then slowly fade it out.  By the time it's faded, their conversations are over and their eyes are on me.  I learned this trick at Quantum training, and it makes PERFECT sense.  If the kids are noisy, it's hard to notice fading music, but the loud blast and quick fade out is tough to miss!

Why I love it: Fun music reminds the kids that school and learning can be fun.  It gets us all in a positive mood!  Also, I love being able to get their attention again without raising my voice.  Amazing.
"School: Upbeat" playlist
Well, that's about it--I hope you got some good ideas on how to use music in your classroom!  I will NEVER go back to a silent classroom again!

How do you use music in your classroom?  Favorite classroom songs?


  1. Wow! I love all of the ways you incorporate music. Great ideas! I have used it during writing time and in the morning. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I was watching the news tonight and thought of you because I saw how the Chicago teachers were on strike. I guess with your post today, you are teaching. LOL

  3. Great ideas! I am definitely going to try a few. I use music as a bribe quite often when they're working on assignments in class on Mondays (just Mondays in case some kids are distracted by it). If one kid talks, it goes off, and no one wants to be that "one kid!"

  4. I love this! I'm a first year teacher, and love music in the classroom, but have been trying to work out the best places to use it. This is fantastic. Thanks so much!

  5. I love the way you use music in the classroom!! I teach kindergarten and I use music CONSTANTLY. The kiddos really respond to it during transition times and they usually will work quieter for me if I have it on. Great post :)

  6. Hello....Trying to get the word out on a site that I created to help with teachers that would like to use music in the classroom.

    The site is set up so that teachers can put in their requests for certain types of music he/she are looking for, in addition to other suggestions that are already out there.
    Check it out when you get a chance..
    Hope you enjoy

  7. This is great! Love it!! I came across your blog while doing some research earlier today and it's wonderful!! Thanks for sharing your ideas!


  8. Are all of the songs you choose cleared of bad words? I find that to always bed the problem when I want to use songs that are upbeat and current.

    1. Denise, I try to screen them while I'm listening to the radio or something, or look up the lyrics online to proofread before adding to my playlists. I'm not SUPER vigilant, but I try to weed out songs with inappropriate language/content.


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