Today I'm giving a glance into my first day of school lesson plans, from TK - 5th grade. In the first day of music class, students are arguably the most attentive they will be all year. This puts a unique pressure on the first day's lesson plan to set the tone for the rest of our time together.
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All the templates I use are available to purchase here as part of the Elementary Music Planning Kit.
You can also download my completed lesson plans at the bottom of the post, or make your own from scratch!
Let's jump in!
My Goals for the First Day of Music Class:
- Establish expectations - From the moment students walk in to the moment they leave, the first lesson sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Even our youngest students are aware of the environment, our nonverbal communication, the physical space in the room, and the whole-class attitude. We establish expectations right away.
- Be musical - This is music class. The class shouldn’t be taken up with rules and procedures. It shouldn't be taken up talking about music. It should be spent making music.
- Have fun - Music is a legitimate subject in the academic world. It has an established theory and history and pedagogy like any other subject students explore in school. But music is also fun. I want students to experience that fun on the first day.
- Be creative in a safe place - I’m going to ask a lot out of students throughout the year. I’ll ask them to take risks. To be vulnerable. To create. To share some of their creations. To evaluate their creations. To try, fail, and try again. That type of creative learning can happen when students know they are safe and supported. I want that learning to start the first day.
1: Start with a Musical Experience
Warm Up (4 minutes):
Through this whole process I don’t give any verbal directions such as “now echo me”, or, “now copy my motions”. I jump straight in, and find that students copy very naturally.
I jump into my regular warm up routine right away on the first day of school. Here's a breakdown of what that looks like:
- Steady Beat: Students enter the class in a straight line, keeping a steady beat.
- Younger grades copy my motions.
- Older grades create a body percussion pattern of their choice.
- Hand Signs for Sit and Stand: In Kindergarten and TK I introduce my class hand signs at this point. This is done without giving specific directions. I simply model the sign and over exaggerate sitting and standing. They naturally copy me for a few rounds of sitting, standing, sitting, standing, until they’re all giggling and out of breath.
- Other grades review this step as well, but we don't spend much time on it since I don't need to teach it from scratch.
- Sing a Greeting: From there we sing greetings based off tone sets we learned last year.
- For example, with first grade I'll sing "hello, first grade" on sol mi sol mi. With third grade I'll sing "hello third grade" on mi mi re do. Students sing their response to me. I'll sing a question such as "How was your summer?" or "How are you today?" and students sing their response.
- Body Percussion: We'll quickly echo a few clapping patterns or body percussion patterns.
Game Time (5 minutes)
The clapping or body percussion pattern we echo is the first four beats of our first song, and we've seamlessly transitioned into our opening game.
It's great to play games students remember from last year. If you’re new at a school, consider reaching out to last year’s music teacher. If that's not possible, just choose one of your favorite simple games or activities to start with. Look for songs or games that allow students to be active, as energy will be high at the beginning of the lesson.
Here are some of my favorites for the first day of music:
- TK and K: All Around the Buttercup
- 1st: Apple Tree
- 2nd: Charlie Over the Ocean
- 3rd: Alabama Gal
- 4th: Built my Lady a Fine Brick House
- 5th: Tideo
All of the sheet music is available for free in the Sheet Music Library. You can click the button below to grab the music for your classroom!
2: Seating Chart
This is the very first time I verbalize instructions in the lesson. Up until this point I’ve been simply doing what I want my students to do, and they naturally copy.
Seating Chart (4 minutes)
In the first month or so of school my students have assigned seats. This is so that I can wrap my head around which students are in which class.
When I feel I am familiar enough with names, students are allowed to choose their own spot each class.
You can grab this seating and assessment chart in the Resource Library.
Rules (4 minutes)
I prefer not to spend a lot of time in this area. Here's why:
When students come see us in the music room, they have already spent time in their grade-level classroom talking about rules and expectations. Likely, they’ll also hear a different set of rules in P.E., art, library, and the cafeteria. Memorizing guidelines from such a variety of sources is a lot to ask of our students.
Realistically, students are unlikely to retain a list of area-specific, detailed rules. So instead I opt for two rules that I refer back to every class over the course of the school year.
- Always do your best.
- Respect yourself, others, and the classroom.
I ask students to give some examples of how to apply the rules to the classroom. In addition to the scenarios students offer on their own, I always guide the conversation to include some specific areas:
Instead of me listing out every single class rule I can think of, I have students apply two behavior expectations on their own.
- What does respect look like when we're sharing instruments?
- What does doing your best look like when you've had a bad day?
- How do we respect other friends in our group?
- How do we do our best if we feel nervous?
- What does respect look like when we play classroom instruments?
3. Summer Vacation and Names (10 minutes)
TK - 1st: Bounce High Bounce Low
It’s very rare that I change lyrics to folk songs. However, there have been TK classes that have played “roll fast, roll slow, roll the ball to Shilo” if I fear the bounce will be too advanced.
Bounce High Bounce Low is a song worth investing in on the first day! I can bring it back for movement, singing voice, steady beat, and sol la sol mi patterns. It also gives me a chance to start putting names with faces.
If students are standing to bounce, I ask them to jump every time the ball hits the ground. This keeps everyone engaged. If we’re seated, I ask them to move one hand up and down their arm (to “roll” with the ball).
With students standing in a circle, I go through the class roster and we play the game. Everyone gets a turn.
2nd - 3rd: Play Your Vacation
In second and third grade I want to jump into instruments on the first day. This activity works with any unpitched percussion instruments - I use rhythm sticks.
To play the game:
Each person speaks and plays their summer rhythm, and the class repeats. Some rhythm examples are:
- "I went to the beach" (ta-di ta-di ta rest)
- "I played video games" (ta ta taka-di ta)
- "I slept in" (ta ta ta rest)
After four students, we do the A section again, and continue through the whole class. Having the class repeat each rhythm keeps everyone active, even though it makes the game last longer.
4th and 5th - Play Your Vacation:
In 4th and 5th grade we play the game exactly how 2nd and 3rd did. This version of the rhyme has an eighth note followed by two sixteenths (ta-dimi).
Tips for the Vacation Game in 2nd - 5th grades:
- I like to have the whole class try out a rhythm - and even share it with someone next to them - before they’re asked to do it individually in front of everyone. This goes toward my goal of making music a safe creative space.
- If, for some reason a student doesn’t want to play alone the first day, I don’t make him or her.
- I keep a groove on the cajon to help establish a sense of pulse, but I don’t correct anyone if he or she plays outside a four beat phrase.
- As they play this game I video with my ipad. It’s useful for me to see which students naturally stayed within a four-beat phrase. This isn’t a formal assessment, it’s more like a temperature read on where we are rhythmically as a class.
4. More Music, More Movement (10 minutes)
By now, we need to move.
Here are some of my favorite songs for closing the first day of school:
TK - 2nd Grades
TK, K, 1st, and 2nd grades will all review or learn how to move in open space. This is a concept I'll reuse throughout the year, so I like to introduce it right away.
I also want to give another opportunity for students to create in my class, so I look for songs with creative movement opportunities.
Read more about how to choose songs for your music room here.
TK and Kindergarten:
You Walk and You Stop
You Walk and You Stop is one of my favorite songs for introducing open space. I tell students it's very important to look for open space when we move. We run through a few examples of what open space is (somewhere no one else is) and what it's not (touching a friend) before doing the song.
If I sense the class isn't ready for locomotor movement, we'll still sing the song but students stay in their spots and jump, walk, wiggle, twist, etc. in place.
Either way, after a few rounds of the song students give suggestions for actions to add to the song.
Johnny Works with One Hammer
If we have time, I add Johnny Works with One Hammer. This is especially valuable if students aren't ready for locomotor movement, since the song is incredibly active but takes place sitting down.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
I like to add a song that students probably already know to the first day. Many students already know motions to this song from doing it at home. While we sing they either copy me or do motions they already know. This is a calm, musical ending to our first day.
Just From the Kitchen
This song allows students to improvise movement the first day. I like to call students two at a time at first, in case anyone is anxious about moving by themselves on the first day.
I can also add phrases like "everybody who likes pizza" or "everybody who plays minecraft" toward the end.
Rig a Jig Jig
The first few times we do this song, we'll play it like normal.
Then, we make a change. Students say their names in rhythm, and come up with an accompanying movement. At the end of each song repetition, they create a name chain with their partner by saying their name and showing their movement two times each. The song begins again.
3rd - 5th grades
In 3rd - 5th grade, we’ll go back to the song we used at the beginning of class. This time, I ask students to create a body percussion pattern as a B section to the game.
First we play the game like we did at the beginning of class. Then students create an eight beat pattern with their partner using the words "Alabama" (ta-di ta-di) or "gal" (ta, rest). They can choose a movement or body percussion to go with their words.
We practice this as a whole class a few times, and students make any changes they need. Then we add the B section after each repetition of the game.
Built my Lady a Fine Brick House
Just like third grade, we'll play this game a few times as normal. Then, students create an eight beat pattern with their group using these rhythmic building blocks:
Student groups change with each round of the game, so with each repetition students create a new rhythm.
Play the game like normal, then ask students to create an eight beat pattern with their partner using these rhythmic building blocks:
They also have the option of adding body percussion or movement to their pattern.
Just like Built My Lady a Fine Brick House, students' groups change at every repetition of the song. I like this because it gives lots of opportunities for students to explore new combinations, body percussion, and movement.
What I'm Excited About. . . . (4 minutes)
If we're going to do awesome things in music, I need awesome behavior from my students. With a nod to the Responsive Classroom, I ask my students to think of how they are going to be able to do the things they're excited about. This ultimately comes back to the two rules we discussed at the beginning of class. Now, at the end of class, students apply them in a way that makes them excited about the whole year.
At the end of class I quickly ask students what they hope to do in music this year, and what we need to do to make those exciting things happen.
- In TK - 1st grade students raise their hand and sing something they're excited about. I ask what we will do to make it happen, and students raise their hands again to sing ideas.
- In 2nd - 5th grade students finish the sentence, "I'm excited about _________ this year, so I need to ____________." (Example, "I'm excited about playing instruments this year so I need to show that I can respect them." "I'm excited about playing with my friends this year so I need to listen to everyone when we're working in a group.") They write their answers on sticky notes and attach them to the wall as they line up.
You can click the button or image to grab these lesson plans for free in the Resource Library.
Lesson Plan Templates
The lesson plan template is available to purchase as part of my Elementary Music Planning Kit. The templates are Google Docs so you can edit, save, and take them anywhere.