Monday, July 20, 2020

My Favorite Substitute Plans for Music Teachers

Do I need a Substitute Plans?

YES, you will get sick - your classroom is a petri dish.

YES, you will need a Sub Plans. Or a Sub Tub. (or Sub Binder or box or however you roll)

If you have children, you know they'll get sick, so go ahead and prepare for it now.

It doesn't have to be fancy, but it needs to be done so that when you get sick, you can set the tub on your desk/table and not have to create more work while you're sick.

Last week, I shared with new teachers my favorite tips for thriving during their first year. Today, I'm sharing some general thoughts and guidelines for selecting activities for your substitute plans, plus some of my favorite resources to use!


General Guidelines

Non-Tech & Non-Music: 
Include things that ANYONE can do.

Most districts don't have enough subs, and some don't assign subs to specials classes. It might be a teacher's aide, your vice principal, or the recess monitor who is stepping in to "teach" your class.

Even most regular substitutes don't know a whole lot about teaching music - and if you are a control freak like me, you don't want them teaching music to your classes!

Pro Tip: If you include things like CDs or movies or pre-recorded lessons, be sure to also include worksheets or books or some other non-tech activity. You would be surprised how many tech issues arise when you're not there. Even tech-savvy subs can have trouble and you don't want to leave them with nothing to do.


Extra Practice:
Start collecting lots of "extra" worksheets, flashcards, games, and activities that you can swap out of the sub tub.

I make at least one class set of each worksheet and put each class set in a separate file folder. It's likely that your sub will be rushing in at the last minute and won't have time (or the copy code!) to make copies.


Include a Table of Contents:
I like to make a table of contents for the top so that subs know what their options are.

If I laminate this page, I can mark off activities each year as they are completed.


How to Keep Track:
I keep a log of which classes do which activities.

It is CRAZY trying to remember who did what while you were sick (Did my Tuesday classes or my Friday classes do this? Did they actually do all the things I left or just the first one?).

Throw a spiral notebook in the tub and write out what was completed. I also leave a checklist for the sub to mark, but they don't always let me know.


What Concepts to Include:
I love to include simple composer activities (facts, music history, listening), note naming practice, and even instrument family work that a substitute might (potentially) not mess up.

Coloring pages while listening to music is great for my youngest babies. Drawing along to the music (with ideas) is fun for the middle grades. Simple games that the students have played before might also work, depending on the group.

Pro Tip: Try to think about what each grade will already know if planning sub activities by grade content.

For example, my first grade sub activities include anything that they know from Kindergarten, plus whatever concepts we've already covered so far. So, their sub activities are high-low, loud-soft, fast beat - slow beat, and rhythm v. beat, plus quarter and eighth note activities. (You can always add more if you're out later in the year.)

Second grade activities might include everything they did in first grade - quarter and eighth notes, quarter rest, so-mi patterns, and so-mi-la patterns, plus whatever we've covered so far in the year (2/4 meter, do, or maybe half note).

Favorite Things to Include

Some non-tech options:
My students love playing freeze games! This freeze game includes game cards that can be printed and left for a sub. This is NOT a freeze dance; it's more like rock-paper-scissors!


Centers that students are already familiar with are another non-tech option for subs. Print off a few sets of this memory game to add to your Sub Tub centers. My students love to play these games!



Music Vocab Bingo from Christine at Elementary Etudes

Shelley at Pitch Publications has TONS of activities to go with music books!

The Music Crew on TpT has a whole hashtag dedicated to sub plans - check it out here!



Here are even more ideas for your music sub tub!

From Ginny at Ginny's Music Space


From Jennifer of the The Yellow Brick Road



What activities have you had success with in your substitute plans? Join the conversation on Facebook!

Lori Sweet
Sweet Sounds


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Monday, July 13, 2020

Music Teacher's First Year - Ideas to Save your Sanity

This time of year is usually pretty crazy in the music teacher world - with performances and end of the year activities and field trips, it's all usually a blur by the end of May.

This year, with so many things shut down for the virus, I have a lot more time in the evenings to relax and decompress and think.

I've been thinking about the things that I found helpful as a first year teacher - so I thought I would share them with you!



1. Plan Ahead at School (what you can)

Things change so rapidly the first year at a school, so don't freak out if when your plans have to change, too.

Keep that in mind as you are planning things, and leave some empty weeks at the end of each semester/year for each time you have to bump lessons to the next week.

Lesson Planning (Yearly): Try to outline your year (or at least the first semester) so that things don't sneak up on you. Even penciling in things like, "do favorite Halloween song" or "teach the Nutcracker," will help you remember what you have going on during certain times of the year.

My first years, I literally wrote the weekly dates down a sheet of notebook paper and penciled in things that I wanted to teach. After years and years of teaching, I have refined my system, but a basic Excel/Numbers doc or piece of paper is a great place to start.

Programs and Performances: Find out what kind/how many programs you are expected to do and get them on the school calendar. Communication with your administration is very important. (But don't be the person who asks too many questions! If you can find the answer by asking another teacher, do it!)

There will be certain things you are expected to do the first year. After getting some experience under your belt, then you can start to change things and make them your own.

Pro Tip: Start teaching program songs and choreography sooner than you think. Since you don't have experience pacing student learning, you'll need to schedule a larger chunk of time than normal. You can always take a break and do something else for a few days if your students get too far ahead.

Depending on the grade level and skill level, my students take 8-10 weeks to prepare for a program. Sometimes I can start teaching the songs earlier through a typical lesson, which reduces the amount of "program prep" weeks.


2. Plan Ahead at Home

I can't emphasize this enough - you will be tired. And most of it is mental tiredness from making decisions all day long.

Mental Health: Think ahead about ways you recharge as an individual - reading a book, working out, visiting with friends. Whatever it is that helps you decompress, schedule it now so that later you won't have to make that decision.

Other ways to reduce decision making: Plan your meals, your clothes, anything at home that you have to make decisions about. You don't have to stick to it forever, but making a rotation of meals for the first 6 weeks of school can really simplify the decisions you're having to make.

Outsourcing: Another way to reduce that teacher-tired is to outsource anything you can afford to outsource. From lawn mowing to grocery shopping, there are ways to set up systems to help you at home after you've already spent all your energy at school.

Even outsourcing resources, lesson plans, worksheets, games - there are so many great resources out there. There is no sense in making a brand new Name the Notes or Label the Key Signatures worksheet - it's already been done - literally thousands of times!

Pro Tip: Check out Teachers Pay Teachers for tons of resources that help support your fellow music teachers! You might even discover a new song or pedagogical resource that will help you along the way.


3. Make a Sub Tub

YES, you will get sick - your classroom is a petri dish. Of the whole. school.

YES, you will need a Sub Tub. (or Sub Binder or box or however you roll)

If you have children, you know they'll get sick, so go ahead and prepare for it now.

It doesn't have to be fancy, but it needs to be done so that when you get sick, you can set the tub on your desk/table and not have to create more work while you're sick.

Be sure to include things for those who are not music teachers and/or not tech-savvy.

Leaving books for subs to read is a great option - especially books that you don't normally have time to read!

Sub Tub Log - I keep a log of which classes do which activities, so I don't lose track!

Here's a post of more ideas for your sub tub! (coming soon)


4. To Train or Not to Train?

I see people in the music teacher groups recommend getting additional training immediately after graduation. While that may be helpful, don't sweat it if you can't manage it before your first year.

YES, training is vital to what you will do day to day.

YES, every music teacher would benefit from getting highly trained in a specific method instead of relying on hodge-podge/eclectic style. (I know, I know, teachers combine methods all the time; I'm mostly speaking of the ones who just attended one clinic/workshop and didn't get trained in anything. My blog, my opinion.)

BUT having a year (or more) under your belt before you get training is also very helpful.

Why? You can take the things you are learning and mentally file them in the right place, since you have the kinesthetic knowledge of having your own classroom after going through that first year.

Learn More: During your first year of teaching, check out the blogs, YouTube videos, and online groups for each type of training so that you can see what you're getting into.

Talk to someone who is certified in more than one methodology. Talk to people who are leaders in their areas so that you can see what might fit you best. And start saving your $$ because it's not cheap. Go to clinics and workshops for each type of methodology to gain better understanding.

Exceptions: If your university is offering a training as part of your degree or is offering a discount TAKE IT. If someone is offering to pay for your training TAKE IT. If your school requires you to have training as a part of your first year DO IT.

My personal recommendation is getting trained the first 3 years after your first year. So, you would teach for one year, and the following 3 summers will be working towards certification. Yes, get all 3 years, it's worth it.

Pro Tip: If someone is offering behavior management training before your first year - do it! Or specialty trainings that your school may offer like Kagan training - these can be very helpful and can be easily adapted to the music class setting.


There are so many more things to think about, but that's a good start! What suggestions do you have for first year teachers? Join the conversation on Facebook!

Lori Sweet
Sweet Sounds

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Covid-Era Teaching: Changes in my Music Classroom

On the music teacher social media groups, the talk is all about moving to a cart and creating individual instrument packs. I'm loving the brainstorming and camaraderie during this crazy time!

I am (luckily?) one of the few that is planning to be in an actual music classroom, instead of pushing in on a cart. While there are many benefits to being in my own space, I will definitely be making some changes to accommodate the physical distancing and cleaning procedures that will likely be in place in the fall.

Here are some of the ideas I'm brainstorming to help create a calm, welcoming, but more physically distanced classroom.


1. Remove the Extras for Space:

- Removing furniture to create more extra space - anyone else a collector of bookshelves? I'm planning to move or remove all of my shelves except what is absolutely necessary to create the maximum amount of square footage for students to spread out.

- Removing chairs / spreading out sit spots - I love having chairs as a "home base," but I'm probably going to remove them for this year so that I can spread out my sit spots as far as possible.



2. Remove/Store Materials to Facilitate Cleaning:

- Removing stuffed animals, puppets, and curtains (anything cloth)

- Putting small equipment and instruments into containers and buckets - typically my drum area gets very dusty and isn't cleaned very often. I'm hoping to get tubs or other closed storage for these to help with cleaning.

- Removing personal belongings/decorations - this is an easy way I can help my custodians save time. This doesn't mean my space has to be devoid of decoration, but I am going to think outside the box and maybe create laminated pictures and easily cleaned items (that I can clean myself!).



3. No Shared Materials

- Students bring their own pencils/white boards

- Creating enough mallets for several classes to use (and then clean)

- Individual sets of rhythm cards - I'm working on creating smaller versions of my rhythm sets so that I can print off a page for each student (we might bring our own scissors to music that day, I'm not sure yet!).



Other changes:  

Open Door or Windows: I'm extremely lucky to work in two classrooms that have either windows that open or an exterior door. I'm planning to have those open as much as possible throughout the year.

- Class Outside: At both of my schools, there is a small area just outside my classroom that could be used for outdoor class. I'm brainstorming ideas for the logistics, but I plan to take us outside as often as possible.

- Assigned Seats: While I have assigned seats for my chair area, I have traditionally let students choose a seat on a sit spot. I think the one of the first things we will do next year will be to assign seats for everyone.



This is definitely just a place to begin - I have some guidelines from my district, so I will start with those things, but I'm trying to think outside the box about what can be done to create more space.

This is in NO WAY a replacement for your county/state/district recommendations or requirements. I'm going based off of my state and local recommendations and how I think I can do that in my specific classrooms.

This is not the ideal situation (or anywhere close), but it's my attempt to see what I can do to make it more manageable for my classes. What ideas do you have? Join the conversation on Facebook!



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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Favorite Music Activities for Valentines Day

What are your favorite things to do with your class around Valentines Day?

I hear that question in the music teacher groups around the end of January every year. So I'm sharing my favorite music activities and brain breaks for my classes in February!


Pass an Object: Holiday Edition

My younger students (Kindergarten and 1st grade) love to pass around objects while we sing. I have a set of wooden shapes for each holiday, but you could use foam shapes, valentines stuffed animals, or anything else you'd like (Lucy Locket's pocket perhaps?).

We pass the object around the circle and sing a song - you can choose any song you'd like (Lucy Locket, Valentine Red and Blue, or something that you're already singing in class!). At the end of the song, we stop passing and sing, "Who has the _____?" with a so-mi pattern. 

There are two ways to finish the turn:
1. The rest of the class will say, "Caitlyn has the valentine." 
OR
2. If your students are ready for solo singing, the student that ended up with the object replies, "I have the valentine." (Or "I have the pocket," or "I have the heart.")

Pro Tip: If two kids end up with it at the end of the song, sing both names, or have them sing, "We have the valentine." They LOVE to sing that and it's so darn cute!

There's also a very sweet passing song that I learned from a clinic (I can't remember who!):

"The valentine goes around and around and around and around and around." 
(Sing in a scale pattern starting on low s, like this: s, dd r rr m mm f ff m mm r rr d.)

This can be adapted to ANY holiday: The reindeer goes around, the turkey goes around, the shamrock goes around, the flag goes around, the bunny goes around, the treble clef goes around! 


Reading Rhythm Practice

My middle-grade students love practicing reading their rhythms. Yes, you heard me right! They enjoy it because I make it a game!


I pop one of my smart board games on the board and let them select which rhythm to say by tapping a picture on the board. 

While we love playing in teams, it's a great individual assessment opportunity for me to see who really understands each rhythm.

If you have a very mixed group of abilities, you can do a mixed point system. Your team can say the rhythm together for one point, or you can say the rhythm "solo" for two points!


Freeze Game

All of my classes - even the ones that are "too cool" for anything else I try - absolutely love playing this freeze game


If you follow Sweet Sounds on TpT, you've probably seen the Christmas version (Reindeer, Christmas Tree, Candy Cane, Freeze!) or some of the other versions. I have tons of holiday versions, plus Carnival of the Animals Freeze, Nutcracker Freeze, and Pirate Dragon Unicorn freeze for other times of the year!

The best part about this freeze game is that it is non-locomotor. Some classes absolutely cannot do activities that move around during certain parts of the year. This has been true at every school I've ever taught at! 

The solution? This super simple freeze game - you say the chant, pick a pose, and click the screen to see who is out. It's that easy! (And for some reason they love it! I think it's because it's more like Rock, Paper, Scissors than a freeze "dance" game.)

Classes that can handle the basic version get to add drums and other percussion instruments on the chant. 

And if I need an additional improvisation activity for my takadi unit, I can grab almost any of the freeze game cards and they get so excited about improvising! Teacher win! 

Pro Tip: This can be one of your stations - it doesn't have to be just for takadi (sixteenth notes beamed with an eighth note). Students could play the game, create patterns, improvise new patterns, add instrumentation - the possibilities are endless! 

Pro Tip: This is great for subs! As long as you've played with your classes and explained the rules, my subs have had success using this as a backup activity when technology fails. Be sure to read "How I Teach This" inside the directions PDF for tips on making this a smooth game, where no feelings are hurt!

This Valentines-themed version of the freeze game is perfect for the end of January and beginning of February! My students beg to play, which gives me a nice bit of currency on those days after week-long indoor recess. 

What music activities do you do in your music class around Valentines?



Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Year of Children's Books in Music Class

It's difficult to make time in a busy schedule to read to classes, but I think it's important so I make an effort to read to my students as much as I can!



In addition to reading to my classes, I try to leave a book for every class when I have a sub! It's something that subs like to do and the kids (usually!) don't mind.

I did a Goodreads challenge the last few years and I read around 100 books a year! Before you are too impressed, let me say that I include ALL the books I read in my classroom (or in preparation for a class), too!

Here are some of my highlights from this year: 

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush - illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
This one is perfect for the first day of school! As a song tale, you sing each page and my kids love to join in. 

There Was a Man and He Was Mad - adapted by John Feierabend; great song tale - if you have a male friend who can record himself singing this book it's even better!


Down by the Station - illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
I love this illustration of the folk song Down by the Station! Hillenbrand does a great job keeping my students' interest with new animals and an add-on sound effect each time. My students always notice the child in the wheelchair at the end. Perfect pairing with Page's Train or Engine, Engine!

Bear Feels Sick - by Karma Wilson
This is a great book to read in the middle of flu season! "Why aren't we high-fiving at the door, Mrs. Sweet?" "Because everyone has the flu or the stomach bug!" It's super sweet and has a good ending - and it gives you a chance to talk about staying home when you're sick so you don't get your friends sick. It's also a great pairing with the folk song Mother, Mother, I Feel Sick!

Charlie Parker Played Bebop - by Chris Raschka
After I found the Between the Lions episode with this book, it has become one of my favorites. Even if you don't show the video in your class, I recommend listening to it to get ideas for how to read the jazzy words.

The Song of Six Birds - by Rene Deetlefs
The Song of Six Birds is a beautiful African tale about a girl who goes and collects "songs" from birds to make her song better. Such a sweet message! It's a perfect pairing with Here Comes a Bluebird.

What Do You Do With An Idea? - by Kobi Yamada
This is a fun book to connect to your composition unit or after improvising. It is a great read for a sub!

Too Many Carrots - by Katy Hudson
This is an adorable quick read if you have a song about a rabbit - I like to pair this with Little Bunny Foo Foo! Of course, you could just read the Little Bunny Foo Foo book by Michael Rosen instead!

Lon Po Po - by Ed Young
This is a fabulous Chinese tale of the Big Bad Wolf. I have used this in October with We are Dancing in the Forest and I've used this during as part of a multi-cultural emphasis. It's a little bit scary, so save this for a more mature group.

Hoot & Honk Just Can't Sleep - by Leslie Helakoski
Such a sweet story! Great for loud/soft unit or to pair with a song with bird emphasis; very few words, so a quick but gentle read.

Chicks and Salsa - by Aaron Reynolds
Silly adventure story with some smart chickens! When I have time, I like to include this when I introduce Chicken on the Fencepost.

Dog in Boots - Greg Gormsky
I read this book as a hilarious transition from Doggie Doggie to Cobbler, Cobbler. (I replace the word shopkeeper with the word cobbler and it works well!) My students love the dog's antics and the ending is perfect.

The Wheels on the Bus - Maryann Kovalski
After presenting ta/tadi, my students love getting to practice on instruments right away! Most of my students know the song already, so we sing along and play rhythm instruments on "round and round" (aka tadi ta). The best part - it doesn't take 14 years to teach! There's also a French translation if you're daring (or know French!).

Animal Boogie - Debbie Harter
I make sure I read this book to the class and teach them little motions before I have my first substitute of the year. It's perfect for a sub and now there's a video on YouTube that a sub can play as well!

L is for Liberty - Wendy Cheyette Lewison
Beautiful short story with a patriotic theme!

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie - Alison Jackson
This is my favorite version of the "Old Lady" books. I try to impress my students by reading the repeated phrases as fast as I can - hilarious!


All the Pretty Horses - illustrated by Susan Jeffers
This book is an illustration of the folk song Hush-a-Bye. The pictures are gentle drawings with soft colors and fit perfectly into my loud-soft Kindergarten unit. This looks to be out of print, but can be purchased used online or at your local used bookstore!

I Have a Little Dreidel - Maxie Baum
Cute story that acts out the song - can be read or sung. Includes a recipe for latkes at the end!

The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet - Deborah Hautzig
This is a great addition to any Nutcracker unit! It tells the story of the ballet in simple words. If you're short on time, just show the pictures and let the kids tell you what they see.

The 12 Days of Christmas - illustrated by Jan Brett
This is a beautiful version of the 12 Days song! I like to pair it with another of my favorites (though it may be harder to find a copy!), Letters of Thanks. If you can find a copy of it, The 12 Days of Kiwi Christmas by Myles Lawford is great as well!




Santa Claus is Comin' to Town - illustrated by Steven Kellogg
This is a book that I've read so many times, it's falling apart! I read this to every class the last time I see them before Christmas. The illustrations are incredible - of course! - and the storyline is fun.


If you want more, check out my Pinterest board Music Teacher Books here!



What books do you read in your music class? Comment below or connect on Facebook!

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Planning Music Programs - Riser Week


Planning programs is a huge task! From picking the music, to preparing scripts and choreography, to fine-tuning the music and performance expectations, getting ready for a program can be a little scary at first. If you break it up into smaller chunks, it doesn't seem nearly as overwhelming.

Check out the first post in this series here about planning backwards and Grade Level Practices.

It happens in music rooms and performance spaces everywhere. Music teachers work tirelessly to teach performance pieces, add extra special moments in the show, put up decorations, print off programs. In the blink of an eye, it's the week before the show!

After weeks and weeks of prep, students get on the risers for the first time and then... they lose their minds!

In my experience, it's best to practice on the risers inside the classroom, one class at a time. After doing this for several years, it became affectionately known as Riser Week. Here are my tips and tricks for practicing on the risers.


Riser Week

Two weeks before the performance is a sacred space in the calendar. You have very limited time left and it may seem like you have a lot to cover.

Do you run through the whole show or do you hit the highlights and hope for the best? Sing one song ten times or go through the complicated choreography?

I have found that the week before we go into the performance space is a great time to bring a set (or two) of risers into the classroom to practice. If you have risers in your class full time, you may be way ahead of the game at this point!

Riser Rules

My rules for risers are pretty basic:
1. Toes on the tape. 
2. Don't turn around. 

I put on my serious face and tell the kids in no uncertain terms - you will not play around on the risers or you will not get to stand on the risers. There's no three strikes; it's one and done.

And then I stick to that. During the first practice someone (usually a new student that doesn't know me yet) tests that theory and learns the hard way. I move them to a standing spot on the side of the risers (with compassion) and say, "I hope you can fix it so you don't have to stand down here at the performance."

Toes on the Tape
I have 3 pieces of masking tape on each step of my risers (your risers may be longer or shorter; you do you!). I have students put their toes on the tape, but not hanging over the edge. This seems to work wonders keeping them in the correct spot left-to-right and front-to-back.

Don't Turn Around
My second rule (don't turn around) is in place because I have a shallow set of risers. You obviously won't have this rule if you have the beautiful giant-sized risers. (cue the angel voices) In order to keep my students out of each others' personal space, I say, "You can look behind you if someone is passing something to you, but don't turn around."

Riser Placement

I start with "tallies to smallies" and place them on the risers accordingly. To save time, I have them stand and call their names one by one. Nobody has time for students arguing about who is taller, so I do it myself.

Obviously, I separate the behavior issues and I try to put the more helpful students near ones that need help, but I also consider the sound when placing students on the risers. In a choir situation, you might have time to use voicing to your advantage, but I find that simply making sure that I separate clumps of students who are hesitant with pitch helps tremendously.

The rest of the Riser Week rehearsal

Depending on how much time is left after quickly going over the rules and placing them on the risers,  I do a "walk-through" of the show.

Students with speaking parts will learn how to get off the risers to come to the front for their speaking part. We generally do not have time to sing through every song in its entirety, so we sing the first verse or find an appropriate place to stop.

Side note: I teach all of my students to "turn your shoulders" to allow another student to slip past them off the risers. It works well and keeps me from having to separate students on the risers based on their parts. 

Students with special parts like ribbon dancing or holding up props or playing an instrument will mimic their role as we walk "fast-forward" through our show. For example, my ribbon dancers (in the Veterans Day show) will pretend to pick up their ribbon from the bucket, pretend to do their movements, and then pretend to return the ribbon to the ribbon helper at the end of their song.

Usually there is barely enough time to "walk-through" all the songs and special parts before it's time to practice how to get off the risers and go back to class. Shew! I'm tired just thinking about it.




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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Planning Music Programs - Grade Level Practices

Planning programs can be super time-consuming and intimidating! Working backwards from the program date has worked well for me - try it and let me know what you think!


To work your schedule backwards, start with the performance date in mind. Write out a schedule with the end in mind, tracking how many days you want to practice in the performance space (Grade Level Practices), how many times you think they need to practice on the risers in your classroom (Riser Week), how many times they need to run through the whole show with special parts and speaking parts (Run Through Week) and beyond.

I'm going to be honest here - I give myself plenty of time with groups that are immature or groups that I don't know well (new school or lots of new students). You know your students' learning styles better than anyone, so you decide how much time you will spend on "program songs."


Side note: While I am a huge fan of using classroom curriculum songs as a performance, and use them as often as I can, I find that it's not always appropriate. Some schools/situations call for a separate set of "program" songs. In that case, I allow even more time to learn the repertoire. Programs with lots of moving parts (speakers, dancers, instruments, etc.) also take more time. If your program has these things, allow more space in your schedule for it. You'll be glad you did!

I try to schedule "auditions" and "sign-ups" for special parts as far in advance as I can, in order to give myself time to cast the show, type up scripts and notes home, highlight their parts, and sort all the papers by teacher to get them sent home. Shew! I'm tired just thinking about it!

Let's start talking through the details by talking about the week of the performance, or as I like to call it: Grade Level Practice Week.


Grade Level Practice Week

The week of the performance is "Grade Level Practice" week. Ideally, an entire grade level has specials at the same time. Work together with your specials team and pull all the classes into the performance space the week of your performance.

Pro Tip: I always try to schedule performances for Thursday (or Friday), to give me a minimum of 3 workable practice days. 

Day 1 Agenda:
  1. Get students into the performance space (risers, stage, etc.). Sometimes we line up by height (tallies to smallies) and sometimes I assign specific spots - it depends on the situation/group.
  2. Briefly go over the agenda with the students: "We will be doing the first half of the show today. If you have a special part in the second half, you will go tomorrow."
  3. Sing/Play/Speak through the first half of the show TWICE, including special parts like welcome, speaking parts, ribbon dancing, putting away ribbons/props, getting out instruments, playing instruments, putting away instruments, etc.

Day 2 Agenda: 
  1. Sing/Play/Speak through the second half of the show TWICE, including all the details.
  2. If you have any extra time, go through the hardest parts of the show again (songs that they like to rush, songs with many verses that they like to forget, etc.).

Day 3 Agenda: 
  1. I like to have an audience for the last rehearsal, so I invite a younger grade level, whenever possible.
  2. Run through the entire show with all special parts. 
  3. No stopping! Treat this as a performance (especially if you have an audience!) and try not to stop. If you have to stop, make a quick adjustment and move on!
  4. Be sure to debrief with kids about that evening's or the next day's performance before they go back to class.
Side Note: In an ideal world, your teammates will help you run the rehearsal, dealing with discipline issues that arise, passing out props, keeping kids on task. I have been extremely blessed over the years with teams that have been amazing at running rehearsals! Shout out to Carol & Amber (& Craig) & Debbie & Jennifer & Megan & Eunice & Belinda & Leticia & Kala & Susan & Jeanne & & Adam & Scott - Thank you!!

I ask the grade level teachers to attend the last rehearsal (or part of it) just so that they will know what is going on. Most likely, they will be the ones helping you the night of the performance or in the assembly (if you do a daytime performance).

By the day of the show, groups generally tend to be more comfortable (and predictable!) in the performance space. There's always a chance for a snafu or technical difficulty, so I remind the students that, "The show must go on," unless someone is hurt!

Special Tips for Weird Schedules

As much as you wish for and hope for an administration and staff that understands what you are trying to do with each performance, you won't always have an ideal schedule. Some years, you will have a class that meets at a different time than the rest of the grade level or a "mixed-up-files" kind of hodgepodge schedule. 

For those times, you have to rely on your relationships with the teachers/admin to get them to agree to switch their normal specials time. This is really tough the first year at a school, but as you prove yourself to them by your professional communication, your being on time, your performances and productions, etc., teachers are more friendly to the idea of swapping their schedule out for you. 

In essence, they are doing it for their kids, but it feels like a giant favor to you personally. I try to bring donuts or make brownies for my staff occasionally to make sure they know that I appreciate their flexibility. And I always write thank you notes after a show to let them know that they were a blessing to me and the students by their willingness to be flexible. A little gratefulness goes a long way!


I schedule these individual class switches way in advance and with the approval of my principal. Only once or twice have I had an impossible switch, and had to have a class come to the gym and sit and watch while I rehearse with a different grade level. In those cases, I provide tons of word finds and coloring pages to keep them busy and spread them out while we practice. 

I will do whatever it takes to have a grade level practice the week before a performance. I don't believe I could do a performance without it (unless I had to!). If that means doubling up classes, teaching during my lunch, or rearranging my schedule with my other school, I will do it! I have to be willing to be flexible, too!

The week before the switch, send out reminder emails and put a copy of the changed schedule in their box, just to be safe. I like to have them write a note in their substitute folder just in case!

Check out my latest post about Riser Week here