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What are our goals in music class? 

- center the students
- remove the barriers to access

- teach creativity

- provide a sense of belonging
- provide mirrors and windows
for each and every student


Section 1: THINK AHEAD!!


  • Space set up: Think through accessibility and inclusion, circles are ideal and non-hierarchical. Make sure everyone can see/hear you. 

  • Small groups: Try to create built-in multi-ability teams, so you never have to say “choose a partner”, it’s instantly exclusionary and creates tons of drama and distraction. 

  • Routines give kids confidence and help them calm down: my kids know what to do almost every moment from the time they walk into the time they leave. They feel ownership over our music time. 

  • Student moves: How much time are the students spending sitting, standing, listening, talking, moving, using small motor vs large motor movements? 

  • Structure: I spend the first 10-15 standing (doing songs with movements, then body percussion), then 10-15 sitting (ear training games, new material), then 10-15 standing/playing/dancing/rotating instruments, as a general guideline.




Music with Ms. P 

Manju Durairaj

Elementary Groove Tracks

Chelsey Cook Orff

Song Ideas on my website (recordings)

Literally my entire songbook (lyrics)

My YouTube channel (songs, games, activities)

  • Lesson planning: designing with access, SpEd, multi-lingual learners, kids impacted by trauma, neurodivergence, FROM THE START!

  • Every lesson includes some: composing, improvising, listening, vocal, body percussion, creative movement, symbol recognition

  • Representation MATTERS: Repertoire is NOT everything! Culturally responsive music classrooms means that the repertoire, methods, physical space and behavior management strategies are responsive to the students in front of you; their ethnic culture, their norms, level of trauma, access to resources, history, values, etc. 

  • Your school’s families are a wealth of cultures and ideas, mine helped me create a bhangra unit, a sign language unit, and an Arabic song/music unit. 

  • Cultural pieces with context and a culture bearer. Hint: whenever possible, use videos with kids performing the source material, kids as the culture bearers: Bhangra Empire, kindergarten taiko to lady gaga, teens doing tinikling to Dolla Sign Slime, kids performing Gumboots dancing, 

  • Children’s books give you a great structure to hang your content onto: for example the Jazz Fly book: used it for a month to teach scat, improvisation, swing beat, which instruments are in a jazz band, and friendship.

  • Use your students IEP goals as the starting point for your lesson!! (examples)


Section 3: ENGAGEMENT 


  1. Use instrumental (karaoke) hip hop or unpitched percussion grooves underneath EVERYTHING :-) (example) (example)

  2. Games! (ex: game shows “Name That…” four corners, telephone, opposite game,  video examples here:

  3. Chunking EVERYTHING, chunky chunks within the chunks! Macro, mezzo, micro: (example)

  4. Sing/chant the directions: ex: “please be my echo, first you listen and the you copy me” (example) 

  5. Show first, ask later, talk less: Demonstrate the song/rhythm/instrument first, then ask the students “what did you notice?” or “what pattern was I playing?”

  6. Front-loading, the never-ending cycle...

  7. Humor, props, memes, stuffed animals, noise makers, general silliness :-) “a brain in pain can’t learn.”

  8. Repetition: of course the students need a lot of repetition to remember something and to achieve mastery. Repetition doesn’t not have to be boring, though! One concept, dance, melody, or rhythm can be stretched and practiced without ever becoming boring: doing it slowly, super fast, soft, loud, robot style, monster style, mini-style, backwards, in a round, in body percussion, in a dance, silently (audiation), twice, with distractions you create, in different styles, in swing timing, in a different time signature, etc. 



  • Visual aides! Ask: How can I connect an image with what I’m teaching:

  1. Vocab words: Letters with images inside

  2. Signs on sticks, memes, collages

  3. Rhythm cards (example) 

  1. Kids repeat the key words after me

  2. They make sound effects for the storybook we are reading

  3. Yell out the answers (popcorn style!)

  4. Speak it on the beat of beats you are playing

  5. Turn and talk to their small group

  1. Body percussion

  2. Dance, and creative movement

  3. Hand clapping games (with partners?)

  4. Statues (could form the letters of the notes with your body, could demonstrate if the notes are high or low by crouching down for low, tip toes for high notes, etc.)

  5. Hula hoops/poly spots composition

  6. Hip hop beats, or unpitched grooves underneath EVERYTHING

  1. Break down the concept to the smallest building block, give it to the kids and let them be their own composers 

  2. Magic bucket (random chance)

  3. Small groups

  4. Individual students each choose one note

  5. IF you have access to a screen/laptop: Chrome music lab


Section 4: HOW DID IT GO?

AUTHENTIC engagement vs. compliant engagement:

 use this as your feedback machine



  • Make sure you are getting the whole group to demonstrate understanding, not just one person

  • Give multiple ways for students to demonstrate understanding


  • Look inward first: is the lesson too boring, have I had them sit down too long, maybe I haven’t given them a chance to use their voice recently enough, the content doesn’t feel relevant enough, the content is too hard or too easy, etc.

  • Contact the teacher or Special Education team to see what IEPs or 504 plans there are, to help plan for/guide your behavior management strategies. 

  • Look at the SARC for your school to get the big picture on who your students are insofar as their SES status, impact from trauma, homelessness, cultural backgrounds, languages spoken, kids in foster care, etc.

  • Meet them where they are at: if they talk too much, put more vocal activities in your lesson, if they squirm too much, put more movement in your lesson, meet the kids where they are at each day.


Section 5: EXTRAS!




  • Get teachers involved, get them on your side! Ask them how you can support the student’s educational goals during your music class (hint: Literacy is the eeeeeasiest thing to integrate into music)

  • Literacy support (everything from letter sounds with beatboxing, to narrative writing structure)

  • Science standards (making musical instruments, volume, force, velocity, etc.)

  • Mathematical thinking (size, dividing beats, number of beats per measure)



  • The eight standards of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, goal setting, personal responsibility, decision making, optimistic thinking.

  • SEL goes to the heart of what we are bringing to the students lives, the sense of belonging, inclusion, and connection. It goes far beyond repertoire!


- I implore you start with this book by Zaretta Hammond, my absolute bible of educating equitably: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

- Next, there is an application of Hammond's book specifically for music teachers, called Culturally Responsive Teaching in Music Education. It is an excellent book. 

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