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  • Writer's pictureJanis Aston

Projects? I just don't have time!

You might be surprised!

The last 4-6 weeks of the school year, I found it difficult to engage my 4th graders in just about anything until I began using small-group projects that were a culmination of previous learning experiences. Not only did they become totally involved but their retention was surprisingly refreshing. I had done something right!

What is Project Based Learning?

According to PBL Works, "Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge."

Can we do that in the Elementary Music Classroom? Absolutely!

For many years, I had my students work together in small groups. Yes, even kindergartners. Something as simple as—"Find a partner. Sit on the floor together and c

reate a hand pattern to the beat of this song. Great! Now find two more friends and work together to find a way to combine your patterns." Simple and effective. Prepare them for more involved age-appropriate activities in the next grade. Sequential learning experiences! Establish expectations early.

At the end of a unit or at the end of the year, provide an activity that requires your students to think, process, and assimilate their previous learning experiences while working together to create something new. The key to a great project is to give the students enough time to complete it. I discovered that children become frustrated when they are rushed and not ready to perform. Don't be afraid to allot half, or even more, of your lesson time to a well thought-out project.

Successful small-group projects require extensive preparation.


Develop a rubric with points that acknowledges each phase/step of the project. Be sure to include "We are working well together." Write the rubric on the board, poster, or project on a screen during each session.

Critique and Self-Evaluate

  • Critique. Allow students to provide encouragement and suggestions to each other along the way by having "Share What You Have So Far" moments.Video-tape the final performance. Provide a "Critique Sheet" where students write how well each group performed according to the rubric and where there is room for improvement.

  • Self-Evaluate. An important part of any project is for students to reflect on their contribution to the group—what they have done well and where they may need to improve.

Teacher Effectiveness

Finally, use projects to assess the effectiveness of your instruction. This is a tough one but must be part of the overall process. Honesty will help you become a better teacher.

Ask yourself—

  • Where do I need to make adjustments?

  • What can I do to help the students be more successful?

  • Did the students show an understanding of the ultimate goal?

  • Were the students able to transfer and apply knowledge from previous learning experiences to create something new?

Project Ideas

Through the years, I developed several project-based activities that were huge hits with the students. I'm including three of my favorites because I know they work. Other projects are included and an integral part of the Curriculum Bundle.

"I don't care if the rain comes down, I'm gonna dance all day."

"What if I told you that this song is not about rain, thunderstorms, or dancing. What do you think it's about?" And that's how I began my discussion with the students after we learned the song.

This fun project is standards-based—DOMAINS: Perform, Create, and Connect. Students will sing, play, improvise, compose, listen, and analyze, critique, and evaluate.

Encourage your students to think outside the box—Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). Also, be sure to make the ELA connections and Character Ed.

Students work together in a small group to—

  • Compose new lyrics to the familiar tune, “I Don’t Care If the Rain Comes Down,”

  • Create two different body percussion ostinati for the A and B sections,

  • Choose instruments and perform the ostinati while singing their new song,

  • Participate in a critique session.

A fun, thought-provoking, small group project for your 3rd-5th grade music class. All lesson plans are sequential and include suggestions for remote learning experiences.

This a 5-part activity using Lucien Cailliet's "Theme and Variations on 'Pop! Goes the Weasel' to teach that music form. Great for end-of-the-year unit with 4th-6th grades!

Challenge your students to listen and analyze the composer's variations in a fun way using the Powerpoint lesson. Then guide them to work together in small groups to create their own theme and variations by using recorders or other instruments (could even sing their story) to the verses of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or any other simple song such as "Hot Cross Buns."

All of the lesson plans are based on the standards and can be used as large-group activities, small-group activities, or a combination of both.


  • Powerpoint Lesson

  • Multiple lesson plans

  • Student, self-guided plan that can be opened on a computer

  • Song sheet

  • Downloadable worksheets

My 4th graders absolutely loved this activity. Many times they would actually perform the raps created in music class in their 4th grade Talent Show.


  • Students will learn and demonstrate the difference between a rap and reciting/chanting a poem.

  • Students will demonstrate the importance of keeping a beat in the rap genre.

  • Students will discover that composers of any music usually draw from life experiences.

  • Students will be encouraged to draw from their own life experiences to compose their own raps.

Little to no materials/resources are necessary for this activity to be a HUGE success.

Your students will thoroughly enjoy working together. You can use this small-group activity to "wrap" up the year for your 3rd-6th graders.

This activity encourages students to use higher level thinking skills as they compose, analyze, and perform their own raps. A rubric is included for evaluation and critique.


It is highly rewarding, as a teacher, when you become facilitator, walking around the classroom, watching your students working together, talking about the theme, the beat, timbre of combining instruments, helping each other make improvements, while creating their own unique compositions.

We want them to "fly" on their own. This is one way that can happen.

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