top of page
  • Writer's pictureJanis Aston

Where do I start?

When students are not performing up to grade level standards

Question recently posted on Facebook

"I am teaching K-4 general music and 5-6 beginning band. We started school before Labor Day and I have been doing a mix of Game Plan units with Kindergarten and Feierabend with first and second . . . Classes are 30 minutes.

"I have material but they {students} are nowhere near where their grade level should be. There is no choir at this school and I think that the whole focus on music has been band preparation. This is not a bad thing but they can't sing . . . don't know solfege . . . have no rhythm recognition at any of the upper levels. 

I have very little Kodály training though I use some of his techniques . . . and am just getting familiar with Feierabend though I have never been a great kiddie song singer. I would love to join Quaver but dang! My district is poor and cannot afford it."


Start with the BASICS

First—Consider your load, available materials, and class timeframe. Obviously, 30-minute classes are not enough but not impossible.

Second—Evaluate, through observation, where your students are. Make a plan to get them where they need to be.

Third—Go easy on yourself. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself as well as your students. The challenges listed above are not insurmountable but will require time and patience with yourself and the students.

How to Combine

K-1st. Lesson plans can be combined for different grade levels. You can use the kindergarten lesson plan with your 1st graders. Students need reinforcement. You are going to have to move your first graders along but wait till spring.

1st-2nd. Second graders will enjoy and learn from most of the 1st grade plans. The 2nd grade plans in most curriculum will too difficult for 1st graders who still need solid reinforcement of the basic concepts like high-low, loud-soft, fast-slow. Second graders are moving into learning the finer elements and nuances and terminology like crescendo-decrescendo, piano-forte, etc. But they are not ready for the 3rd grade concepts.

2nd-3rd-4th. Use many of the 2nd grade lesson ideas with the 3rd graders. You can also combine 3rd-4th grade plans. Maybe even add 2nd to that, depending on how far along they are.

Make your plan, gearing it down for the younger levels and adding challenging elements to the older levels without sacrificing the basics. And make this as easy as possible on yourself or you'll go crazy!!

Don’t even think about starting a chorus this year. They need some basics, teach them how to sing and how to enjoy singing before attempting a chorus your first year. And it seems that 2020 is not the year for ensemble singing anyway so look at that as your reprieve.

Basically, if you know your students have not received a solid foundation, begin with the basics in age-appropriate ways.

SAMPLE 30-minute class—Singing, matching pitch, rhythm, movement, steady beat, listening, age-appropriate analysis of teacher-selected music/songs.

  1. 3-5 min. echo-clapping, echo-singing (add reading cards when ready)

  2. 5-min, Move with a purpose; always give students a specific reason for moving/listening

  3. 5-8 min. Song, echo-teach phrases, put phrases together; older students analyze (same-different; what song is about; characters, etc. This also addresses balanced literacy.)

  4. Optional to finish class—

  • Move again

  • Play instruments (recorders with 3rd-6th graders); create accompaniments to a song they already know

  • Another song, fun activity, closer

Don't be afraid to be honest

Learn right along with the students; be honest, let students know that you don’t know something and you need their help. Kids love that! I was a piano major and never felt comfortable with my singing voice. But the kids loved it. They told me. I am an alto and struggle singing in their range but I know the importance of pitching songs in their range, not mine. Many times I used the recorder to establish pitch. Or use another child to demonstrate or provide starting pitches.


If you transition quickly between activities, your lesson will go so fast and students will not have a chance to even think about misbehaving! That comes with time/experience but is highly important for success. You have to think quickly, assess situations, de-escalate, and move to something else if you see students are not engaged. You cannot teach students who are not paying attention.

Try these Sequential Unit 1 plans.

These are 1-hour plans, but can easily be adapted. Cut out the fluff, the stuff I used to reinforce and use the basics when using for the grade above.

Screen-Driven Curriculum

Quaver and Game Plan are good resource supplements but not a substitute for a solid, sequential program. I have been working with teachers in our district who use Quaver. And it is not great. For example, the elements of meter are introduced in first grade. K-2nd graders need a lot of movement activities to build a foundation for strong-weak beats, music moving in sets of threes, etc. before even thinking about teaching them about the mechanics of meter signatures, measures, bar lines. When teaching virtually, movement activities become almost impossible for the teacher to determine if students are even keeping a steady beat because of the synching issues and delay in sound for every individual computer or device. But they still need that foundation of internalizing beat through listening and using large motor skills in movement.

Singing and Listening Experiences

When introducing songs and music, be sure you are aware of the cultural background and history. This applies to Spirituals, Jazz, Blues, songs from Applachian Mountains, cowboy songs, songs from various war eras, protest songs, music from Asia, Middle East, Native American, etc.

Folk songs and music from a wide variety of ethnicities have long been recognized as the best way to give children a broad and culturally-balanced foundation in music education.

We have a wealth of materials at our fingertips through the internet. Use this information wisely and with discretion. Not everything found online is correct.

It is our job as educators to do the research and not only present our students with correct information but to also challenge them to think and become problem solvers.

We are helping them become well-rounded, lifelong learners.

Music is our vehicle and what a wonderful tool that is!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page