An Approach to Lesson Planning

Some districts have a template all teachers must follow in writing their lesson plans, while others leave the form to the teacher, perhaps only requiring that certain specified elements be included. My purpose here is not to prescribe what should be included in a lesson plan, but instead to suggest an overriding outline or approach to lesson planning; one that combines the best of several methods and templates, and reflects best practice in delivering instruction.

From a behavioral management perspective, I found it helpful to have a “do now” activity ready for the students when they arrive. This is something they can do on their own, without any help from me. This settles them into a good working habit right away, and honestly gives me a moment to take attendance and engage in small talk with some students with whom I am trying to build a supportive relationship. This step is more of an overture or prelude than the first act of my lesson.

I frequently used a writing prompt for this, often as a kind of pre-assessment related to what I planned to teach that day. I set a timer and do not let the “do now” segment exceed 7 minutes. Students can easily stretch this activity out to eat up class time if allowed, so I teach them that they are responsible for finishing in 7 minutes, and their work will be collected promptly no matter if they are finished or not. If the “do now” has been a pre-assessment, I collect it from the students one at a time, as I go around the room, so that I can see where the class is on the material, and adjust my teaching for the day accordingly.

By now I am about 10 minutes into the class. It is time for Act 1. This is what I call “doing.” It is having the students do something musical that they enjoy. It can be a song, dance, game, listening selection, or anything that they have shown they enjoy doing. Starting out this way gets them engaged in the class, and causes them to be more receptive to the “meatier” teaching that will follow. On the “Featured Lesson Plans” page of this site, the plan titled “Middle school general music, beginning of the year” begins with a “mixer” activity. Because it is the beginning of the year, my objective is to get the students interacting positively and successfully collaborating to achieve a common goal. In this plan, they work together to show their knowledge of musical terms by creating a short musical work. That work then flows into the next segment of the lesson. You can view the entire lesson by going to the “Featured Lesson Plans” page.

Next is the “Literacy” segment of the lesson. This is the real “meat and potatoes” of the lesson. I utilize Conversational Solfege strategies and activities at this point. For more information on Conversational Solfege, please follow this link. Depending on what step of it I’m on, this segment can include a rote song, decoding neutral syllables into solfege, reading with solfege, or improvising or creating. These activities cannot be planned in a random order, but must be planned sequentially, according to the steps of Conversational Solfege. For example, rote learning precedes reading, reading precedes writing, and writing precedes composing. It is important to keep this segment fun and interesting, even though you are teaching literacy, which can easily be less fun than singing or playing instruments. One way I do this is to use Orff instruments when decoding. While decoding can be done singing a pattern to the class on a neutral syllable and then having an individual repeat the pattern with solfege (tonal or rhythm), it can also be done by having the student respond by playing the pattern on an instrument while they sing or chant the solfege. This adds a great deal of enjoyment to decoding for many students.

There are also a repertoire of games that can be played that involve decoding, and they are described in the Conversational Solfege Teacher’s Manual. One of them is “Forbidden Pattern.” In this game, I write three rhythm or tonal pattern on the board. I make sure the class can sing each one with solfege. Then, one of the patterns is designated as forbidden. If I sing the forbidden pattern, the class is to remain silent. If they do, the class gets a point. If they do not remain silent, but repeat the forbidden pattern, I get a point. . If I sing any of the other patterns, the class is to repeat them. The first to get to 3 wins. This game can be played to rote teach patterns, in which case both I and the class sings with solfege, or it can be played to teach decoding, in which case I sing the patterns on a neutral syllable, and the class sings it with solfege. The game goes beyond “training mode” when individuals are called on either to repeat the pattern or to sit in silence if I have just sung the forbidden pattern. It can also be made more challenging for older or more advanced students by adding more patterns, while still keeping only 1 forbidden pattern.

If my class were at step 12, I would use the literacy time for them to create music. Typically, I would give them a structure in which to compose. For example, “write music that is 8 measures in common time. You must use quarter, half, and paired eighth notes, and you may use up to 2 beats of rest and one whole note, and you may use only the tones F, G, A, C, and E.” Before I ask them to do this, they have learned tonal patterns comprised of combinations of F, G, A, C, and E and they can sing them from notation in familiar and unfamiliar patterns. That way, when they think of a pattern, they can write it down and know what it sounds like, building a melody by sequencing one pattern after another. In the lesson on the “Featured Lesson Plans” page, I have also included reciting the classroom rules, but that is an add-on activity for the beginning of the year and is not really part of music literacy.

The final segment of the lesson plan is called “About.” This is where I play music for the students, or the students perform music for each other, and the class gives a response. I value understanding what composers intended to express in music, so I most often ask students to discuss expressive intent. Other responses are to locate instances of a musical element such as staccato, or forte, or syncopation. I often have students move as their response, often in Dalcroze inspired activities, or interpret through their own movement, or mirror my movements as I interpret (modeling). This can also include writing about music, either by analyzing or evaluating. When having students evaluate, be sure that they have developed or been given criteria by which to evaluate the music; otherwise, it will simply turn into writing about preferences, which is another kind of response.

To end the lesson, I like to again do something the class enjoys, but only briefly. The idea is to leave them wanting more and looking forward to the next class. Please use our discussion forum to share your lesson planning ideas, to share your favorite lesson plan, or to start a discussion on a music education topic of interest to you.

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