How can a teacher effectively insert music into his or her classroom in a meaningful way? Teachers wishing to engage their students in the learning process through the inclusion of music are often unsure of how to go about it. Beyond simply playing songs that students can relate to or enjoy, how can educators use music effectively to enhance lesson plans and create memorable teaching moments?
1. Use It as a Transition Tool
With a little creativity, as well as some inspiration borrowed from other instructors, teachers can develop a series of topic introductions that grab students’ attention and prepare them for learning. Transitioning from one subject to another is more exciting with the addition of music that alerts students to the upcoming change, and playing a theme song, along with a corresponding PowerPoint slide, helps connect the song to the subject.
For example, if a teacher needs a segue into a math lesson, he or she can use the Masterpiece Theatre theme song, with an emphasis on the “Master” part of the theme to connect to “mastery” of math concepts. Lessons on the Constitution can use the transition “Today’s lesson is brought to you by the letter C” and the musical theme to Sesame Street. If the task at hand is studying the water cycle, teachers can use the theme from the movie Jaws to convey the properties of water.
Using music to introduce content serves as an anchor for student engagement. Adding props, costume pieces, or other attention grabbers will exaggerate the effect and generate additional interest.
2. Use It to Introduce Class Demonstrations
Teachers who effectively use classroom demonstrations already understand the impact of student participation in learning. Taking classroom demonstrations to the next level with the addition of music offers another opportunity to engage multiple thinking skills.
There are four steps to classroom demonstrations:
2) grabbing student attention
4) post-demo analysis
Determine an appropriate “Setup” Theme song. Before class, arrange with students to participate in the demonstration and give them their cue. When it is time for the demonstration, play the Setup music to let students know they should move into place. This 30-45 seconds of music will also grab the audience’s interest, thus preparing them to pay attention to what is about to happen.
Here are some good ideas for Setup music:
“Bad Boys” (Theme from Cops)
“Stayin’ Alive” (Saturday Night Fever)
“What a Feeling” (Flashdance)
“All That Jazz” (Chicago)
3. Use It to Facilitate Collaborative Learning
Another effective way to include music into the learning process is to design a collaborative learning project around music. For example, teachers can have students create their own parody or skit about a particular topic or theme. After dividing students into groups of five, instructors can then assign one of the following roles to each member of the group:
Director: Guides the project, ensuring that everyone stays on task and that the project meets the required benchmarks.
Designer: Responsible for scenery, props, and costumes that the skit will require.
Sound Engineer: Selects music and sound effects to accompany the skit.
Writer: Prepares written script with steps for the skit/demo.
Technician: Secures equipment necessary for the skit.
(Each member of the group also participates as an actor.)
Each group has to develop a skit or parody of a song that corresponds to the assigned lesson. This process involves kinesthetic, participatory, and team-oriented activities, which address a variety of learning styles. In addition, the process of group collaboration draws on multiple intelligences, including leadership, artistic, technical, and more.
In this type of project, each student has the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in his or her learning and present the skit in a format that is relatable to his or her individual learning style. As a result, the lesson is more personal, engaging, and memorable. Students can perform their skits live or record them to show to the rest of the class at a later date.
4. Use It as Background “Filler.”
Educators can also use music as background noise. When students are taking notes, answering questions, or filling out worksheets, there is often “dead air,” and students are sometimes tempted to fill this quiet time with conversation or other distracting activities. Teachers can pre-empt this temptation by using selected background music to fill in the silence.
For timed activities, songs such as the theme song from Jeopardy keep students engaged in learning and keep momentum going. Additionally, using a timed song helps students learn to use their time wisely. Teachers can also use appropriate music as a sound track for taking tests, to facilitate workbook time, and more.
Classroom music is a tool that teachers can add to their repertoire of motivators. By completing music-filled lessons, students will not only be more engaged, they will also be inspired to fully participate in learning activities.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Marina K Caprara