Welcome to the 68th Kid Lit Blog Hop where we continue to develop a dynamic and engaged community of children's books bloggers, authors, publishers, and publicists. So, you are always more than welcome to join us by popping in a post and hopping around to meet some of your fellow Kid Lit bloggers and authors!


Mother Daughter Book Reviews

Julie Grasso, Author/ Blogger

Cheryl Carpinello, Author / Blogger


Pragmatic Mom

Reading Authors

The Logonauts

Spark and Pook

Music Teaching and Parenting

Happy Hopping everyone and enjoy the Hop!

Kid Lit Blog Hop

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The Pumpkin Basket
Every year I have my students write their name on a piece of paper and put it in a Halloween basket. I use it to make fun any activity that the students may be less excited about. It works very well every year with my elementary and mid school students. With high school-I might use it on lighter days or after concerts in order to provide a bit of fun but not make it a part of the regular curriculum. Here are a few examples:

Posture: I draw a student name out of the basket. That students needs to demonstrate a certain aspect of posture: show the elbows moving when crossing strings, play a scale with straight right hand wrist, etc. After the student demonstrates the concept correctly, then that student gets to draw the next name out of the basket.

Music Theory: Last year we spent quite a bit of time on music theory. I would write certain musical terms on the board. I would draw a name out of the basket, that student needs to name one of the musical terms. If they cannot, then I draw a different name for help. The student who asnwers correctly gets a candy out of the basket. Both middle and high school students loved it. Best fact about the game-they also learned quite a bit playing the game.

Rhythm: I fill the basket with different rhythms written on a piece of paper, usually taking a measure or two. I try to have as many different rhythms as there are days left till Halloween from the start of the activity. Every day I ask a different student to come up and draw a rhythm from the basket. That student writes the rhythm on the board. Then the class has to play the scale with that new rhythm. I use it to reinforce more difficult rhythms such as dotted quarter notes or different meters. You can also write rhythms that the students will encounter in the musical pieces to come-giving them a chance to preview or practice these rhythms.

Bell-Ringer Activity:  Bell ringers are no longer an option in a lot of districts. You can create a fun music notation activity out of Halloween and add to your ideas about bell-ringer activities. Leave the basket at the door. Same as before, the basket would have various rhythms, one measure phrases, musical phrases with mistakes, etc. As the students enter, each students draws a card with a different rhythm. Then it becomes a bell-ringer activity. Different ways to do it is having a student fix a mistake in the rhythm/time signature selection. They can add skipped musical symbols such as bar lines, clef, etc. They can also take their rhythm and extend it inopt a short musical composition of a bout 4-5 measures as a bell-ringer activity.

Halloween Special Effects-Study of Extended Techniques
The month leading to Halloween is always an excellent time to introduce students to extended techniques, or Halloween music "special effects". There are pieces that are standard literature to study that. Two of the more popular ones being However, I take this a bit further doing an unit really studying, explaining, and practicing the different extended techniques.

An easy way to introduce these is to ask the students to play the different strokes on a sclae they feel familiar with. They can play the scale with Col Legno, Tremolo, etc. This can be an opportunity to introduce a unit on contact points. Playing with the "best" contact point at first, then moving it to Sul Tasto and Sul Ponticello. My students always get a lot out of contact point discussion. They improve their techniques and sound a lot around this time, as they practice the different contact points as a part of a a fun activity, creating lasting muscle memories.

To take it a bit further and to include the very beginning students who are still learning to play, I do a fun unit where they have to create their own Halloween story. 

Halloween Unit Creating a Halloween Orchestra Song  (for beginning students)
I love love love doing this every October. I usually do it with my beginning classes. My students are always enthusiastic about having to create their own Halloween songs. The activities provide a nice break from their routine. It is nice to be able to provide an unit that makes them feel very accomplished as they are developing their technique.  We all go through Halloween and the month of October feeling energized and excited about the beginning orchestra lessons.

These are the steps of how the unit goes.

1. Introducing the new strokes on a familiar tune or open string
2. Handout with the new terms
3. Apply, compose and use your creativity
4. Perform songs for the class  
5. Perform the songs for different classes or at a concert 
I start by giving the students a handout of all extended techniques (special effects) they will be learning. We have fun applying these new techniques to either an open string or a familiar piece. I start modeling creating a Halloween story and introducing new pieces with a similar ideas. You can check
The students are then instructed to compose their own story. I check the stories and offer corrections. We decorate a practice room or the main orchestra room (for fun and as a part of the unit). Then selected stories are performed for other classes who come to have in-class performances. 

I do quite a few things with my students around that time. I will probably write a part 2 Music Halloween post very soon. Wait for it!


You choose! 

Pumpkin bread is almost in the oven!!! 
Oh, I just need a few minutes to get it ready! 
What do I do with my kids while preparing it?

The holidays can provide a wonderful educational opportunity for children. As a teacher I see how enthusiastic students get right before a holiday. They also get very engaged when the educational activity is connected to the holiday coming up. This could be a powerful tool for learning! Parents and teachers can use the holidays to not only engage in fun activities but to also fit extra learning into the daily routine. This can be especially effective with the reluctant learners as well as studying more difficult subjects. 

As this is a music site...let's begin the Halloween preparation by introducing a music educational and literacy material! While busy getting candy, costume shopping, pumpkin carving, and planning parties, let's use Halloween to also fit some EDUCATION into our child's lives.

Here is just one idea to make the best of Halloween!

While baking your favorite Fall recipes, have your little one entertained and educated with Dem Bones!

What is it: 
Dem Bones and more sing-along stories is an educational DVD with a few little sing-along stories! The animation is quite cute, the ghosts are inviting and funny, and the songs are easy to follow. 

Some of the things your child will be learning:
Music - they will listen and sing along. The DVD is very easy to follow and your child will enjoy singing along with it. 
Anatomy - the first story in the DVD shows the "bone characters" who sing and explain to the kids about the different bones and joints in the body.  Then the DVD takes your child to the  "Dinosaur Bones",  describing the pre-historic bones as well as the history of fossils.
Integrated curriculum- your child will be learning by integrating different subjects with music. We have written many posts stressing the importance of music for young children to retain information. 

Can I get is as a book:
Yes, depending on your child's needs and your learning goals you can get the same Dem Bones sing-along stories as a book. I like having sing-along materials in a DVD format because that gives the child the opportunity to hear the music and see visuals. It also may take the pressure away from a parent who wants to teach their child but does not feel comfortable singing along with them. However, doing a combination between reading to/with your child and watching the DVD would be ideal. 

Now...for the best way to enjoy Fall learning with your child...

Why not connect Fall baking and learning?

Enjoying a treat after learning together can be a great way to spend time and develop relationship with your child. You can also use the time to do it as you are waiting for the treat to bake!

 My top 10 picks of Fall and Halloween baking recipe gems!

Sweet Potato Banana Nut Bread from this site

 Nutella Swirl Bread from A Pinch of Glitter 

Pumpkin Magic Bars from www.bakersroyale.com

Pumpkin Bread from MusicTeaching&Parenting

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins from Give Peas a Chance

Whole Wheat Pumplin Maple Chunk Cookies from The Sweet Tooth Life

Soft Chewy Pumpkin Cookies with Chocolate Chips from Shaken Together

Lightened Up Crumbly Pumpkin Bread from Damn Delicious

Happy Fall Everyone!

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The way you question or lead a discussion in a classroom is critical to what the students will learn and a very important aspect of assessment. Here are some ways to get started easily and develop students critical thinking at the same time:

I have had many younger teachers ask me how I get my students to do things-play with a good posture, develop intonation, ect. We know that these things are not easy when working with a large school group. The one Secret: Questioning the students all the time and providing a never ending assessment. 

Ask specific questions while paraphrasing your instruction.
This is a very powerful way of ensuring that the students are thinking about the specific instruction given to them. It also gives teachers a chance for lots of reinforcement of one concept. Simply turn your instruction into an immediate question. This is a very easy idea to start with because the teacher doesn't have to search for new ideas to develop the instruction. Try it! It is very effective, and when done consistently it can be a powerful tool to your instruction! Here are examples: 

The students are working on long bow. They are instructed to play a piece with a longer bow.
Immediate Question: How did your bow do? Was it Long Enough?

Sounds simple? Yet, in most cases, and especially with younger students the first answer would be "I don't know" or "Good".  The students would not be able to give a concrete answer about their work. This questions if they are really thinking about what they are learning or simply going through the motions. Instead you need to try to get students to talk in detail about what they are doing. Developing critical thinking will also improve their performance tremendously.
A more appropriate answer might be "I saw my bow straight at the beginning of the piece and with good contact point, I need to work on keeping it up till the end of the piece".  This second way of analyzing one's work takes a long time for students to learn but it is possible at any age. In order to develop students' critical thinking, you need to be consistent with this types of questions while the students learn to develop critical thinking about their own learning. You can pick this same idea and incorporate more team work in your classroms. This will also ensure your students are thinking and are engaged in learning.

Use the Same Idea Developing Team Work
You can pick this same idea and incorporate more team work in your classroms. This will also ensure your students are thinking and are engaged in learning. Instead of asking the students the question. Have one student play, then ask another how they did. If worried about students being nervous ask a group or section to play, then ask the ohers. This is a very powerful technique when working with and orchestra or band groups. When separating the class working in sections, I want to have the rest of the students engaged and listeting. Often I practice a passage with the instrument group and ask others. The students develop that skill of being constructive and supportive to each other. The effect in the rehearsal is tremendous. I wish I had taught this way all my life!

On orchetsra rehearsal " Violins, let's play mm 5. Listen to the eight notes and make sure we do't rush"
Violas, what did you think, was that good enough or shall we do it again
Cellos, did you feel it was together? 

Once you start doing this rehearsal technique consistently, you will notice that your students will start being more critical than you They would not move on until they hear the right way of performing apice. This will bring your ensemble to a different level.


Questioning using peers
This is a very powerful method of questioning students to develop critical thinking, team work and support.

Example: The students are working on a specific new skill. The teacher divides the class in two. Half the class has to demonstrate the new skill, and the other help has to provide feedback on how the students did
Question: How did the class do as a group?
Are there any particular student you want to congratulate on their use of....

Questions Developing Critical Thinking:
Why did I stop you?
How do we fix our mistake?

Feel that the classroom is a conversation. The music or the conversation has to always bounce back and forth between the teacher and students. There is never straight forward instruction. Each response has to be the beginning of a new question. This is what helps students to think critically.

New school year, new music classes, brand new policies for music educators....many confusions! I have been getting many emails asking about essential questions and applications to a music classroom. I think that a blog post can be a good way to start a discussion and reach other teachers in the online world. Let's take a look at the essential question; what it is and how it could be easier to think about it.


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For more detailed information on what essential questions are please continue reading below:

What is essential question and what does it look like in a music classroom?
The essential question should be very broad and general. Think about something that wraps up the whole unit.

The essential question needs to be chosen for a LONGER period of time, preferably one unit. Think about having to prepare an essential question for every lesson, every class, and every single rehearsal, then prepare for the music rehearsal itself. This will get very overwhelming very soon. Instead you want to choose a very broad statement that would incorporate the ideas of that unit. 

It is better to pick a broad essential question that can apply to ALL of your classes. This way you "kill many birds with one stone". 

The essential question is the essence of the ideas in one unit. You may have smaller units of one week or even a couple of days. In this case you would change the essential question at the end of the week or the smaller unit. My advice is to think broader and make longer units throughout the year. 

Unit study and having essential question for it could be confusing to music teachers. We simply work a bit differently. Think of unit study is equivalent of...concert preparation. So as the other core teachers talk about backward planning and unit study, the easiest way to transfer this knowledge is to think about your next concert of a festival. Think about the steps you need to take in order to get the students ready for the performance. Think about how you would get them prepared from seeing a blank music page to being ready to perform it. And voila! Here is your unit study! 

After picking a broader essential question, you may want to have a more specific goals/guiding questions for a specific class or week. These are also often called enduring understandings. This is where you would put the specific techniques the students will be doing (vibrato, shifting, etc), if they are learning a new piece, if they are learning about composers, etc. 
 What the essential question is not:
Something that you need to change daily.
Something that you need to stress about (well not after reading this post).
Something that is different from what you already do in your classroom. Think about a statement that generalizes what you are already doing in your classroom. You don't need to "reinvent the wheel". 

Sample Essential Questions:
How does music define a community?
How does music relate to history and art?
How does posture affect musicians' abilities? 
How does knowledge about composers help a musical performance?

Take a look at how I structured my unit with essential question and guiding questions this month:

My Essential Question and Lesson Planning for this Month

Orchestra, Unit 1, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade

Essential Question: What Defines a Great Musician?

Guiding Questions (Enduring Understandings):
How does discipline and behavior define a musician and his performance?
What essential techniques are needed to achieve mastery?
How do we practice and prepare for a concert?
How does concert etiquette affect the performance?

Culminating Activity for Unit 1: Halloween Concert

In my meeting with my administrator: 

I would explain the steps I will take to get my kids ready for our final performance of the unit-the Halloween concert. I would include the same steps into my lesson plans of the unit. The lesson plan format may vary and many districts have templates they require their teachers to use. But you

At the beginning of the year we focus on discipline, rules and behavior.
We start learning the pieces and the techniques needed for these pieces.
Closer to the concert we would begin talking about concert etiquette, extra practice, stage appearance, etc.

Notice how broad this plan is. I could easily "plug it" into many different units and classes. At the same time I am going through all the essential parts of having a music class or a music rehearsal.

Easy, clear, and principal tested and approved!

If you enjoyed what you are reading
No spam ever, just great tips to help you in your teaching!

Please don't forget to leave a comment. Let me know if you have any questions.
If you have your lessons planned but are not sure what essential question to use for it, simply write about it in the comments and I will answer the best I can. 

Check other resources here

With school around the corner parents are now planning to get their child into a good start. Proper nutrition is one of the elements ensuring a successful school year. There are two weeks left until I need to go back to teaching myself. I have been working on getting my schedule consistent, waking up early, eating right, all of this good stuff that would make the new routine easier. Even for an adult-it is not always easy. So having an easy breakfast that keeps me full and gives me the proper energy early in the morning is essential. Parents can also use extra ideas about getting healthy meals for their child that are easy, inexpensive, and yet healthy for the child. 

Two Ways to Nourish Your Child's Brain With Oatmeal 

Oatmeal provides a simple to prepare, yet nourishing breakfast for your child. Breakfast with oatmeal doesn't have to be boring! You can dress it in many different ways to ensure that your child is having  variety and getting the nutrients needed for a good school start. 

Go Nuts With Your Child's Breakfast
Want to help your child's concentration and and memory while at school? Including nuts into your child's diet will ensure a brain boost. My favorite is combining  almonds and walnuts. Almonds are beneficial in developing memory and brain health. You can add an extra dose of omega-3 fats with a few walnuts on top. What easier way to do that than to top of your morning oatmeal? Include a generous portion of nuts to ensure your child's good start! 

Include Blueberries
Berries can also help improve memory. In addition they are packed with vitamins and antioxidants your child needs. Extra perk? Blueberries are in season and the price is very low at the moment. So including them in your child' diet in the month of August will be good for their health and good for your wallet. 
I love the combination of blueberries, almonds, and a few apple pieces. It has a great taste. It ensures proper nutrition. It also keeps you and your child full longer.

How To Cook The Oatmeal
This is easy. Put the dry oats into a cup or a bowl. Poor enough water to just cover the oats. Cook in the microwave for a minute. Remove and dress with milk, sweetener and any of the ingredients suggested above. I have talked to friends who have been frustrated that their oatmeal "splashes" while cooking with milk. So either cook the oatmeal in 50/50 ratio of milk to water or cook it first with water and then add milk to taste on top ( I use the second method as explained).
Effective lesson planning varies greatly depending on the size of the Suzuki class. While having a small class may be easier in some aspects, it also presents challenges in keeping the Suzuki students motivated and engaging them. Here are some ideas that can guide you as you prepare for a smaller Suzuki class.

Tips For Teaching Small Suzuki Classes

1. Plan for more activities
In a large group, the kids tend to feed from each other's energy. In a smaller group you will not have that natural energy or "fun social factor" created just by the numbers. Also the activities will take shorter time due to the number of kids. So you will need to prepare for more activities and change the activity often.
This especially important to know if you are teaching as a guest or if you might have students missing. The difference in size will greatly affect the way the lesson will go. Being mindful of that as a teacher will lead to more successful and engaging group classes.

2. Work on different repertoire
Teaching a small class is a excellent way for a teacher to explore different types of instruction.
Teach them a round, find a nice trio or duets to the Suzuki pieces, incorporate note reading and sight reading at the end of each group class.

3. Engage Suzuki parents
One way to make the class bigger and more exciting? Add the parents. Engage them in the lesson by actually having them do things with their children. Parents can be asked to:
1. Work with a child on a specific problem.  This is especially helpful when working in mixed level classes.
Game:  everyone finds their parents, play a piece working on moving left elbow while the teacher walks around and checks.Then play a different piece but find a different parent to work on a different technical element.
2. Be funny. Have the parents add to the "fun" factor of the class.
Game:  ask one student to play out of tune or something wrong on purpose. Instead of the students finding out who that students is, the parents can be engaged in finding out "what is wrong".
3. Pre-Twinkle:
Game: ask the parents to play a song (for pre-Twinkle and dep. on parents level of playing) Ask the students to find a certain "fault" in their parents posture-whether they had soft hands, if they moved their elbow, etc.

4. Add mini recitals as a part of Suzuki group class
Having students perform as much as possible is an important part of Suzuki education. Performing in a small group is an excellent way for the students to gain confidence in a supportive setting. While having a mini recital within a huge class can be overwhelming, adding that element in a small setting will be a great opportunity for your students to gain confidence while in a small and supportive setting. If you feel that the students are timid, start with the teacher modeling. Play one piece for the students in a "recital" mode at the end of every class. After a few classes, see if a student wants to present their piece. Always be very supportive after a students plays for the class.

5. Master class within the group lessons
Following the previous idea, master class can be a good group class structure at any stage of development. Try it once a month or more regularly. For younger students, add a fun element to it. students can learn giving each other positive feedback after it. They could play something "silly" for the class right after having a more serious master class lesson. Or they can finish the master class group classes with cookies and refreshments that all parents would bring and share. Incorporating master class within the group lessons is very valuable experience to more experienced students who may be feeling the need for different instruction at the upper book levels.

Wondering about activities you can do at the beginning of the school year in your music class? This time of the school year is quite tricky. Students are developing first impression and relationship with their teacher. At the same time they don't have that much to work with as they have not developed repertoire or a set of skills yet. Teachers have to be quite creative at engaging the students while they are getting into school year.
Here are some ideas for activities centered around:

  • Getting to know your students
  • Developing better relationships between the students
  • Setting the base for team work
  • Asserting classroom rules

Team building

Interest Sheet
As the students are walking into the clasrom they are given a sheet asking them about their favorite things (sport, spare time, pet, etc). Students are instructed to fill out the sheet but not to put their names on it. This is a great activity to fill out the "empty time" as the students are finding their way into the music classroom and waiting for the second bell.
The sheets are collected and then each student gets a sheet that belongs to someone else. They make a guess who that person may be. Then they have 2min. to go around the room, check to see if they got the right person and to find who the sheet belonged to if they were incorrect.
The firsrt students to find the right answer line up in front of te board. The first three win!
This is great activity fro students to get to know each other. They also have great fun with it because it gets them moving. The same activity may be used for teachers during the school year to brake the classroom pase, or for students to share their opinion after concerts.

Family Sheet
As the students are walking in the classroom I like to give them something to do as they are waiting for the class to begin. Often I use that time to give them sheets with questions about themselves. Examples:
 What do you family do together for fun? Do your parents support music?
These questions give me a great deal of information about the students in class and what situation they face at home. This activity is not shared with other students. It is more pesonal and it is just for me to get to know them better.

Student Questions
Students form teams of 3-5 and sit together with their teams. The teacher gives them a few questions (questions can be written on the board or typed). The students go around in a circle and each team membr needs to answer each question.  This is a great activity for the stdents to start getting to know each other. The same activity can be repeated on a diferent day as the teams members switch. This way students get to interact with diferent students in class.

Please, see post Team Building Resources for different team building bingo games and ideas.

Learning to give positive feedback
Students need to learn the correct way to interact with each other when working together. This needs to be taught from the very beginning. I like giving students a very simple activity to work on at the beg. Slowly, over time, when we start working on more difficult things they feel more comfortable.
Students for teams of three. One student acts as student and the other two act like teachers. They could teach about  bow hold, rhythms, parts of the instrument. etc. Students are given very specific instruction on how to lead the activity. The two "teachers" need to schedule the feedback as a "sandwitch". The students needs to receive positive feedback, then ideas from improvemnt, then another positive comment.
Insisting on the "sandwich" feedback model gives students the structure they can use during the year. It also build better community by teaching them the proper way to interact when the need to be critical to one another.

Games About Rules and procedures

Guess the rule
The teacher has a bag with small candy. Teacher asks students questions about students' responsibility in a classroom. Examples: Where do you get your instrument? What assesories do you need along with your instrument? How long do you need to practice daily?

True or False
Teachers asks a question. If correct, the students need to raise their hand or do something silly.

Line game
Put a piece of duck tape on the floor making a line. The teacher makes a statement. If the statement applies to them the students need to step into the line. If not, then they step back. The same activity could be done while students move to one part of the room if they agree and the other if they dissagree. The teacher asks a student to take over and make the statements.
The statements can be related to their school year and getting a feel for what the students want to do. I have also used it for new classroom to get a feel of what they have been doing the previous year. This activity is good for older students. It helps the teacher get a feel for the students in class.

Musical Story

Either Introducing the Teacher through Music or Exploring Students Musical Heritage Through Music

Making a musical story to introduce yourself or the rest of the students in class  is a GREAT idea to start a class at the beginning of the school year or to use as one of your activities at the beginning of the year!

Students are very excited to get to know their teacher. They want to know who the teacher is as a person. This activity will help you break the ice, develop a connection with the students, and connect the introductions to music. You can also use it to introduce yourself, and give the students an overview of the things they would be learning during the year. It will also take the boredom out of the first class when the teacher would naturally talk more.

What it is? The teacher will simply create a story about herself. They would follow up with music. Think about the most important things you want to teach this particular group of kids. That could be care about the instruments, singing, elementary instruments, different music genres, etc. Then think about your own path as a musician. Then, combine the two by creating a short introductory "story followed by music".

For example, I may talk about my home country followed by a short folk piece. Then I would talk about when I learned to read music, followed by giving them an example of musical notation, then I would make a joke about practicing one passage over and over, I would go into pieces I have played while their age, etc. The possibilities are limitless. 

This activity can become a favorite with elementary and middle school students. If done with a bit of humor and lightness, the students have a good time with it.

You could use this as a starting point for the students to also start sharing their personal story through music, making this a short unit, or feeding into your lesson plan for the next day. 

As I am an orchestra director, I use my violin for this introduction. In a more general music classroom you can use recordings as well. I wrote a bit more detail about this activity in this post.

Make Sure and See Also

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