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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Are you bored with the same potato dishes? Do you want something easy yet different? This delicious, super quick potato recipe is a favorite every time I take it to parties or when I have house guest! Summer is a great time for cookout and this potato recipe goes great with all meat dishes. 
I have started developing easy recipes that can be made for under $5. This potato recipe is a great candidate! I love making it for dinner. I make a bunch, then during the week simply add a piece of chicken or fish on tops to complete the meal. It is also excellent choice to prepare on a Sunday enjoy to dinner and pack leftovers for lunch during the week! The recipe is just about right for getting 5 individually sized lunches. It made 5 of the containers below when I added some greens and about 4 (very big) containers by itself:

Of course you can simply use 1/2 of the ingredients and prepare this for just one meal. But it is so delicious, you would want to have leftovers...

7-8 medium sized potatoes
1 large onion
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon coriander
salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil of your choice
parsley (optional)

Total Coking Time: 20-25min.
Serves: 4 as a main meal, 6 as a side


Chop the onion. Cut potatoes on cubes. Peel potatoes if needed. Place 2 tablespoons oil of your choice. Cook onions until golden brown for about 5 minutes.
Add all spices and salt to taste.You are looking for a nice yellow color. 
Add the potatoes. Add water just so that it reaches the top layer of potatoes. The amount of water will depend on your pan. I used 1/2 cup. Make sure you don't overdo the water. Turn heat on low, cover the pan and let simmer for additional 15-20min. until the potatoes are soft. Turn off heat and let the flavors sit for another 10min. Sprinkle fresh parsley on top.
Take a moment to share the recipe, then Enjoy!

I love lentil salads. They are easy to make, very inexpensive, healthy and so filling at the same time. What is not to love? This easy, healthy green lentil salad is a favorite of mine to make in just a matter of few minutes when I need something quick with no fuss. It can be a great healthy but inexpensive addition to your weekly meal planning. If you have guests and you are looking for something to complete the menu or running to a potluck and looking for something quick and inexpensive to bring last minute-there you have it. 

I have been developing recipes that only take up to $5 dollars to make. Each recipe would make enough for about 5 well sized lunches during the week. This is the first recipe of the series. The idea is that it is possible to spend only $5-$10 per person a week on lunch. This is one of the recipes. Sometimes it takes some thinking to plan healthy meals and trim your budget at the same time. So simplifying a lentil salad to just three ingredients came to the rescue. I love making this lentil recipe for the whole week, then either pack it for lunch, throw piece of fish or chicken on top for diner, or simply have in the fridge for the times when I feel hungry and want to have something healthy around instead of reaching for the cookies. 

And the price for this dish? You cannot beat it! All of this makes a ton of food and leftovers for 5 big individually sized lunch containers (as shown above).

Note: I shopped at Sprouts where both items are on sale at the moment. 

1 lb green lentils
1 large lemon (or two smaller ones)
2 green onions
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/12 tablespoon vinegar
salt to taste

Serves: 5-6 as a main meal, 10 as a side
Cook the lentils. The ratio is one cup lentils to two cups water. Simply put both in a pan on high heat till the water boils. Reduce the heat and let simmer. It is ready when the water gets absorbed. It will take about 15-20min.
While cooking the lentils, chop the green onions. Mix both together. Squeeze the juice of the lemon. Add the olive oil, vinegar and salt to taste.

Note: it is better to use a lighter vinegar such as white vinegar. Balsamic is a bit heavy for this dish. Since the lemon and green onions already add sour taste, you can also omit the vinegar altogether. Taste as you add the ingredients. See how you like it best.

What recipes do you use for the summer heat?

Welcome to the 61st 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! This week, we are excited to be including a Google+ Linky Party to be held in conjunction with the Kid Lit Blog Hop. These linky parties are designed to give you the opportunity to connect with and grow your network of fellow kid lit bloggers, authors, and parents through your various social media platforms.  


Mother Daughter Book Reviews

Julie Grasso, Author/ Blogger

Cheryl Carpinello, Author / Blogger

Stacking Books


Pragmatic Mom

Reading Authors

The Logonauts

A Book Long Enough

Spark and Pook

Happy Hopping everyone and enjoy the Hop!

Kid Lit Blog Hop

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3. KID LIT BLOG HOP: Please visit AT LEAST the TWO LINKS from the Kid Lit Blog Hop directly ahead of your own and leave them some love in the form of a comment. We are trying to build a community of bloggers, readers, parents, authors, and others who are as passionate about children’s literature as we are so please CONNECT and follow any or all of the blogs that interest you! 4. If you like, grab the button above and put it somewhere on your blog, preferably the post you're linking up. If you'd prefer, you can just add a text link back to this Hop so that others can find it and check out all these great book links! 5. It would really help us get the word out about the Kid Lit Blog Hop if you would be so kind as to tweet, share, and spread the word about the Hop!

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