Musicians know the importance of choosing a good concert finale. The last music heard should engage the audience, show the ensemble at its best, and leave everyone with a good impression of the performance. Programming the end of the school year is no different. Engage students with fun educational activities, help them to recognize what they’ve learned and accomplished throughout the year, and leave them looking forward to coming back to music class next fall.
Review with Fun
In the last few days of school, energy levels are high, attention spans are short, and schedules are inconsistent. Teaching new content may be nearly impossible, but this time can be educational. Music games and activities that synthesize the year’s learning can be especially effective during those last days. Here are some activities that I’ve been doing with my kindergarten through third grade students:
• Lucy Locket: We use the simple mi-sol-la song “Lucy Locket” to play a game very similar to the “Hot and Cold” game. An object is hidden in the classroom while a student waits outside in the hallway. When the student comes into the room, he or she tries to find the object while the class sings the song. The class gives hints by singing forte when the student gets close to the object and piano when he or she moves away from it. At the end of the school year, we expand the game by coming up with a list of musical opposites (loud and soft, fast and slow, high and low, etc.). In each round, one set of opposites is chosen before the seeker reenters the room, and when the student finds the object, he or she has to tell which set was used to give clues. This game reviews several different concepts, practices expressive singing, and reinforces the idea of communication through music. And the students can’t get enough of it!
• Tempo Freeze: This game is a musical version of “Red Light, Green Light.” One student (or the teacher) stands at one end of a playing area with a drum, or other percussion instrument, while the rest of the class stands in a line at the other end. The drummer counts off four beats, then continues playing a steady beat while the students take one step per beat to get closer to the drummer. When the drum stops, everyone freezes. Then the drummer chooses a different tempo and movement continues after another four beat count off. Anyone who moves when they shouldn’t has to go back to the starting line. The first student to touch the drummer wins, and gets to be the next drummer. This is a fun review of steady beat, tempo, and rhythmic movement.
• Sound Scavenger Hunt: Each student gets a list of sounds to find outside. This could include birds, cars, talking, playground equipment or any other sounds that are likely to be heard. When they hear a sound, they can check it off of the list, but they also have to indicate if the sound was forte or piano and high or low. This relaxing outdoor activity focuses students’ listening and trains them to identify and analyze a variety of sounds.
Give Thanks and Advice
Music is a social art form. Young students need to be taught that their music isn’t performed in isolation, but through the collaboration of performers, composers, and audiences, and with the help of many people in non-musical roles. After concerts, have students write thank you letters to people who helped to make their performance a success, including custodians, office staff, teachers, audience members, and more. Remembering how others were involved in and affected the concert helps students to reflect on the performance and their own collaborative role in it.
Another way to help students reflect on their accomplishments and learning in music class is to ask them to give advice to the incoming class. Their responses are often very thoughtful, and can demonstrate what they’ve learned (“You get to learn about woodwind, brass, percussion, and string instruments.” or “Don’t drop your recorder because it could break!”) and show their personal perspective (“Learning recorder is hard” or “You’ll have fun doing the holiday play”).
Transition to Summer
Transitioning from the daily routine of school to summer vacation is a big change that students will experience in a wide variety of ways. Many have drastically reduced attention spans as they plan their lives away from school. Some might be unusually clingy, angry, or sad as they worry about leaving school. Even if we can’t dissolve their concerns, just acknowledging the range of emotions in a class is important.
Take advantage of this time without the pressures of upcoming performances to connect with students, especially those who are having difficulties with the transition. Encourage them to continue singing, playing, and listening to music through the summer. If you teach consecutive grades, remind students who need consistency that you’ll be their teacher again in the fall (and hopefully they’ll think that’s a good thing!). Enjoy the time to have conversations, even when they’re not “on topic.” During a recent in-depth talk with a second grader about everything from hunting pocket gophers to hot rod cars, he said to me, “You know, it’s too bad we don’t just get to chat like this more often.” I couldn’t agree more.
The end of the school year is bittersweet. It can be a challenging time, but it can also be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the year for students and teachers. Relax, reflect, and relish these last days with your students. Give them a school year finale that will motivate them to continue enjoying music through the summer.