Even at a young age, I've always loved reading. When I became an elementary music teacher, I quickly learned that my students did not always feel the same. Most of the schools I worked at were low-income districts and the more I worked with my students, the more I saw the need for literacy skills.
The Impact of Reading
Reading is a foundational skill that impacts every academic subject area, including music. But since I only saw my classes 1-2 times per week for 30 minutes at a time, I knew I couldn't sacrifice what little time I had - my curriculum mattered too!
That's when I started brainstorming how to incorporate books into my music classroom in ways that wouldn't detract from the standards and skills I was teaching.
In this blog post, I'm sharing some quick, easy ways that you can use picture books in your music classroom to enrich your students' learning experience.
5 Quick Ways to Use Books in Your Music Classroom
#1 Practice a Steady Beat (or do a Rhythm Read)
Your youngest students will need the most practice with finding and keeping a steady beat but it's important to mix up how you do it. This will keep your students engaged but it will also help them apply this skill within different contexts. There are lots of rhyming picture books out there and most of them, you can put a beat too as you read.
You can also take the same story and read it twice: once while clapping the beat and the other while clapping the rhythm. This will give your students context as they start to learn the difference between beat and rhythm.
#2 Explore Non-Fiction Concepts with Small Groups
There are lots of books on musical genres, instruments, musicians, and composers. Especially if you have older elementary students, you could pick 4-5 different books and give each one to a small group. Then, have each small group present their topic to the class! This can be as formal or informal as you'd like but personally, I like to focus on music-making whenever possible. Still, this is a fantastic (and easy) lesson plan for the days when your voice is tired.
#3 Reinforce Music Vocabulary:
If there's a specific concept that you're teaching, try to find a picture book that will support that learning. For example, if you're teaching musical dynamics, something like Forte Moves to Town could add another layer to your existing unit. If you're teaching the rhythm Ta Ta Ti-Ti Ta, you could use a book like Ear Worm. The list goes on!
Look for picture books that introduce musical terms, instruments, or basic music theory concepts. If you need some ideas, check out the Ultimate Music Education Book List from Mrs. Stouffer's Music Room.
#4 Compose Musical Scores
After reading a book, use your classroom instruments (or voices) to have the class create a "soundtrack" for the book and each scene, the same way a movie has a soundtrack! This is something you could do in a single unit if you'd like but it's more interesting to make it into an ongoing activity. There are tons of ways you could make this concept simpler or more elaborate.
It will take a while to ease into a routine, but once you've established procedures, this could be a consistent 5-10 minute long activity that you do once or twice per week.
#5 Sub Plans
Let's be honest, having a substitute teacher who is a musician is near impossible to get. And even if you get one who knows music doesn't necessarily mean they understand how to teach music. This is a great time for books to come to your rescue! They're easy to use and most of the time, you won't need technology for supporting activities.
Integrating books into your music classroom can add a whole new dimension to the learning experience. And the more our students read, the stronger their academic foundation can become! Hopefully, these quick tips will help you utilize stories in your music classroom without detracting from the time you have (and need) with your students.
If you have a favorite book or literacy lesson for music class, drop it in a comment below!