As we navigate the wild world of music teaching, especially in the program-heavy month of December, I've brewed up a piping hot blog post to share some sanity-saving tips. Picture this: juggling rehearsals, concerts, and the regular classroom shenanigans. Oh, wait. You don't have to picture it, you are living it! I get it—there's no tired quite like musician/teacher tired in December. So, let's dive into a conversation soaked with practical wisdom. 

Today's jam: Tips for Closing Your Music Classroom for the Holiday Break. 

TIP 1. Put away everything from the last concert/performance. 

I am writing this in December and I KNOW from experience that you had multiple concerts in this week or so before winter break. I also know that you are tired. (And maybe sick. How many times did I lose my voice in December?!) Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it! Wrapping up all the loose ends from those concerts feels so good! 

TIP 2. Clean off your desk. 

Or at least organize what is there. It was always helpful if I left myself a note or set out memos to my future self that I needed to address that first day back. Put those memos right where you can see them when you first walk in. 

TIP 3. At least consider what you will be teaching on the first day back. 

You may not have the time or energy to complete your lesson plans, but giving some thought to what might get you through the first day or two and then locating any instruments or manipulatives is very helpful.  As I gained experience and a bank of past lesson plans, it was easy enough to take a quick look at last year's plan and choose which part of that could be tweaked and reused. However, especially in my early years of teaching when I didn't have that bank of plans, I couldn't muster the energy to actually write the plans during those last few crazy days in December. I always found it easier to write my actual lesson plans after I had had a few days off.  It sure was nice to have something in mind to get me through that first morning!

TIP 4.  Check your email. 

Depending on how busy you have been leading up to the break, look through the last week or two worth of emails. One recent year, I had been so busy & stressed that I totally missed a one-sentence instruction at the very end of an email (that I had apparently only scanned) and I reported to the wrong building on the first day back from winter break.  Save yourself the embarrassment and just double-check to see that you didn't miss something.

"Future You"

The first day back after a break brings its own set of stresses (i.e. will my computer turn on or be stuck updating all morning?), but it sure is nice to come into a clean room, with a clean desk, and ready for a fresh start. "Future You" will thank you! Take care of yourself and enjoy your break!

Musically Yours,


Embark on a musical voyage with me as we navigate the art of structuring elementary music lessons on the mesmerizing notes of the Nutcracker!  Lately, I've noticed a crescendo of inquiries from fellow teachers seeking guidance on organizing their Nutcracker units. It's time to unlock the secrets together! 

In this exploration, we'll not only answer those how-to questions but also dive into crafting lessons that compare and contrast the elements of form, tempo, meter, and dynamics. Picture your classroom as a stage where students become music detectives, unraveling the intricacies of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece. Let's orchestrate an educational experience that leaves your students tuned in and inspired.

Any other bargain shoppers out there? Just me? Oh, I'm sure some of you will join me in enjoying a good sale! Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become synonymous with bargains. Here are some of the things that I have found useful for me and for my classroom.

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I only recommend products that I know and love.

 I love telling the story of the Nutcracker Ballet! Mostly, I love reading a book aloud and using voices and actions to build excitement and bring it to life. This is an important part of our preparation to see the ballet on a field trip or video. 

For years, I used and loved this book that I found at my school book fair. I love it because it follows the story of the ballet, closely matched what my students would see at our local production, and there weren't too many words on each page. The text was short and straight to the point. Clara is the main character. Unfortunately, it seems that this book may be out of print. I have seen a few copies on eBay or Thrift Books, but they are generally used, sometimes cost way too much, and are not always in great condition (my own copy is now falling apart from so much use!). 

One of the benefits of using a read-aloud book instead of a video is that you can easily pause to check for understanding. Another benefit is that you - the master teacher - can keep your students engaged in the story by adding excitement to your reading style, speeding up or slowing down the presentation, or (gasp!) paraphrasing a portion of text to meet the needs of your students. 

As I searched for a replacement for my worn out book, I found that there are so many new books on the Nutcracker! Originally, I focused my Nutcracker unit on third grade because they were the students who would participate in the live production field trip. Over the years, however, I found myself expanding my Nutcracker activities to both younger and older students. Of course, I needed some variety and differentiation in the books I read! 

Here are some of my new favorite versions, along with their key features. (This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I only recommend products that I love!)

Books about Dancing in the Ballet

The Night Before the Nutcracker (American Ballet Theatre)
The rhyming text, told in the style of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," will give your students a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to prepare for a ballet performance.  Auditions, rehearsals, and costumes are all part of the preparation for the big event. The rhyming text is easy to follow, and the illustrations present a diverse cast of characters. This book is a perfect addition to any "careers in theatre" discussion as you can see the directors, choreographers, dancers, and costume designers.

Charlotte and the Nutcracker: The True Story of a Girl Who Made Ballet History
by Charlotte Nebres (Author), Alea Marley (Illustrator)  This book is the true story of 12-year old Charlotte Nebres, the first Black girl to play Marie in the New York City Ballet's production. The book weaves Charlotte's story together with the story of the ballet. What a great find! 

Book that Integrates a Fiction Storyline with the Nutcracker

The Nutcracker in Harlem: A Christmas Holiday Book for Kids by 
T. E. McMorrow (author) and James Ransome (illustrator)
This award-winning book (Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year) is set in the Harlem Renaissance and gives recognition to several of the jazz artists of the era.

Books that Tell the Story of the Ballet  

  The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet (Author), Valeria Docampo (Illustrator).   This beautiful book is by the New York City Ballet and presents the story of George Balanchine's Nutcracker. Marie is the main character. The artwork is beautiful, and the book follows the story of the ballet. My one caveat: There are LOTS of words on each page in this story. Even though the Amazon customers say this book is for ages 3-7, my own experience in the elementary music classroom tells me that older students would have an easier time maintaining attention to the amount of text on each page and the vocabulary. I would use this in a class setting with 3rd -5th graders, ages 8-10.

Jan Brett's The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker story is illustrated in Jan Brett's distinctive style and set in snowy Russia. While the storyline follows that of the ballet pretty closely, it is not set in a ballet. Animals cast as the dancers in the second act add a whimsical touch to the story. 

The Nutcracker: A Christmas Holiday Book for Kids  This one is my new favorite. Susan Jeffers is a Caldecott Award-winning artist and the illustrations in this book are worthy of that honor. Marie is the main character. The artwork is beautiful, the book follows the story of the ballet, and there is a smaller amount of text on each page. This book is my favorite for classroom use. I find it easy to keep the attention of a group of students with the sparse text and beautiful illustrations.

The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker: Press the note to hear Tchaikovsky's music (Volume 2) (The Story Orchestra, 2) 
by Katy Flint (Adapter), Jessica Courtney-Tickle (Illustrator)  I have other Story of the Orchestra books and they are all well done. This one tells the story of the Nutcracker Ballet and includes 10 sound buttons that will play brief excerpts from the ballet music. 

The Original Story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann (Author), Maurice Sendak (Illustrator), Ralph Manheim (Translator)
Maurice Sendak adds his amazing illustrations to the classic 1816 tale by Hoffman. This is the longer story that The Nutcracker Ballet is based on. It is translated from the original German language. The illustrations are reminiscent of the sets and costumes designed by Sendak for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production. While this is a great book to have in your adult collection, it will take more work to use this in an elementary classroom setting. 

Just for Fun! 

A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas
by Ralph Covert  This book presents a different side of the story - Fritz is the main character! The story is based on a full length musical of the same title and is set in modern times. Fritz is a video gamer who loves playing Mouse Hunt 5000.  Definitely check in with your English/Language Arts teachers to see how they approach point of view in their lessons! A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas would be perfect for older grade students who may think they are too cool to listen to the same old Nutcracker story one more time. I would use this with my 4th or 5th grade students. 

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite (Once Upon a Masterpiece)
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn rose to the challenge of transforming Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker music from classical to jazz. This story, written by musicologist Anna Harwell Celenza, takes us through the process of composing and recording the jazz setting of The Nutcracker Suite. As there is more text on each page than many of the other books in this article and my class time was short, I treated this as a chapter book and split the reading across several class sessions, with listening and movement to the music with each lesson.

Extra Support for Reading Comprehension

My classes that were to attend the live production of the ballet needed some extra support with their comprehension and keeping track of the plot lines. To support comprehension and to facilitate a post-trip writing activity, I designed some graphic organizers especially for this story. In practice, the story graphic organizer served as a perfect personal word wall for any writing activities to follow. 

Dive into the magical world of Nutcracker Ballet storybooks! 

Explore versions with behind-the-scenes insights, true stories of ballet history, or festive twists set in the Harlem Renaissance. Classic approaches with beautiful illustrations and just the right amount of text for classroom engagement are also available. Experience the joy of Tchaikovsky's music with a storybook that includes sound buttons.

Whether it's whimsical animal dancers or the original tale, there's a Nutcracker storybook for every classroom and every grade level. Check them out and keep the magic alive in your music class!

Musically yours,

Social emotional learning in the music room is gaining traction. It helps students express themselves and builds connections. Both of these things are important life skills. Social Emotional Learning is a very broad topic, so I will be focusing on a few basic strategies that you might implement right away in your music classroom. We will be learning about embedding Mindful Listening, Mindful Breathing, and Mindful Movements into your warm-up routine and as brain breaks for your students.

What did you think when you read the title of this post?  New York City?  Of course you did.  I thought the same thing when I first learned of this little bit of history. Imagine my surprise to discover that The Big Apple Dance Craze of the 1930's actually began right here in Columbia, South Carolina! As I learned more, I knew that The Big Apple Dance was the perfect "get up and move" activity to insert into my ongoing jazz unit.

The Big Apple Dance Club Columbia South CarolinaThe Big Apple Dance Club Historical Marker Columbia SC

You know, sub plans can be quite the challenge for music teachers, don't you think? It's like entrusting your classroom's keys to someone else and crossing your fingers for a smooth day in your absence. Striking the right balance between clear instructions for the music substitute and easy preparation for yourself can feel like walking a tightrope.

I've been in that situation, and I understand how overwhelming it can be, especially with all our regular responsibilities. But don't worry, I've got some clever strategies to make sub plans a whole lot easier, and I'm here to share them with you. Let's tackle this together and ensure those substitute days go off without a hitch.

Now, there are two primary types of plans to consider: those involving technology and good old-fashioned no-tech plans. In this post, I'll be diving into a fantastic tech tool that allows you to collect video-based plans, which you can edit from virtually anywhere. It's a game-changer!

Program Preparation

Is there a time of year when you feel your lessons start to feel dry and boring?

When I ask colleagues this question, I almost always hear the same answer:

Performance Preparation Season! Do these questions sound familiar?

How can I avoid spending my days in a repetitive back-and-forth pattern as I play student parts on the classroom piano?

How will the students learn their parts in time for the performance?

How can I keep the creativity alive in my classroom AND prepare for upcoming performances?


Picture this: it's the start of a brand-new school year, and you, as a music teacher, are gearing up for that all-important first lesson. But here's the catch – you're faced with a whirlwind of tasks like greeting eager students, going over rules and procedures, and, oh yeah, memorizing a whole bunch of names. It's like juggling melodies, lyrics, and administrative duties all at once! 

So, how do you strike that perfect balance between the necessary practicalities and the sheer joy of making music? Fear not! In this blog post, we'll unravel the secrets behind navigating these challenges, so you can kick off your music class with a captivating start that will have your students humming and tapping their way to a year full of melodic adventures.

Have you been asked (or told) to include reading and literacy activities in your music classes to support what is being taught in the homeroom classes? In this post, we will be discussing strategies for incorporating reading and literacy activities in music classes without giving up musical objectives. 

Practical Ways to Use Boom Cards Effectively in Elementary Music

Explore the Versatility of Boom Cards.

With 600+ students, I'll have a paperless classroom, please!

Many of us discovered the awesomeness of self-checking Boom Cards when we were plunged into distance learning during the pandemic. Now, discover the other ways to effectively use Boom Cards to support student learning in a paperless classroom!

Can I say paperless just one more time? My desk gets simply overrun with paperwork. I'm sure it is the desk's fault, right?! In addition to all of the other versatile uses below, this is key for me. The self-checking feature is great when I need data or when I wish students to be able to work independently, but the paperless is great ALL the time!

What are Boom Cards?

 Boom Cards are a type of digital task card that offers an interactive and self-checking learning experience. They are internet activities designed to be used on computers, laptops, tablets, and interactive whiteboards and are a fun and engaging way to deliver lessons, quizzes, and assessments. 

These digital task cards are interactive, allowing students to directly interact with the content. Students love the video game feel to the activities and become totally engaged. I love the fact that they are self-checking, providing immediate feedback on their answers. With Boom Cards, teachers can create engaging and interactive learning experiences that are easy to administer and provide real-time feedback to students.

Read on to see how I use digital resources like Boom Cards in my classroom.

Display on an Interactive Whiteboard
Use digital resources and Boom Cards as an introduction or a review of music concepts.
Use as a preview or demonstration prior to assigning them for individual or center use.

Send to Classroom Computers for Use in Music Centers
Assign "Fast Pass" self-grading decks for use in music centers when you want to keep students engaged but don't necessarily need to keep data. (more about this in a minute...)

Send to Individual Student Devices
Assign to Individual student Boom accounts for easy access to the data record of student scores.
Assign through Google Classroom or other learning management systems for individual review or assessment.

A Few More Features

A great feature of Boom Cards is the ability to use fast pins, which are links that make it simple to distribute the cards to individual student devices or to a classroom music center computer. This makes it easy to use Boom Cards in a variety of settings and ensures that students have access to the resources they need to succeed. Fast Pins + Free Account = All you need to get started!
One of the advantages of Boom Cards is that they can be easily integrated with other digital tools. For example, you can add the link to your Google Classroom or learning platform to make it easy for students to access the cards. 
With a premium account, Boom Cards can also be used as an independent assessment for each student, providing valuable data on their progress and performance. Administrators love data, and with the engaging video game-like format, students won't even know they are being assessed!

Ready to Start? Try a Free Sample Deck

Have you tried them with your music students? Check out this free sample: Feed the Starfish Instrument Family Edition. After signing in to your account, click on "Add to Library" to get started!

These resources are internet activities and require an internet connection for use. 

When purchasing Boom Cards on TPT, you will download a PDF document that includes directions and the link to access your resource on Boom Learning.

As you explore these new resources, be sure to click on the link in each product description to see the preview on the Boom Learning site!

I hope you will consider these Boom Cards decks for use with your students!

Musically yours,

Practical Ways to Use Boom Cards Effectively in Elementary MusicPractical Ways to Use Boom Cards Effectively in Elementary Music

Teacher icons created by Bert Flint - Flaticon Class icons created by Dreamstale - Flaticon Online class icons created by Freepik - Flaticon

Are you looking for a way to introduce your elementary music students to the wonder and magic of Baroque music? Look no further than Vivaldi's Spring. This timeless masterpiece is not only beautiful, but it's also an excellent tool for teaching young students about program music and mood in music.

More about the Work

Antonio Vivaldi's Spring is a beautiful and iconic violin concerto that forms part of his larger work, "The Four Seasons." The piece is a notable example of program music, which is a form of music that attempts to tell a story or evoke a specific image or emotion in the listener's mind.

A perfect introduction to Baroque music for students, it highlights many of the genre's signature features, such as virtuosic solo passages, elaborate ornamentation, and the use of contrast and variation to create dynamic musical forms.

In addition to the musical concerto, it's worth noting that Spring also has a corresponding sonnet that Vivaldi wrote himself. Your students may be delighted to find that the sonnet contains descriptive text that matches the music quite well! This serves as an example of programmatic music in poetry. The connection between music and poetry adds a layer of depth and meaning to the piece and can provide an interesting topic for discussion and a jumping-off point for creativity in the music classroom. Here's the sonata:

Spring by Antonio Vivaldi

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Breaking it down for your student

As the full concerto is over 10 minutes in length, you may want to consider using one movement at a time, especially for younger students.

Upper elementary students love learning Italian vocabulary! Some of the terms that you may wish to introduce are:
  • Ritornello: means "returning" and usually indicates a short, recurring instrumental passage, particularly a tutti section. Both of the allegro movements use this form.
  • Tutti: all instruments play together
  • Solo: passage played by a single performer
  • Mood: the emotional effects on the listener, the atmosphere of the piece
Younger students will enjoy listening for the happy springtime dance represented by the ritornello, as well as the songs of the birds, the blowing breeze & flowing stream, and the thunderstorm in the first movement. 

Encourage Student Creativity

Once you've identified the themes in Vivaldi's Spring, you can encourage your students to create movements or drawings that represent the music. 

Listen & Move
Guide your students to create their own choreography to accompany the music. This not only gets them moving and active but also encourages them to think creatively and expressively. They can use movements and gestures to represent the different elements of spring, such as flowers blooming, birds chirping, and rain falling. Props such as scarves & ribbon wands are the perfect addition to these movement activities.

Does the idea of movement scare you because you are not a dancer? Actually, neither am I. The thought of the behavior management challenges often made me think twice about movement.  However, over time did come to understand that our students need to move. Many times, seated movements of hands, arms, heads, and spines are perfect for a particular group. Don't be afraid to experiment with movement by starting slow and starting low - from a seated position!

Listen & Draw
Because Vivaldi's Spring is program music, this makes it a perfect inspiration for student drawings to represent the mood. As you introduce this drawing activity, consider that student artwork does not have to be realistic images of a springtime scene. In fact, a more abstract drawing using colors and shapes may give students more freedom to express their feelings on paper and minimize the frustration and frequency of the "I can't draw a bird" comments. The different interpretations of how the sound makes students feel will delight you.

Expand Creativity with Classroom Instruments

When I first considered using classroom instruments with this piece, I was concerned that my rambunctious students would simply play along too loudly and overpower the music. That is a very real possibility on any given day. Here are some tips that may help guide students to make an effort to enhance the music rather than drown it out.

First, of course, is to have firmly established rules for handling classroom instruments. Include explicit instruction on how to play them "like the professional musicians do." In addition, teach your students a rest position so they know what to do with the instrument when it isn't their turn to play.

Next, consider which instruments will make the best contribution to the theme of spring and the Baroque style of music. I didn't get out any big drums for this piece! 😁 

Instead, I chose rhythm sticks and jingle taps to play a steady beat on the ritornello section. Students chose instruments to represent the birds, the breeze & brook, and the thunderstorm. Egg shakers, cabasa, triangles, jingle bells, wood block, guiro, rainstick, and wind chimes were usually available for selection.  I didn't have an ocean drum, but I might have considered adding this one to represent the water and the thunder.  The conductor-either the teacher or a student-should direct the groups of instruments to play at their turn.

Finally, a discussion of the dynamics of the piece will serve you well.  Help students notice the changing dynamics and label them with appropriate music terms.  Encourage students to match their instrument playing to the dynamics of the professional performance.

Create a Soundscape-Add Poetry

In addition to (or instead of) adding instruments to Vivaldi's music, consider using those instruments to create a spring soundscape. Use Vivaldi's sonnet above or challenge your students to write their own lyrics or poetry inspired by Vivaldi's sonnet & music. This will allow them to explore the themes of the piece in a more personal and creative way. They can use their own experiences and emotions to craft a unique perspective on spring, and then perform their original work for the class.

Resources for implementation

Drawing & Coloring Pages

If I was teaching this lesson myself, when it came time to draw to the music I would pass out blank pieces of paper and a small number of crayons for each student. However, if I were leaving the drawing lesson for a sub, I might want a little more direction for that guest teacher. I have created some coloring sheets, that may serve this purpose for you as well. You can find them in the free resource library on the Members Page of this blog. (To learn the password, please complete the signup form at the bottom of this page!)

Wakelet Collections

The two Wakelet collections linked below may help you to organize your video resources. The first one is a collection of performances, play-alongs, and movement activities. The second one is what I would use as an actual sub plan. When I include Wakelet collections in sub plans, I always print out a page with general classroom instructions, directions for turning on the computer/projector/speakers, and the SHARE link to the Wakelet collection. It was always helpful to email the plan to an administrator or directly to the sub so they could simply click on the link.

Vivaldi's Spring - Video Performance Collection

Vivaldi's Spring - Music Sub Plan


By incorporating a variety of listening & creating activities, you're giving your students a more dynamic and memorable learning experience. They'll be able to connect with the music on a deeper level and develop their musical skills in the process. As you unlock the magic of this piece, your students will discover the beauty of music and develop a lifelong love for it. 

Musically yours,