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Teaching Opera To Elementary Students: 7 Easy Tips and Activity Ideas

Opera lesson plans for elementary music: Have you introduced opera to your elementary students?

A lot of music teachers are afraid to try to include opera in their lesson plans because they assume that elementary students won’t like it. If you aren’t a music specialist, you may not know much about opera yourself. But teaching opera to elementary students is easier and more fun to teach than you think!

Even if you’re not an expert, opera can have a positive impact in the elementary classroom. You just have to be willing to give it a try. Here are a few tips for making opera in the elementary classroom a fun and valuable experience for your students.

teaching opera to elementary students
I use interactive notebook pages in my opera lesson plans to help students keep track of new vocabulary and the operas we have studied.

1. Make sure you’re teaching musical elements in your opera lesson plans.

A lot of pre-made units to teach opera actually just teach the history of opera… no wonder elementary kids think it’s boring. Learn about the MUSIC!

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If kids aren’t listening, responding to, or creating music during your music classes, then you’re not actually teaching music at all. Make sure that every opera lesson plan you create involves listening to at least one piece of music and talking about the musical elements you hear.

Learning about composers and time periods is important too, but it shouldn’t take priority over the music.

2. Teach terminology in your opera lesson plans.

This Opera Glossary has a bunch of of short clips that explain opera-related vocabulary in a quick and engaging way. Plus, kids think it’s super fun to learn words that come from different languages. Don’t try to use these all at once. Instead, work them in when you listen to an example for that vocab word. For example, watch the video on overtures before you listen to a famous overture such as Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart. This will help your students learn how the different parts of an opera fit together.

You can also use these videos to teach the different vocal ranges, which fits nicely into a lesson on vocal timbre.

3. Use some fun clips from kids’ television shows as an introduction to opera

There are TONS of opera references in kids’ TV! A bonus of using these type of clips is that you also know that the material has already been kid-approved. Here are a few great ones:
Arthur, Season 9 Episode 5: Lights, Camera, Opera!
Sesame Street: Andrea Bocelli’s Lullabye To Elmo
Sesame Street: People in Your Neighborhood – Opera Singer

You can also find opera used in some older cartoons, such as Looney Tunes. Unfortunately, a lot of them also contain some violence and may not be best for a school setting. Watch them first to be safe!

4. Show opera in pop culture.

Elementary students often think opera is something that is boring, old, or that only “old people” like. So, it’s important to use references found in pop culture in your opera lesson plans whenever you can. This helps kids see opera as relevant to their lives. There’s a good chance that your students may have heard pieces of opera music before, but just didn’t know that’s what they were hearing.

The Muppets’ version of Habanera from Carmen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXKUb5A1auM

opera lesson plans

5. Don’t forget the opera’s orchestra!

Watch and listen to clips of opera performances, but don’t forget to also include the orchestra playing. There are some very famous instrumental pieces from opera that students will probably recognize, like March of the Toreadors for example. Using overtures and other instrumental pieces from operas also gives you the opportunity to teach instrument identification. You can also work in some basics of conducting.

6. Search for Opera Study Guides.

Who better to help you teach about opera than the experts? Many professional opera companies provide free downloadable education guides on their websites. These often include explanations about the music and are a great resource for planning your opera lesson plans. (Most of the time, these guides were designed for elementary classes that will be attending a live opera performance, but you can just as easily use them with a recorded performance)

7. Cherry pick the best parts of many different operas.

Don’t be afraid to teach opera just because some parts are not so child friendly. No one said you have to teach the whole opera! This opera unit I created uses a wide range of individual songs and scenes to provide a high-interest introduction to opera. Save the in-depth study of individual operas for older students, or for classes who are already comfortable with this style of music.

Opera Classroom Activity Ideas

Introduction to Opera Lesson Plans

Don’t have time to create a whole opera unit for your elementary students? This introduction to opera unit works for in-person or online teaching and comes with a whole pack of opera activities:

  • activity worksheets to create an interactive notebook or lap book
  • complete introduction to opera lesson guide
  • Powerpoint presentation that accompanies every lesson
  • tons of listening examples