Music listening activity ideas for your elementary lesson plans.
Stretch out / music reflection
This is a great activity for the end of class, especially if you’re like me and have SO MUCH FUN during music class that you have a reputation for getting the kids all riled up… (sorry not sorry).
Play a piece of music – I like to use movie themes for this, but I always choose old ones that students WON’T recognize – and then spread students out to stretch out on the floor. (I have a large carpet in my music room, but you could just as easily have students put their heads down on their desk.)
Instruct students to close their eyes and “let the music make pictures in their head”. Absolutely no talking until it’s over. It takes kids a few tries before they get good at it, but be patient. Listening, relaxing, and being still is such an important skill to develop – and the payoff is amazing.
At the end of class, as they leave the room, students tell me what they “saw” on their way out the door. Note that the point is not for students to “guess” what the music is about. The point is for them to immerse themselves in a piece of music and connect with it in a meaningful way. Any response is valid as long as it is genuine.
Alternate version – if you have students who can not, will not sit/lie still, you can try the same activity but allowing them to draw their responses. This can work well too although I find it it is a bit more difficult to really focus on the music and much easier for them to distract each other.
Pass the chalk/marker
This is another great listening activity that allows free-response. You can use a chalk board, smartboard, whiteboard, or even chart paper. Put on a piece of music to listen to (this works best when the piece of music ties into the topics you’ve been studying).
Students listen quietly. Responses can be anything – what the music makes them think of, instruments they hear, words to describe the music (dynamics, tempo, etc). When a student has something to add, they put their hand up. The teacher passes the chalk or marker to a student, who writes their response on the chart, and then passes it to another student. For older students, you can encourage them to make notes on a specific topic, or to add notes in a way that groups ideas together.
Remember when we were kids and had the listening centers with the books on tape? I love to add this in when my students are doing music centers.
I load up a couple of old mp3 players or no-longer-connected phones with music that relates to whatever unit we’re studying (I like to feature a composer of the month) and have them available in a back corner with comfy pillows and generic response sheets or white boards. It’s a great way to reinforce learning and allow students to revisit musical pieces introduced in class that they enjoyed.
Bonus Music Listening Activity Ideas
- “Shared Reading” – There are tons of videos on Youtube that show the sheet music of a piece in time to the music. This is a great way to help students start learning to read sheet music by noticing the relationship between the symbols and the sound.
- Listening Response Worksheets – There are TONS of listening worksheets out there – but most of them are generic and aren’t designed for any specific purpose. I recommend using worksheets that either focus on a specific listening element, or apply directly to the grade level and/or curriculum guidelines you are teaching.
- Listening Maps – Listening maps are pictures that lead the listening through a specific piece of music. They can be used for whole-class instruction or provided for students to use in small groups, or independently as part of a listening center.
Teacher Tips for Listening Activities
Model good listening
If you’re shuffling through your notes or planning your next class while students are expected to listen, it’s going to be harder for students to see listening activities seriously. Now I know that as teachers we have STUFF TO DO, but it’s also important that students see you listening and enjoying the music – at least some of the time.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Often we get caught up in providing the widest possible variety of musical selections, but remember that students aren’t going to hear all the nuance in a piece the first time they hear it.
Keep your goal in focus
Always have a goal in mind for your listening activities. It could be as simple as for students to describe their response to a piece of music, or as specific as exploring a specific musical element.