One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in my Kodaly training was about the importance of transitions between activities. When working with primary aged students (ESPECIALLY preps!) their attention spans work best with activities that only go for a few minutes, which of course means that if you're teaching a 50 minute lesson, you better have a lot of activities up your sleeve!
Now, generally speaking, if a lesson segment is going well, the kids are engaged and there doesn't tend to be too much mucking around or bad behaviour due to lack of focus. But you know when this kind of behaviour is most likely to pop up? When you're switching from one activity to the next and need the kids to move to another area of the classroom or you just realised you've left something in the storeroom so pop out to get it for 30 seconds....what could possibly go wrong?
However, if you have planned not only each of your activities but the transitions between them as well, then the kids stay fresh and keep their focus throughout the 50 minute session and don't even think about mucking around as they're too engrossed in your lovely lesson!
This brings me to the topic of themed lessons - having a connecting theme which links all of your activities together can be a fantastically engaging way to plan transitions. I'd like to share one of my favourites with you today - the Bee lesson!
This lesson combines a number of activities including guided listening, solo singing assessment, a run-around game and some follow up worksheets for rhythmic & pitch transcription and all of it is held together by the idea of bees!
For a large portion of the lesson I use these wonderful felt bee fingerpuppets (designed by yours truly and available through my TeachersPayTeachers store) which are very easy to make and the kids absolutely love them - they're so disappointed when they have to give them back at the end.
I store my bees in this lovely honeypot which can be purchased through Le Creuset
After starting the lesson with a greeting song (check out my post about greeting songs here) then I sit my prep class down in a circle and take out the honeypot. We talk about what might be inside and how they're nice bumblebees who won't sting us (some of the students may need reminding once they get their hands on a bee puppet that they DON"T sting other people...that's right Johnny, I'm looking at you...) and I distribute a bee puppet to each child while singing a beautiful little song called "Here Is The Beehive".
Once each child has a bee on their finger I teach them the song "Bee Bee" and tell them we're going to be introducing ourselves to our bees one by one. By this point in the year (usually after at least a term) the students are getting the idea of singing voices vs. speaking voices and are also getting better at giving each other feedback on whether they are using the right one. I use thinking thumbs with my students (usually with prep students we start with thumb up for singing voice, thumb down for speaking voice, but by this point have expanded the options to include "thumbs in the middle" for a singing voice that didn't quite match the pitch of the song). This ensures they stay engaged and listen to each child sing as they know I could call on them to give feedback at any time and they don't want to be caught out not listening!
Needless to say, this exercise is a great opportunity to do a solo singing assessment, so I will sit there with the roll and mark each student as they sing to their bee "My name is Suzie" etc. I'm a big believer in getting students used to singing by themselves in front of groups like it's no big deal and at prep age, most of them haven't yet become self-conscious enough to be bothered by it, so I make the most of that opportunity to grow confident young singers!
Now, by the time you've gotten through all those solo singing assessments, we've all been sitting for a while and it's time to run around a little. I play a game called "Zum, Zum, Zum" with them which is a little similar to "What's the Time, Mr. Wolf?". All students are gathered at one end of the classroom and can jump forwards every time they hear the word "zum". The teacher stays up the other end facing the wall and can turn around to look every now and then, during which time the students must freeze in their spots! The students have to see how quickly they can make it up to that end of the classroom and return their bee to the honeypot.
We then do a little bit of vocal exploration drawing bee tracks on the whiteboard which the students have to follow with their voice. I then get them to draw their own and perform them for a partner (or for me if we have time - this could easily serve as another vocal assessment at a later date).
Here's an example:
For the last few minutes of the class I like to finish with some guided listening - in this case, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee". Depending on how they're travelling focus-wise I might just let them flop in the cushion pile and decompress as they listen quietly or I might give them things to listen for and respond to such as tracing the pitch contour with a finger or showing dynamics by flying around like a bee with big wings for loud and small wings for soft (great conducting prep there!)
Here is one great recording of "Flight of the Bumblebee" featuring Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin:
Now, whilst I have outlined this lesson with preps in mind, you could of course adapt it for older students, including a rhythm or pitch worksheet for "Bee Bee" or doing a comparative listening exercise of different versions of "Flight of the Bumblebee" with older students - the world is your oyster!
Now, you can find this lesson plan in more detail along with song analyses, games, worksheets and the pattern and instructions to make your own bumblebee as part of my Bee bundle on my TeachersPayTeachers store. Check it out here and leave a comment about any other great bee activities you know!