Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Saturday, February 25, 2023

What to Do When Students Aren't Listening

If your school year has gone at all like mine has, you might be feeling like this:

Meme of the count from Sesame Street with text reading "Today's number is zero. Zero children are listening. Ah ah ah!"

I know it can be incredibly frustrating and I have had days this month when I just wanted to rip my hair out! But when I take a step back, get out of my feelings, and think about what is really going on in my classroom, I come to rely on these ten key steps to help get kids to listen to what I'm trying to teach them.

1. Eye Contact

This is probably the most basic thing you can do to connect with your students. Making direct eye contact reminds them that you are paying attention to them and encourages them to do the same.

2. Proximity

The next thing to try is just to walk around your room and stand near the students who aren't paying attention. Sometimes they just need a subtle reminder that you're nearby and that they should focus. Moving around the room also makes it easy to have a quick check-in with a student who may need more support.

3. Student Helpers

Children LOVE having jobs to do in the classroom! It could be something as simple as turning the lights on or coming up to point on the board. Any time you can enlist a child's help in the lesson you strengthen your bond with that child, which will in turn help keep them engaged. 

4. Wait Time

Sometimes the best thing to do when kids are talking is to wait it out. Talking over students sets the precedent that it's ok to talk while the teacher's talking. One word of warning, though: make sure that your students are aware that you're waiting. Otherwise they might not even realize that the lesson has stopped because they were off topic. I sometimes will say, "raise your hand if you hear someone next to you talking" and that usually gets the room quiet.

5. Change up the Activity

You should consider that there might be a problem with the pacing or format of your lesson. Remember that children's attention spans are pretty short and getting shorter. When in doubt, get up and dance or have a stretch break!

6. Private Conversation

If you do need to redirect a student multiple times, I suggest pulling them aside and talking to them privately about their behavior. Doing so in front of the whole class is not only dehumanizing for the student but has the potential to create a power struggle if they don't comply with your instructions. Talk to them personally. Try to figure out where the unwanted behavior is coming from and ask them how you can help them succeed.

7. Involve All Stakeholders

If you continue to struggle to connect with an individual student, don't be afraid to get others involved who may already have a strong relationship with them. Keep in mind that it's not always going to be a family member. You can also (within reason) reach out to another trusted adult at the school who has a good relationship with the child. Make sure that when you do communicate with the adult that you are calling them in with the intention of listening and understanding in order to help the child.

8. Lesson Audit

If you're doing all the previous steps and still struggling with students not listening, it's time to consider whether your lessons or curriculum might need changing. As teachers, we're obligated to meet our students where they are- not where we'd like them to be. Find out what your students' interests are and go from there.

9. Re-establish Class Norms

Sometimes you might need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a class about what's working and what's not. Be open and honest about how you're feeling and encourage students to share their feelings as well, if they are comfortable doing so. Work together collaboratively establish your class norms to move forward as a team.

10. Reach out for Help

These are extremely challenging times. Teachers are getting burnt out. Children are experiencing trauma. It's easy to get discouraged. It helps to remember you're not alone. Hopefully you have someone at your school you
can talk to. If you don't have supportive people at your schoolhouse, reach out to your teacher fam on social media. Just as it is with everything else in life, we can only get through this by working together.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Feel the Beat! A lesson on Hip Hop History

If you follow me on social media, you've probably already seen some of my favorite books to teach during Black History Month. Of course, we shouldn't be waiting until February to feature Black excellence in our music rooms. That should be happening year round! One thing I do differently in February is focus more on historic events and biographies to tie in with the theme of the month. 

My students are always fascinated by this book, When the Beat Was Born, written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. In the past, I would read it, discuss some of the terminology in the book, and then just move on. This year I decided my students needed something a little more hands-on, so I've included a technology component, along with a written check for understanding.

Let's dive in!

  1. First, read the book
    You can purchase a copy of the book here (Amazon affiliate link.) In my classroom, I like to project a read-aloud version so that students get a better view of the illustrations and get to hear someone else's voice besides mine reading the story. Here's one that I recommend by Mr. Alicea's Arcade of Knowledge on Youtube.

  2. Reading Guide

    For students who need a little more guidance to focus on the story, I created a reading guide with ten questions about the book. I will often pause the story to discuss the answers to the questions as we go along. You can sign up for my free insiders newsletter to get access to the reading guide.

  3. Dance

    Depending on the age/maturity of the group, I might play some old school hip hop recordings and have my students try breakdancing themselves.

    If I'm doing the lesson with younger kids, I've found that they benefit from more guidance with the dance moves, so I've been opting to play a couple of hip hop dances on GoNoodle: two that I like to use are Jump! and Can't Touch This.

  4. Google Doodle turntables

    The final way that I have my students interact with this content is by giving them a link to this Google Doodle, which begins with a brief introduction to DJ Kool Herc and then allows students to take the reigns and become a DJ themselves. My students LOVE to look at the album artwork as they select their records, and some of them figured out how to scratch the records on the turntables, too!

Have you used this book in your classroom before? I'd love to know what else you do to teach hip hop in your elementary music lessons! 

Monday, February 7, 2022

Dollar Tree Finds for Music Teachers

If you've been following me for a while, you might already know that I love bargain hunting. To me, there is nothing better than scouring a clearance aisle or wandering through a thrift store to get the best deals for myself or my classroom. Just in case you don't share my passion for the hunt, I went shopping at Dollar Tree yesterday and curated some excellent items for you to use in your music class:

I recently shared some of my newest Dollar Tree finds on Instagram and I wanted to go into more detail here to explain some of the teaching activities that can be done with these goodies. (Please note that this post is not endorsed or sponsored by Dollar Tree. I just really love shopping for good deals!)


A bag with sixteen hearts that can also be used for storage: can you say convenient!? Fill the bag with gems, mini erasers, or rhythm icons and you've got materials ready to go for rhythm dictation, decoding the rhythm of a song, or composing new rhythms. 

Check out this post by Jane Lee to see the materials in action! Or, if you're short on time and would rather get a set like this ready-made for you, check out this option from Hutzel House of Music!


Is it just me or is everyone obsessed with gnomes this year? I like that this little guy has a heart stitched on his hat... it seems only natural to call him a beat buddy and pass him around a circle to the steady beat. 


I bought these with the intention of making the puppets for my classroom but my four year old has already commandeered them for herself! Whoops! The set comes with pre-sewn finger puppets and felt shapes that can be glued on to make the different designs.


My six year old niece was visiting recently and she saw some bubble wrap we had lying around. She immediately grabbed it and said, "A pop it! I love these toys!" These mini pop its are the perfect size to use as giveaways or keep stashed in a sensory/calm down bin. 

Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature more Dollar Tree bargains and DIY projects. And if you're still in the mood for a good deal, don't forget that there is a sitewide sale coming up on Teachers Pay Teachers on Feb 8 and 9. You can snag any of my products for an additional 20% off during the sale. Happy shopping!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Chanukah Music: the Dos and Don'ts

Well, somehow we've made it to the winter holidays during this whirlwind of a school year! As exhausting as this year has been, I feel rejuvenated when I think about all of the fun holiday music I get to teach in the upcoming weeks. I like to share songs from many different cultures in order to make my music room an inclusive and welcoming place. 

I know that I always feel gratitude when others acknowledge a holiday that I celebrate, and I'm sure my students do, too. However, I also know how awkward and othering it feels when someone tries to teach about one of my holidays and gets it just plain wrong.

As a Jewish teacher, I wanted to take some time this year to clarify some facts about the festival of lights:

What Chanukah is:

A festival lasting for eight nights celebrated by Jews around the world. It is a fun and uplifting holiday, full of fascinating symbolism. The story of Chanukah is a motivational tale of underdogs who persist despite great odds. There's gorgeous music and fun folk songs about this holiday that are a great addition to your elementary music lessons.

What Chanukah isn't:

It is NOT Jewish Christmas. In fact, from a liturgical standpoint, it is one of the lesser festivals and not the most religiously significant. The only reason it's become so popular is because of its proximity to Christmas on the calendar.

If you are not Jewish but are interested in teaching your students about Jewish music and culture, please double check the accuracy of the information you share with your classes. Did you get the song or lesson idea from an actual Jewish person? 

Also, please be wary of these pitfalls when teaching music from another culture: Does your Chanukah lesson tokenize Jewish people? Is it the only time all year that you mention Jews? Are you including a Chanukah song in a concert that's otherwise all Christmas music, just so you can check off a box and call it inclusive? Can you accurately explain the difference between Jewish culture and the Jewish religion?

Photograph of a chanukah menorah on a table, surrounded by dreidels, gelt, and jelly donuts

This time of year, I find many well-meaning folks sharing things that are just plain inaccurate. For instance, programming a random Hebrew song on a winter concert and saying it's for Chanukah, when it actually has nothing to do with the holiday. Likewise, it makes very little sense to teach Israeli folk dances as part of a Chanukah celebration. I like to teach Israeli dances in the spring, around Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli independence day.)

I'd suggest doing some research about other significant Jewish holidays as well, such as Passover and the high holy days. How can you include those in your music lessons during other times of the year?

So, what should you do?

If you've read this far, thank you for taking an interest in Jewish music! One of my favorite ways to teach my students about Chanukah is with a dreidel. I start by explaining the four Hebrew letters on the dreidel and the acronym that they represent: a great miracle happened there. (I also show my students a dreidel that I bought in Israel which says "happened here" instead.) This allows me to briefly tell the Chanukah story before we sing the dreidel song and play the game.

Photo of a yellow dreidel with the letter gimmel facing upwards.

If you're looking for a resource to help you teach the dreidel song, I have a presentation you can get here. It also includes a printable DIY dreidel and gelt so that your students can make their own before they play the game. 

I hope this post has helped you as you choose to make your music classroom an inclusive and welcoming place. Chag sameach!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Soy Una Taza: A hilarious and fun children's song from Spain

Soy Una Taza is one of my students' favorites! Performed by CantaJuego, this extremely catchy song teaches the names of kitchen utensils through whole body movement. I learned it from Rachel Gibson from her session at the OAKE 2019 national conference and have loved teaching it ever since. 

The song alternates between chanting and singing, so it's great to use in primary grades to distinguish between speaking and singing voice. It's also a great way to incorporate more Spanish language during Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month and all year long. 

Soy una taza, una tetera
una cuchara y un cucharón
un plato hondo, un plato llano
un cuchillito y un tenedor
Soy un salero, azucarero
la batidora y una olla express
Chu! Chu!

There's a video of the group performing it; however I prefer to just play the audio and demonstrate the moves myself. But here's the video so you can learn how to do the movements for yourself:

I created these visuals to help my students learn the words better in both languages:

I hope you have fun with this one. One final warning, though beware: It WILL get stuck in your head. Choo choo!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Un Amigo: A Guatemalan Children's Song

For Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to share some of my favorite songs in Spanish. I'm starting off with this adorable song for primary students: Un Amigo.

Notation for the Guatemalan children's song "Un Amigo"

I learned this song a few years ago from Rachel Gibson at the 2019 OAKE national conference and it has quickly become a staple in my primary music lessons! Every kid loves making animal noises and this song is a fun way to get kids singing and playing. 

I start by teaching the song and projecting different animal images on the screen. We practice making the different animal sounds as a group so that everyone knows what sounds they make. (For some animals, it's also fun to add movements, too!)

Here's a slideshow with the song lyrics, notation, game instructions and animal pictures:

Click here to make a copy of the slideshow.

When it's time to play the game, I give each child an animal picture card and tell them not to show anyone what animal they got! We sing the song as a group and then one student is chosen to make their animal sound while the rest of the class tries to guess what animal it is. Then, we sing the song again and move on the next student. It's so much fun to hear my students get silly and creative with their animal sounds!

Here are the printable animal cards to use with your students:

I hope you and your students have fun with this game!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Music Teacher's Guide to Thrift Shopping

Ah, summer break... the time to finally relax and reset ourselves for the upcoming school year. After the year we just experienced, we all deserve a break. Everyone has different ways to decompress. My favorites are floating in the pool, binge watching TV, and shopping. So that I don't end up completely broke, I try to shop secondhand whenever possible.

I know what you're probably thinking: "Rachel, if you're shopping for stuff for your classroom it doesn't count as decompressing!" but the thing is, I LOVE shopping. I could spend hours combing through bookshelves and wandering down aisles of clothes. For someone like me, thrifting is therapeutic and I look forward to these lazy summer days when I can go and take my time hunting for treasures.

If you're new to thrifting, here's some tips to help you get started:

A woman in a blue fur coat and sunglasses riding in a shopping cart with the heading "The Music Teacher's Guide to Thrift Shopping"

Go with an open mind
The most important thing to know about thrift shopping is that you really are hunting for treasure among some... less desirable things. Depending on the store you're shopping at, you might encounter stuff that's dusty and dirty. Try to see past the grime and envision what an item could be used for after it's had a good cleaning. (For me personally, I draw the line at tobacco smoke. If an object smells like smoke it's almost impossible to get that smell out and I will almost always pass it up.)

You should also be prepared for the fact that you might not find anything good that day. There have been plenty of times I've gone to the thrift store and come home empty handed. The beauty of shopping secondhand is you never know what you're going to find. Some days you'll get a great haul and others... not so much. When I go thrifting with my husband we like to visit several stores in one day to maximize our chances of finding good stuff.

Have a plan
Before you go shopping, check to see if your store has certain days of the week where they offer extra discounts or promotions. They might even have teacher discounts! One of the stores near me gives you an extra coupon if you've donated things so I always try to plan my trips there when I have a bag or two of stuff to donate. You can also call your store to ask if there's a certain day of the week that they set out new merchandise so you can be sure to get first dibs on the good stuff when it's restocked.

A woman in dreadlocks and a woman in a hijab looking through bins of merchandise at a store.

When I visit thrift stores, I always follow the same pattern. This helps me prioritize and make sure I have time to really dig through the things I am most interested in:

1. First, I go past the counter where they keep the most valuable merchandise. Sometimes they might have musical instruments! But be aware that some thrift stores, like Goodwill, don't actually sell their valuable items in store and instead they put them up for auction online. 

2. Next I always head over to the children's books. I like to really take my time here and sort through every single book; it can be easy to overlook something. For instance, yesterday I found a copy of the book Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman. It was in great condition and I happily snatched it up. However, it was missing its dust jacket so it looked very plain and unassuming at first.

A person's hand pulling a book off of a bookshelf.

3. My third stop is usually the housewares and home decor section. I keep my eyes out for storage containers, baskets, even shelving units. I got one of these amazing book display at a thrift store while visiting my family on Long Island. Fortunately I had enough room in my car to take it home with me! On another shopping trip I found one of these rolling carts new in box, it had never even been put together! Last week I found a Sterilite storage cart that I'm looking forward to cleaning up and using in my classroom, too.

4. The last place I usually look is the clothes. As a plus size woman, I don't usually have a lot of luck finding things in my size. However, every now and then I'll score big and come home with some nice styles in brands I love. On my shopping trip to Goodwill yesterday, I found FIVE articles of clothes! For me, this is significant! You just never know what you're going to find and some days you will be luckier than others.

Divide and conquer
Thrift shopping can get exhausting. If you're shopping with a buddy, I recommend splitting up in the store so you can have time to see everything you want to before you get too exhausted or impatient with each other. For instance, I usually go thrifting with my husband. While I'm camped out in front of the children's books he usually goes to look at the records and electronics. He'll be flipping through stacks of vinyls while I'm paging through books. Then, we meet up again and share our finds when it's time to check out.

Set a budget
Hopefully your school district reimburses or pays for most of your classroom supplies. However, if you are like me and tempted to just buy everything for yourself, make sure you know your limits before you start shopping. When every individual item is so cheap, it can be tempting to just toss everything in the shopping cart and not think about how much it will ultimately cost you. But ten books at $1.25 each is still twelve dollars out of your pocket, so be sure you know how much you are able to spend and don't go over budget.

A pocket of a denim jacket with several bills of US currency sticking out.

Think outside the box
My last bit of advice to you is to be creative when you're at the store: try to envision other possible uses for items besides what they may have originally been intended for. A hanging shoe holder can organize small classroom items or a toy shelf can hold ukuleles. Music teachers are the most creative people I know and you will need to tap into that creativity to make the best use out of the things you find.

Happy thrifting!