Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

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!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Help! I'm Teaching Elementary General Music!

So you just found out you're going to be teaching Elementary General Music. Congratulations on your new teaching job! Maybe you're coming into this position after teaching a different age/subject area, or maybe this is your first job outside of college. Whatever has brought you to this point, you made it here! 

Your mind is probably spinning with ideas for next school year and questions for where to begin. I'm here to remind you to relax, take a deep breath, and get ready for a year full of learning and personal growth.

Help! I'm teaching general music by Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

  1. First and foremost, relationships matter
    As an Elementary General teacher, you're probably going to be teaching hundreds of children every week. It can be overwhelming at first to think about getting to know so many kids! This definitely gets easier the longer you stay at one single school, but that first year it is most important to get to know your kids: Talk to them during transitions or downtime. Ask them what their hobbies and interests are, and be sure to incorporate that information in your lessons. Say hi when you pass them in the hallway.

    I wouldn't try to jump right into teaching content during your first lesson. That first week of school should be spent getting to know your students through ice breaker activities, name games, and joyful music-making.

    Just as important as it is to get to know your students, it is equally important for them to get to know you. Children aren't going to learn from someone they don't trust. It is crucial to be open and friendly from the very beginning. I always start my first class with a slideshow that includes family photos and fun facts about me. I've bonded with lots of kids over my pet lizard and love of Animal Crossing. 

    Example of an identity slide featuring photos and graphics about Mrs. Tanenblatt

  2. Expectations, Expectations, Expectations
    Elementary schoolers are, in general, eager to please. After teaching in multiple schools across the state, I have come to the conclusion that kids everywhere are pretty similar in this area, regardless of age, race, gender, class, or any other characteristic. Kids want to learn, especially from a teacher they know and trust. The biggest mistake I've seen from newer teachers who struggle with classroom management is a failure to set clear expectations. Most kids really do want to succeed in school, but might not fully understand what exactly you want them to DO in order to be successful.

    I can still remember a horrible moment (but oh, so funny in retrospect) from my first year teaching: I had a water fountain in my classroom and there was a group of first graders that came to me straight from phys ed. They were all seated and ready for class to begin and I was giving them a little tour of the features in the classroom. I casually said, "oh and there's a water fountain here in case you ever need to get a drink." Have you seen the scene in The Lion King with the stampede? Yeah... not making that mistake again. But I don't blame the students. What I should have said was something along the lines of, "We have a water fountain in the music room. You may take a drink when you first enter the classroom before you sit down in your seat, or you will need to raise your hand and wait to be called on before you get up." Young children need explicit instructions in order to be successful. 

    Photo of a girl sitting in a classroom raising her hand while the teacher points to her

  3. Attention Span
    If you're coming to the Elementary realm after teaching upper grades, you may be surprised by how short young children's attention spans are. A good rule of thumb is the child's age in minutes is the length of time they can focus on a single activity. So a seven year old can focus for seven minutes, etc. 

    Primary students will visibly let you know when they've reached their limit and need a change of pace because they will start to get squirrely in their seats. A super self-aware kindergartener might even raise their hand and ask if they can do the next song standing up. With the older kids it might be harder to tell when you've lost their attention, until you notice them having side conversations, falling asleep, or just staring off into space. 

    When planning my lessons, I try to alternate between more challenging/high focus activities and less intense ones. I also try to switch between seated/standing/scattered in small groups/moving around. Little bodies were not made to sit still for a 40 minute class period. So many behavior problems can be avoided simply by keeping them moving.

  4. Learn Their Names
    This might seem obvious, but learning your students' names is SO important. If you do nothing else the first month of school, learn their names. Write down every student on a seating chart. Refer back to it every time you see the class. When you call on an individual student, don't just point to them- actually say their name. If you get it wrong, apologize and get it right next time. When I first started teaching, I remember being embarrassed to admit when I couldn't remember a kid's name. However, trying to avoid admitting it only made the problem worse. I've found that kids are quite understanding when I simply say something like, "I'm so sorry. I teach hundreds of kids and I'm still learning everyone's names. Will you please remind me what your name is?" 

    And while we're on the subject of names, make sure you are pronouncing every child's name correctly. Yes, it matters. No, it's not funny to give them an Anglicized nickname because you can't pronounce it in their language. Obviously your students should be the primary source for how to pronounce their names, but if you need a guide so you don't feel completely lost on the first day of school, check out

    Our names represent who we are and failing to use a child's name correctly tells them that you have no interest in them. I highly suggest reading the book "Your Name is a Song" by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow at the beginning of the school year and using that as way to encourage students to share the correct pronunciation of their names.

    (Click on the book cover for a paid Amazon affiliate link:)

    Cover of the book Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

  5. Make a Monthly/Yearly Plan, and be prepared to deviate from it
    I can't tell you how many times I've seen the following post in some form or another on social media: "Hey everyone, what are you doing with your second graders this week?"

    It makes me cringe every time. 

    Now, don't get me wrong: I am ALL FOR sharing successful lessons and fun teaching strategies with my colleagues. However, it has become very clear that some folks are only planning their lessons one week at a time and have no idea what the big picture is for their curriculum. At the beginning of school year, I spend a few days mapping out my entire year for each grade level (big picture units, not individual lesson plans) and it makes planning so much easier later on. I never have to stop and think, "hmmm, what is the next rhythm concept that my third graders should be learning?" because I already have it all planned out. Most school districts have some kind of curriculum and pacing guide for you to use as you design your yearly plans. (If not, you can easily find decent plans online on Teachers Pay Teachers.)

    Once you have your year planned out, you don't need to stress from week to week about what concepts you're supposed to be teaching. Instead you can spend your planning time selecting the best repertoire and awesome activities to teach those concepts. Of course, things will not always go according to plan. It might take more or less time to teach certain concepts and it is important to be flexible. One class might get interrupted by a bunch of fire drills or miss class due to holidays. There's a reason why I always sketch out my plans in pencil! 

  6. Music should be FUN!
    Depending on your school district, elementary music might be the only time in your students' school experience where they are required to take a music class. You might be the only music teacher your students have in their entire lives. (No pressure, right?) What do you want your students to remember when looking back on your class in 30 years? Do you want them to say, "Oh man, Ms. Jones did a really great job of teaching me the circle of fifths" or would you rather they remember the amazing time they had in your classroom, bonding and connecting with others through music?

    I try to keep this in mind whenever I'm having a rough day or a certain class leaves me feeling frustrated: My job is to help kids discover their love of music. I get to sing, dance, and play games every day. And people actually pay me to do it! It is really the best job in the world.

Girl holding an 'ukulele

I hope you're excited to begin teaching Elementary General Music and I hope these tips make the transition a little bit easier for you. If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me with a comment, email, or on social media. I'd love to hear how things are going as you start your journey. Good luck!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cicada Music Ideas

Here in Maryland, the Brood X Cicadas have started emerging! They have just started to shed their skin and in my neighborhood we are finding them crawling around and clinging to plants. Whether you think they are cute little critters or a terrifying plague (hey, I won't judge you) their once-every-seventeen-year appearance presents the perfect opportunity to connect our music lessons to the natural world. 

The cicada life cycle is perfect to inspire creative movement in the music classroom! You can talk with your students about how cicadas spend most of their life underground and only emerge for a short time. How can we use levels to show their emergence from the ground? What would you do if you had lived your entire life in one place and suddenly discovered a brand new world? How would you move to respond to this new environment? What kind of music could accompany this movement?

Speech Piece
I composed a speech piece called Cydnee Cicada. It's in triple meter and the rhythm set is dotted quarter, three eighth notes, and quarter - eighth. This makes it a great prep activity for K/1 and rhythm practice for 2/3. Students can act out the different actions that Cydnee does in the piece as they read the text. I composed this piece during my lunch break today and read it to my three year old this afternoon. She LOVED pretending to be asleep, waking up, and doing all of the subsequent actions. Her favorite part was climbing up on a step stool and pretending to chirp in a tree.

Instrument Exploration
You can extend this lesson by incorporating unpitched percussion instruments. What do cicadas sound like when they sing? What instruments sound most like a cicada?

If you have a cricket guiro, this would be a great opportunity to pull it out and maybe point out the similarities and differences between crickets and cicadas.

For more instrument exploration, you could have students perform the piece on barred instruments by improvising a melody. Another option would be to play a bordun or ostinato while reciting the piece. You could split the class into three groups: one to play instruments, one to say the speech piece, and one to do movements/act it out.

I hope you and your students enjoy acting like cicadas this spring! Hopefully learning a little about these insects will help to ease your kids' anxiety about them. Let's make this season fun and enjoy as much time as possible out in nature!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Feelings Check!

A terrorist attack on our nation's capitol... in the middle of a deadly pandemic... This past week has been a crazy one in the United States and I know that my personal feelings have been ALL OVER THE PLACE. Anxiety, worry, moments of joy and surprise... I have no doubt that my students are also struggling with lots of big feelings right now. As teachers we can't expect to solve all of our students' problems, but we can certainly check in with them to help recognize their emotions. As the saying goes, "If you can name it, you can tame it." 

Online learning makes it so much harder to get an accurate gauge of how our students are doing emotionally. We are physically distant and often can't even see their faces. Unless we make a point of asking our students how they're doing, we could miss significant things going on with their emotions.

I made these feelings check-ins as lighthearted way to inquire about my students emotional wellbeing and readiness to learn. After all, a child with dysregulated emotions is not going to able to sit and focus in a music lesson! It is our job to find out where the students are and what they need. 

I sometimes add one of these images to the beginning of my lesson slideshow. I ask students to respond by typing their number in the chat. I give them the option to share more details about why they chose their number but make sure they know that divulging more information is not required. It has started some meaningful conversations and helped me understand more of what my students are going through during these crazy times.

I hope these are helpful for you and spark meaningful conversations between you and your students!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

5 Ways to Use Google Slides for Remote Teaching

Are you teaching music remotely and interested in incorporating Google Slides in your lessons? I have been using Google Slides for about three years BC (that's "before Covid") so it was already a comfortable choice for me. When my school system shifted to full remote learning, I started using it for every single lesson. Here are just a few of the ways that you can use Google Slides remotely as a music teacher.

1. Welcome Screen

I always start my synchronous video conferences a few minutes early to give students a chance to log in and get themselves ready for class. While we're waiting for class to start, I share a slide like this:

On my welcome screen, I usually play a timer video that counts down to the start of class. I also include a picture of whatever materials we will be using that day. If I want to do something like a cup game, box drumming, or movement with scarves, I want to make sure I give my students a few minutes at the beginning of class to get those things ready. This helps with transitions during my lesson because I don't have to stop in the middle to send them on a hunt for materials.

2. Flashcards and other visuals

Google Slides is the perfect way to keep all of my flashcards and visuals together in one place. I love it because I can access my slideshows from any device, so if I'm browsing facebook at 10pm on my home computer and suddenly have a flash of inspiration for tomorrow's lesson, I can easily open my slides and make those edits instantly. I import .mp3s and videos that I plan on using and can seamlessly transition through every step of the lesson this way.

Here's a video I made at the beginning of the school year, walking through the components I put into my daily lesson slideshows:

3. Curate groups of YouTube videos

YouTube recently removed the ability to put children's videos into playlists. While this change makes total sense for children's safety, it's kind of inconvenient for a music teacher trying to compile teaching materials. Google Slides is a great workaround to this problem since you can embed YouTube videos directly into your slideshow. (And as an added bonus, there's no ads before the video and nothing autoplays afterwards!)

I recently made a slideshow with tons of YouTube videos related to The Nutcracker and it has been wildly popular with my students and other teachers! Click here to make a free copy.

4. Self-Correcting Games in Present Mode

With Google Slides, it's easy to turn objects into links that will direct students to another page within in the presentation. This means that if a student plays through the activity in present mode, they can click on an answer and it will automatically take them to a different page if it was the correct answer or the incorrect answer. Here's an example of a self-correcting game I made that uses embedded audio files and beautiful, high-resolution images:

5. Interactive Activities in Edit Mode

For more tech-savvy students, you can also create interactive activities that students can manipulate by moving elements around the screen in edit mode. This is a great way to have students compose music! For this activity, you can move the rhythm tiles onto the squares to arrange them any way they want. It takes a little bit of work at the beginning, teaching students how to drag items without accidentally resizing them or deleting them. However, I've found that kids tend to pick up these tech skills pretty quick- even faster than many adults! 

I hope these five ways will inspire you to use Google Slides in your music room this spring. Happy teaching!