Teaching Music in Summer School


Teaching Music in Summer School

One of my most favorite assignments ever in my teaching career was teaching summer school music at the elementary level. The coordinator of summer school when I taught it knew the students needed down time. They needed enrichment. They needed higher level thinking. Summer school offered enrichment options for kids whose parents choose to have them attend. Then there were the “remedial” students. They could not sign up for classroom enrichment and could only attend “specials” if their work was finished. You know, those kids who needed art, music, and P.E. the most? But that’s another soapbox for another time…..Anyway, after three years, the district assigned another coordinator. Gone were all the enrichment opportunities, including (you guessed it)…..art, music, and P.E. Still another soapbox, but I digress…….Summer school music opportunities were a treasure for both the kids and me.

     If you are considering teaching summer school or have been assigned, congratuations if you’re teaching in the arts! Depending on your district, you can toss formal curriculum, standards, and quantitative assessments out the window and focus on true student led opportunities. Your inner Maria Montessori, Carl Orff (actually, more Gunild Keetman), or Jacques Dalcroze can emerge. My students and I created accompaniments to the Beach Boys, moved to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, orchestrated books, held informances at the end of the sessions…..without concerns about observations, which would result in music being shoehorned into standard classroom assessments. I didn’t have to worry about grades. The students did their own assessments to judge for themselves how their performances were doing.

     I did learn some mini-reality lessons along the way. I knew summer school was going to be different, but I didn’t take into consideration:

  • You might not work with “your” kids. Depending on the district/system, not every building may hold summer school. My district varied from year to year, putting both in-town schools together, one outlying town school would house the out-town schools in that area, or one building would house students with various special needs like ASD, or students who are home-schooled or attend private school might be in attendance if you are in a public school system.
  • Your students might not know each other. Unless the students know each other from worship, daycare, or team sports, they might be surrounded by several students they don’t know.
  • Attendance will probably be very spotty. This was something around which I couldn’t and still can’t wrap my head, but I’m old school. You are probably already familiar with students being out the regular school year for vacations (and, let’s try to forget 2020 to half of 2021!). In summer school, you might have a child gone for a week, or you might see a child once, or you might only see them on the last day. If your summer school experiences are like mine, “specials” are “rewards” for getting regular classwork done.
  • Your need for diversified teaching strategies just boomed expeditiously. You might have anything from kids who are gifted to kids who should need a paraprofessional but don’t get one. (Hey, that’s normal, right?) Add to that: 1) students who might have had little to no music theory if they are homeschooled or attend private school,  2) students from your district whose music instructors might have a different teaching style, and 3) students who are in vacation mode and not in any type of “formal” learning mode.
  • Rethink your battles regarding discipline. Because it’s summer and you’re not assessing, you might need to pick your battles in more detail than you would during the regular school year. 
  • You might be in a different room with different equipment. If you’re used to having a nice Orff instrumentation or a nice set of tubanos, you might work in a building that has rhythm instruments and MAYBE a bass xylophone. You’ll have to think outside the box. (After all, if you’re thinking Orff, you think PROCESS, not instruments. You don’t?? Uh, oh. We need to have a talk.?)

Music teachers were born to be creative. That’s how we survive teaching on a cart! Here are some ideas to help reap the wonderful rewards of summer school:

  • Start with name games. Just like in August/September, you and the kids need to get to know each other. There are plenty of songs that involve names. For instance:

    Younger Students: Ball Bouncing Game-Establishing Beat

  • Students are in a circle, standing, not holding hands
  • Teacher bounces ball and chants in a 4-beat phrase: “My name is Dr. Stafford.” (My name is Mr. Jones, etc.)
  • Students reply back “Their name is Dr. Stafford.” (You might want to consider using the gender-neutral “their” and “they”. This is information you need from the administrator for that building.)
  • Bounce the ball to a child. This child starts the process again with their name.
  • Tell he students to bounce no higher than their waist grab and grab the ball with both hands. 
  • Student needs to have arms out so the ball doesn’t bounce on their toes and run away.
  • No dribbling

Name Game-Older Students

  • Use drums, buckets, rhythm instruments, or body percussion
  • Students sit in circle (even if you have a small class, a circle helps them establish eye contact).
  • Student creates a pattern to “My name is Joe Cool and I like bread”
  • Other students echo.
  • Go around the circle so each student can have a turn.
  • On subsequent days, see if you can get to the point where students audiate the names and can play without speaking out loud.

You can find other name games in:

Pop Accompaniments

Use what you have (including Found Sound) to create accompaniments to popular (school appropriate) songs. For instance:

  • Rappin’ Ced sung by Daveed Diggs from the movie Soul. This works well because there is no melody. Ask the students to establish the beat, and eventually, to echo rhythm patterns they hear. Eventually, you can divided up different patterns to assign to students to play on body percussion, found sound, or regular instruments.

Folk Dances/Games

If you don’t have any of the books/CDs by the Amadons (New England Folk Masters), it’s time to splurge or to beg. Some of these activities are marvelous for summer school. One caveat: consider attendance. You might best be served by dances that call for scatter formation, such as Sasha. Longways sets might be good as well.

If you have the numbers for older grades, my absolute favorite dance of all time to teach is T’Smidje. The lyrics reflect the ballad of a blacksmith who left his forging to travel to France to meet a pretty girl. He married her, and now wishes he hadn’t. (Hey!)

Bucket Drumming

Inexpensive and fun, bucket drumming has taken music education by storm. Summer school is a perfect time to do some drumming because you can take it outside. Perform echoing, learn taiko drumming techniques,and more. You can use old rhythm sticks or dowel rods for sticks, and don’t be afraid to try various sizes of buckets as well as various materials.

Breakfast Quiz

  • Teacher asks the question: “What is the best breakfast ever?” 
  • Allow students to consider their answer and how they will play it.
  • Teacher plays the rhythm of the question as they ask it.
  • Each student plays their answer in rhythm, 4 beat phrase.
  • Once students have established correct rhythm, repeat the process with audiation (no words). Teacher plays the question in between each student turn.

Try this bucket drumming activity that goes from “body” percussion to bucket: Solar Sensation

Invite a Guest

Do you know someone who plays a digeridoo? Blues guitar? Is a symphony member? Invite an intriguing guest to have a discussion session with your kids (remembering your COVID protocol)

Puzzle Pages

If it’s raining, puzzle pages are a good, relaxing way to review objectives. Find some that do not rely on the objective having already been taught (keeping in mind you will have a variety of experiences coming into your room).

For instance, try this Crack the Code worksheet. The students decipher the code to come up with the answer (which is “triangle”). This is free for my blog readers!


Embrace summer school teaching. Enjoy it. I would love to teach another session. Earn a little money, try something new, — and best of all –still enjoy a few weeks of vacation!

This summer school Mega-Bundle contains 9 different activities, including the name game products and Solar Sensation from Body to Bucket. Find it a my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Are you subscribed to my email newsletter? Those who receive it will get bonus freebies not offered anywhere else, chances for free products from the story, and just some good old fashioned information. Newsletter comes out on Fridays.  

Just Click Here to sign up.

Sun Clipart by Whimsy Clips


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


Weekly teaching support, right to your inbox!​