Successful Independent Learning Centers in the Music Classroom

Learning centers can be a wonderful way to let students explore the concepts you’ve been teaching. As you float around the room to watch, you’ll be amazed to see what their little brains are processing and HOW young children learn through play!

It is CRITICAL that you go over expectations clearly before beginning in a group (not when they are already at a center.) The first time you attempt centers, pick easy to explain, easy to use activities. Also, consider limiting the type of stations to 3-4(and repeating stations as explained in the next paragraph).

I try to pick activities that the students have completed as a group in class already. The quicker you can explain them and the more the students understand the expectation and learning goal, the better. For example, if you have a popsicle stick station for writing rhythms, have some sample cards there for students to start with and then encourage them to move 1-2 sticks to compose new rhythms. Be clear that they are to count the rhythms when they are done. (If you don’t do these things you may have to break up kids making popsicle stick guns or drawing houses with them.)

I feel like 3 students per station is a magic number. This means, you may have to have multiple stations that are the same. For example in a class of 30, you may want to have 5 different activities, but you’ll need 10 stations if you want the small groups. Each student only goes to the 5 stations because they are identical. When they finish the 5th station they are done. The 5 other stations they never went to are duplicates of the 5 that they did complete. It’s also ok to have 9 groups and 10 stations – one station will just sit empty each round.

Before starting the first center, students must wait for the ‘magic word.’ The magic word can be ‘rainbow’ or ‘taco’ or ‘penguin.’ When they are at the first station, I have them look at the set up and “memorize” what it looks like. At the end, they will be responsible for resetting that first station to make it look better than it did when they arrived.

For me transitions are clear, fast and SILENT. I have a “stand and freeze” signal. I like to play a small s-m-d on a bell kit. Go over this with them before you start and practice with them.

I like 3 minutes per center, but you could try up to 5 minutes. I’m constantly moving around the room watching groups and can end a center early if needed. Or, if one group is having trouble behaving, I may ask that group to sit down and not participate until the next center begins (usually only 1 minute or so).

When I play the s-m-d at the end of the station, the following happens SILENTLY.

  • Students stand and freeze. 
  • I have them point to where they are going next. 
  • I have them walk slowly (younger kids – walk with baby steps, walk like a sloth, walk like an elephant, sneak) to the next station.
  • As soon as they arrive at the next station, they may begin. (If they run, they go back and try again to walk.)

After the last round, when I play s-m-d – they stand and freeze. I have them point to the first station where they started. I have them visualize what it looked like when they arrived at it originally. Then they move to that center and straighten it up. When they are done, I have them sit down in that spot and then I come ‘inspect’ the center. Once they are ‘approved’, they may walk back to their regular assigned spot in the classroom.

I hope this helps you enjoy the many benefits of learning centers with you music students of all ages!

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