Music Room Tour 2018-2019: Beach Theme Decor

This week, I started my ninth year of teaching.  I’m at a new school in a new district, so of course I have a new room to set up.  Classroom decor is a lot of fun for me, so I was excited to get in and start setting up!

music room tour 2018-2019


The posters and labels I used in my classroom are from my Beach Theme Music Room Decor Kit.  All of the decor was done on a tight budget.  In the summer, beach gear and decor are easy to find at the dollar store.  I bought fish nets, inner tubes, beach balls, and more for a dollar each.  I made a beach ball garland by printing and laminating beach ball clipart, and hot gluing them to string. Decorating this classroom did not break the bank!


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This week, I get to start working in my new music room, and I’m excited! New school, new room, new possibilities!  Since this will be my ninth year teaching, I’ve learned a few lessons about classroom setup, and I’m sharing my top five tips.


As soon as you can, get into your classroom!  Look around.  See what resources you’ll have.  Take pictures!   Get pictures of the insides of closets and cabinets, the instruments you will have, and the different walls of your room. If you can, bring a tape measure, and record the dimensions of any bulletin boards, whiteboards, and shelves that you have.

classroom sneak peek


Remember those photos?  They’ll be your best friend now!  Use the photos as references to help you create a diagram of your classroom.  You can draw this out on paper, or if you’re Type A like me, you can create one on your computer, like so.


classroom diagram

I don’t have a lot of moveable furniture to work with, but if you use PowerPoint or Keynote to create your diagram, you can move around the shapes to see where you prefer different pieces of furniture. As you plan out where things will go, think about the flow of your lesson.  Where will the students line up?  Where will they sit?  Play instruments?  Play games?  Where and how will they obtain supplies like pencils and whiteboards?  You may change your mind about certain things and move them around once the school year begins, but it’s good to have a plan to start with.



Okay, if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a planner.  I plan out every little thing I can, because it puts my mind at ease.  If I know what I want to do with my classroom early enough in the summer, I have time to find the best deal for everything I need.  I can search Dollar Tree, Target’s dollar spot, Walmart, Michaels, Party City, and my beloved Amazon for decorations, office supplies, and organizational tools.  Use measurements of your bulletin boards to determine how many yards of fabric, plastic table cloths, and/or bulletin board borders you will need.  Once you’ve obtained your decorations, and printed and laminated everything you need, put them in a box with a stapler, sticky tac, glue gun, and extension cord so that you’re ready to rock and roll.


In addition to all of my setup supplies and decorations, I like to bring in a few other things for my own comfort.  Setting up a classroom is long and hard work, so why not make it as pleasant as possible?  Wear comfy clothes and shoes.  Bring plenty of water and snacks (maybe even some extra caffeine?).  To pass the time, I like to bring headphones to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks on my phone.  Most importantly?  Bring a fan.  Many classrooms are HOT, especially when school isn’t in session yet.  That fan should follow you like a shadow around your classroom as you work.

plan to stick around


Some teachers are lucky enough to have friends or family who are able to help them set up.  If that is the case for you, take them up on the offer!  They can staple borders to your bulletin boards, stick decorations on the wall, and be an extra set of hands for moving furniture.  Buy them some coffee in the morning and some lunch on your break to show them appreciation for their awesomeness.


Hopefully, these tips will help make your classroom setup as smooth as possible. You will spend countless hours in your classroom this school year, so I hope you can make it a cheerful, functional space!

Happy teaching!





5 classroom setup tips for music teachers

A Magic Word for Classroom Management

Do you ever begin to give directions to your students, get less than halfway through a sentence, and students start moving?  They’re so eager to begin or be first for the activity that they don’t hear the rest of the directions!  My classroom management needed some help, because this was disrupting the flow of my lessons.  It used to drive me crazy, until one class period, I got an idea.

magic word for classroom management


I asked the kids if they knew how to play the game Simon Says, and then we tried a quick round.  Then, I added my twist.  “Instead of saying ‘Simon says’ when I want you to follow directions, I will say a magic word.  Only after that magic word can you move.”  So I needed a magic word.  It was October, so that day, my magic word was pumpkin.  The students waited to hear the word “pumpkin” before following any of my directions.  Awesome.  …But I couldn’t use this same magic word all year, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep track if I switched it regularly. I wanted an evergreen word, that I could use any time I wanted the students to wait for directions.  I wanted something that I had a connection to, and something fun for the kids.  Since my students call me Mrs. Cookie, I went with “sprinkles.”  Why not chocolate chips?  It doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.  Also, I really like sprinkles; they’re colorful and fun.


I introduced our new permanent magic word to my kids, and we were ready to try it out.  We practiced following directions as if it were a game.  I would tell them to stand up and make a circle.  Some would immediately get up and start holding hands, but they quickly realized their mistake, and sat back down.  I winked at them, and shouted, “springtime!”  Most of the students raced to make their circle before they realized I had tricked them.  “Sprinkler!” I tried again.  This time, I hadn’t fooled them.  “Very well done, friends.  Okay.  Sprinkles!” Finally, the kids all happily stood and made a circle, quickly and quietly (minus a few joyful giggles).  Success!


For almost two years now, we’ve been using this magic word, and that’s exactly what it’s been for my classroom: magic!  My kids listen to all directions before acting.  When a student forgets, their classmates quickly remind them with a whisper, “she didn’t say the magic word yet!” It truly has helped my classroom management, and I highly recommend it!  Choose a word that works for you and your kids, and make it joyful.

Happy teaching!


Summer Bucket List for Music Teachers: Making the most of your summer break

Summer break is here, or on its way, depending on where you teach.  Here in Arizona, I’ve been out for almost two weeks. Before you get too jealous, I return for pre-service at the end of July! But now is the time to make some plans and ensure that you make the most of your summer.

summer bucket list for music teachers


The first few days or even first week of summer vacation consist mainly of naps.  Not to brag, but I’m really good at napping. 😉  The end of the school year can be exhausting, and it takes a while to recover.  As a matter of fact, there was one year that I did nothing over summer break; I simply relaxed.  To be honest, I was injured by a student a few weeks before school got out, and I truly needed time to physically and emotionally recover. I didn’t feel guilty about sitting on my couch watching Netflix, walking my dogs, and reading all summer, because I knew it was what I needed.  By the time the first day of school rolled around, I was welcoming the students like a princess at Disneyland.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: teaching is a stressful job.  We need time to mentally, physically, and emotionally refresh.  If we don’t take that time, we will not be ready to give 100% when school resumes.


Another thing that I like to do at the very beginning of summer is reflect on the last school year.  My reasoning for doing this right away is that the year is fresh in my mind, but you can reflect later in your summer if that works better for you.  What went well, and why was it successful?  What didn’t go so well?  Are there ways you can improve?  Is there anything new that you’d like to implement next year?  Maybe your students were very successful in regards to music literacy, but you’d like to add in more improvisation next year.  Make a document of your reflections, so that you can refer to it later.


If you’re anything like me, my home life takes a back seat at the end of the school year.  Once I’ve had some time to rest, I like to tackle all the things that I’ve put aside during the last weeks of the school year.   I take care of my car, organize things around the house, and do a full deep clean.  Other things I like to focus on in the summer include hair cuts, doctor appointments, and coffee dates with friends.  Many of these things are hard to schedule during the school year, so I make them a priority in the summer.  This time of year is also perfect for focusing on healthy eating, establishing an exercise routine, or adding some self care into your weekly schedule. So think about what things in your life you put on the back burner when work got extra busy, that you might want to refocus on with your extra time.


That document you made with your end-of-year reflections will come in handy now.  If there is something new you want to implement in the fall, now is the time to do your research. I want to take a deeper dive into the Orff approach, so I will be reading Discovering Orff this summer.  Maybe you want to focus on classroom management, or using exit tickets. Since I will be starting at a new school in the fall, there are some changes that I want to prepare for.  I’ll have ukuleles for the first time, so I’ll be studying up with Shelley Tomich’s Rainbow Ukulele program. Summer is also a great time to take a workshop or level, find repertoire, or plan your programs.  Of course, planning your curriculum is key, too, and I plan on going in-depth on this subject later this summer.  Whatever your goals may be, you can use the summertime to prepare.

plan for success


It’s weird, but I have trouble with this one, so this advice is as much for me as it is for you.  Go out.  Have fun.  Take a trip, even if it’s a day trip to your nearest big city.  A teacher budget can make it challenging to plan summer activities, but that just means we need to get creative!   Make a list of books, movies, and/or music you want to experience this summer.  I listen to audiobooks on my commute, but I am so looking forward to turning actual pages in a book.  Go out for ice cream.  Go for a hike.  My husband and I are on a tight budget, so other than visiting our family in Illinois, we don’t go on real vacations.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun!  We can take a day to explore a part of Phoenix, or drive up to Prescott and escape the heat for a few hours.  Get some favorite candy or popcorn, and have a movie night at home.  Just do little things that make summer special for you.   Enjoy your well-deserved break!

making the most of your summer break

Letter to an Overwhelmed Teacher

Dear overwhelmed teacher,

You started this year with so much energy and enthusiasm.  You were excited, if not a bit anxious, about seeing your students and getting started.  You pinned on Pinterest and searched Teachers Pay Teachers all summer long to prepare. You planned lessons, made manipulatives, and set up your space to be welcoming to your students.  But now the year is in full swing, and the energy is fading.  You’re exhausted and overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a music teacher.  Grading, conferences, meetings, performances, and so much more have you worked to the bone. Sleep and time to eat are distant memories, and you don’t know how to get back on track.

We have all been there. Here are some ideas to help you through.

4 tips for the overwhelmed teacher


I know, I know.  There’s a pile of papers that have been in the “to file” drawer since probably last quarter, centers materials to laminate, and your desk looks like it threw up.  But you don’t need to be perfect; you just need to do your job.  So make the desk look somewhat decent (junk drawers don’t need to be just for home) in the meantime, and  sit down to prioritize.  Make a list.  What really needs to get done today?  What can wait?  What can you delegate to a helpful student or a partner?  My husband Steve has cut out lamination almost as much as I have.  It’s okay to ask for help.  And kids LOVE to help during recess or if they finish a task before everyone else in their class.  Don’t think you have to do it all by yourself, or that everything needs to get done immediately.




This is a lesson I am working on a lot this year.  I feel like if I take time for other things, I’ll just have to do the rest of my work later.  But I’m finding that it’s so worth it.  I started to going to a gym this past year, and the time I spend at the gym is time to let out my anxiety and frustrations.  I de-stress, and I feel much better when I leave.  Working out doesn’t do it for you?  Join a local ensemble.  This year, I joined a choir, and it feels wonderful to make music with my peers, as well as socialize.  Maybe you could join a book club?  Do puzzles?  Whatever it is, find something that relaxes you, and make sure that you don’t let it fall by the wayside when work gets stressful.  A hard lesson I had to learn was that my students could tell when I was stressed.  I wasn’t as effective as a teacher, and class wasn’t as joyful for the students or myself.  So no matter what is going on at school, make sure you do some self care.




As a verbal processor, talking to someone about my day is very important.  My husband is a very good listener.  But sometimes, he just doesn’t understand what we teachers go through.  So for those times, I go to my best friend.  She’s also a music teacher, and she just understands.  I don’t need to explain to her why I’m frustrated that the copier was down during my prep.  She gets it. Talking to a friend or partner is good, but being able to vent to a fellow teacher is the most helpful.  They’ve been there, and they might even have some tips for whatever you’re struggling with.

Many districts also have Employee Assistance Programs, where you can receive a certain amount of confidential therapy sessions for free.  I highly suggest finding out what is available to you.  Teaching is a stressful job, and there is absolutely no shame in talking to someone about it.  Whether you would benefit from talking to someone every week or so, or just need to get through a particularly tough situation, therapy is an awesome option.

Teaching is a stressful job. There is no shame in talking about it.


You can only do so much.  In teaching, I find that we have trouble saying no, or setting up boundaries.  You don’t need to feel bad about saying no to joining a third committee, or not volunteering for that fifth after school event.  Until they start handing out cloning machines, there is only so much you can do.  Yes, it is good to be helpful and involved in your school.  But it is okay if there are times when you can’t help out.  And the layer of dust covering the shelves in your classroom?  It can wait.  There’s only so much you can do in a day, and that’s fine.


So please remember that you are enough, that the work you do is important, and that you are your worst critic.  You will get through this stressful time.  After all, you’re a teacher, and you can do anything.  …Just not everything.


Cookie Rhythm Centers


Okay so the score officially reads “Target: 1,542    Liz: 0.”  But seriously, that Bullseye’s Playground (aka the Dollar Spot) is addictive.  What I love most is when I can walk through this section and get new ideas for classroom activities from the cool things I find… which brings me to this subject of this post.

cookies on cookie sheet

Cookies.  With sprinkles.  I mean, how is Mrs. Cookie supposed to pass those up?!  Not a chance.  So when I saw that I could get 8 wooden cookies in a pack for $3, I immediately scooped up two boxes.  Next, I hit another teacher favorite: Dollar Tree.  I picked up two spatulas and two cookie sheets.  At Walmart, I got velcro dots with sticky backs, but that was a mistake.  Once I looked on good old Amazon, I saw that I could get WAY more bang for my buck there, so please learn from my mistake.


Next, I got to work making rhythm patterns, cutting them out on cardstock, and laminating them.  I added velcro to the back of each card, and the back of each cookie.  Here is the end result.

back with velcro


My idea?  Cookie Centers.  Students will work at this center, flipping over cookies with spatulas, and reading the rhythms on the back.  They can read the patterns by saying and clapping them, or by playing them on non-pitched percussion instruments like rhythm sticks.  I realize that I could have used a Sharpie to write rhythm patterns on the back, but I wanted to be able to use this center for any rhythm we are practicing.  With the velcro dots, I can simply switch out rhythms on the back of the cookies for another grade level to use these.  I’ve even debated using melodic patterns on the back, but I think I’ll wait for more velcro dots from Amazon first!    If you can’t find these cookies at your Target, you can always order similar ones here .   Any toy cookies will do; the point is finding another engaging way to reinforce the concepts we’re learning.

cookies with rhythm

I can’t wait to start these centers with my students soon!  They are going to love practicing their newest rhythms this way.  I promise I’ll share pictures on Instagram, so make sure you follow me there to see this center in action.


What was the latest inspiration you found in Bullseye’s Playground?  Please share it in a comment below, so we can try it, too!

Classroom Tour 2017-2018

Welcome to my classroom!  I thought I would take you on a tour of how I set up, organized, and decorated my classroom this year.  It’s my second year in this classroom, so I was able to brainstorm over the summer to see what I wanted to change up from last year.


Music Room Tour 2017-2018


ensembles and reflection

When you first enter my classroom, this is on the left.  The table is the cool down area.  This is where students go to calm down and reflect on their behavior.  For more information about behavior consequences in my classroom, you can watch this video.


Next is the word wall.  On the shelves are most of the classroom instruments, and some other supplies, like pencils, crayons, and dry erase boards and markers.  The baskets are from the Dollar Tree, and the clear bins are from Walmart.  I wanted to label all of my storage, so I hot glued labels on the bins, and used binder rings to attach labels to the baskets.  On the bottom right shelf are most of my picture books, though there are many more in my sub tub.  I have a picture book obsession, and I’m not sorry!


To the left of the whiteboard is our behavior wall.  We have a few school-wide systems in place, which need to be represented in each classroom.  Our PBIS rules, our Kids at Hope pledges, and other school-specific programs are in this prominent place, where the students can always see the expectations.  I also added some paper lanterns on the wall.  In my district, we aren’t allowed to hang anything from the ceiling, so I improvised by attaching them to the wall.


Behavior Wall


Below is the view from the risers.  My students sit on Wenger Flip Forms, so that they can see the whiteboard, behavior expectations, and word wall from their seats.  When we do movement activities, we walk around behind the risers to the big open space behind them, so that we have plenty of space to move. To the left of the whiteboard is our Points Chart, where classes earn points for being safe, respectful, and responsible. If they earn at least 25 points in a quarter, they get 20 minutes (half a period) of choice time, where they vote on their favorite music class activities.  If they earn at least 50 points, they get an entire class period (40 minutes) of choice time.  This is usually very good motivation for my classes to work hard.

classroom front view

Above the whiteboard are our Curwen hand signs posters.  Our visual music schedule is always displayed on the right side of the whiteboard, using magnet tape.  I keep the extra schedule cards in the blue basket on top of the piano.  The objectives are always posted in dry erase pockets by grade level, so that I can quickly switch them as needed.  The little white cart underneath the objectives is from Michaels, and it is where I keep the manipulatives and materials I need for the week’s lessons.


composer board and maps

On the right wall are my bulletin boards and more percussion instruments.  I like to keep maps available so we can reference where a song, musician, composer, or dance is from.  The composer bulletin board changes every two months, but it’s always a set from Music with Sara Bibee.  You can find this bulletin board kit by following this link.


Orff Instruments

Along the back wall is where we keep our Orff instruments.  I had one extra Flip Form, so I put it to use storing xylophones on it.  I labeled each instrument, and put our Orff instrument expectations on the wall above them.  My favorite part about this section?  My husband Steve was kind enough to rewrap most of the mallets.  He’s a keeper!


That’s about it for my classroom tour.  Most of what you see on the walls is included in my Rainbow Dots Music Room Decor Bundle, which you can shop here  Once I finish organizing my storage closet, I’ll give you a tour of that, as well!  Before I go, here’s another look at my classroom in the midst of setting it up this July.  What do you like about your classroom/cart setup and decor?  What would you like to change?
classroom panoramic

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

Yay first blog post!  I plan to share so many ideas here, but since it’s the beginning of 2018, let’s start by sharing my resolutions for the new year.

                                      music teacher resolutions


  • Get to know my students better.  The first year in a school, you learn the students’ names, and learn the particulars about your school.  But the second year is when you truly get to delve into the school community.  You get to know the families and students’ backgrounds much better in the second year.  Don’t get me wrong; I learned a lot about my kiddos last year.  But this year, the goal is to learn so much more about my nearly 800 students.  It really helps me connect with them and plan engaging lessons for them.
  • Modify my curriculum. The scope and sequence for General Music in my district was designed for a schedule that my school stopped using this year.  I see my kids less often this year, *insert frowny face here* so I’m trying to squeeze our curriculum to fit.  I’d like to find more “double dippers,” or songs that teach more than one concept, so that the loss of contact time doesn’t put as big a dent in our learning.
  • Organize my storage closet.  When I came to my current school, I inherited a mountain of a mess.  The large storage closet was packed with materials older than I am, broken instruments, and THREE textbook series.  Slowly but surely, I am tackling this mess. Hopefully, I’ll finish it up in 2018!
    storage closet
    my messy storage closet
  • Attend workshops.  I love attending workshops, but because of schedule conflicts, I’ve only been able to attend two workshops since moving to Arizona.  I’d love to attend more this year.  I always leave them feeling refreshed and excited to incorporate what I learned.



  • Move.  My husband and I hope to move to the East side of Phoenix before the new school year starts.  We moved from Illinois to Arizona a year and a half ago, so from one side of a city to the other hopefully won’t be too bad!
  • Work out consistently.  I had been working out three to five times a week for six months… until I started teaching after school.  Not getting home until 6:30 (after school), 8:30 (voice lessons), or 10:30 (choir practice) each weeknight brought this schedule to a screeching halt. So I need to get back to the gym. Even if it’s just on the weekends, a consistent workout routine helps me feel energized and ready to teach.
  • Sleep.  Like many of you, I’m sure, I haven’t been getting enough sleep. I’m going to make a conscious effort to get more sleep this year.  When my doctor found out a few weeks ago that I average five hours a night during the week, she (with good reason) was not happy with me.  I’m going to go to bed earlier.  Coffee helps, but it doesn’t replace a good night’s sleep.



  • Post on this blog at least once a month.  I love writing, so hopefully this will be an easy resolution to keep!  I hope to write more frequently than once a month, but monthly is a good minimum. Posts will include Kodaly-inspired activities, classroom organization ideas, ESL supports, stories from my classroom, and more.  I’m so excited share my teaching with you!
  • Update old resources.  I have so many products in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but I would love to do some updates to some of my older ones.
  • Add a new product once a month.  Last school year, I put up very few products, because I was very busy with my first year in a new school.  This school year, I’ve been better about creating resources on a regular basis, and I’d like to continue to do so.


I’m so excited for 2018!  What are your resolutions?  If you haven’t done so yet, sit down with some coffee, and really reflect on where you are, and where you want to be.  Anything special planned for this year?  Leave a comment below.  Thank you for stopping by!


coffee and notebook