Visual Schedules: A Music Class Game Changer

Today I thought I would write about a little change that made a big difference in my teaching: visual schedules. When I was in school for my ESL endorsement, I heard over and over again how important visuals are for ELL students.  But some of our readings also mentioned the benefits of using visuals to show the students their schedule.  I had seen previously how helpful a visual schedule can be for students on the autism spectrum, and now I was reading that it was helpful for my ELL students. Okay.  I can take a hint.  I should try this.


So I came up with cards for all of the possible activities we do in my classroom, printed them on cardstock, laminated them, and put magnet strips on the back.  I bought a basket from the Dollar Tree, put the cards in it, and placed it on my piano. Since my whiteboard is magnetic, I was able to put these agenda cards on the whiteboard, near our objectives.  This worked out perfectly for me, because I’m required to present and display the objectives at the beginning of class. Now I can present the objectives, and show how our agenda for the day will help us reach these goals.visual music schedule front of room



  • If you have an interactive whiteboard, you could project a visual schedule using SMART Notebook or ActivInspire software.
  • You can print small versions of your agenda cards, put velcro on a laminated piece of cardstock, and move agenda cards around on the velcro for individual students.  This is an especially helpful accommodation for students on the autism spectrum, who benefit from schedules and routines.
  • Instead of magnets, hole punch the four corners of your cards, and use binder rings to attach them.


visual music schedule cards

Now, aside from looking pretty and making my administrators happy, posting a visual schedule has helped my students.  Not only do my ELL and special needs students have an idea of what will happen next, but also I’ve basically eliminated the question, “Are we playing a game today?” in my classroom.  Every student should know what we are and aren’t doing.  If they ask, I gesture to the schedule that we already discussed at the beginning of class.  This has cut down on confusion and interruptions during lessons, and I love it!  I’ve made duplicates of some frequently used cards, so that I can display the same activity twice in a lesson (i.e. two “Board Work” cards for two separate times at the board).  I’ve been using the cards for over three years now, and they’ve held up very nicely.  Every now and then, I wipe them down to get any stray dry erase marker off of them, but they’re still in great shape.  I’m still amazed that one small change has had such an effect on my classroom!  If you’d like, you can find the Visual Music Schedule Cards I use here.




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!