Duet Directions – Procedure Tricks for Making Partners
For me, the biggest things are the little things. I love learning simple tips and tricks from other teachers that help to smooth out the wrinkles in their classrooms and make the teaching process just a little easier. Teaching a group of 20-30 students at a time can be totally daunting and I love collecting and using management tricks from my colleagues because what worked for someone else might just work for my classroom. That’s why I wanted to share a few ideas about making partners in the music room.
Classroom management is so important for your classroom and sometimes the little things can make or break your lesson. You can have the best lesson plans with assessment, reinforcement, and exploration time and have the whole thing upended by saying something like “pair off into couples.” The whole class might erupt into chaos as kids run across the room to find their best friend or maybe ask you why you said “couple” since that’s a “boyfriend/girlfriend word.” Finding partners should be easy, why did one little phrase change everything?
In this post I’ll share three tricks that I picked up from awesome educators I’ve worked with in the last few years. As I’ve spent time in workshops and trainings I’ve picked up a few little tips that can be applied to all different situations and I wanted to share with you! Teachers ask students to get into different groups all the time when teaching folk dance, working in centers, or learning new content but just because we do it a lot doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I find that choosing partners is a particularly difficult thing as it brings up the friends/not friends debate, dreaded gender boy/girl issues, and lots of other little quagmires.
Before I get to any of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up these last few years I’ll just say that you can always use vocabulary words to make the process a little easier. Why not say duet instead of pair? Trio instead of “triad”? Solo instead of “by yourself”? Make music classroom content your high-frequency vocabulary to be used over and over. The more you use words like duet, trio, and quartet the easier kids will understand them and use them on their own in everyday situations. Using vocabulary also pulls out the loaded connotations that you might get if you say something like “couple” for a group of two or “triad” for group of three. Keep things simple and stick to your vocabulary!
Peanut Butter & Jelly – They Go Together!
Kids love a good snack and understand the idea of pairing two foods together. Why not take that concept of paired foods/items and relate it to making partners? I learned this little trick from my good friend Sarah Smith when I worked with her a few years ago in a summer course about critical thinking in the Arts. Sarah is a fantastic elementary art teacher and uses this trick to get kids into the groupings that she needs for different lessons.
When kids need to be a group of two Sarah tells her students to do “Peanut Butter & Jelly” where each kid has to pair off to “find the other part of their sandwich.” They make a PB&J (group of two) with a partner and then once they’re in pairs they take the idea a step further and decide which person is peanut butter and which is the jelly. This same thing could be translated to other pairs like macaroni and cheese, paper and pencil, Mario and Luigi, or any other group of two that you want to use with kiddos.
This whole process should take a minute or two and if you’ve done it more than once the act of pairing off will go pretty quickly. When the kids are done you should have groups of two partners all around the room where one partner represents the peanut butter and one represents the jelly.
Use the different parts of the PB&J to simplify classroom procedures. When you want to give directions you can say “if you’re the peanut butter go and get a drum and if you’re the jelly stay where you are to save your spot.” Another command could be something like: “PB&J think about my question and when you’ve got an answer the peanut butter will share out with the class.”
You can easily translate the idea for classroom management with folk dancing as well. Need to make a circle: peanut butter on the outside and jelly on the inside. Longways set: Peanut butter partners on the whiteboard side of the room and jelly partners on the window side of the room. This would also translate for folk dance directions as you could have the PB be the “boy” in the pair and the J be the “girl” for those dances that require different actions for “gents and ladies.”
Lost and Found – Kids Who Can’t Find a Partner
Inevitably when students pair off you’ll have three or four kids who for some reason “can’t find partners” and just stand around until you intervene and move them towards one another. To combat these awkward moments I have another fun trick I learned a few years ago comes from my friend Jennifer Donovan. When I was taking Level I Orff Schulwerk teacher training Jennifer was my movement instructor and she had lots of fun tips and ideas to get kids to folk dance and move more easily.
Jennifer teaches students early on that the white board is the “Lost and Found” for kiddos who need a partner. Step One: When she tells the class to pair off they need to find the closest available person to be their partner. Step Two: If they can’t find anyone to be their partner they should raise their hand and walk over to the lost and found. This is a magical trick. The raised hand helps the solo student identify anyone else without a partner and flags them as someone who needs a partner as well. Moving to the central location (the lost and found) instead of just walking around the room aimlessly helps each kiddo find other partnerless kids.
If you have an even number of kids they’ll eventually pair off and any extra “non-paired” kids will walk to the lost and found, find one another, and get going with the song. The first time I tried this, unpaired students walked to the Lost and Found and then stood there not connecting with the kids standing next to them. I had to say, “so now that you’re there at the lost and found with other kids who are also lost and found… grab the person next to you, because they’re your new partner!” In the case of an odd number either you could become a partner, you could make one duet a trio, or you could have one group rotate in and out their partner.
I’ve gone as far as to add the words “Lost and Found” underneath my whiteboard to further cement this understanding of where to go. If you have a SMART board you might want to choose a different place to put the lost and found since kids standing next to and touching the SMART board will start messing with your computer.
Tie Partners – Visual Cues to Help Make Partners
When you ask kids to partner off for folk dance it can either be easy and simple or it can be a total hassle. Depending on the class and their temperament, my kids will be really relaxed about choosing a partner or they can be finicky and picky. If those fussier kids get their way, choosing partners will take so much more time than it should and someone will end up with hurt feelings.
Neckties make choosing a partner much more simple since it takes the guess work out of “who can be my partner,” cutting down on transition time. I start by having half the class come and put on a necktie. This takes only a moment since most of my neckties are pretty boring and dull and kids don’t take forever choosing a “favorite.” Sometimes I’ll even cut down on this process and hand out ties so that kids don’t get hung up on choosing.
Once half of the students have with a tie around their neck I tell the other students to pair off with someone who has a tie. “Your duet has to have one kid with a tie and one kid without a tie.” This is a little step but it makes choosing partners a little easier and definitely speeds up the process.
You can also use this for classroom management. If you have two or three kid who have trouble working together give them all ties. That way they have to partner with someone else and don’t even have the option of partnering with one another.
I did a whole blog post about using neckties for classroom management, folk dancing, and creating partners. Read the whole thing here!
These are just three of my favorite tricks for making pairs in the music room though there are tons of little tidbits and ideas out there. I love listening in at Orff chapter workshops, state professional development conferences, and other places where teachers share ideas. You never know what little gems you’ll pick up along the way that will transform your teaching.
Do you have a favorite tip, trick, or saying that helps get kids into groups of two? Share you idea below in the comments!