Lesson Planning for a Year of Uncertainty

By NAfME Member Elizabeth Caldwell

This blog was first published on “Organized Chaos.”

Lesson planning and curriculum development for general music is difficult enough in normal times, but this year presents challenges far beyond anything we have seen in our lifetimes! We don’t know if we’ll be teaching on a cart, in a “socially distant” music room, online, or all of the above. We don’t know if we’ll be allowed to sing with students, if we’ll be able to use instruments, whether we’ll be able to have ensembles or performances. It’s a lot to think about!

In the midst of all of this, it’s important to get laser-focused on the true essence of our curriculum, and set up our long-range plans to adapt to a year of change, reduced class time, and new ways of teaching and learning. Here’s what I’m doing to prepare my lesson plans for the fall.

lesson planning

1. Solidify Scope and Sequence

I am so grateful to have a clear list of skills and concepts for each grade level outlined in my curriculum and sequenced across grade levels! If you don’t already, it’s so important to have a solid list of skills and concepts you plan to address in each grade level to be able to create any semblance of usable plans for the fall. The key is to make sure you’re thinking about the “what” and not the “how”—the skills and concepts, not the forms of “musicking” and materials. Here are some resources to help you improve what you may already have from district curriculum, state standards, textbooks, etc., or create your own if you need it:

general music curriculum writing

lesson planning broad to specific 

2. Prioritize Key Concepts

We already have had to narrow down our curriculum to the most essential with the limited class time we have in a normal school year, but this year is going to be even more limited, no matter what our teaching ends up looking like! I went through my list of skills and concepts for each grade and marked which ones were the highest priority: which ones do I build on from year to year, which ones take the most practice to learn, and which ones are most critical to overall musicianship? 


3. Map Out the Year

I have always been a huge advocate for mapping out which concepts I’ll be teaching in each grade broken down by month, and this is another component of my curriculum that I am so grateful to have in place! Rather than starting over from scratch with a completely new monthly outline, I prioritized the concepts within each month based on my overall priorities for the year so that I only have a couple of concepts I truly need to focus on each month. If you don’t already have concepts outlined for the year by month, this is a critical next step to being able to stay on track throughout this year of uncertainty! Here are some posts on how to set up year-long outlines:

long range planning

general music lesson planning tiered approach


4. Start “Lesson Banks” for Multiple Scenarios

There’s no way around the fact that we’re going to be reinventing ourselves throughout this school year—it seems very unlikely that we’ll be teaching the same way for the entire school year, so we need to be prepared to change and adapt. Having the year mapped out by concepts makes that a lot easier, because regardless of how we have to teach we can continue to stay on track with the sequence of skills we’ve mapped out for the year, keeping the same “what” while we adjust the “how.”

To give myself a bit of a head start on the “how,” I am setting up places to list ideas for how to address each concept for the month for in-person modified teaching and for distance teaching, organized by month within each grade level. To make it easy to store and find everything, I’ve set up my yearly outlines in Google drive and linked each month to folders for in-person and distance teaching ideas with two icons next to each month.

kindergarten calendar

I already have my regular lesson plans organized this way, with lists of lesson activities under each concept. Those can be modified for social distancing, etc. (see the “tiered approach” link above for details on how I set those up). I am focusing on starting lists of ideas for distance learning for each of those concepts as well, and planning to add to those as I go through the year (and as the need arises). It will be important to have both so I can switch back and forth more quickly without losing too much learning time!


Jump Start Your Plans!

I know everyone is in the same boat I am, trying to come up with some sense of a plan with very little information and so many unknowns. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend signing up for my free email course on curriculum design and lesson planning! It’s not specific to this upcoming school year but will give you a strong foundation for creating or updating existing scope and sequence, yearly outlines, and monthly lesson banks, including the templates I used to set up my normal curriculum resources. I’m also happy to talk through specific considerations for the unique situation we’re in this fall and your own individual teaching scenarios as you go through the material! Sign up for free here:

tiered lesson planning


I am also making the specific outlines I have created for this upcoming school year, with the filled-in monthly outlines, concept lists by grade, and the template you see above to link each month to in-person and distance teaching ideas, in one download. You can use those templates on your computer to link to specific files or upload them to Google drive like I have, and the monthly concepts are fully editable so you can fit them to whatever scope and sequence you have:

general music yearly outlines

If you want to access my full curriculum, with all of the lesson plans and materials I would use in a normal year organized by month in this sequence, you can get those here. Although many of the lesson activities will have to be modified depending on the situation, it will give you a solid starting point to adapt from and clarify how I address each of the concepts each month where the rubber meets the road. If you already own and use my curriculum, the additional resource above will be very helpful for adapting to whatever comes our way in the new year—you can quickly link the current materials for in-person teaching like I have, and add your own lesson ideas to adapt to whatever teaching situation you find yourself in as well. You’ll find lots of ideas for teaching many of those fundamental concepts and skills in the posts I shared for school closures this spring—check my closure page for all of those lesson ideas (and check back for ongoing updates):

distance learning for school closures

I hope this helps you wrap your head around the upcoming school year and relieves some anxiety by helping you feel more prepared for the fall! I am learning and adapting right along with you all, and plan to continue to update the resource above and write more here on the blog as I learn more together with you. Stay up-to-date on my latest thoughts, posts, and resources through my free email newsletter—click here to sign up if you aren’t on my list already!


About the author:

music teacherNAfME member Elizabeth Caldwell has been teaching elementary general music and choir for over a decade and cannot imagine ever doing anything else. She is also the author of the website, Organized Chaos Music, where she regularly shares organization strategies, lesson plans, and other ideas to encourage purposeful creativity in the music classroom. She holds her B.M.E from Wheaton College (IL) and her M.M.E. from Boston University, and was named Teacher of the Year in 2018. She has presented on lesson planning, restorative behavior management, effective recorder teaching, world music, National Core Arts general music standards, and other music education topics at conferences around the globe, and teaches an e-course on lesson planning through her website.

Follow Elizabeth on FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube, and Pinterest.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

August 19, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

August 20, 2020


  • Uncategorized


August 20, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

Music Inclusion Hub from elementary to college. Your digital hub for culturally responsive, intersectional, mixed media music resources.
Advertisement: Find your next position! Add your profile to the NAfME Career Center. Click to learn more.
2024 Biennial Music Research and Teacher Education Conference September 25 to 28