Tips for Teaching Large Groups, Part 1

Orchestra director Lindsay Ladman deals with large group classes of 40-50 elementary students twice a week. Large class sizes can present many challenges for teaching beginners. Here are some teaching tips:

  • Time management is essential. Efficient planning and teaching makes for efficient learning time.
  • Eliminate “think time” or “down time”—you’ll lose them if you pause for this! You’ve got to constantly keep things moving.
  • Stay one step ahead of the students. Anticipate and plan ahead for their questions, actions, reactions, and responses.
  • Don’t dwell on tuning—get them “close enough” so that you actually have time to teach.
  • Let the “little things” go. Pick your battles.
  • Take care of instrument repair and other student issues before and after class only.
  • Develop and practice a “quiet signal” so students know when you’re ready to start class, give further instruction, etc.
  • Develop and practice specific procedures for unpacking, tuning, packing up, instrument storage, entering the room, and other daily activities.
  • Try starting pizzicato in large classes first. Isolate concepts. It will save time in the long run if you develop good playing position and learn songs first, then add the bow. Don’t try to teach too much all at once—you’ll lose them and have a lot of frustrated kids!
  • Use student helpers! Teach them how set up the room for class. (You’re usually running in at the last minute from another school anyway, and they love to help at this age!). Teach them how to take down the room after class, as well. Ask reliable students to help during class whenever possible—passing out worksheets, helping another student, running a CD player, shutting the door, etc.

NAfME member Lindsay Ladman is the orchestra director at Lakewood Middle School and Heusner and Sunset Elementary Schools in the USD305 School District in Salina, Kansas. Ladman is also the Tri-M advisor at Lakewood Middle School, winner of the 2010 Chapter of the Year in the junior division.

— Nicole Springer. June 9, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.