Happy Teachers Day (Part 2) 5 Lesson Ideas

Updated: May 4, 2020

This is part 2 of the Teacher's Day post I wrote, and I wanted to share some quick ideas on enhancing the lesson experience for the student/teacher.

I mainly work with young beginner children in a one-to-one setting so some of these ideas may not apply for all of you, but I hope you find useful ideas to incorporate into your teaching, whether you teach in a studio or go to students' houses!

1. Use small props & mini instruments

Using small instruments are great for quick listening / rhythm activities. I like to keep claves and small bells and children love to play these. Older students also can benefit from using focused props like this to go over challenging spots. I also use tennis balls for aural and rhythm activities, where I ask the student to bounce the ball on the beat (they love this one!). You could also have a scarf to experience phrasing / time. Variety is key: the idea is to have many different ways of presenting the same sort of activities up our sleeve so that the activities remain fresh and exciting for the children. If you have to carry these around for individual lessons, keep them small and as un-fiddly as possible.

2. Use a visual guide (like a whiteboard!)

You don't need a massive commercial whiteboard for this - I DIY my own and it can be a real game changer. I use this the most out of any prop I have, because it's quick and helps illustrate a point. I use a hard plastic sleeve where I can place an A4 sheet inside to use as "backgrounds." It's easy and quick to jot down new notes, chords or signs, as well as a quick visual tool for explaining new concepts (even fingerings!). I use different coloured whiteboard markers and the students really enjoy these.

You can download a set of FREE DIY Whiteboard Templates here As usual, these are free for personal use.

3. Set specific goals

I've posted about effective practice ideas previously, but identifying and verbalising specific goals is important in instilling independent learning habits in students. Say specific things like: "let's see if you can go home and work on balancing the RH and LH." The concept needs to be covered in the lesson, of course, but it's more effective than saying: "ok, go home and practise until you can play this piece better."  Students usually like to know how they are doing - making a point of noticing when the student has put in effort is exactly the thing they need to boost their willingness to practise. It's helpful to give an encouraging reward - I have stickers handy - and be rather generous with them. It's a small piece of encouragement, and one that is 'earned' not just by showing up to the lesson but by the progress of individual pieces (even a scale, an exercise). I usually ask my students to collect 3 stickers to "pass" an exercise or piece (but sometimes more if the pieces are more difficult). With technical work, I ask them to collect as many stickers as possible, especially leading up to an exam. Another way I use to convey this message is the system of 'half tick,' '3/4 tick' and 'full tick' - explain what the student needs to do in order to get the next tick.

While on the one hand, I hope that students understand that practice is not something that should necessarily be rewarded and their self-discipline should keep them on track (haha!), through experience we know that this message is easily lost on younger students. Besides, inserting a bit of fun never hurt anyone! I've found more students become proactive in their own practice by the 3-sticker method, rather than when I used to only give a default sticker at the end of the lesson. They walk in to their lesson and say things like: I think I can get my last sticker (or a full tick) today - before they even sit down at the piano! You may not see the immediate effect of this, but time spent on encouragement is so valuable that I wanted to mention it here.

4. Design bite-sized activities

For many young children, time passes slowly, they are still learning to focus and easily get bored! Some children would find it too boring to sit at the piano for the whole lesson or they might literally just fall asleep! To keep things interesting, use lots of little pieces, activities and games, that are leading up to the "repertoire" piece they're currently learning (or upcoming) and make sure they're all tying in together. With some older students, I give them a bigger piece and call it a 'project' piece so they know they're going to be spending quite a bit of time on that piece compared with the smaller pieces which they tend to finish within 3-4 weeks.

Preparation is key - try to look for short 4-bar or 8-bar exercises or mini-pieces that demonstrate a new concept they're about to learn in their piece, or just write one if you can't find one suitable. You could use the whiteboard (mentioned above) to quickly compose a 'sightreading' piece that contains what you'd like the student to notice in their music. These activities are like breadcrumbs that lead them seamlessly through the lesson - if done right, when you reach the challenging part of the lesson (or the piece), the student will be so eager to tell you: I know this, this was the same as before! It's EASY!  5. Use technology

Technology used effectively can make lessons exciting and fun for students. Some examples of this may be: 

  • Store backing tracks for your students' pieces on your phone/tablet and ask the student to play along. I use a bluetooth speaker which provides full volume. Young students find it an extra challenge to keep up with the track, just like they would with a metronome, but this is more fun!

  • Get the parent(s)/guardian involved and ask them to send audio/video of the student's practice at home. This way, you can monitor your student's progress and give them valuable feedback or encouragement between lessons.

  • Use fun apps - eg. (1) A spinning wheel app to decide which scale the student should do for the day, or (2) A fun metronome app that has different rhythms or drum beats, or (3) A voice recorder app to record snippets during lessons to discuss details with the student, or (4) A speed changer app that changes the tempo of backing tracks.

  • Design quizzes (you could use Google Forms, etc.) for the students to do in the lesson or for homework - or you could search online for some shared by other teachers, too.

  • Listen to some repertoire as a music appreciation activity, to introduce composers or new styles.

I usually use the iPad/tablet in a small portion of my lessons, but some students may enjoy having their lessons solely on their iPad/tablet and it's possible to make this work if you're willing to try this mode of learning. I write on the digital copy of the score with my Apple Pencil and Airdrop the image to the student - for some students, this works wonders. I hope you find these helpful and please leave any comments and suggestions below if you have ideas to share! Happy Teaching! Misa xx