Life After Certification – Long-Range Planning

Life After Certification – Long-Range Planning

     Hello, my name is Erin Clevenger, and I am a planner.  I know many very successful music educators who can’t tell you what they’re teaching next month, or even next week, but for me that uncertainty would drive me bonkers.  I think my biggest challenge is the overwhelming amount of choices I have and the freedom to make my own decisions on which activities and songs to use.  In comparison, one of my good friends teaches second grade and has a set math curriculum she has to follow with lessons and worksheets already decided for her.  I sometimes have a love-hate relationship with this freedom I’m given as a music teacher – I enjoy making my curriculum my own, but it is also a lot of responsibility and work to pick the right songs and activities!

To help me keep my head from exploding, I have adopted a long-range planning system that helps me basically plan out how my year will unfold.  Let me, as briefly as possible, explain how my long-range planning works.

  • First, break up the year into half-month chunks (usually 3-4 lessons for my three day rotation schedule).
  • Second, assign each chunk an over-arching topic, creating units (some units may need to last for two or more chunks).
  • Third, write down all the ideas you can think of for each unit.
  • Fourth, when it comes time to start planning for the next week or two, choose your lesson ideas from this list.

Wow, when written like this it seems so easy, but in reality it takes me quite a lot of time in the summer to create my year plan (especially those two middle steps).


This summer I took Orff Level I and after the course was over, I realized my previous year plan was no longer going to be sufficient.  This plan included units such as: transportation (K), insects (1st), fall (K – 2nd), patriotic (all), treble clef (3rd), jazz and blues (4th), and bucket drumming (5th).

Previously if a song had the thematic qualities I was looking for, especially in the younger grades, it could be part of my plan.  Sadly, many other great songs had to be pushed to the side since they weren’t about the right topics.  Fortunately, Level I showed me that many of these thematic songs and activities, while adorable, had no musical reason for being in my curriculum.

After Level I finished, I spent the summer revamping my year plan.  I didn’t want to get rid of the units idea altogether, but the question now became: How do I make units out of this new hodge-podge of ideas?  One of my fellow Level I students had an idea which I quickly adopted and adapted – she plans units based on rhythmic concepts, melodic concepts, form, tempo, etc.

This is what my basic year plan looks like now (bear with me, it is a lot of stuff!):

  • August – Name Games/Songs and Rules/Procedures
  • Beginning September – Classroom Instrument Activities
  • End September – Instrument Categorization (ex – tuned versus untuned for 1st and instrument families for 3rd)
  • Beginning October – Rhythm (concepts broken down by grade level, such as quarter rest for 1st and sixteenth notes for 3rd)
  • End October – Halloween
  • Beginning November – Rhythm Continued
  • End November – Thanksgiving/Winter (K – 1), Concert Prep (2 – 3), Recorder Review (4 – 5)
  • December – Winter (K – 1), Concert Prep then Winter (2 – 3), Recorder Karate (4 – 5)
  • January – Melody (concepts broken down by grade level, such as up and down for Kindergarten and la pentatonic for 4th)
  • Beginning February – Concert Prep (K and 5), Patriotic (1 – 4)
  • End February – Style/Form (concepts broken down by grade level, such as AB form for 2nd and jazz/blues for 4th)
  • March – Expression Markings (concepts broken down by grade level, such as crescendo/decrescendo for 2nd and accent for 3rd)
  • April – Concert Prep (1 and 4), Movement (2), Recorder (3), Folk Dance (5) [unit for K is still undecided]
  • Beginning May – Mallet Madness (all)
  • End May – Watch Musicals

As you may have noticed, I still have a couple of those cutesy units where we do things that aren’t necessarily curriculum based, but I pared them down to the ones I love most (usually seasonal).

Now every new song or activity I encounter, I have to think “What will my students learn from this?” then write it on my master list under that topic.  While the list of potential lessons is still a bit overwhelming, it is much more manageable now that they are broken down by concepts.  Also, I feel that planning my lessons based on curricular units will ensure that I teach all the things they should be learning instead of missing something in the shuffle.

I do not believe that this way of planning is the only way to be effective; like I said, there are many successful educators who cover everything and plan constantly throughout the year.  For me as a relatively new teacher, long-range planning keeps my head on straight and helps me stay on track throughout the year.  Now the trick will be actually executing this beast of a plan!


Erin Clevenger

Erin Clevenger has been teaching K-5 music in University City, Missouri since 2011, has completed Orff Levels I and II, and is active in the St. Louis Orff chapter. Before that Erin had a variety of professional experiences, including substitute teaching for a variety of grade levels and subject areas, teaching general music to fifth and sixth graders, working with teenagers with developmental disabilities, and teaching English at summer camps in Italy. Erin attended Truman State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Voice and Master of Arts in Education.

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