1st Day of School: Ukulele Lesson

This post is an outline showing you how I lead the first ukulele lesson for a class of beginners. I have used this lesson with 3rd graders and 7th graders. In a few months I will try it with 2nd graders and post an update later to share how that went.
Adjust the lesson and language to fit your audience.

If you haven't purchased ukuleles yet, click here to see my recommended ukes
Ukuleles I buy and avoid for my classroom


Preparation

Your To-Do List

The teacher must prepare the instruments, curriculum, and classroom for this lesson. 
  1. Number all ukuleles
  2. Number the shelf/wall space where you want the students to put the ukuleles after using them
  3. Tune all ukuleles except for one. See The 5-minute Speech below to read my rationale. 
  4. Make copies of Mary Had a Little Lamb
    • laminate these copies
    • Don't know where to find these? Click here: Free PDF Sheet Music. Scroll down a bit to find the songs
  5. Print & Laminate Chord Charts
  6. Put colored stickers on the ukulele fretboard
    • Red of C chord
    • Green for F chord
    • Blue for G chord
  7. To see a video on my rationale for using stickers, click here: Putting Stickers on an Ukulele: Ukulele Education Series Video 2
  8. Set up the chairs and stands
    • Rationale: The students usually do this themselves, but on the first day, I set them up so that the students know what I want the classroom to look like and so that we maximize the amount of time we spend on ukuleles. 
  9. Memorize the music you will be teaching (Mary Had a Little Lamb, in this case)
  10. Set up the camera and projector
    • Rationale: I teach tab using the document camera. To see me in action, click here to see my YouTube video
  11. Plan out the student groups (2 or 3 students per group)
  12. Print and laminate 2 other songs 
    • Rationale: to be prepared in case there are students who already know how to read tab and need an additional challenge, and to motivate groups to work a little faster





The Lesson Plan

Objectives


  • Students will read tablature, a simplified form of music notation transferable to playing guitar.
  • Students will play Mary Had a Little Lamb on ukulele
  • Students will perform Mary Had A Little Lamb for their peers.


Presenting the Content

Planning

Time the presentation of content to 5 minutes. More than that is too much information for new learners, less is more. 

When the alarm rings, I will stop speaking. Students love when I stop. Not only is it funny, but it builds their trust in me. They believe I will do what I say I will do. 

Other good reasons to keep the speech brief:
  • It is easy for a teacher to get carried away talking about exciting, new content
  • I don't want to saturate the students with information they will forget.
  • It will be easier to remember a few key points and communicate expectations. 

The 5-minute Speech

Let 1-2 student volunteers perform. Read the room here... If your students' attention span is short, only listen to 1 volunteer.


Give the students 3-5 more minutes to practice.

Expectations: 

You will lose the privilege to play the ukulele if you:
  • Throw the ukulele
  • Hitting someone/something with the ukulele
  • Not putting your ukulele away in the right place
  • Playing the ukulele when the teacher asked you to go to rest position
  • Changing the tuning pegs 
You will be invited to play the ukulele again if you:
  • Handle the ukulele with care, keeping it away from harm
  • Put the ukulele away on the correct space in the shelf/wall
  • Letting your teacher know if the ukulele doesn't sound right, so that your teacher can tune it
  • Letting your teacher know if you see damages on the ukulele
  • Asking good questions about how to play the instrument
  • Going to rest position when the teacher asks you to do so.

Now the teacher will show the students how to read tab. If you need help here, watch my video: How to teach students to read tab or read my article here: Ukulele Education Series: Reading Tablature.
  • Chose 2 more student volunteers to try playing as well. 
  • By this time more students will be anxious and excited to try to play too. 
  • Demonstrate rest position and ask students to go to rest position when the hear the bell and when you raise your hand. 
  • Hand out 1 ukulele per group
  • Ask students to go to Rest Position.

Playing Music (Guided Practice)

Ask a volunteer to perform for the class. 

Prep your class on how to be a good audience
  • Body facing the performer
  • Body parts are kept quiet
  • Nodding head with the music is encouraged
  • Laughing at someone who is trying is not great audience behavior
  • Using uplifting language is very nice
  • Clapping at the end of the song/excerpt is very kind of you, even if the performance was not the best. 
Select 1 or 2 more volunteers to perform

Rationale: Students are much more likely to lose their anxiety performing in front of others if they have an encouraging audience and positive experience, especially in the beginning.

Tip: reward good listeners often in the beginning. I use an "active listening" button on Class Dojo and I turn the speakers off during the performance. 



Group work (Independent Practice)

  • Give class 3-5 minutes to work together to try and decode the tablature
  • Let the students discuss and try to play the songs
  • Micromanage if students "hog" the instrument (use a timer and ask students to rotate if needed).
  • At the end of the 5 minutes, have the students go to rest position. If any students continue playing, gently take the ukulele (without making a scene of it). The objective is to get the student to listen to the next set of instructions and to send the message: "when I ask you to stop, I mean it."

Performances

  • Ask the class if there are any students who would like to play the first line (or the first few notes of the song) for the class. 
    • Why this is important: It is much more inspiring for the students to see a peer play an instrument for the first time than it is to see the teacher do it. Students expect the teacher to be able to play the instrument with proficiency. The real excitement comes when they get to see someone their age do it!
  • Remind the class how to be a good audience member
  • If the performance was accurate, you can reward this behavior by giving the student their own ukulele. They have earned it!
  • Let the class know you gave this student an ukulele because they handled the instrument with care, went to rest position when you asked, and performed for the class.
  • Give the class 3-5 more minutes to practice
  • Chose 2-3 volunteers to perform.
Tip: Read the room! Don't spend too much time listening to others perform. The students will be antsy because they want to continue playing this cool new instrument!


Closure

Ask students to go to rest position
Draw students' attention to the number on the ukuleles
Draw students' attention to the shelf/wall space where they should put away the ukuleles
Demonstrate how to put the ukulele away and then ask a volunteer to follow your example

    • Make corrections/give feedback as necessary.
  • Ask 5-8 other students to put their ukuleles on the wall/shelf.
    • Make corrections/give feedback as necessary.
    • Why is dismissal so slow? I know I am stressing this point quite a bit, but after learning that most damages to the ukuleles happen during dismissal, I really focus on helping my students develop good habits during our lesson's closure.Students love structure. Follow the same procedure every class for a couple of weeks. After the habit is established, your students will follow the procedure independently.

Tips: Rewarding your class

Groups who finish Mary Had A Little Lamb get their own ukulele and a new song to learn. Everyone in the group needs to finish the song before they can move on to the next song.

Rationale:
  • The group will help the student(s) and, let's face it, sometimes the students listen to their peers better than the listen to their friends. 
  • Students who teach content to other students remember the content for much longer. Everybody wins!
  • Sometimes you will see group pride will develop and sometimes new friendships also spring up
Let students choose between the other songs you have printed -giving students a choice in their education is empowering and builds independence!


Mistakes to avoid:

  • Talking too much when presenting the ukulele for the first time. 
    • Instead try to get the students playing as soon as possible, even if it is just one student who is volunteering to try to read tablature. 

  • Showing off your skills on ukulele. 
    • Instead: save your debut for a later time when the high-achieving students feel that they have learned everything there is to know about the ukulele. 

  • Losing your temper when the students play while others are performing or while you are talking
    • Instead: notice positive behavior and reward it. If the student doesn't get the hint, then whisper in their ear or pass them a note. Try to correct behavior discretely at first. Most of the time when a student is playing, it is because they are excited about what they are learning, and not because they want to upset the teacher. 

  • Dismiss all the students at once, creating chaos by the ukulele shelf/storage space
    • Instead: end the class 3-5 minutes before the bell rings and dismiss by groups, student number, birthday month, or any other way that you want. 







If you're ready to order ukuleles...

Here are the ones I have used with my students and would buy again.
















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