Integrating the Arts in a Choir Rehearsal


Maria Wilson

Maria Wilson

A couple of years ago, I.J. Holton Intermediate School was selected into a national program called Turnaround Arts. We music educators understand that the arts can transform school environments, boost academic achievement, and improve student engagement. Turnaround arts believes all educators can use the arts in their classrooms to have the same results. The arts no longer become an afterthought or left to the specialists in the school, but the core around all instruction. While I firmly know the importance of arts education, my “in-the-box” thought was that I don’t need to learn how to integrate the arts in my classroom. After all, music and singing are art forms. However, I found that even arts integration can positively affect even my rehearsal. Behaviors problems decreased, knowledge of content increased, and our classroom community strengthened.

The Focus Five Acting Right program is the arts integration tool that our school decided to focus on. The tools scaffold each other. At first, you will want to teach the varying skills in order. However, once they have been taught, you can use them in your classroom at any time. Think of them as tools in a toolkit that you pull out when necessary.

  • Actor’s Toolbox. Students learn to control their bodies and behavior with this skill. They sign a physical contract that when they enter the classroom, they agree to concentrate, cooperate, use and control their bodies, voices, and imaginations. At the beginning of the school year, I do this more frequently in my classroom. After a while, I use this as a quick reminder: remember the contract. Or I’ll tell a student what part of the contract they aren’t following. Search in YouTube “Ms Brown’s Actor’s Toolbox” to see the Actor’s Toolbox used in a classroom. Here’s the YouTube link:
  • Concentration Circle. Students need to build up their brain in order to concentrate and focus for longer periods of time. Students stand in a circle in a neutral position with their eyes fixed to a focal point. There are levels to this game that get more difficult, but also help students build up to longer times of concentration. I give every student a gem to hold. If their bodies don’t stay in neutral position or their eyes wander, they lose the gem. I’ve also used jolly ranchers instead of gems.
    • Level One. Students stand in neutral position with eyes fixed on a focal point for one to two minutes.
    • Level Two. Teacher walks around the circle.
    • Level Three. Pick a student to walk around the circle.
    • Level Four. Pick a different student to walk around the circle to make faces.
    • Level Five. Pick a student to walk around the circle and make sounds.
    • Level Six. You or a student walks around the circle and asks “Please Smile”.

With this activity, have students reflect and share what they are doing to concentrate so that they don’t lose their gem. The first time I do this activity, many students lose at Level Two. By the end of the year, many can do level six without any problems.

  • Cooperation Challenge. Students learn to work together to complete a task by getting into groups. To show me that they are in a group. They have to stand in a circle and place their hands on each other’s shoulders. I have students who will place a finger instead of a hand. I explain that if they do so, they are not in a group. If students don’t complete a task, I make they all sit down. This is called the observation deck. In the observation deck, we talk about why a task didn’t get completed. Here are some tasks:
    • By the time I count to 6 every group must have at least one boy.
    • By the time I count to 5 get in groups of 5.
    • By the time I count to 10 get in groups with the number of letters in the word “staff” (any word).
    • By the time I count to 8, every group can only have one person born in March.
    • By the time I count to 7, only one person in your group can have Converse shoes.
    • By the time I count to 4, only two sopranos in each group.

The tasks are endless. Have fun!

  • Tableau. Students create a still picture to communicate a thought, a story, or an emotion. Students work in groups. They think what they want to communicate and how they want to communicate that with their actions and bodies. They share their thoughts with the members in their group. They have a plan: What should we make? What parts do we need? What part will you play? They practice creating their picture. When groups share their still picture, they must do so without talking, only using their bodies (no props), and holding their picture (their bodies) for one minute or longer. Students in the class then share out what they saw. They offer feedback not praise. I’ve used tableau to have students express their understanding of text in a song to their knowledge of music theory.

Doing all the above activities in your rehearsal will be inconvenient, take time, full of failure, and/or even messy and chaotic. However, they will build skills in our students to become better musicians and people.

Thinking outside the box isn’t easy, but it is worth it.