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How to Use Listening Glyphs

What are listening glyphs?  It’s okay if you don’t know, but trust me you are going to want to use them to focus your students for listening activities.

I didn’t know what a glyph was until WELL after I graduated from college with a teaching degree.  Why?  At the time it wasn’t a tool that was used by music teachers for any practical purpose.  Classroom teachers had been using them like graphs for a long time.  They were a way to share information in a pictorial way that students could easily interpret.

Today they are a staple in my classroom.  I use them consistently with first through sixth grades as a way to focus their attention while listening to selected pieces of music in class.  For many years I used only listening journals, which were essentially just questions about the piece that students filled in like a form.  I asked them about tempo, timbre, genre, meter, mood and more.  This worked well for older students but in my younger classes, students that struggled with reading were often left behind.  Instead of listening to the music they were trying to read all of the questions and weren’t focused much at all. 
 Black History Month Listening GLyphs

So, instead of 8 to 15 questions to answer I considered what 3-5 essential things I hoped they would hear in each piece.  Did it matter if my third grader knew that instrument was a trombone if they could identify the sound as brass?  Could I live with asking my second graders if the dynamics changed or stayed the same instead of having them write the words “forte” or “piano”? Would I be okay with asking my 5th graders if the beat of the music was grouped in twos or threes instead of asking them to identify the time signature?

Uhm…yes.  I was still using appropriate assessments AND I was using my precious class time more efficiently.  Students LOVED “just coloring” and listening to music.

The first listening glyphs I created were simple and could be used with any piece of music.  I used them mostly with first through third graders.  I had them color pieces of the picture based on what they heard in a piece of music.  What happened was MAGIC.  Active listening.  Engaged learners.  More time spent listening to music than talking about it.

Before i began using listening glyphs it was difficult for me to focus younger students for 2-3 minutes of listening time and nearly impossible to do it more than once without adding movement, props, drama, etc…  Don’t get me wrong.  I still do those things, but glyphs gave students an opportunity to respond individually to the piece rather than as a group. 

1.        Plan a piece that is interesting and has elements that your students can identify.  I have a couple of sets that I think are the easiest to start with.  I would recommend them because they are really just print and go. 
John Williams Listening Glyphs – Who doesn’t love his music?  This set has some kid favorites from Star Wars, Superman and Jurassic Park.
Nutcracker Listening Glyphs – Great for December and January or anytime really, these glyphs celebrate Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet.
Armed Forces Glyphs – I use these glyphs all year long.  This set contains patriotic songs in addition to the songs of the U.S. armed forces.  My 5th and 6th graders love this set the most.  They rarely get an opportunity to color so this is such a great change of pace.  I must warn you though.  The older kids love doing these SO much that they take MUCH longer than the lower grades to complete the same glyph. 
Christmas Listening Glyphs - These are fabulous for December.  This set contains Christmas favorites performed by traditional artists.  It also comes with a version that doesn't specify a specific artist so that you can use it with whatever version you like.  So much fun!
Black History Month Listening Glyphs - This is a very versatile set.  Although it was created for Black History Month, it can be used all year long.  There's a wide variety of genres included in this set and I've linked you to a Spotify playlist if you are in a pinch for the music. 

2.  If you haven’t already taught your students how to QUICKLY and efficiently get supplies and get back to their seat, do it now.  Plan it.  Teach it.  Practice it.  This is essential to doing any kind of writing or coloring activity.  If listening glyphs will be one of your first writing activities with a group, you need to have a plan for getting supplies and you need to teach them how you want it done.

In my classroom I send students to get their supplies by rows.  Traffic moves in a circle as students go to a table for paper and crayons, move ahead to a tub about 7 or 8 feet away with clipboards and then move back to the carpet or their chairs.  It is important to put supplies in a couple of spots so that the line moves quickly. 

In your classroom you may find that line leaders or row captains can get the supplies and pass them out quickly.  You might also consider having students get supplies on their way to their chair and just placing them under it until you are ready.  Whatever you decide, be clear with your instructions.  I often give the directions and then say something like “Paper, crayons, clipboard, carpet!” and have them repeat it.

I keep crayons in a plastic soap box.  Students can’t really see through them so there’s no picking through a pile to get the best box.  Storing them this way also keeps them from getting mixed up quite as much as other ways I’ve tried.  If possible, make sure students have their own supplies.  Sharing crayons for listening glyphs gives reason for conversations that you don’t want during listening time.

3.  Have students read through the worksheet with you.  Identify what you’ll be listening for and then have them put the sheets down.  Allow no coloring, writing or talking during the first listening.

4.  After we’ve listened to it the first time we talk about what we’ve heard using the worksheet as a guide.  For older grades this is brief.  For younger students, we will thoroughly go through each item following the items on the worksheet. 
 John Williams Listening Glyphs

5.  Listen again while students color their answers.  If the piece is short enough we may listen to it several times while they finish.

If you are teaching a group of students how to complete listening glyphs for the first time,  you may find it helpful to have them discuss what they heard and then color that item.  Move through each item on the worksheet in the same manner.  This takes more time, but will save you time the next time you work with listening glyphs.  I usually do this longer version only with kindergarten and first grade.  The other classes can be successful without this extra time.

Nutcracker Listening Glyphs

Be lenient with choices that could be right.  For example, in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” you can hear a celesta.  One of the items on my listening glyphs asks if you hear percussion instruments.  My younger students may think that percussion just means drums, triangles, tambourines and other classroom percussion instruments they have played.  I usually accept any answer for that.  With older students I may expect them to know what instrument is playing that part.

Speaking of being lenient, you may have to be lenient with color choices too.  All crayons are NOT created equal! 

Listening glyphs can be graded in the traditional way.  I have found that it is quick and easy to walk around the classroom while students are working and note on my seating chart if a student doesn’t understand.  I can talk them through the problem and note a score for the activity without actually collecting the papers. 

I hope that you will consider adding listening glyphs to your lesson plans.  Please let me know if you have any questions about using them in your classroom.

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  1. I find it easiest to have ziploc bags containing the colors they will need already prepared, so they just grab a baggie. It takes me time to make the bags, but saves so much class time!

  2. I usually use open containers for crayons, but I love the soap box idea, it is a much neater way to store the crayons. Will definitely use this idea.

  3. I have tried so many different ways with crayons....enough for a group with sharing crayons but it sounds like you do crayons for each kiddo??

  4. So do you use crayons for each kiddo? I have tried so many different methods with crayons but they all involved sharing with small groups because I never have enough crayons.

    1. I do have a box for each student. I usually pick them up at the beginning of the school year when Walmart has them on sale for $ .50. Keeping them in the soap boxes really helps keep them usable longer than other ways I have tried. At the end of the year, I dump all of the crayons into a tub so that I can supplement the new boxes if I need too. I've found that each student having their own keeps it quieter and calmer. Some kiddos are not great sharers! LOL.