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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Quick Practice Tip: Story Book Practices for Group Classes

I got this idea from reading a post from Suzuki teacher Mary Lou Roberts of Michigan. Mary Lou is a guitar teacher trainer and was one of the faculty members of our former Texas State University Suzuki String Institute (TSUSSI). Mary Lou suggested that parents turn practice time into story time as well. As the child performs a practice task, the parent then reads a page from a story book.

I have used this idea in my group classes. We get pretty energized with activity in my group classes. I have a lot of personal energy in general, and I learned early on in my teaching career that I needed to be mindful of the energy level I instilled in my students right before I released them back into the care of their parents. I recall one of my early group classes and how much fun we had. I thought we had a great class that had been full of exciting activity and fun. As I released the students at the end of the class, one of my mothers said to me, "Thanks a lot." She was referring to the hyperactive behavior of her child. I had caused that. I had not thought about rounding out the class activity to bring my students back to a place of calm. That was a valuable lesson for me.

Since that time, I am more mindful of how much energy I have at the end of my group classes and lessons. I am careful to shape my lesson plans so that the more active part of the class or lesson occurs somewhere in the middle and then I allow a period of time that brings the students to a calmer place. We often end the classes with a sitting activity. I certainly switch to a sitting activity whenever I sense that the energy level of the class or lesson has risen higher than it should for optimum learning.

Story book practice is a great way to end a group class. This year I have found several short books about music or the violin, and we have read these books during our group classes. Sometimes a book will last through two or three classes. I have become quite adept at reading upside down as I hold the book open for the students to look at while I read. Many times the students themselves volunteer to read a passage or two and take turns reading the book for each other. We discuss what we read as we go along, and it is a lovely way to calm everyone down and yet keep everyone engaged and interested in an activity that relates to music. Part of teaching also involves teaching life skills, including social skills, and these story book practice sessions allow students to interact with each other in a relaxed and informal manner. We discuss vocabulary words as we read them, and I ask questions that engage the students in searching through the illustrations.

One book was not as good as we had hoped. We read it anyway, and I let the students discuss those parts of the story that did not make sense or that were unsatisfying. Ultimately, the book did inspire the students to create an alternative ending, and the students asked if they could play Twinkle Theme outside. We have also discussed writing our own stories for story book practices.

Story book practices may also encourage good attendance at group classes. During lesson weeks, the students see the book sitting there on the piano, and they are reminded about the story book time during group class. Students do not want to miss out on what happens next in the story.

There are many good books and stories that relate to violin or other important matters and that would be good for child instruction. I have listed many of these books in my Resource Store, if you are interested in adding story book practices to your group classes.


  1. What an excellent idea to keep up attendance at my weekly group lessons.thanks Paula. Hope it works here in Malaysia using English in Petaling Jaya and Chinese in Pangkor Island.

    Andy Ng

    1. Picture books are good too. Sometimes young students come up with the best stories while looking at the pictures. While we read our books, we discussed what we found in each picture. It was a great time to have students interact socially with each other. It was lovely to watch bolder students help the more shy students share their ideas.