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Unit plans for music

designing unit plans for music teachers - teacher and musician

This post continues a series looking at the process of designing of a scheme of work for music teachers.  The first few posts looked at the scheme of work from a distance and now, we’re going to zoom in one stage closer to the unit plan.  In the second post of the series, I defined a unit plan as “a medium term plan that outlines the main outcomes and processes of a unit within the scheme of work”.  Getting to this stage assumes that you’ve already mapped out your scheme of work in a manner similar to that outlined in this post.

At the end of this post, there is a resource you can download to help develop your own unit plan.  The text that follows explains the thinking behind this template.

Matching the unit plan to the SoW

If our unit plan is going to make any sense, then it needs to fit in with our scheme of work.  This means that it needs to be consistent with the following elements from our SoW overview document:
  • main approach
  • objectives
  • repertoire
In terms of the main approach, there’s no need for this to be slavishly adhered to in every aspect of learning (especially in the units towards the end of the year that prepare for the differing approach of the following year).  It should, however, be the spirit in which the unit is delivered so that you can get the sense of progression towards independence that you are planning for.  If you are improving an existing scheme of work rather than writing an entirely new one, then this is something you should give particular attention to.  If you’ve always taught the blues at the start of Year 8 but it’s delivered along the lines of the approach you’ve outlined for Year 9, then it’s probably best to either:
  • move the unit to a point where it’s approach is more appropriate
  • redesign the unit so that it’s consistent with the intended approach

Incorporating ‘the trinity’

In the first post of this series, we looked at the ‘music education trinity’ of composing, listening and performing, and settled on this Venn diagram: 
the music education trinity of composing, listening and performing - teacher and musician
If you’re comfortable with the conclusions drawn in this diagram, then that means you’re going to want to structure your unit around one of the following two combinations:
  • composing, listening and performing (CLP)
  • listening and performing (LP)
Doing so, of course, within the ‘main approach’ that you’ve outlined for the year group.  This decision should be relatively simple to make based on the repertoire you identified in your SoW overview document.  The following table should make any such decision reasonably straightforward: 
which skills to combine in a unit - teacher and musician
Click to enlarge this table
That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be any improvising in a unit where you’ve planned for students to select their own piece of music (refer back to the original blog post for more on this) but the primary goal will be to use listening and performing skills.  
You will also want to make a decision about how listening will be incorporated into your unit.  Will it be as discrete listening activities or an integrated approach?  If you’re following the skills-workshopping-informal approaches that I suggested in yesterday’s blog post, then you’ll likely be using the latter.  

Defining the product

I wanted to title this section ‘defining the outcome’ but the word ‘outcome’ has been subject to so many definitions in educational circles that it’s nearly impossible to define. ‘Product’ seems clearer, even if it is at the cost of sounding disturbingly business-like.  
In this context, the product is the music that you are expecting the students to create.  You can define this in all sorts of ways (success criteria, WILF, etc) but perhaps the best way is to provide an example.  This ties in very nicely with the advice that Martin Said gives about taking the time to complete a project yourself before getting the students to do it.  Having an audio/video example that you’ve created is a great way to communicate your expectations.  It’s even better if you’re able to provide a whole catalogue of such recordings that have been completed by students in previous year groups.  
At this early planning stage, however, it’s probably sufficient to identify the product in writing.  Something simple and straightforward, along the lines of:
  • an audio recording of a group of 4-6 pupils performing ‘Return to Sender’ as an ensemble
  • a video recording of the whole class performing ‘Heard it Through The Grapevine’ through workshopping
  • a video recording of the whole class singing ‘Ave Maria’ as a class choir
  • an audio recording of a pupil singing ‘Someone Like You’ as a soloist
Just enough information for you and any other teacher to know the product of the unit.  


You now know what pupils are going to produce, the musical skills they’re going to use and the approach to teaching and learning that will be used.  All that’s left now is to identify the activities that will be used to get there.  At this point, you can either plan absolutely every step in detail (a lesson-by-lesson approach) or you can outline the umbrella activities that are likely to be needed.  Personally, I prefer the latter since teachers should have the freedom to assess what is happening in their classroom and adjust to what the pupils need.  An activity-by-activity approach may get in the way of this, leading to the always unfortunate “Yes, that’s a great idea, but we’ve got to get through this activity…” scenario.  
In theory, teachers can dip in and out of their bank of warm ups, use their continuous formative assessments, model the music and generally use their music teaching expertise to deliver lessons that line up with a simple outline of planned activities.  This won’t be the case in every music department where some teachers will need additional support but many music teachers would be very comfortable with an outline such as the following:
  • Whole class warmups
  • Body percussion along with a recording of the repertoire
  • Singing the melody line from the repertoire (modelled by teacher)
  • Activities to internalise bass/chords (modelled by teacher)
  • Time in practice rooms to copy recording in groups
  • Whole class performance

Resources and Facilities

On pretty much every unit/lesson plan template I’ve ever been asked to use, there’s a box that says ‘resources’.  This always irritated me because, inevitably, it just got filled with a list of everything that the person filling in the plan could think would be used in the unit and was then promptly forgotten about.  Seeing a lesson plan with ‘whiteboard eraser’ on it doesn’t really add anything to the quality of planning…

When a ‘resources’ list comes in handy is when you have more than one class at a time and you need to check that they won’t be competing for the same resources.  Of course, your main resource is space and it can help to have this defined separately as ‘facilities’.  Each defined as:

  • Resources: the equipment and instruments that you will need 
  • Facilities: the classrooms and practice rooms that you will need
Both of these are probably best listed as ‘per four pupils’ or similar to account for varying class sizes. The following would be an example for a very well resourced music department with two classrooms, one of which is a music technology suite:
  • Resources per four pupils: 1 keyboard, 1 guitar, 1 bass, 1 drum kit, 2 amps
  • Facilities per four pupils: 1 practice room
  • Facilities for class: either classroom
Looking at this, it makes sense that the ‘other’ class would use the technology suite since this unit plan will require a lot of physical space.  

Downloadable template

As with other posts in this series, you can download a simple template to help you plan your music units.