My Favorite Resources for Teaching Found & Environmental Sounds

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Welcome back for My Favorite Resources #3! This series includes my personal favorite activities, songs, and videos that I use in my music classroom with my students.  These activities can be adapted to your school’s level of technology available.  I hope everyone looking for ideas will be able to take away at least one idea from each of these posts.

Other posts in the series include:
My Favorite Resources for Teaching Loud and Quiet
My Favorite Resources for Teaching Fast and Slow

I love teaching about found and environmental sounds but that wasn’t always the case.  My first year, I remember thinking, “How am I even going to teach this?”  I started with having the students listen to the sounds in the classroom (air conditioner, fan, people walking by) and went into a while spiel on how music is always around us and blah, blah, blah.  To say it wasn’t a hit is an understatement.

Now, this is one of my favorite lessons for the beginning of the year in Kindergarten.  Yes, all of these resources are from one lesson but, don’t worry, I don’t get to all of them with every class each year.  I definitely overplan because there’s nothing worse than having more time than lesson.


Have you seen this book? listening walk

If not, go to Amazon right now (or after reading this post) and put it in your cart.  You will not regret it.  It is a charming book that really sets the scene for listening for environmental sounds. There are videos for it but I like reading it out old school and doing the sound effects old school.  Plus, I like to have the children mimic the sounds as well.

After reading this book, we go for our own listening walk.  My district is very open and the elementary school abuts the Jr./Sr. High.   There are separate buildings for different grade levels and subjects.  My building is between the elementary gym building and the high school gym building.  Anyway, because we are on such an open air campus, our listening walk includes going into areas such as the band hall, theatre classroom, administration offices, the auditorium, open air hallways and more.  We walk a little bit in silence and then I turn around and we discuss the sounds we heard while we were walking.  Sometimes we stand in one area in silence so we can listen and discuss.  The kids absolutely love it.  Anyone who sees us walking is completely charmed by the line of children quietly following me like a silent pied piper and then discussing sounds in our environment.  This past Fall, we ended up running into the superintendent during our listening walk and he asked the children to describe the sounds they heard.


This little gem from Ann McGovern is also a little of fun.  Not only do the children get to practice their animal sounds, they also get a fable in the mix.  This one is pretty self explanatory but is another one I’ve had success with.



Both of these two resources can be found on PBS kids and are completely free.

I am so lucky to technologically blessed at my campus but I realize that is not the case for everyone.  In my classroom, I can use my ActivPanel which works like a giant iPad with multitouch capabilities and have multiple children at the board creating music with the different found objects.  That would never have worked in my other teaching situations.

If you have a projector, you can have the students choose from their seats what they want to add to the music mix and have them listen that way.  They won’t get the interactive function but they still get the concept.  Another idea on incorporating these activities without having the technology in your classroom to do so is to demonstrate in the class and then send home a piece of paper with the information and links for the children to play at home.  The parents get a glimpse of what their child is learning in music and the child gets to practice the concepts and creating music at home.  If you can’t send notes home, ask the homeroom teachers to include a blurb about Music Connections in their newsletters and parent communication.


This first one is called Crank it Up – Found Sounds and DW making music with four objects from the pile on the left side.  Students put one object in each tin plate and then press play to get DW to bike.  The objects create sound in the order they are in the tins.  By pressing the keyboard buttons, students can add additional sounds such as a cow mooing and a horn honking.  They really like to listen to all the different configurations.


In this next activity, Sid the Science Kid has a Sandbox Symphony of sounds to choose from.  Pressing the boxes makes the sound begin in slow intervals.  Pressing them again, speeds up the intervals of sound and then turns them off.  I just the let the children go with this one.  Be free, children, be free!


You can probably find some great videos on your own but here are two of my fav that I use each year.  Side Note: both videos are filtered through either or viewpure so eliminate advertisements and distractions on the side of the window.  The original youtube links are available by click the bottom right on each video’s window.


In case you do know, this first one is from Tarzan.  The apes and elephant friends of Tarzan have found the Jane and Co.’s camp and are very interested in all they find.  So interested that they make music.  I usually have this video as my intro activity on found sounds and tell the children that music doesn’t have to made with specific instruments.  I tell them to look for items being used to make music that aren’t musical instruments.  After watching the clip, we discuss the different items being used and the characters were making music with it.  Example, banging on the typewriter or blowing into the gramophone (which they totally will call a trumpet).


This one is the Kitchen scene from Stomp.  Since I use this with the kinder babies, they are familiar with it like the older ones usually are.  Again, we discuss making music with items other than traditional musical instruments.  It’s a great life action counterpart to the animated video above.



Due to the nature of the beast of teaching music, I do not do as many paper assessments that I probably “should.”  In fact, I made assessing my students more frequently my goal for my T-TESS (Texas new appraisal system).  It’s not going that great but I am trying.

Now, that being said.  Of course, I assess my students’ learning but I do by watching them, listening to them, and discussing with them.  My time with my students is so precious that I’m doing everything I can just to get them exposed to all of the music TEKS let alone assess them on all of them.

Okay, I’ll get off my little rant.  All that to say, I’m glad that other music teachers have taken some of the burden off my hands.


This packet of assessments for timbre from The Yellow Brick Road includes more than just the one shown for environmental sounds.  I like it because I can have play music from my computer and they can show either via drawing a circle or using a counter chip to place over the image.  The latter allows for more examples and less copies being made.  I have a flipchart (that I can’t share due to copyright reasons) that has musical examples for all three categories shown on the assessment.  The children decide on their paper while the sound plays and then, as a class, we discuss and put the sound in the correct category.  It allows for reinforcement while assessing.  Yes, this is still technically a watching assessment but I can do a quick scan of the room during each listening example and score accordingly using iDoceo on my iPad.

I hope you have some new ideas in your arsenal for teaching found and environmental sounds.

Thanks for reading!

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