Often times music class is the inclusion time for our students with disabilities. On my campus there is an adapted PE teachers who travels from campus to campus to teach adapted PE, however there is not an adapted music teacher. Why? I have no idea, however I took it upon myself to become the teacher my students need and began to teach my ALE classes during one of my conference times and it has been one of the greatest experiences of my teaching career. Here you will find ideas on how to do something similar on your campus, how to adapt lesson plans, and how to accommodate and modify curriculum.

Where to Begin?

My first suggestion would be to reach out the the ALE (Alternative Learning Environment) teacher or teachers on your campus and discuss the specific needs of your students. For my students our ALE classroom was growing fast and their inclusion time during music was becoming stressful for all of us, the kiddos, their assistants, and me! We want to provide the best instruction for all our students, but there was a huge gap at my campus that wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the situation at hand. I asked my ALE teacher if she would be on board with bringing the kids to an Adapted Music Class on Friday mornings during my conference tine. She jumped at the chance and so began our Adapted Music Class. We started this last year, yes, in the midst of COVID weirdness we took on something new. We had a blast and so did the kids and their inclusion time during music became less and less stressful for all of us involved. I knew they were getting targeted support and guided lessons on Fridays, so if they needed to leave the class to take a break, no one felt pressured to force anyone to stay. Their level of stress for the transition from classroom to music was far less, their ability to stay focused on a task during class with their grade level peers increased, and its been the best use of my conference time!

Lesson Planning for Mixed Ages and Abilities

My mix of students is a full mix of K-5 so I have every grade level represented in my Adapted Music Class. The following is the planning steps I take and I hope they help you.

Opening Activity

The students tend to trickle in from different places, with different needs in the morning so I begin an activity that is fun to do, but isn’t a necessity. I generally choose something that is very low focus, high engagement, like a parachute game, or bean bags, or ribbons/scarves, lights, and pumped up music! I turn on the jams and the sensory students have noise canceling headphones they can wear if they need to, but for most of my students the boom-boom pow of some rock music is just what they need to get going. I skip the cutesy stuff and get right to rockin’!

Steady Beat/High Focus Activity

Once we’re all in and settled, I do a high focus activity. Usually a steady beat activity, follow the melodic contour with our finger, or vocal warm up type activity. I give each student their own copy of any visual. I find that this is helpful because focusing on the screen and doing an additional task is a difficult activity for some students and their one-on-one staff can help if their visual is right in front of them. This allows for hand over hand guided reading, tracing, clapping, or instrument playing.


Once we are warm-uped and focused I begin with instruments. I use general classroom instruments unless and adapted instrument is necessary. I want them to feel the weight of the instrument in their hands, hear the sounds they are going to make, and explore any sensory information they will receive from the different timbres of instruments. Each student requires a different level of support and this allows the adults in the room time to work with them and assess their specific needs. I do play alongs, create play alongs, create follow the leader activities, and keep the music pumped. My verbal students are encouraged to sing along so I pick high interest, “radio” songs so they will stay focused and engaged. I am not after proper singing technique, I’m interested in time on task.

This is time for their one-on-one to work on instrument rules, following directions, non-verbal cues (signs/pictures) etc so that during inclusion time instructions can be given without distracting the class. This was a goal of mine that I wanted to achieve for all students.


  • Boomwhackers
  • Lollipop drums
  • Scarves
  • Ribbons
  • Rhythm sticks (think lumni/plastic)

Rhythm Focus

I have found that my students focus and spend more time on task when we say and play rhythms so I make sure to do this in every lesson. I put icons for the younger kids and rhythms for my older students. I make sure to communicate to the adults who is focusing on what skill and we all do everything, after-all rhythm is simply speaking and performing how the words go. I do not align with any methodology here. I am an Orff trained teacher, so the Schulwerk is perfect for an adapted class, but in terms of aligning to a specific objective, I don’t stress. We make music together some of us experiencing note length and others identifying their rhythmic notation.

I encourage the one-on-one support staff to tap rhythms in the students hands if they are unable to do that for themselves, hand over hand tapping, or if I have a student that does not like to be touched, we do rhythm tapping sheets with icons/rhythms so they can point to the rhythm with us if they are non-verbal.

Melody Focus

I focus mostly on melodic contour, creating our own melodies, sometimes I even use a specific pitch of a vocal stim to copy. I have several non-verbal students so I make sure to provide visual with melodic contour more than notes on a staff. Depending on their level of understanding of solfege, I do ask individual students solfege specific questions, but I generally do copy the teacher, echo, call and response, and tracing melodic contour activities.

Mallets and Mallet Instruments

Before I play xylophones I spend several weeks on playing with the mallets. Literally, playing WITH the mallets. We do activities with mallets to let the students feel the weight of the mallet, the length of the mallet shaft, the texture of the mallet heads (I use old mallets) and let them experience any sensory input they may receive from the mallets themselves. We tap on the floor, on a hand drum, on the mallet heads, and on our bodies. We walk our fingers to the top of the mallet, don’t touch the head!, then walk our way back down to get used to the rule of not to touch when its time to play, etc. We spend time with just the mallets to work on the fine motor skills of holding, grasping, isolating wrist movement, and keeping our bounce light and small. The tendency is to bang with the mallet and we work for a while on being gentle. Once we can be gentle with the mallets, we will practice on tone bars, then graduate to Orff instruments.

Adapting Mallets

Buckle up because I may rock your world here. Kids want to make music, they don’t care how they get to join in, just that they are included. I don’t stress over using adapted instruments if I don’t have them or if it doesn’t work. I adapt the music. The song doesn’t have a shaker part? It does now! The song isn’t written for Boomwhackers? It is now. Music is for everyone, every-one.

I have several ways to adapt music, the lesson, and yes, even the instrument in my blog. Check it out!


Yes, we play games! Non-verbal does not mean non-communicative or non-responsive, all kids love to play games! I use this time to practice start/stop, high/low, fast/slow, task completion, compliance, and a whole lot more goal oriented activities. I discuss with their teacher individual goals the students are working to obtain. Time on task is a huge one for a lot of ALE students, so we practice beating the timer or beating Mrs. Byrd, who can take their time and do the task completely and correctly. Self advocacy is often a goal for our low support autistic students so this is the time when I ask them to do tasks I know they will need help with, on purpose, to encourage the student to ask for help and explain why they need support. For example, I had a student with a motor functioning disability but is high cognition and verbal. He hates asking for help and would rather look like he’s lazy than just asking for help. He had to stack the frame drums. He can do it with help and therefore has to advocate for himself and get the task completed. My son has autism, low support in most areas, high support academically, he would rather look like he doesn’t want to do something than look like he needs help. Advocacy is a huge goal for him and many low support students with autism because the support they do need seems embarrassing to them. Make it a game, make the space feel fun, inviting and accepting.


I am so bad at remembering a closing in my general music classes but I make sure I do a closing activity with my Adapted Music Class because transitions are hard. I give time for picture schedules, communication devices, whatever needs the students have for transitions, to be done without feeling rushed or pressured. I end by having the older students line up first, modeling line behavior, moving with a purpose, and getting their materials returned.

Our time is spent making music, moving, practicing skills we will need during our inclusion time, lowering anxiety, lowering the stress of transitions, and making the music room a safe place for all students to enjoy making music.


Get to know your students sensory needs. The last thing you want to do is trigger a meltdown.

Learn your students triggers, body language, and what to do if they begin to meltdown. Often times, we do nothing and allow the support staff to do their thing, but I want to know how to help and most importantly how/when to get out of the way!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not expected to be a specialist in ALE instruction, you’re a music specialist. It does not make you less of a teacher if you reach out to your ALE staff and ask for assistance.

Do speak to the student, not the adult. This is a huge pet peeve of mine as a mom of a child that requires adult support but is highly cognitive. They are your student, speak to them as such. Address them by name, by pronouns, engage with them as you would any other student.

Do not force eye contact, unless it is a specific goal and is an approved directive. For some, eye contact is a trigger.

Do not force compliance, unless it is a specific goal and is an approved directive. For some, forced compliance is a trigger.

Praise, praise, praise! Keep it authentic, they aren’t performing puppies in a show, nothing bothers me more than hearing someone speak to our ALE students in a different, unauthentic tone, or use baby talk. We don’t even speak to our Kindergartners this way.

Take your time, watch your pacing in transitions, give lots of heads up when something is going to change, and have fun!