Music Notes Clipping to Clothesline

Using Music as a Teaching Tool in Health and Physical Education

As a health and physical education teacher, I always followed my peers’ advice of emphasizing the 3 R’s of education: relevance, relationships and rigor.

First, I knew I had to find a way to relate all information to the students — no matter the reach — or they just wouldn’t “check in.”

To strengthen relationships with my students, I took note of their hobbies, got to know their families, coached, chaired several clubs, and spent extra time supporting them in extracurricular activities.

And I’m sure my students would tell you I never struggled with the third “R” — rigor — as they often reminded me how challenging my health and physical education classes were.

However, this process of developing the three R’s often took an entire quarter — and I still didn’t feel like I was connecting with each student. Furthermore, my assessments were all too common rather than authentic.

I knew I needed to make a change in my delivery and assessment in order to ensure students were really “getting” my health and physical education material.

Bringing Music to Health and Physical Education

I’ve always been amazed at the difference in energy expenditure by students in PE class where music is played compared to when music is absent. Students can practically double their steps just by moving to the beat. Not only that, but students often appear happier and more engaged at the same time.

So, I thought it was time to bring music to my classroom to see how my students would respond. The results were staggering.

The first time I rapped for my students they were blown away — and not because I was that good. In fact, I think it was the first time my 30+ students were totally quiet … ever!

Their stunned reaction made me second guess my delivery and new idea until I then quizzed them on the material I had included in my rap. I discovered they truly were listening and ingesting the key information and vocabulary I had presented. Each student was engaged because they had heard the beat and song before, but the words were brand new.

I was stunned that even my lower-level learners had picked up on the vocabulary in this manner when it had been such a struggle before. Our discussion that followed was energetic and even the more reserved students were ready to volunteer thoughts and answers.

health and physical education students dancing

Instruction and Assessment

Next, it was my students’ turn. I gave them the task to create their own song, poem or rap using specific vocabulary words, concepts, and applications of the material. Within small groups, they could use music, change lyrics of popular songs, or just create a poem — but they had to follow specific guidelines.

Usually during group tasks, I would observe one or two students doing the majority of the work while others were less engaged. However, with this assignment I was shocked to note that every student was participating and offering creative suggestions that were all on task.

I have used this method of instruction and assessment with students in middle school, high school, and even at the collegiate level. Typically, the reactions are all the same: the students are speechless, the discussion is lively afterward, and the participation is exceptionally high for the assessment.

Learning More About Using Music in the Classroom

After researching music and how to incorporate it into the classroom, one thing is clear: If teachers want to make learning relevant and increase engagement — especially with students who have language barriers — music is a great tool! 

This type of activity also serves as an authentic assessment when the lesson tasks are clear. Students have the ability to collaborate with one another to truly apply what they have learned in an individual manner. Plus, this cross-curricular design can support what students are learning in their ELA classes.

To learn more on this subject, I invite you to read “Implementing Music as a Formative Assessment Strategy to Improve Student Cognition,” which I co-authored with Mark Perez for the September/October 2019 issue of Strategies.  You may find it helpful as you design this type of activity and assessment. The research truly does support this authentic style of teaching, learning and presentation.

Additional Resources


Judy Beard
Judy Beard

Judy Beard, Ph.D., taught in the public school system (grades 6-12) for 13 years and has been with Central Washington University for four years. She is currently president of SHAPE Washington. She enjoys researching successful teaching strategies, kinesthetic classrooms, avoiding stress in the classroom, and mindfulness. She can be reached at judy.beard@cwu.edu.