Teaching Opera To Elementary Students: Tips And Resources

teaching opera to elementary students

Do you want to push your students’ learning into opera?

Are you struggling to find ways to connect opera with your students in engaging ways? 

Opera holds a special place in my heart. 

The drama, beautiful music, and storied past of opera is full of incredible potential for our students. 

But at first, it may seem like a stretch to get kids to listen and appreciate it. 

This is why I decided to write these tips and resources for teaching opera to elementary students. 

To start teaching opera, it’s about finding an engaging connection to young students, usually centered on movement, visuals, or story-elements. Find your engaging delivery method and work with students in small, bite-sized chunks. Over time, get them excited about the activities, and they’ll learn to enjoy opera for its own sake. 

Check out other tips and resources in the rest of the post below. 

Tips And Resources For Teaching Opera To Elementary Students

In this section, I’ll go over the tips I found most helpful in teaching opera for kids. 

Please note, I’m not talking about teaching kids to sing opera.

This is a bad match for what their voices can before and during puberty. 

However, exposing students to opera and all styles of music is one of our jobs. 

With understanding and experience comes more appreciation. 

Note: Many of these ideas also apply to how to teach general music overall.  

Find An Engaging Delivery Method

A huge part of teaching anything is to include fun ways to learn. 

For opera, there are many choices out there. 

Here are a few of my favorites. 

Movement With Props

Kids love movement, even the older ones who claim not to. 

But it’s hard for most to get into the music and move without direction. 

A large part of the problem is their self-confidence. 

They feel like everyone is staring at them (even when no one is). 

But something magical happens when you give them movement props: 

They get so focused on the prop and movement they forget any self-consciousness altogether!

I advocate for movement props for this exact reason. 

But what are the movement props I like? 

Movement Scarves

The first and biggest one are scarves. 

They’re light, easy-to-use, and a blast. 

I’ve tried many over the years, but the Wobe movement scarves are my favorite ones to find on Amazon. 

One of my favorite prompts for movement is to ask students to follow the song as if the scarves are paintbrushes, and they’re painting the room. 


Another twist on scarves is to use ribbons instead. 

They offer another way of tracking motion. 

Be careful with ribbons; there are a lot of junk ones out there. 

I do recommend the ORZIZRO ribbons, though. 

They’re tough, and the handles stay intact over years of playing. 


Parachutes are so much fun, and if you haven’t used them yet, what are you waiting for?

These don’t lend themselves as much to creative movement for individual students. 

However, they’re awesome for engagement and large-scale movements that follow the form of the opera song. 

Check out the Sonyabecca parachutes

They last quite a while (and don’t break the bank). 

Paper Plates

Yeah, I said paper plates. 

Even these cheap little products give the students something to focus on as they do the movement. 

Use them for form movement or tell students to imagine the plates as more symbolic (i.e., butterflies, thunderstorms, etc.).

Coloring Pages/ Listening Maps

Drawing and following visual listening maps are another great way to engage students with opera. 

If you’re allowing them to draw during the song, give them some prompt to organize their thoughts. 

As you listen to the song, draw what you think the weather of the song would be like. 

Free draw works well, but be ready to help the kids paralyzed with indecision on where to start. 

I love listening maps, and they serve a similar purpose. 

After working with students young and old, I’m convinced most of what people find when they “don’t like” music is how they don’t have the context for how the piece fits together. 

Listening maps for opera are considerable ways to organize this information for people. 

When you understand how it all belongs and works together, it’s much more enjoyable. 

Maestro Classics is my go-to place for finding classical music resources, listening maps, and more. 


Workbooks are a more in-depth version of the previous activities. 

These are great ways to get various activities, all centered around a single opera or composer. 

They often consolidate all types of learning from these different tips into one place. 

Some may frown on buying these products. 

I’ve never understood why some music teachers are elitist about things like this. 

Why wouldn’t you want to borrow and use lessons to save yourself some time? 

They’re affordable and save you time and sanity. 

Here are a few opera-based workbooks to find on Amazon through Opera FunTime: 


I’m always a big fan of encouraging students to act out stories in connection with the music. 

Maybe it’s because of doing drama when I was in high school, but I’ve always felt a powerful connection between music and story. 

Obviously, I’m not the only one, since there have been music-drama genres in operas and musicals for hundreds of years. 

It’s a shared connection because it touches something inside us as uniquely human. 

This connection exists in your students, too, even if they don’t know it yet. 

Give your students a shorter version of the opera’s story or what a specific song is supposed to be covering. 

Then, assign characters to students and have them act it out as the song goes. 

Even something as short and simple as this is a blast to watch. 

The students’ level of creativity will never cease to amaze me. 

For a more in-depth activity, connect several songs and story elements. 

Essentially, you’re making your own mini-opera stories with several songs linked together. 

Accessing Creativity: Opera For Kids

Any time you access the students’ creativity, you’re reaching the higher levels of learning (especially if you have them reflect and defend their choices). 

Take any of the previous ways you teach and ask the students to add the ideas. 

This is a quick way to get them doing more. 

To expand even further, I assign students to small groups to create their own opera. 

They need to: 

  • Select songs they know (usually folk songs)
  • Decide on a story
  • Assign characters and act out the story with the music
  • Reflect and improve on their opera

Even more composition is possible if you have instruments available. 

Small groups and short operas work well, but if you want to dive headfirst into the creation process, it’s possible to facilitate a whole class opera that lasts the entire class time. 

This will take several lessons over the course of weeks, but your students will feel accomplished. 

Note: Going straight for this type of activity may not be the best idea. 

In general, students should experience the activities with more structure first before you let them go for it. 

There will always be some who can handle it, but most need the context of previous experience to learn from the activity and perform it well. 

Chunk It Out

No learning goes when you stick with one delivery method for an extended period. 

This goes double for things students know very little about or have a predisposed dislike for. 

Unfortunately, opera fits both these for the majority of kids (and adults). 

By chunking into smaller bits of time, you raise the chances of keeping the kids engaged and staying with a positive experience. 

In general, the rule of thumb is: 

Kids have an attention span of years they are as old as minutes. Plus or minus one. 

This means an 8-year-old will perform well in chunks of 7-9 minutes. 

Of course, this also depends on the individual student and the activity. 

I’ve had students stay on-task for longer than this when doing a movement game. 

I’ve also seen adults get distracted after 3 minutes. 

As a good teacher (which you already are because you’re checking out this site), you know how to pay attention to the signals you get from your students and adapt. 

If you thought these ideas and resources were helpful, check out 11 of my favorite elementary music lesson plans. 

Final Thoughts

It may seem like it’ll never work, but with these tips and resources for teaching opera to elementary students, your kids will experience a whole other genre they never would expect to enjoy. 

Remember the two biggest points for success with these lessons; 

  • Work in bite-sized chunks
  • Introduce in ways that engage the students

Whether you act out the drama, follow along with listening maps, or do the creative movement (or rotate through them all!), don’t let the wrongful stigma around opera as an “old” style hold your students back from experiencing all music. 

You may also want to check out classical music for teaching dynamics. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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