Classroom and Social

Songs – Great for Transitions in SpEd Classrooms

Songs are a great way to transition students in SpEd. They just seem to tune in (oops no pun intended) which is exactly what we are looking for! Grab their attention and get them moving in an orderly and timely fashion. Read on for a couple of ideas I have to share about using songs to transition.

Why use Songs?

If you are looking for an attention grabber then songs will do it! Most of your students will love songs but some will not. Either way you will have them looking toward what you are doing. The students who don’t like singing can be transitioned first. Win, win. Over time these students will get used to the singing as you will use them consistently as part of your routine. Those who enjoy the singing will listen and look. Either way both sets of students will be preparing themselves for the transition.

What is it about Songs?

Truth be told I really don’t know exactly how they work. But I do know singing works, particularly for young children and Autistic students, right through primary years. Students with Autism do well with patterns and songs are based on melodically, repeating patterns. I believe this is one of the reasons. Another reason songs work is that we can change words to suit the familiar tune. The familiarity supports students to listen and make sense of what they hear. To read more about using music and songs with students this paper on ‘Music Education and its impact on Students with Special Needs’ delves in deeper.

What Tune To Use

First of all what age are your students? The age of students will depend on some aspects of the song. I teach lower primary years 1 – 3, so nursery rhymes are a great place to start. If you teach older students you may want to use more of a rap. However my main transition song is not a nursery rhyme. It is simply an easy for me (and the teacher assistants) tune to remember.

Use what is comfortable for you. Start singing a transition to yourself. What tune did you instinctively start singing? In all instances keep the language simple. Remember our focus is for students to look, listen then do what is asked in a calm and orderly way.

Getting Ready

Practice in a mirror or video yourself. Get comfortable then teach your support assistants your idea. The whole team needs to be involved with this. Ask your assistants for their support in fine tuning (oops there I go again). Practice the song together as a team. This is important as you need to be confident and so do your assistants when you deliver this style of teaching. However, the more you sing your confidence will grow so don’t let a few nervous wobbles in the beginning stop you from continuing.


I can’t sing. Newsflash – the kids don’t care. You know I can’t sing either but I enjoy singing. It really doesn’t matter. Very few of us are horrendously off key. So my advice is sing loud and proud!

A lack of confidence or just feeling a little silly singing in front of others, is another common roadblock. The more you do it, the more your confidence will grow. Just go for it. What have you got to lose? You may just find that your transitions become much more manageable.

Visuals and Songs

Students in Special Education and very young students, require extra support. Visuals that accompany songs strongly improve receptive understanding of the message. So I always accompany whatever the song/instruction is with visuals. This can be a separate visual especially for transition in this case or an AAC device or core board.

And lastly of course you will need to teach your students. Use the teacher assistants as a model of what is expected as students listen to the song. Make sure to be explicit about what is to be done once they have heard the instructional song. Initially as you are teaching, the students may need more support to follow through but with consistency, they will quickly become independent.

My Number One Song I use for Transitions

Listen for your name. A great simple song to support positive transitions in SpEd or Early Years

It is very simple and effective. In the video I am transitioning from circle time to morning TEACCH. However, I use this simple song for every transition. The beauty of using a short song is that you can control when to transition the next student or student(s). When the students are used to the process, you as the teacher can decide who and how many to release at anytime.

Differentiate the Song

Simple songs can be differentiated by various elements to support the transition. The song can be sped up if time is limited. It can be slowed down if extra processing time is required as you point to visual symbols or can be slowed down if a previous student is taking longer than usual to transition. Perhaps you need to slow it down if for some reason, maybe some behaviour has occurred and you want the focus on you rather than the behaviour. It can be sung loud or equally and at times more effectively is when you sing it softly. Once the students know the song well, try changing your voice to add a bit of humour for those that are waiting for their turn. It also helps to support IEP goals of waiting and turn taking. Great time to collect some data.

Singing – transition to seat after an exercise break

So you’ve done some exercise or had a dance and the students decide to start investigating other spaces, OR, you’ve done your exercise and you need to give the next instruction to sit back down in their chair. Song time again. Here is what I use:

  • Everybody sit down, sit down, sit down
  • Everybody sit down on your seat (floor, cushion etc
  • Alternatively Everybody sit down just like …(student or teacher assistant)

Again very simple but it gives a clear instruction as to what you want the students to do. Remember using a visual either your core board or a single symbol supports the learners. We all understand that routine, repetition and consistency in Special Education classrooms is your friend. Choose your one or two songs/tunes and stick to them. Simply change some of the words to support lots of different transitions or purposes in the class.

Your Turn

I hope you’ve found this post gets those ideas flowing about how you can incorporate songs into your transitions. If I have you interested in wanting more songs for positive behaviour I will link my post on my rules song and poster here.

I’d love to hear what you come up with or other ideas you have for successful transitions. Let me know in the comments or via social media. You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, You Tube. I’d love for you to join my mail list where you will receive weekly updates to what’s happening in class and on the web, ideas for AAC and Literacy for All, along with general SpEd tips and resources, AND access to the freebie library. Pop your email in the link. Can’t wait to catch up with you.

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Aroha, Ann

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