Reader Question: What makes balanced assignment?

The important element of this topic is that we teachers do, indeed, plan the lesson.  It is very easy, in the rush of our busy lives, to welcome the student into the lesson, and simply “shoot from the hip” based on last week’s assignment.  But the fact is that an effective lesson, one that strategizes for growth each week, is based on a plan:  the teacher’s plan.


A helpful start to a lesson plan involves the acronym TERRAC.  Each letter stands for an element which is to be covered in the lesson.  TERRAC assures a well-rounded lesson.

T =  technique

E =  expressivity

R =  reading

R = rhythm

A = aural skills

C = creativity


TERRAC does not imply a chronology in the lesson.  As in an anagram, the letters can be mixed up and can follow any sequence the teacher determines for that particular lesson.

Several letters can also dove-tail into the same activity or lesson segment.  For instance, when working on a technical assignment, the student can be urged to plan a dynamic shape to the exercise and listen for the change in dynamics (T + A).  New assignments can involve sight-reading and a discussion of expression (R + E).  Coaching repertoire previously assigned often combines several elements, such as expressive playing, rhythmic accuracy, and listening (E + R + A).  Duet playing is a fertile opportunity to combine R + R + E.


The creative element of the assignment can take many forms.  It is, however, an important part of the lesson plan.  For elementary students, composition assignments can be made to reinforce concepts being learned.  The best results come when the assignment clearly states what is to be used, and either provides a title or asks that a title be given by the student.

Assignment:   Make up a piece using half steps in both hands. 

                                                Title:  The Inchworm.


Assignment:  Make up a piece using black keys going downward

                                                Title:  Falling Leaves


Titles are important.  One of our primary goals is for the student to create expressive sound.  The title helps the student associate sound with the story or image being presented.


Notes jotted down by the teacher during the lesson can be helpful springboards for planning the next lesson.  “Save time for sight-reading.”  “Work on interval recognition.” “Hand shape needs reinforcement.”  “Drill steady beat.”


Lesson planning need not be limited to one week at a time.  It is helpful to sketch out a monthly plan for repertoire to be covered, new pieces to assign, technical goals, etc. This can be expanded to planning for the term or for the year.


In short, the better we plan, the more progress the student will make.

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