It's All in the Technique
In a beginning elementary choir, the hardest elements to work on are pitch matching, singing in unison, and two-part singing.
In order to help my students match pitch, I will play the melodic line with them on the piano or keyboard (whichever is available). I always sing for my students and demonstrate everything. I find that most children are both oral and visual learners and find it easiest to mimic, so setting the example is key.
Teaching them how to listen to one another is also very important particularly in unison singing. You will always have those students that want to be little stars and sing as loud as they can trying to drown out all the others. I tell my students to listen to the person next to them and if they can’t hear them they are singing too loud! I tell them to blend and that they need to become one big voice. I have each row sing a line and then add each row accordingly having them listen for the next row’s entrance. If they can’t hear when they come in, they are doing great!
I rehearse two-part singing the same way. I have the two groups listen to each other’s part by having one group mouth their words while the other sings and visa-versa. This way they develop a better understanding of how the words fit together. I then have one group sing their part while the other hum theirs and then of course they will switch roles again. Sometimes (if the song has a lot of tricky rhythms in the melody) I will have one group clap their parts while the other sings. I often have split rehearsals as well so that I can work with one group at a time and fine tune each part before putting them back together. This makes for a more time efficient rehearsal.
When rehearsing motions and hand signs for pieces, I usually work on these before the lyrics for they can be more complicated and I find that the students have an easier time memorizing the words if they know the motions to go with them first.
Speaking of lyrics, to help make my rehearsals more productive, I provide CD’s to my students of the accompaniment with lyrics of their songs so that they can take them home and practice memorizing the words. This saves me a great deal of time in rehearsal working on lyrics and instead we can work on such things as dynamics, pitch, blended singing, etc.