CPD GCSE A-Level Key Stage 3

You Can Teach without Tech

Room changes, days off, cover work, Screen-Free Days – all reasons to change plans and set different work. You can teach without tech and it is important to prepare in advance. During Lockdown we have been thinking about encouraging students to have screen free days, and I think this should continue with Screen Free Homework in the future. When schools do return we may find we can’t be there so one reason or another – Tech & Screen Free work is great for a cover teacher!

Technology is such a huge part of life that we naturally use it a great deal in our teaching. I don’t’ go many days without using computers, projectors, speakers and my phone. But there are occasions where we have to teach without all this wonderful technology and so I wanted to blog some ideas for teaching without Tech.


Despite exceptional circumstances such as those we have found ourselves in during 2020 & 2021, we should think about using real instrument with students. Not only does this mean that we get them away from screens, it is crucial for their musical journey. A class set of Ukuleles, Boomwackers, Glockenspiels or Guitars will be a perfect way to teach without tech.

As a teacher you will of course need to be able to play these instruments to some extent, and of course know what to do with them. A good approach is to ensure that with any instrument you are teaching the correct techniques in a pedagogical way. Simply grabbing and Ukulele and strumming away isn’t always very helpful. Correct hand positions and finger use is really important to development. And the students always love to learn from teachers who deliver content in a practical way. It is great showing things on boards, but you can teach without tech and just show them yourself.

Using Instruments may not be possible at the moment due to Covid-19, or the room you are in. But where possible get students playing something. If they are at home looking for screen free work, then encourage them to play something, or give them a scales challenge!

Composing with Words

This is a really fun and useful approach if you find yourself without any tech, or if you fancy ditching the tech! The basic principle is that you provide the students with a range of Key Terms and they have to design a composition using them. For example, you might give them words that you would associate with a Classical Ternary Form:

  • Section A
  • Transition
  • Homophonic
  • Section B
  • First Subject
  • Section A
  • String section
  • Tonic
  • Dominant

They then take these words and put together a piece, explaining exactly what is going on. Students can work individually or in small groups, producing a guide to this piece to bring it to life. It works well not to tell them what the thinking is behind the piece, they then have to work out what the words are telling them. When they have written up the composition they could then use it as a plan for an actual piece of music. And most important of all, they can do all of this using a pencil and paper!

Story, Photo, Sentence

Another approach similar to the one above is to flip that and give them a story, photo or sentence. They then write out what key terms and musical features would fit best. They can then start to plan a composition ready for a future lesson back in the music room. A poem would also work, or a scene from a film. Anything can act as a stimulus and this will show them how compositions can often start with just an initial idea. I have a blog that is linked to this and looks at Composing at Home without technology.

Reading & Research

I found myself not in the music room a great deal a couple of years ago and I started to get students to read and research. I simply took a pile of books along to the lesson and gave them some starting points. This was great for A-Level classes who needed to improve knowledge of a certain area of the course. But GCSE students also enjoyed the chance to use some actual books – a rare sight these days.

The key to these kind of lessons is to give something to research and then allow time for sharing information. We want students to know what to look for and to know that they are going to have to share with the class. It might seem like a non-lesson to simply get students ploughing through textbooks, but you will be surprised how well it works. And remember that this isn’t every lesson, this is maybe a one off lesson. It might help to give them a sheet, or some questions to follow.

Anthology Time

There is nothing better than sitting down with a score and some pens! Getting students to go through their anthologies, annotating and marking up as they go, is a lovely activity. No screens involved and they can listen to music as they do it. My students used coloured pens to help them with this.

Wider Listening

Having a screen free day is a great chance to listen to lots of music whilst doing something else. Students might be reading, going for a walk or completing another screen free task. Diving in to some Wider Listening will be a great thing to do alongside all or any of this.

Long Answer & Essay Writing

It is important to set aside time to actually write, and by this I mean with a pen! Students can use Screen Free or No Tech time to write for real. Not only will this prepare them for the exam in terms of knowledge, but also prepare their hands in terms of physically writing. Setting a question that is opened ended and interesting might be a fun approach, or you could use exam style questions. Students might enjoy tackling an title such as – “What would the world be like without Music”.

Discussion & Analysis

Composing music is great, performing is even better. But discussion and analysis are vital to a music curriculum. Allowing time in class or outside of class, for students to chat music, is a great way to get away from screens and tech. I have set cover work before where the cover teacher has bene given the opportunity to chat with the class about music and what they listen to. Students really enjoy this kind of conversation and it is easy to steer things in the right direction. Asking students WHY they like a piece and HOW it is fit for its purpose can make for a great chat.

I think we need to spend more time discussing music and give students a chance to voice their thoughts and ideas. They need to find their own way of expressing understanding and we can guide them in this in & out of the classroom. I like the idea of getting students discussing music with their families at home around the dinner table – everyone loves a song, band or piece. You can teach without tech and you can learn without tech – why not make it a family affair!

You Can Teach without Tech

Hopefully I have proven my point, or at least starting the thought process. If you are looking for Tech & Screen-Free ideas then I hope this has helped. And I would love to know what else you are doing to get away from the trappings of technology. In my Composing at Home series I look at a few ideas for composing without technology. I think it is important that we offer a range of leaning opportunities in different styles. I am always on the hunt for great ideas, so please do share any that you have.

And now you have read this, close the screen and make sure that you don’t get trapped by screens & tech!

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