Gender differences in the Chorus Classroom Boys vs. Girls

I teach over 300 middle school choral students who are in 6th, 7th and 8th grade.  In the sixth grade, I let anyone join the chorus, and the classes are mixed by gender. In 7th grade, I separate by gender. Doing so gives me a chance to help my 7th grade boys learn about and use their changing voices, and it
gives my girls a year to soar and extend what they've learned in sixth grade to improve their tone quality, etc.  In 8th grade, I place everyone back into the mixed chorus.

Boy was it eye opening the first year I tried this arrangement!

It quickly became clear to me that the atmosphere in the two 7th grade classrooms was going to be completely different...and at that time, I had already taught public school middle school students for more than 15 years.  I had very good classroom management skills and strategies in place that worked for years....but this was different!  The boys class was very difficult to manage.  I struggled to keep their attention.  I had to pull out every bag of tricks I had.  When they left, I was exhausted.

Over time, I got better at it, and I want to share some of my observations and strategies.  These observations are based on my real-life experience in a public school classroom.  Each child is an individual, we need to treat them as such, but it helps to be aware of some of the generalizations because they will help us be more effective as we teach our students.  I am not an academic, and you aren't going to see any jargon, percentages and academic lingo here.  Just real stuff based on real experience in my public school classroom.  :)

Here are the things I've experienced:

Boys have a harder time remaining still for the same duration as girls.  They need to move.  They are more physical.  I like to get them up during rehearsal and let them shake it out a bit.  They need to move.

In general, they like less mature humor, and they need the silliness to stay engaged.  They are less emotionally mature than the girls are.  So, I tend to roll with it, and giggle with them when it's appropriate.

They are more competitive.  Competition inspires them to reach for the highest heights.  I use competition in a solfege game that I play with my students.  I keep track of the score publicly in my classroom.  A day never goes by when they don't check the board to see if they are ahead of the girls class.  It creates awesome focus when they are trying to "win". They are never more focused than when the girls are beating them in the solfege game.  I also give points for successful sight singing examples.  Because they are aware that each sight singing example is assigned a set of points, both the boys and the girls are supremely focused on getting every rhythm and every pitch correctly when they sight sing....but the boys want it more.  They need to win.  Once the girls determine how much winning means to the boys, then, they too, get competitive.  It really helps in my Sight Singing teaching process, so I use it!

The boys need more structure and reward with their daily class rituals than the girls.  At the beginning of class, my daily classroom ritual for my students is for them to walk in, get their music folders, and to begin class with a quiet, 5 minute written warm up activity.   Occasionally, to encourage that behavior, I use stickers.  I place stickers on the paper of the quiet, working children.  When they get 3 stickers, they get a Starburst.   I do this with all of my classes, but I've noticed that the boys are more likely to enter the room in an out of control, rambunctious manner versus the girls, so I tend to get the stickers out more quickly and use them much more often for the boys than for the girls.  It's ironic because the 7th grade girls class that I currently teach has 84 girls in one class.  The boys only have 34, but the loudness they produce upon entry is much greater than the girls.  The boys respond to the stickers much better than the girls.  If I use the stickers with the boys two days in the row, by the third day, every single boy walks in quietly and starts the warm up without talking.  If I skip two days, they practically enter doing cartwheels.  The girls...not so much.  The girls like the stickers, but they generally will do the right thing either way.

During instructional time, boys are much more likely to talk across the room to each other than girls. They will talk about the song we are singing or some off pitch note that just occurred or the some part of the music they like or dislike, etc. They respond with each other to anything and everything.  It can sort of be like a little fraternity party over there.   ...And I don't think they are doing it to be rude.  I think it is just the nature of their beast.   If left unchecked, it can become a full fraternity part complete with the passing of gas at which the teacher is unnoticed.  That has never happened in one of my girls class.  .

..And you absolutely have to nip it.  I usually simply stand in front of them and watch for 30 seconds or so when that social activity begins.  Put the spotlight on them.  One of them will notice, and then slowly, they will all get quiet and wait.  Then, you can say something like, "That sort of behavior doesn't make us a better choir.  Let's not do it again."...or whatever works for you.   If you've set up a positive relationship with them, it will be just about all you need to do.

As with all of our students, we have to carefully guide and correct them while maintaining their dignity...remembering that they truly want to be successful.  It's our job to help them be just that.

Lastly, we have to be good at working with their changing voices.  If we can fix the problems in their voices, they are going to mentally check out.  So, it is critical that we know what we are doing with the vocal pedagogy of the changing voice.  They want to sound good.  We have to use our training to make sure that happens!

Recognizing the differences and learning to work with them instead of trying to make the boys something they aren't will serve you and your students well.

Hope that helps a bit!

Check out more classroom management ideas and Sight Singing tips on my YouTube. Channel

My Sight Singing Program for Middle and Upper Elementary Teachers and their students is available at the link below.  This link will take you directly to the freebie.  Check it out and get started on the program today!  I developed it for my inexperienced chorus students, and it truly works like a charm...and you'll have some fun while you teach it!
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  1. Dale,

    I was wondering if you used the 5 minute written warm-up activity as part of their assessment. Do they grade these and then hand them in? Do you grade them? I am wanting to find quick, easy ways to assess my students. I have 500 total so it has to be quick and efficient. If I can master this, than I think I could assess more often which should help me get better at knowing when I need more review or when the students are ready to move on. Any tips on assessment would be greatly appreciated. I see my kiddos once a week for 50 minutes. Time is precious and it leaves little time for assessment.

    1. I was wondering that too! I also was wondering what goes on the written warm-up activity? Is it the same each day? Is it a journal? Thanks for clarifying!

  2. It's daily. They keep them in their music folders. I randomly check them.

  3. Thank you for this article! I am a music education student, and lately I have been thinking a lot about how I will approach the different learning and behavior styles of boys and girls. I think you provided wonderful insight, especially to the competitive nature of the boys. I am wondering what some strategies you use with your 6th and 8th grades to keep both the boys and girls engaged the whole time, without trying to make the boys be something they are not! After reading this article I will definitely consider whether or not to split up the 7th grades by gender in my future teaching job. Thank you!