Jam or Not a Jam

Jam or Not a Jam is a daily procedure we use in our classrooms to build literary analysis skills, take attendance, and soak up some good tunes!

When our students enter our classrooms at the beginning of Humanities class, we do a routine we call Jam or Not a Jam (Tara loves a good acronym and calls it JONAJ). Jam or Not a Jam was inspired by a segment CBC Music did a while back where they played a song for some celebrity and the celebrity would decide if it was a Jam - a good tune - or Not a Jam - not such a great song. It works the same way in our classroom.

We play a song as students enter the classroom. We usually choose a theme for the month or for the week, and each song connects with the theme. Each student has a magnet with their name on it, and there is a taped-off section of the whiteboard with the headings "Jam" and "Not a Jam." All the magnets start the day in a separate part of the whiteboard. As they enter and listen to the song, the students "vote" with their magnet as to whether the song is a Jam or Not a Jam. We have shared this with other teachers who use tech for this purpose and have student names on a SmartBoard that the students move on the SmartBoard as they enter.

Jam or Not a Jam serves a few purposes. First, it's a beautiful calming routine that transitions students from wherever they just were - home, another class, lunch - into learning mode. In this sense, it is a Social-Emotional Learning strategy (SEL). It gives students 3-4 minutes to get themselves organized, find the materials they need for class, and connect with friends. By the end of the song, they are expected to be in their seat with everything they need for the class.

Second, it's an easy way to do attendance. Once the students have all entered the classroom and moved their magnets, it's easy to see whose magnets haven't been moved from their starting location to "Jam" or "Not a Jam." The students whose magnets have not been moved are the students who are away. If using for attendance purposes, it's important to reinforce with students that they must never move someone's magnet except their own.

Third, we like a good excuse to do a little Rock & Roll 101 with the students and teach them about music from decades gone by. We like to bring in some lesser known stuff to share a little music history with our students!

Fourth, as the year progresses, we used it as an opportunity to do some literary analysis. We start with opinions. "Why did you think it was a Jam?" or "What did you not like about the song" and progress to lyric analysis later in the year. In April, we replace songs with poems for National Poetry Month and the literary analysis really takes off. We use the JONAJ songs and poems as little opportunities to look at an artist's process, message, and form. It's a great place to point out literary and poetic devices, too.

Here is a year's worth of songs for you. You will need to change the date on these slides for the current year, but these slides are a great starting point if you want to try Jam or Not a Jam in your classroom too.


  • September JONAJ: Introducing Jam or Not a Jam

  • October JONAJ: Music Through the Ages

  • November JONAJ: Hits of the Decades

  • December JONAJ: Winter and Holiday Songs (whereby we fully recognize the Eurocentric Christian worldview these songs represent - a great talking point!)

  • January JONAJ: New Beginnings

  • February JONAJ: Black History Month

  • March JONAJ: Songs About Something

  • April JONAJ with accompanying student handbook. We give each student a copy of the text of the poem to annotate as we listen to the poem, which helps with discussion. Please note: there are a couple of poems in our selections that include a coarse word or two. We always check with our students before we play the recording to gauge their comfort level with these words. If there is discomfort, we forgo the recording and recite the poem ourselves, omitting the swear word.

  • May JONAJ: Spring Potpourri - Mental Health Week, Nostalgia songs

  • June JONAJ: The Final Countdown

If you decide to adopt JONAJ into your classroom routine, we'd love to know what songs you choose!

Created By:

Erin Quinn, Tara Vandertoorn

Photos