Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Read to the Rhythm” – cross-curricular instruction for all grades in the Elementary music room

Books in the Music Room

I have long enjoyed and seen the value in using books in the Elementary music classroom.  Students have the opportunity to connect music to other subjects, particular ELA, and children’s books inevitably offer myriad creative lesson ideas for music objectives.

Some of my favorites:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

This year, our 4th and 5th graders are producing a musical based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  We have read pieces of the C. S. Lewis masterpiece in class, and many students have taken it upon themselves to find and read the novel in its entirety.  During this months-long unit, we spend class time working on group songs for the production; playing instruments such as recorders, xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels, tubano drums, taiko drum and more; and engaging in musical games and activities related to the book that enhance students’ knowledge of music notation, music reading, and other musical concepts.


Floors, by Patrick Carman

Last year, our 3rd grade classes read pieces of this intriguing Patrick Carman novel and embarked on a musical project stemming from the story.  In the book, the main characters navigate a somewhat “magical” hotel using shadow boxes as maps for each floor of the building.  My music students created shadow boxes of their own, each box displaying a musical ensemble designed by the individual student.
Students had a required number of instruments, and were asked to creatively name their ensemble.  In the shadow box, they created miniatures of their selected instruments and placed them as they would appear on the stage.  Students were also required to write a paragraph about their ensembles, the families from which their instruments came, and reasons for why they designed their ensemble in such a way.


Books for Younger Musicians

When a Dragon Moves In, by Jodi Moore

You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt and David Slonim
Leap Back Home to Me, by Lauren Thompson

Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea, by Jan Peck and Valeria Petrone

The Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
In younger grades, we have explored a variety of books such as those listed above.  With each book, we read through the book in its entirety and proceeded to perform songs and play musical games inspired by the story.  Last year, our activities specifically focused on music notation.
Kindergarteners read Leap Back Home to Me, then completed a book-song using a two-line staff.  First graders did the same with a three-line staff and You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?  Second graders used a five-line staff to notate a song inspired by When a Dragon Moves In.  First and second graders also had a hand in composing the songs related to their books.
At the end of last school year, we held a special performance, entitled “Read to the Rhythm,” in which these younger grades were able to perform their book-songs for friends and families.  Meanwhile, their notated music was displayed on a standards-based bulletin board for all to admire before and after the special performance.
Read on!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Dance with the Irish" for Elementary Music – games, instruments, round singing and recorder music

As the cold weather persists, we march boldly into spring and quickly approach a fun classroom holiday – St. Patrick’s Day!  With its cultural connections, exciting music and colorful tones, St. Patrick’s is a great opportunity for lesson planning, particularly in the Music Room.  I wrote “Dance with the Irish” as a multi-purpose song that has so far proven to be fun for all grades and useful in a variety of settings.


Our fourth and fifth graders play along with the fast-paced track for this song on recorders, an exercise for developing skills with those early notes (G, A and B).  The music includes an A and B section, helpful for reinforcing form in music.  (

Singing with motions and in a round

A section

Dance with the Irish

All through the day,

Sing and beat the drum,

Dance the night away!

B section

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life!

The song itself can be sung in a round using the A and B sections.  I begin by echo-teaching with motions:

·        “Dance with the Irish” – create your own dance move

·        “All through the day” – spread hands over head to represent sunshine

·        “Sing and beat the drum” – cup hands to mouth, then beat an imaginary drum

·        “Dance the night away” – create your own dance move

·        “I, I like the Irish life” – use thumbs to point to self, then do a dance move

 After singing together with the motions, we sing the song in two groups, overlapping the A and B sections in round-singing style.

Singing with Rhythm Sticks

In third grade and below, a favorite has become a Rhythm Sticks game that fits nicely with the song.  Students sit in a circle, each holding a Rhythm Stick.  The A section is sung with an accompanying Rhythm Stick pattern:

·        Two taps on the ground

·        Two taps on an arm or the lap

·        Four taps on the palm

During the B section, students tap the ground twice, and then pass their Rhythm Sticks to the right.  It sounds simple, but students love doing it to the tempo of the background track, all the while singing along.

A great day of musical St. Patrick’s Day fun!
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