Thanksgiving Throwback: An Awesome Song to Learn Rhythm Syllables

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 4.52.31 PM.png

Howdy, Folks! I know what you are thinking. Why is this blog post about Thanksgiving? My Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed long ago and we just finished our Christmas concert season last week. Well, stay tuned my friends. I know that Thanksgiving has past, but I just had to share this fun and easy little activity that I was doing with my first graders – AND I even shared some ways to make this activity relevant in any season.

Link for turkey prop: click here



Happy Holidays: Songs for the Season by Grade Level

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 5.27.13 PM

Howdy, folks! We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and I’ve done a run down of some of my favorite go to songs for each grade level. I hope you find something you enjoy!


Song: Feliz Navidad

Why: I love doing this song because we are learning about about the steady beat, and we are learning about classroom instruments. We learn the song and during the refrain, we shake maracas to the beat.

Song: Jingle Bells

Why: Again, this song is great to introduce a classroom instrument (jingle bells). During the first part we play to the big beat and during the “Jingle Bells” part, we play to the little beat. It’s a great way to start introducing big beat verse little beat.

First Grade

Song: In the Window

Why: The main reason is because one of our standards in first grade is singing a song with multiple verses. In this song you sing a verse for each night of Hannukah. However, I also like this song because it is about Hannukah, and I like to represent holidays other than Christmas. And I like that this song is in minor tonality.

Song: First Snow by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Why: It’s FUN! You’ve got to let loose some of that ENERGY the last week.

Second Grade

Song: Trepak (Russian Dance) from the Nutcracker

Why: Gameplan has this awesome dance that can be learned very easily and helps kids bust out some energy before break. OR If you need a calming activity, I found some awesome listening glyphs on TeachersPayTeachers that they can color along with as they listen. Also, second grade is going on a field trip to see the Nutcracker, so it lines up perfectly!

Third Grade

Song: March from the Nutcracker

Why: Artie Almeida’s Kidstix book has a great activity to this song. Students get to have their own little drumming kit and play along with the famous song by Tchaikovsky. And it works out perfectly has Tchaikovsky is one of the composers we learn about in class this time of year.

Fourth Grade

Same as third grade. I try and keep things simple by having my 3rd and 4th graders learn the same composers each year. Then, I flip to a 2nd group of composers the next year, and then back to the first group. That way, I don’t have to work twice as hard, but over the course of two year, my students still learn two different groups of composers. Working smarter, not harder.

Fifth Grade

Song: Jingle Bells (recorder)

Why: We are working on our recorder skills right now, so this can tie in. Kids love to bring it home to share with their family too! Jolly Old St. Nicholas is a good one as well.

Trying a Close Read in Music Class

So our district has really been getting into the strategy of close reading, where you take a text and examine it multiple times to get deeper meaning. And I’ll be honest, when I first heard of close reading, I thought “well, there’s something I won’t be doing in my class.” But that was before I found out that a text doesn’t have to be written words. A song is considered a text. So, I decided to give a close read a try. Here’s what we did:

The Prep

Make sure to pick a good song. Something you can sink your teeth into with a decent amount of complexity. I recommend doing a classical work and shying away from simple folk songs as they might not have enough going on to warrant multiple close reads (typical close reads have at least 3 read throughs). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can’t find ways to delve deep into a folk song, but you will need to really have that well planned in order for it to work.

Pick a benchmark that has a high depth of knowledge. By that I mean, something that is asking you to compare and contrast, or give evidence or create. Don’t pick one that is basic recall. That won’t be going far enough to warrant a close read.

Close Read #1

I had my students listen to Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I gave them each a blank paper and had them fold it into quarters. In the first box, they drew a picture of what they picture when they hear the song. About halfway through the song, we switch to filling out the second box. This was a long song. If it was shorter, you might have to replay for them to have time to answer the second box. The student have to write what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they heard during the song. Finally, students meet with a partner and share what they drew for their picture and what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they wrote down.

Close Read #2

I hand back out the papers, and now they use the info that they gathered the first time to answer this question. What was the mood of the song? How did the composer create the mood? Support your answer using evidence from the song. I also provide a sentence stem for them, to help guide them to how to correctly support their answer.

I thought the mood was ____________, because ________________.

We usually do an example as a class so they understand how to use things such as tempo, dynamic and instrument family as evidence.

Close Read #3

In this read through, I add a supplemental text. I want them to be able to compare and contrast, so we do the same steps that we did with the first song – collecting the tempo, dynamic and instrument family as well as the mood, but this time we do it to a contrasting song. I picked Trepak from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. Once they have this done, I give the a Venn diagram and they have to compare and contrast the two songs. I give them a little of things to consider (composer, mood, tempo, dynamic and instrument family). I play through both songs one last time and they have until both songs are complete to fill out the bubbles with a partner.

The Take Aways

After doing my first ever close read, here are my take aways:

  • Close reads totally can work in the music room.
  • Make sure to use a song that is worth investing this amount of time on. Doing a full close read cycle takes a long time (2 class periods for me), so it had better focus on stuff that you think is important.
  • You can pack SO MUCH into a close read! We discussed vocabulary, mood and composers. We compared and contrasted. I feel like the kids are really going to know their vocabulary and these songs really well after focusing in so closely.

All in all, I think they are totally doable. You just need to make sure if you are investing the time, that it is for something important (I think composers and vocab are areas where my students struggle so this activity really helped them).

Hope this activity helps you and maybe gives you some ideas of how you would use close reading in your own class.

Skin and Bone – The Recorder Improv Edition

Hello readers! Today I present a blog about a great Halloween song for improv on recorder and introducing low E to your students. Check out this video to hear the song and see how you can extend this lesson to teach improv.

Skin and Bone

Top 5 Halloween Activities

Ah fall! I don’t know why but I LOVE fall. The autumnal colors of the leaves, apple cider and doughnuts at the orchard, and of course – Halloween!

There are so many fun Halloween songs for elementary school. Today I have a list of my top 5 favorite ones that I use over and over in my room.

5. Hill and Gully Rider

Basically, this is the Jamaican version of the Headless Horseman. It’s great for showing call and response and verse and refrain. The response also happens to be all on the same note, so I used it as a chance to review mallet skills and discuss moveable DO.

Hill and Gully Rider Lesson

4. Danse Macabre

This classical classic by Camille Saint-Saens is a great go-to in October. It is a great time to talk about how things like instrumentation, dynamics and tempo can build a specific mood in a song. Also, the two main themes make great use of legato and staccato, so this can be a good time to bring up that vocabulary as well.

I’ve used this lesson for movement activities, done it with a listening map with a worksheet where they answered questions. You could probably do something where you have them draw what they imagine. Lots of fun options!

Danse Macabre Lesson

3. Stirring Our Brew

This simple activity with the young ones allows them to explore fluid movement (a prerequisite to steady beat) and explore their singing voice. Not only do we sing the song through MANY repetitions, but we also sing as we count how many of whatever food we are adding to our brew. Great for singing AND counting skills! And the kids LOVE this one.

Stirring Our Brew Lesson

2. Skin and Bone

This is a great one for recorders! It’s a call and response song and the response uses the recorder notes BAGE. You can even use it as a chance for improvisation!

Check back next week for a detailed lesson plan for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with this song!

1. Thriller

This is my personal favorite. It’s just so fun! I use it to teach about verse and refrain, as well as bridge and coda. And it is a great movement activity that older kids will buy in to.

Thriller Lesson

Rules Review Game

For many teachers, the school year has just begun, which means it’s time to go over rules and procedures. But for your upper grades, they probably have a pretty good idea of the rules from previous years in your class. So why not make the rules into a game? I tried that very thing this year with my upper grades and it was a huge success. Students whose were normally restless or zoned out listening to rules and procedures for a whole week were engaged – all so they could be the “winners.”

I used the SMARTboard software at my school to create my game. There is a button that you can press when creating a SMARTboard presentation that allows you to imbed pre-made games into them.


One of them is a game show, where you can type in up to 10 multiple choice or true and false questions.


But if you don’t have SMARTboard tech at your disposal, don’t despair! You can easily create your own game. All you need are some questions and some teams.

I kept my questions pretty simple, but made sure that they covered the main things that I wanted to discuss – my classroom rules, rewards and consequences, and emergency procedures. All the stuff you have to know, but that is pretty dry stuff. Making it into a game made everything way more fun. All in all, it was a great way to start off the year!

The Stonecutter and Other Great Folk Tales

This year at Florida’s statewide conference, the All State Orff Ensemble performed a story called The Stonecutter. I loved the folk tale and went looking for a written version to teach it in my own classroom. I found this really cool series written by an author/illustrator Gerald McDermott. He has The Stonecutter and also a bunch of other folktales from around the globe, and the illustrations are GREAT! They are done in the style of whatever country the folktale is from. He even has a page where he talks about what medium he used to create the pictures, which I thought my art teacher might be able to tie in to and art project.

I’m am planning to build up my collection over time and have an awesome collection of folk tales to use from year to year!

The Story

In the Stonecutter, there is a stonecutter who sees a merchant, and then desires to become the merchant. Suddenly, poof! he is the merchant, but then he keeps seeing someone or something that he thinks is better. Each time, he turns into that thing and then of course, something different comes along that he thinks is more powerful. In the end, he is a mountain, and then feels something chipping away at him, and lo and behold, it is a stonecutter. So everything comes around full circle.

The Song

I created a song to go along with the story. The kids play/sing it each time that the stonecutter sees a new thing that he wants to be. The song is in E pentatonic, so it may feel a little weird to your kids at first, but I did this on purpose to stretch kids into new modes. I usually play it for them on recorder first and THEN sing the words. If you have time, you should totally do a movement activity with beforehand with no words to get it in their ear and then add words the next week. Maybe something working on Laban movement and then at the end of the song, toss a ball and have the kids sing the resting tone.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.26.29 PM.png

The Orff Parts

After the kids know the song, here are some of the instrument parts I’ve added:


Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.30.59 PM.png


Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.31.08 PM

You can add or edit the parts as you see fit for your own group. These are targeted toward the specific group of students I have and the time frame we are working with.

The Play

Finally, you can pick kids to act out the scenes using props from your classroom. Some kids will stay on instruments and singing parts.