Classroom Songs: It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like December!
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue sidewalks has ground to a halt, the Rockettes are kicking up their heels, and if you walk by my classroom, you’ll most likely hear my students singing their hearts out. Whether you warble like Julie Andrews, or wheeze like a bull, here are some tips to get your students singing, both in December, and all year long!
A Class that Sings Together, Stays Together
The Story of the "Song of the Week" in my Class ...
The music making in my classroom was always fairly limited, but in an attempt to make my 30 students feel as close-knit as my former classes with only 20 students, I decided I needed to ramp up the class spirit with a daily sing-along. Since the first week of school, I introduce a new song on Monday morning, and we sing it each morning that week. Then on Friday afternoons, we end the day with a cumulative sing-along of all the songs we’ve learned so far.
And the results are ...
My students are pros at memorizing songs and with my school’s holiday concert approaching, learning several complicated pieces for the performance is no big deal for them.
I am adding “bonus” songs into my daily lessons that complement the curriculum so even shy students seem to have a newfound confidence about singing with the group — this is just what we all do.
This music has brought my class together in beautiful ways. My students spontaneously burst into song while walking outside on school trips, they sing together at recess, and everyone is included.
Are you ready to add some music into your day? Read on for some more tips …
Academic content songs like "The Atoms Family" enliven lessons and ensure that everyone participates.
Hey Teach, Sing Out Proud!
At an early age, I knew I had vocal limitations, so, how do I teach songs to my students? I sing. Yes, that’s right, I la-la-la-la sing, and to 8-year-olds, my attempts sound pretty good. More importantly, it shows my students that you don’t need to be an opera diva to join in — in the classroom, singing from the heart is good enough!
So close your classroom door, take a deep breath, and wow your students with your courage when you sing for and with them. Need an extra boost of confidence? Revisit this classic Sesame Street song, “Sing,” sung here by Nathan Lane. (You can download the lyrics to share with your students here.)
How to Pick Songs of the Week
Choosing just one song for each week is quite the challenge so I share many additional pieces during the school day, although we only focus on memorizing one per week. (My students have surprised me by memorizing the additional songs “just for fun,” anyway!)
At the beginning of the year, I focused on traditional patriotic songs such as the national anthem, "It’s a Grand Old Flag," and "This Land is Your Land." Then, I interspersed songs that fit with out content area units. What better way to learn all of the states in our country than singing Ray Charles’ “Fifty Nifty United States”? Watch my class for a demonstration of a couple of these favorites.
You’ll find a wealth of academic songs with a simple YouTube or iTunes search.
For other academic songs, I’ve turned to the following resources:
· Scholastic’s Study Jams
· Horrible Histories (BBC)
· Flocabulary (Educational hip-hop raps)
· Songs from current and defunct education television shows like Square One TV (available on YouTube)
My Five Steps to Teach a Song of the Week
I am sure music teachers have plenty of other ideas about teaching music (please weigh in below in the comments section!), but as a classroom teacher, my aim is to teach my students a song in a minimal amount of time, with a focus on vocabulary, comprehending the lyrics, and the historical context for the song.
Step 1: Pick a Song and Do Your Homework
Find a song that fits your class’s needs; at this time of the year, it's perhaps a holiday song, or winter themed piece.
Next, type the lyrics to fit on one page, using the largest font possible. For complicated songs, I also copy the lyrics on an additional page with double-spacing for the students to annotate with notes.
Do some research to learn the background of the song. My students enjoy a mini history lesson when I introduce a new song, and it helps to gradually build their understanding of different time periods in history.
Step 2: Analyze the Lyrics as a “Shared Reading”
As shared reading is a critical component of the balanced literacy reader's workshop model, I introduce our weekly song as a shared poetry reading, projecting the lyrics using my document camera, while each student holds his own copy of the text. We read through the song line by line, analyzing its meaning, inferring new vocabulary using context clues, and practicing fluency with choral reading.
Old fashioned songs are a great way to introduce new vocabulary to your students. When my class began learning “Good King Wenceslas” last week (one of our holiday show songs,) they enjoyed figuring out words like yonder, dwelling, peasant, monarch, hither, and thither.
Step 3: "Let's Turn on our Listening Ears"
Next, I play the song using either an audio file or video clip. After one listen, I expect my students to have the song “in their ears.” Then we practice singing the song in a call-and-repeat fashion. I sing a line, then the students repeat the line. Usually, one time through is all it takes for my students to get the tune and the phrasing.
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice!
Now that my students know the tune, they practice singing it each morning, as well as during our end-of-day pack up. I ask them to memorize the song of the week for homework, and I expect it to be completely memorized by Friday. Some of my students have reported that it has become much easier to remember songs now than at the beginning of the year, and I happily accept their anecdotal evidence of their growing memories.
For complicated songs, I write the first word of each line on the board for their reference. Once they have the first word, the rest comes easily. Over time, I erase one word at a time until the students can sing the entire song without any prompting.
Step 5: Sing to Celebrate!
Now that we have a thriving class “song book,” we use our collection to mark special occasions. We welcome class visitors with a song, end publishing parties with a sing-along, and I call out a song for my students to sing during transitions. When they’ve finished the song, I expect the transition to be complete!
Even More Musical Ideas ...
- Watch my students singing some of our weekly songs on my class website: “The Preamble to the Constitution”, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, and the Princeton alma mater song, “Old Nassau”.
- Scholastic blogger Megan Power shared some great ideas about using music in the primary classroom. Who says singing is just for the little kids, though?
- There are many books with content area songs available through Scholastic, such as Memory-Boosting Mnemonic Songs: Grammar, (download three sample grammar songs,) or Read, Sing, and Learn: Famous Americans, (download a sample mini songbook.)
How do you use music in your classroom? What are your favorite songs? Do you have any tips for teaching songs to your students? Please share all of your tips in the comments section below!