Today I have a simple 20-minute DIY project that costs very little money but makes written composition assignments a little more fun and a little bit easier for students to grasp: solfege stickers! I am using them with my 5th grade students this week and so far it has been a hit.
It's no secret that I believe very strongly in the importance of incorporating composition regularly into elementary music curriculum. In the younger grades, I use a lot of manipulatives, iconic notation, and other non-traditional notation methods, but in the upper grades I have general stuck with standard notation. But lately my 4th-6th graders are getting more and more tired of paper-and-pencil activities. Has anyone else noticed this trend? I attribute it to all of the extra pencil-and-paper work they are doing in their homerooms. I already stick primarily to singing, playing instruments, movement, and other activities that don't involve writing for this reason- don't get me wrong- but I knew I needed to come up with some alternatives for even some of the writing I was having them doing.
Enter solfege stickers! When I have upper elementary students do melodic composition work, I generally have them start by creating a rhythm (on a one-line unpitched staff), write the solfege syllable they select under each notehead (usually within a pentatonic scale), and then transfer that to a 5-line staff. I am using the solfege stickers in place of having them write the syllables under each note, and I have found that not only do the students get more excited when you hand them a sheet of stickers instead of a pencil, but the students find it much easier to see and understand the concept of the different pitches because they are related to the boomwhacker colors!
To make these stickers, I used some small Avery labels and markers. I actually went to the store intending to buy circle labels, but these were on sale and I figured they are close enough to an oval shape to work. The nice thing about the Avery labels is that they are pretty easy to pull off and move without ripping the paper, so if students change their minds they can move the stickers around without too much difficulty. I use them in my planner all the time and, even months after I put them down, I am able to easily lift and move them without damaging the paper.
I am having my 5th graders compose in minor mode, so I chose a 5-note scale in minor (la-based) for these. Since the sheets have 10 rows of stickers, they lend themselves to pentatonic or other 5-note scales, which is a great way to get students composing without worrying too much about pitch function. Obviously you could use any combination of notes to match the assignment you are doing and use the colors that coordinate with your boomwhackers, handbells, or other color-coded instruments. And you guys, coloring the stickers really isn't as tedious as it may sound. I just color straight across the sheet, and got 6 sheets with 5 colors each done in under 20 minutes.
The last step is to cut the stickers into strips. Of course you could just pass out an entire sheet to each student, but that means more coloring and more opportunity for students to waste stickers (which, in turn, means more coloring again). I only do 1 or 2 measures for most of my student compositions, so there are plenty of stickers to fill up the notes. The other advantage of limiting each student's stickers is that they are forced to use all of the solfege syllables (not just all "do" or some other boring melody) in their composition :)
Voila: solfege stickers! After students stuck the stickers onto the notes, I had them get together in groups and play the rhythms on the boomwhackers before having them transfer the composition to a 5-line staff. That extra step has made a huge difference in my students' understanding of the process of going from an unpitched to a pitched line!
I am a huge fan of simple manipulatives and visual aids that increase student comprehension and engagement. For my younger students, my latest project has been rhythm monsters- check out my post on those if you missed it because they are amazing!
If you want to see the kind of worksheets I use with my students to go along with these manipulatives, check out my composition worksheet growing bundle, which has worksheets for every level from kindergarten up through middle school or even high school.
What are your favorite composition tools for elementary age students?