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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Whistle for Willie: vocal exploration lesson

Vocal exploration is so important in elementary general music as students develop their singing voices, but it's something I often forget to consciously include in my lessons. This book was a perfect way to get in lots of vocal exploration with a story that my younger grades loved hearing- even my shy singers were using their voices with gusto for this one!

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This year I used Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats for the first time with Kindergarten, but this would work well with 1st or even 2nd grade as well. Not every page has natural opportunities for vocal exploration but a good portion of the story does!

Before I begin the story, we do a little vocal exploration practice. I model how to follow the contour of a line by drawing a line in the air in my finger and following it with my voice, then have students practice following my line with their own voices. Then I tell students that I am going to have them make different sound effects to go with the story.

In the beginning when the book describes Peter spinning in circles and then up and down, I draw circles, hills, and valleys in the air with my finger and have students follow the line with their voices as I read the words. Every time it mentions Peter trying to whistle, we blow hard like we're trying to whistle.

Later when the book shows Peter drawing on the ground with colored chalk, I trace the line in the pictures with my finger and students follow with their voices. I draw a curvy line for when Peter is following the crack in the ground, and go up high when it says he jumps.

Eventually Peter is able to whistle. This is when it's fun to stop and have the students try to whistle- depending on the age this can be quite a challenge, but there's usually a few who can!

After reading the story, I give each student a pipe cleaner and have them make different shapes and lines, then trade with a partner and sing the other person's line with their voice. The book is a great starting point for any vocal exploration lesson!

I love Ezra Jack Keats, so I was thrilled to find a meaningful way to incorporate this book into my lessons. What other ways have you used this or other stories by Keats? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments! If you'd like to see all of my book-based lesson ideas, you can see them all in this post.

Monday, April 29, 2019

April Favorites 2019

April is always a fun one with spring break, birthday, and some of my favorite lessons to teach- here are some of my highlights from this past month!

1. Spring Break

Normally I choose one picture from my Instagram feed to represent each of my highlights but I couldn't pick for this one so here's three! ;)

My daughters and I had so much fun visiting my grandparents and extended family in California for spring break. We've never traveled anywhere over spring break before because I'm usually in full-on get-ready-for-all-the-events mode at this point, but it was great to put some things on pause for a week, take life a little more slowly, and soak up some sunshine. Most importantly, it has been a while since we've seen my grandparents so it was really special to have that extra time with them!

2. Birthdays and Cherry Blossoms

One of the best parts of having an April birthday for me as always been the sakura. If you don't know, I grew up mostly in Japan, so going to see the cherry blossoms has always been a very important event each spring, and they often bloom right around my birthday! I'm not living in Japan right now but luckily we have some sakura right here in Connecticut that I try to visit each year.

I was well-loved for my birthday this year and because we were traveling the day of my actual birthday I got to stretch out the festivities a good bit this year- bonus! The wintertime can often be tough on the emotions and sometimes as a single parent and lone music teacher in a building that combination can lead to some deep loneliness. Being reminded of all the amazing friends and loving family members I have surrounding me is the best part of my birthday, let me tell you! I was especially grateful for the deepening friendships I have begun to build here in CT, and the old friends that I haven't been the best about keeping in touch with who continue to be so committed to our relationship.

3. Literature Lessons

I've been able to try out several new books with my kindergarten classes this spring and it has been so much fun! I've loved sharing these lesson ideas on the blog this month, so if you haven't yet I'd encourage you to catch up on these- they are all perfect for the end of the school year as well if you need some fresh ideas to keep you and your students engaged when you're all feeling DONE.

4. Music Education Articles

I always love reading and learning from the insights of so many other fantastic music teacher authors. If you don't already, be sure to follow me on Facebook- I share new articles I find each Friday over there! Here are the ones I shared this month if you need to catch up :)

I hope you found some inspiration and fresh ideas to motivate you for the month ahead- May can get pretty busy so I think we can all use a little time to reflect on the highlights from our lives :) If you want to stay up to date on everything Organized Chaos, be sure to sign up here for the email newsletter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Max Found Two Sticks: elementary music lesson plan

I've loved adding more lesson plans based on children's books to my Kindergarten classes this year! One that I've been meaning to use for a long time and just never got around to until now is Max Found Two Sticks. It was a great way to introduce rhythm patterns and get students to transfer speech patterns to instruments, as well as talk about sounds they hear in their daily lives.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect buying experience or the contents of the article.

I've had the book, Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney, on my bookshelf for a while now. It's an obvious choice for elementary music, but for some reason I just never got around to actually using it in my lessons until this year! But I'm glad I finally got to use it, and I'm sure I will be bringing it back next year- it was a great introduction to rhythm.

At the beginning of Kindergarten we spend a lot of time working on steady beat, so it's a bit of a switch when I start asking them to perform rhythm patterns partway through the year. Using speech patterns, then transferring to body percussion and then instruments, has been a helpful way to introduce the concept, and this book lends itself to that process perfectly. 

In the story, Max finds two sticks and starts drumming out rhythm patterns (represented by onomatopoeia, like "pat... pat tat" and "cling, clang, da-bang" in the story) on everything he can find. Often he hears a sound around him, like the passing train or pigeons flying by, and imitates them with his sticks. He uses all kinds of objects as his drums- hat boxes, garbage cans, the sidewalk- to make different sounds with his sticks.

The first time through the story, I had students practice saying the sounds in rhythm after me. I said each one as a 4-beat rhythm and then had the class repeat the pattern several times by speaking the sounds as we went through the story. After reading it once, I told the class we were going to read it again, but this time we were going to try to play the rhythms like Max. Of course we need to use our rhythm sticks! But first we need to be able to play them instead of saying them (because, as it says in the story, Max doesn't really feel like talking that day). 

We went back through the story and found all of the rhythms, practicing first saying them, then saying while clapping/ patting, then just with body percussion. Once we practiced doing each rhythm without saying anything, we were ready for sticks! As I always do with instruments, I made sure students remembered that they will lose their instrument if they play out of turn- I had students set their rhythm sticks down on the floor while I was reading.

Then we read the story a second time, but this time after I said each rhythm, I had students pick up their sticks and first play it while saying it, then play it without using their voice. We went through the entire book this way, saying and playing and then only playing each rhythm as a repeated pattern.

While students were putting away their instruments at the end of the story, we had a brief discussion about found sounds: "What sounds do you hear when you sit outside your house?", "Can you tell me what it sounds like with words?". It was a great way to connect back to the sounds they hear in their daily lives. I also pointed out at the end that in the story, Max didn't have a real instrument- he just used what he had around him to make music. Then students discussed items they have at home or outside that they could use to make music. 

There are so many ways to extend this lesson into more exploration of found sounds, or having students create their own rhythm patterns! I'm sure there are other ways to apply this story to elementary music concepts as well- I'd love to hear your other ideas in the comments!

If you want to see more book-based elementary music lessons, be sure to head over to this post where I have collected all of my lesson plans in one place. I'm adding this one to the list and will continue to add as I publish more lesson ideas!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dance Playlist 2019

I love finding new music to add to my playlist for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and I'm excited to share this year's finds with you today! I always look for music that is age-appropriate for elementary students before editing (so no "kid version" stuff for me) that my older students will also think is cool. If you're looking for more music, be sure to check out all of my lists from previous years linked at the end of the post. Enjoy!

What songs would you add to the list? If you're looking for more tracks to add to your playlists, here are all my previous playlists- I still use these songs all the time and they don't seem to get old!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Snake Alley Band: Rhythmic Ostinati Lesson

In case you haven't heard, I love using books to teach and practice musical skills and concepts, especially with my youngest students. I came across this book at a used book store this summer and finally had a chance to use it with my kindergarten and 1st grade students this week- it was a great way to practice layering rhythmic ostinati with speech patterns while also reinforcing the importance of all the members in music ensembles.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect buying experience or the contents of the article.

The book, Snake Alley Band by Elizabeth Nygaard, is about a young snake who discovers that, contrary to the beliefs of the other snakes, other animals can make cool (and different) sounds that work together with his to make awesome music. As he meets new animals who are eager to join his new band, they each add their own sounds, shown in the book at different onomatopoeia patterns.

The overall message, first of all, is a good one to have: it's fun to put lots of different sounds together to make cool music, and everyone / every instrument has different and equally valuable ways to add to the ensemble. The first time we read the book, I let students naturally say the animal sounds along with me (I adjust some of them to fit into a 4-beat rhythmic pattern) as the sounds are repeated, and at the end of the story, we talk about that message. Sure, there are times when it's fun to play music with just triangles or listen to music with just violins, but isn't it cool when you add lots of different instruments together, all playing different things at the same time? Think about a rock band or an orchestra. What are some of the different instruments that play together in those groups? I also played a few seconds of an orchestral piece and a pop song that I just called up from songs I had on my computer to help them come up with the instruments that play in these groups.

After our discussion, I tell students that this time I want them to practice doing the parts of the animal band themselves. I go through the book again, this time demonstrating each sound by saying it and clapping/ patting the rhythm of the words, then having students copy me and practice repeating it. I wrote the words for each one on the board as we went- it would also be great to write the rhythmic notation for each pattern if you want to use this to reinforce rhythm notation!

Once we've practiced each one separately, I assign small groups of students to each sound and give each group a different instrument on which to play the sound. I have them practice saying and playing the pattern first, then I tell them to "think the words" while the play it without speaking. The last step is to put all the sounds together by layering the patterns on top of each other! For older students we can layer them all on top of each other, but for kindergarten we split it up into small groups- they aren't quite able to stay on their own rhythm independently when too many other things are happening at the same time! It's still a great way to get them working on rhythmic ostinati, and they love the way it sounds with the instruments.

This lesson would work well any time of year, but it was perfect for the beginning of spring! I was also able to use it as a sub plan by having them use body percussion instead of pulling out instruments in my absence, and it worked well too. Have you ever used this book in your music classes before? I'm sure there are more ways to extend the learning- I'd love to hear other ideas you have in the comments!

If you enjoy using books in your music lessons as much as I do, here are all of my other lesson plans using children's literature to teach musical concepts. They are some of my favorite lessons to teach!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Music Lesson on Emotions: Allie All Along

I was so pleased to come across a new book that is perfect for talking about handling feelings in healthy ways, and use it as a springboard for exploring the ways that music can communicate emotions! I used this lesson very successfully with Kindergarten, but it would work well with younger students and with students up through 2nd grade as well.

This post contains affiliate links which do not affect the purchase experience or the thoughts shared here. 

I came across the book Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul a month or so ago and knew I needed it for my kindergarten classes- this book tells the story of a little girl who gets angry and how her older brother helps her work through her feelings and calm down. As he gives her different specific strategies to try and her anger starts to fade, she changes colors from red to yellow to green to blue, and finally back to her normal self, and in each stage the book describes the different stages of anger without making any of them seem dangerous, bad, or unusual.

For my lesson, we first read the book together and discussed times when they have felt angry, and talked about (and even practiced) the different strategies that the author describes in the story to help us deal with anger in healthy ways. Then we talked about different feeling words they know, and how it's normal to feel different ways at different times, and that there are healthy ways to work through them.

Next I told them to listen to a few different songs I picked out and tell me what feeling word they think "matches the music". Here are the pieces I used (but obviously this could be done with a wide range of pieces to match a broad spectrum of emotions):

The students identified all of them almost instantaneously- I had them silently raise their hands, but the majority of them naturally started acting out the feeling with their facial expressions and their bodies as soon as the music started! I just played a few seconds of each one and identified the feeling words with them to make sure they all understood.

Once we had identified the feelings I told them to pretend they were walking somewhere with their families and they were feeling each of these emotions as they walked. I gave them the example that if they were going somewhere and they were happy, they might have a smile on their face and be skipping, but if they were sad they might have a scowl and walk very slowly with their backs hunched over. Then we spread out around the room and I told them to walk in any direction in the designated open space, silently matching the emotion with their faces and movements while the music played.

The students absolutely loved it! I just did it this spring and thought it was a good time of year for this type of lesson as well- we all know tensions can run pretty high this time of year! I think this would also work well as a sub plan. Not only is it a great way to get kids thinking and talking about feelings and healthy ways of expressing and handling them, but it's the perfect early introduction to communicating mood through music. With one class we were able to discuss, at a basic level, how the musical elements helped communicate different moods: the angry music was loud, the sad music was slow, etc.

I love using books to teach lessons, especially with the younger grades! You can find more literature-based lessons in this post. I leave many of these as sub plans, and several of them are among my favorite lessons to teach with my kindergarten and first grade classes every year!

Monday, April 1, 2019

March Favorites 2019

This month was full of fun and music- I can't wait to share my highlights! Music In Our Schools Month has always been one of my favorite months of the year but each year of teaching I feel like it gets better and better, and this year was no exception.

1. Musical March Madness Bracket

The idea itself is not new- I've seen plenty of other music teachers do this in the past- but this was my first year setting up a bracket myself and OH MY GOODNESS I loved it. The whole school loved it. Our speaker system in our building is pretty terrible so rather than playing the songs over the speakers on the announcements the homeroom teachers actually played the songs in their own rooms, and while I usually hesitate to give other teachers any additional work to do for the music program in this case they agreed it was better this way (yay colleagues) and the feedback from them was amazing! If you haven't tried this before yourself, I encourage you to give it a go. Here's my post on how I did it and which songs I used.

2. Daughters' Projects

My daughters are 7 right now and I think they each have about 4 craft projects going right now. I love their creative energy (although I'm not a huge fan of having all these materials sitting around the house waiting to get done)! One of my personal favorites was a series of posters one of my daughters made for our front door. Such a great visual to come home to each day!

3. Hip Hop Unit

I don't have a photo for this one but I have to include it because it has been a long but meaningful journey: I completed my first ever hip hop composition unit with my 6th grade classes. The final songs they created were great, but more than that the process of incorporating the genre more deliberately into my curriculum has been eye-opening for all of us. I already have a million things I want to do differently next time, but I am happy to have taken that first step.

4. Music Education Blog Posts

It's always so inspiring to see the amazing resources other teachers are creating- here are some favorites from the past month. Click on each photo to see the full article.

What were some of your highlights from the past month? Share your favorite stories in the comments below so we can celebrate together! Want to see more favorites? All of my photos are taken directly from my Instagram, so follow me there to see more highlights more regularly. Want to keep up on all my great blog finds? I share those weekly on my Facebook page!