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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Nine-In-One, Grr! Grr! Elementary Music Lesson

As I look for more ways to incorporate representation for a wide range of cultural perspectives in my music class, I am excited about this new lesson I taught for the first time this school year, using a Hmong story to practice sol-mi and instrument techniques with my 1st graders!

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I actually picked up this book at a used book store while I was on vacation last summer. As soon as I saw it I knew it would be perfect for a music lesson, but as with many things it has taken me over a year to finally sit down to figure out a concrete, meaningful lesson plan to use in my classes. It was worth the wait, though!

The book is Nine-In-One, Grr, Grr! and is a story originally told by Blia Xiong, adapted by Cathy Spagnoli, and illustrated by Nancy Hom. The story is a traditional Hmong story from Laos about why there are so few tigers. If you are not familiar with the story, here it is:

There are 3 main characters in the story: the tiger, the bird, and Shao. When I first read the book to the class, I tell the students to motion with their hands next to their face showing their "claws" every time I say Tiger, flap their "wings" every time I say Bird, and point to their forehead (like they are thinking) every time I say Shao. After reading through the story one time, we quickly discuss what happened in the story.

In the story, the tiger sings a short song ("nine in one, grr, grr") several times. When I read the story, I sing "nine in one" with the melody "sol-sol-mi" while showing the hand signs. After we've read the story and discussed it, I have the students practice singing and signing the song with me and identify the notes in the melody.

Once we've sung it and identified sol and mi, we review how to notate sol and mi on the staff and then I show them how to play it on a xylophone (I have them use G and E). Then I have students work in pairs, and they take turns having one of them sing and sign it while the other plays it. This is the first time they've really played a melody on the barred instruments, so even though it's quite simple it's great practice and the students get so excited!

Now it's time to put the whole story together. I split the class up into 3 groups: one group to sing and sign the song, one to play the song on xylophones, and one to play an instrument for each of the 3 characters: I use gongs for Shao, tubano drums for Tiger, and hand bells for Bird. These are instruments I don't use very often with my 1st graders, so it's a great chance to give them practice using these instruments and review playing technique and instrument names!

We read through the book 3 more times (so each group can take a turn on each part), and the third time I like to take a video of the performance so the class can hear themselves and I can share with their other teachers. It's so easy to put together but it gives the students great practice with some important concepts and it's a perfect opportunity to expose them to a culture most of them have never interacted with before. One nice bonus is actually the biographical information in the back of the book about each of the three contributors, which opens up some great conversations about the refugee experience, Hmong culture, and the importance of cultural preservation (yes, with 1st graders!).

Have you used this story in your classroom before? I had never heard of it until I found it at the bookstore and I love it! If you have more ideas for using this book in music class I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. If you're looking for more ways to bring children's literature into your elementary music lessons, you can find tons more lesson ideas here:


  1. So neat! I am new to teaching music, but I have been teaching primary students to read for 24 years. I remember this story from years ago. It was in the 2nd grade reading textbook. This is so helpful for me to see how to combine teaching literature and music. Thank you so much.

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful! I can't believe I haven't come across this book sooner- I love it and my students did too.