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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

An Inclusive Holiday Sing Along in Pandemic Times

I have been doing an all-school holiday sing-along the last day before December break for several years now, and when I started talking with my principal about schoolwide events we could do in full distance learning, I knew I wanted to do it this year despite the obvious challenges. We started the school year in a hybrid model, which meant no singing in music class. Now that we're in a full distance model, all I want to do is get everyone singing! Here are my plans to make it happen this year.

Along with figuring out the logistics of running a sing-along virtually, I have also been on a quest the last few years to decenter Christmas and make the event more representative of our school community and our world. Last year I wrote about where I was in that journey- you can read that post here- and I have made further changes for this year to improve on that further. 


As of right now, my plan is to hold the sing along on Zoom. A few things I've had to think through to make that work:

  • My district got paid accounts for teachers, so I can host meetings with up to 300 participants. Our school has more than 300 students, and with staff coming too we will have well over 300 people invited! I am planning to tell students to join with 1 device per household- I think if everyone does that, and knowing some people will inevitably be absent, we will be OK. But I am looking into the possibility of live streaming, on something like YouTube live, as a backup.
  • Because of the sound delay, everyone else will have to be muted. I'm planning to have the zoom set so nobody can unmute themselves. I've always included movement and other activities to go with each song to keep everyone engaged, and this year that will be even more important! 
  • I've had to adapt some of the movement/ activities I normally use because they are group activities- one song we normally sing in canon, another song students shake hands with each other, and another each class does a circle dance. I've changed up the activities for all of those songs to make them doable over zoom.
  • There is no way I can manage that many participants while also leading the event. I am planning to have a few staff members help out as co-hosts to 1) keep an eye on the chat, which I will have set to only send messages to the hosts, and 2) scroll through the videos to make sure there is nothing inappropriate going on in anyone's background etc. I'm also asking grade level teachers to be the point of contact for any of their students' question or tech issues during the event, so I don't have to worry about checking for messages and troubleshooting while leading!
  • I have the lyrics for each song in a Google Slides file, so I am planning to share my screen and show the words and then just have myself singing (and possibly playing an instrument with some of the songs), rather than having any accompaniment tracks. I've never used tracks for my singalong before, and I think it's more "organic" without them (which is important when everything is on a computer screen).
There are a few songs that I'm planning to invite students to use props with. My plan is to publicize a supply list, making it clear that everything is optional, well in advance so we don't have to spend too much time waiting for people to find things in the middle of the program. I also am planning on needing to teach the songs live during the event itself, because we are on a rotation this year where I only see a few grade levels at a time, and I don't want to ask grade level teachers to do one more thing right now! Many of the students will (hopefully) remember the songs that we did last year, and all of them are very short and simple, so I think it will still work!


After looking at continuing to improve the representation of my song selection and considering which songs are doable over Zoom, here is what I plan on doing this year:

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah (we'll do a modified version of the circle dance we normally do- we sing only the first section)
2. Sleigh Ride (we'll do the cup routine shown in the linked video)
3. Feliz Navidad (I'll ask students to find something around their house to use as a shaker to play in the Spanish section, and do a simple clapping pattern in the English section)
4. Diwali is Here (I'll ask students to grab a flashlight/ cell phone light if they can, and do some simple choreography with the lights off while we sing)
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi (we'll do the same motions with the verse- which we sing in an English translation- and then turn to each side of the video screen and pretend to shake hands in the chorus)
6. Eid Mubarak (we'll do a clapping pattern with this, clapping towards the camera so it looks like we're clapping each other's hands)
7. Happy Kwanzaa Song (I'll assign each grade to stand and do a motion that represents one of the 7 principles when we sing the verse (I teach K-6 so it works perfectly), and we'll all drum along while singing the chorus)

To be honest, I'm pretty happy with my plans for this year. I have absolutely no idea how well it will work with the technology, but I'm excited to try, and I'm much happier with my song selections this year than I was last year. 

Are you planning a sing-along this year? How are you planning to manage yours? I'd also love to hear your thoughts on holidays in public school classrooms, how to make holiday sing-alongs more reflective of our world, and whether holiday sing-alongs are even a good idea to begin with! Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. I hope this sparks some conversation in the music education community as we continue to look for ways to value and respect all of our students and their backgrounds.


  1. I absolutely love this idea of including more diverse songs/music into end of the year holiday performances/sing-alongs! I am curious, though, why not expand the diversity of this further and include one traditional Christmas carol, such as "The First Noel"? I do not see the harm of trying to represent as many cultures as possible. You could even talk about the origins of a carol -"Deck the Halls" came from Wales in the 16th century and "O Christmas Tree" comes from Germany in the 16th century. Again, I am a strong supporter of diversity in holiday music, but why leave out certain cultures? Just curious. :)

    1. I'm certainly not apposed to including European cultures/ Christmas carols- there are plenty of other cultures that are "left out" from this list as well, including my own Japanese culture (I would love to do a tanabata song, for example). There's just not enough time to include every single culture, obviously, and I chose to include "Feliz Navidad" because I have a lot of Spanish speakers in my school community, so I wanted to include a song in Spanish, and I wanted a super easy, upbeat song, because several of the others are more low-key. Since I have that one representing Christmas, I did not include any others.

  2. As much as I love the idea of an inclusive sing along, it always felt odd to me to sing songs about holidays that have either already occurred, or wouldn't happen for some time. To me it seemed like pandering instead of authentic representation. After wrestling with this I decided to include the songs the classroom activities. In my school we do traditionally do an all-school sing along at Halloween instead (although not this year) so we have a community experience.

    1. I have never heard of an all-school sing-along at Halloween but I kinda love that idea! There are so many fall holidays around the world that you could include! I've gone back and forth on this, and still do, but a few thoughts I've had on including holiday songs in lessons rather than in a whole-school sing-along: 1) Eid often ends up falling during summer break, so if we only did the holidays when they were occurring we would always miss that one, and 2) I do have one family in my school community who does not celebrate any holidays at all, and while they have absolutely no problem with doing something else during the only 1-hour activity when we do holiday things, it would be much harder to have to have them miss out on lots of in-class activities, especially since any songs I do in class I am connecting to my curriculum learning objectives.

  3. I highly recommend the Halloween sing-along! Its a great way to channel that pre-Halloween energy! I totally understand what you are saying about the Eid, and children who don't celebrate any holidays. I usually try to talk about Eid in June, as well as the 4th of July. There is no perfect answer, especially if you have a very diverse population, but at least we are trying!