Fun Song & Story Acting with Chicken Little

It’s great fun to engage children in stories with music and acting. Elsewhere on this blog, you can find posts about my musical versions of stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Click on “Story Songs” to find several examples. These musical dramas don’t require much rehearsal – just invite kids to step into the parts.

This past year, one of my kindergarten music classes did a very fun version of “Chicken Little” for our school play. With just a little preparation, you can create your own in-class version of the little chickie who thinks the sky is falling, along with a host of other characters from Funny Bunnies to the sly Foxie Loxies.

Children can decide what part they would like to play. Don’t worry if more than one person wants a part – just create two or three of the same character. If you are acting it out very informally, an adult can read the narrator parts and the kids can simply act out the animal part they’ve chosen. In Chicken Little, half the fun is letting the “actors” take a little time to create their silly animals with sounds and movements.

Below is the script. You will notice that the little song repeats frequently, but that’s actually a good thing when working with young children.  They learn it quickly and enjoy singing it over and over. You can find a recording of the whole story here: In the recording, there were multiple versions of each character, including Chicken Little.

Chicken Little

A play adapted by Liz Buchanan ©2017

Narrator 1: This story is called Chicken Little.

Narrator 2: Once upon a time, Chicken Little went for a walk in the woods.

(Chicken Little comes to center stage, where an oak tree is standing. Chicken Little stops and sits down to rest in front of a person playing the Oak Tree.)

Narrator 3: When Chicken Little stopped to rest, and something fell on his/her head.

(The Oak Tree drops an “acorn” on Chicken Little. A squirrel picks it up and runs away when Chicken Little isn’t looking. Chicken Little jumps up and rubs his/her head, looking very upset.)

Chicken Little: Ouch! The sky is falling!

Sung by all children:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon Chicken Little met the Silly Kitty.  (Kitty does a little kitty dance and says Miaow.)

Kitty: Miaow!  What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little: The sky is falling!

Kitty: Oh, no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon they met the Funny Bunny! (Funny Bunny hops a bit, then stops.)

Funny Bunny: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & Kitty: The sky is falling!

Funny Bunny: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon, they met Henny Penny. (Henny Penny flaps and says Bok Bok.)

Henny Penny: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & others: The sky is falling!

Henny Penny: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon, they all met the Lucky Ducky. (Ducky flaps and say quack quack.)

Lucky Ducky: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & others:  The sky is falling!

Lucky Ducky: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Lucky Ducky: (Pointing up) Quack-quack. Hmm! But it looks like the sky is still up there!

(Chicken Little and other animals look at each other, confused.)

Chicken Littles & Others: Huh?

Spoken by all:  Then, along came the sly Foxy Loxies. The Foxies said:

Sung by all, or by Foxes:

What’s all this I hear you calling?

Did you say the sky is falling?

I can help, come right this way!

I’ll help you at my house today!

(Foxes secretly look at something called “Chicken Cookbook” and rub their tummies like they can’t wait to eat Chicken Little.)

Lucky Ducky: Quack-quack-quack.  Those Foxes, they are oh, so sly.  Those Foxes will tell you a lie.

Foxes: Not us!

Ducky: Quack-quack. Yes, you!  Go away!  (The Ducky grabs the cookbook and Foxes exit in a huff.)

(Oak tree drops another acorn on Chicken Little. The Squirrel steps out, ready to grab the nut.)

Chicken Little: But the sky is still falling!

Squirrel: No, it’s not, it’s just a nut. Yum!

Chicken Little & all other animals/birds: Oh!

Chicken Little: Why didn’t you say so before?

All Sing:

The sky didn’t fall, Oh no. The sky didn’t fall, oh, no.

It was just a nut, so off we go. It was just a nut, so off-we-go!

Making Musical Links with Literacy

I love making music with kids aged 3-6, especially pairing music with early literacy learning, which is a natural fit.

I once taught at a preschool where the director told me: “Just have fun singing with the kids,” implying that they’d pick up the literacy learning elsewhere in their day. I understand what she meant, but she missed the point. Childhood music and early literacy are so intertwined that it’s hard to make music with young children without touching upon key literacy skills.

Consider the topic of rhythm. Rhythm is a part of language, just as it’s part of music. Many music teachers incorporate syllable segmentation into their lessons by having students clap their names or tap words on a drum. Musical rhythm becomes interchangeable with language rhythm. Just as they segment musical phrases, children hear and understand multi-syllable words in chunks that can be sounded out and broken into smaller elements.

Or consider another activity we often do with young children: saying a familiar rhyme and letting the child fill in a rhyming end word. For example: Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you ___ (the child fills in can). Songs and nursery rhymes are a natural vehicle for children to hear, express and initiate rhyming words, thus distinguishing vowel sounds and building phonological awareness.

On any given day, my music lesson includes songs that perfectly complement the other literacy activities during the child’s day at school. Here are some of those elements:

A finger play song such as “Tommy Thumb is Up” incorporates sequencing and characters, building children’s insight into the elements of stories. I use a glove puppet and give each character distinct personality traits, including the contrary “Ruby Ring.”

Finger plays also build manual dexterity as children work toward handwriting skills. Here’s a link to a recording of this song, although you should note that I have different names for some of the fingers in this song: Tommy Thumb, Penny Pointer, Toby Tall, Ruby Ring and Pinky Finger.

My version of “The Muffin Man” engages children with starting letter sounds in verses about “Muffin Man,” the “Lemonade Lady,” the “Cookie Cat” and the “Donut Dog,” to name a few. I add visuals by using a sign with key words and a picture for each verse.


“Icky Sticky and Ooey Gooey” gives students a chance to hear and guess rhymes by connecting a word to a rhyming body part (sand-hand, tree-knee, hoe-toe, track-back).   I use spoon puppets to engage children visually and create a sense of fun.

Movement activities, always part of my music lessons, have many literacy links. When children imitate caterpillars and butterflies on my song “If I Were a Butterfly,” they build their understanding of a sequenced nonfiction narrative.

If they act out my musical version of “The Tortoise and the Hare” to learn about tempo, they’re getting a taste of the fable genre and building understanding that all stories have a beginning, middle and end. They might develop a similar understanding by acting out my “Three Little Pigs” song, described in another post on this blog.

I love language, stories and poems, so to me, the literacy element has special appeal in music lesson planning. Musical concepts on their own, even for young children, can be somewhat abstract. Literacy content grounds the music lesson in the familiar world. At a workshop with Andy Davis of New England Dancing Masters, he talked about telling stories to introduce new songs to young children. He understands the connection that children naturally make with a good storyteller or a book, which often can lead into a song.

The reverse is also true. A song can get children’s attention on a literacy topic. A teacher can begin a lesson on rhyming words having the children join in singing a rhyming song. My songs on word families, sound segmentation and syllable clapping are a natural lead-in to spoken lessons on those topics, especially once the kids know the songs and can sing along and even help compose their own verses. You can find most of the literacy songs I’ve mentioned on my download album, Songs for Rhyming and Reading. I just added two new rhyming songs to this album, so be sure to check it out!

My first love in teaching is music, but I firmly believe in all the connections that music can make to everything else in a child’s world. The connection with emergent reading is a total natural!

Musical Learning with The Three Bears


Paul Galdone’s book is a great accompaniment to this musical lesson.

The story of the Three Bears is a fun way to help children learn about high, medium and low pitches. This idea is not original to me (I’ve referenced some lesson plans below), but I found a way to involve students playing different instruments and repeating lines of the story.

The drums, the lowest instrument, are for the Papa Bear. Next comes Mama Bear, represented by tambourines and/or smaller drums. The baby bear is represented by the highest-pitched finger cymbals and bells. I’ve abbreviated the story line slightly so that there’s less talking for the teacher and the kids have the maximum opportunity for playing instruments.

The rhythm is as follows (88 = paired eighths, 4 = quarter, R = quarter rest):  88-4    88-4   4 – 4 – 4  R

Spoken lyrics with the rhythm:

Papa Bear, Papa Bear, Pa-Pa-Bear.

Mama Bear, Mama Bear, Ma-Ma Bear.

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, Ba-by Bear.

Goldilocks is represented by the glockenspiel. She has the same rhythm as above and her melody is:

Mi-So-La, Mi-So-La, La-So-Mi, with the lyrics: Goldilocks, Goldilocks, Gol-di-locks.

The teacher reads or tells the story using the suggested script that follows. Students can be invited to join in the repeating lines. Each part above should be played on the instruments when that character is underlined.

The script

Once upon a time, there were three bears, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. One day, their breakfast porridge was too hot, so they decided to take a walk and let it cool.

While they were gone, along came a little girl named Goldilocks. She knocked at the door but no one was home, so she thought she’d check out this little house in the woods.

The first thing she saw was the table, laid out with three bowls of porridge. There was a big bowl that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized bowl that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bowl that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tasted each bowl, and the littlest bowl tasted just right, so she ate it all up.

In the next room, she found three chairs. There was a big chair that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized chair that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little chair that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tried out the first two chairs but they were too big. The Baby Bear’s chair looked just right! Except – oops! It broke apart when she sat in it!

Then she decided to go upstairs, where she found three beds. There was a big bed that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium sized bed that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bed that belonged to Baby Bear.

She tried the first two beds but the Baby Bear’s bed was the one that felt just right. She soon fell fast asleep.  I wonder what will happen to Goldilocks.

The three bears soon came home.  They saw their porridge bowls. (Tap instruments on the bold syllables, as indicated in the lines that follow.)

Papa Bear spoke first. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Mama Bear spoke next. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!!  (Go crazy on the instruments on this last part.)

Next they went to their chairs.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been sitting in my chair and they broke it to bits!

Finally, they went up the stairs and saw their beds.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Then Baby Bear piped up: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed and here she is!

Goldilocks awoke with a start! She jumped out of bed and out the window!

(Glockenspiels play and voices sing.)

Goldilocks, Goldilocks, run away! (Play and sing several times, getting faster).

Goldilocks ran away and never, ever came back again to the house of the Three Bears.

The end!

I’ve written a full song about the Three Bears. It’s a great way to end this lesson. You can download it and find the lyrics here at Songs for Teaching.  You can hear the song here.

Here are some lesson plans that helped inspire me:

Here’s a youtube of the Paul Galdone book, emphasizing high-low pitch differences.  Have fun exploring pitches and instrument sounds!

Seek & Find the Joy in Music!

CMN has made a big difference in the work I do in Boston's public schools.

There’s nothing like getting up & singing and dancing!

Seek the joy! It’s one of the guiding principles of the elementary school I helped to found in the summer of 2015. It’s the core principle of my music classroom. Recently, at a pre-holiday gathering, our school staff all wrote shout-outs to each other. I saw “joy” repeatedly in the comments for me, so I know I’m doing the right thing!

Sometimes when I get muddled up in thinking about curriculum and benchmarks and those academic-sounding terms that govern our lives in education, I shake it off by returning to singing, dancing, and storytelling. I summon the joy.

Joy can mean a lot of things. Here are some images of joy in my world:

Joy is when I get out as many instruments as possible and let as many people as possible play them.

Joy is watching the mouths of our students fall open when I bring my friend who plays double-bass to the school and they think it’s a giant violin.

Joy is dancing just to the edge of losing control (and sometimes a little beyond it).

Joy is joining the kindergarteners in trying out the simple circle dance that I just taught them. Then they push me out of the circle saying, “Ms. Buchanan, let us do it ourselves.”

Joy is kids throwing colorful scarves in the air and catching them on various body parts (or not).

Joy is singing, yet again, the song that I think everyone’s sick of, but then someone yells, “That’s my favorite” or “I love this one!”

Joy is when a child is so excited to tell me, “I listened to your CD on the radio!”

Joy is when I bring my fellow children’s singers to the school – one African American and one Latino – and so many children (and teachers) are thrilled to see musicians who look and talk like them.

"Culture Queen" Jessica Smith visited my school in early 2016, bringing joy and cultural understanding.

“Culture Queen” Jessica Smith visited my school in the spring of 2016, bringing joy and cultural understanding.

Joy is telling simple stories and having the kids play instruments for all the characters.

Joy is seeing the kids take over the glockenspiels during play time and use the simple notes that I created to play the songs over and over again.

Joy is the excitement of getting a new xylophone! Purchased on a whim on cyber Monday, it still  wasn’t cheap, but it looks and sounds so beautiful.

Joy is when I hear a first-grade boy sing solo on “This Land is Your Land.” His skin is brown, and it IS his land. His teacher has tears in her eyes.

Whatever else you resolve to do in the New Year, resolve to seek the joy. And find it!

Thoughts on This Surreal Election

Mural from Memphis, near the hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Mural from Memphis, near the hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

What follows is a brief departure from my usual postings. This year’s election affects everyone of every age, and for the moment, it’s overshadowing my passion for making joyful music with children.

First, I just need to know if there’s a parallel universe where Hillary got elected. If so, how can we go there?

Assuming this isn’t an option, please read on.

Like most of people here in my liberal/progressive bubble, I have a strong personal revulsion toward the President-elect. His looks and voice make my skin crawl. I’m outraged, incensed, and deeply saddened not only that this man repeatedly expressed such bigoted, sexist, hateful attitudes, but that millions of Americans were willing to cast their votes for him. How could they have watched the ad with the images of children watching Trump’s hateful behavior and still think this guy was a remotely acceptable choice? No matter how many explanations I hear about Trump voters’ mindset, I can’t get my head around it.

But I’m not going to stop following the news or get off social media. I wouldn’t even think about leaving the United States. It’s my civic duty as an American to educate myself and advocate for what I believe in, not run away. It’s especially my responsibility as a privileged white person to be an ally to every single one of my friends, colleagues, students and all the people I don’t know who are not white, not straight, not American citizens, and not economically advantaged. They are the most vulnerable to the likely effects of the coming Republican regime.

So as Donald Trump begins his march toward the White House, here are a few ways I hope his feet get held to the fire.

Will the public & the media continue to pressure him to release his tax returns? He said he would release them when the IRS audit is over. It can’t go on forever. It would be useful to examine in detail all the ways Trump admittedly used the system to legally escape paying taxes. Maybe there were illegal ways, too. Let’s hold his feet to the fire.

Trump declared he knows so much about the tax code from his own experiences that he’ll be the most qualified to change it. Does this mean he will propose massive tax reforms that will eliminate loopholes that benefit super-rich people like himself? He excoriated Hillary for failing to do so during her many years of public service.  Now he has his chance. Let’s hold his feet to the fire.

Trump is on record saying that he supports many of the services that Planned Parenthood provides for women’s health.  Since abortions only account for 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood (not 94% as Republicans in Congress have contended) will Trump resist Congress when they vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood?  Let’s hold his feet to the fire.

According to a Sept. 4 report on Trump’s visit to a black church in Detroit (one of his few events with black voters), Trump said the nation needs “a civil rights agenda of our time,” with better education and good jobs. In typical fashion, he said his economic plans will be “so good for Detroit.”

As a teacher in a school that serves at-risk children, I have a very personal stake in seeing if and how Trump will make good on this promise. It’s so easy to stand at a church or rally and promise everything will be “so good” and everybody will have great jobs and great schools. Actually doing something is one of the most difficult challenges of our time. Let’s hold his feet to the fire.

The current level of economic inequality is mind-blowing, and its effect on our poorest citizens is profound. Trump repeatedly asked African American voters what they had to lose by voting for him. The cynic in me says it was all just demagoguery, and in fact African Americans and all people of color have a tremendous amount to lose. Trump could prove the cynics wrong. Let’s hold his feet to the fire.

I’m impressed by the civility that Democratic officials, including President Obama, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and the Clintons themselves, have shown toward Trump since the election. Given what Trump said very loudly before the election about the rigged system and perhaps not conceding if he lost, I doubt he would have been so civil.

In a speech to union members, Warren expressed understanding and empathy for the millions of people who voted for Trump not out of bigotry but “out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change.” She went on to say: “When his goal is to increase the economic security of middle class families, then count me in. I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal. I offer to work as hard as I can and to pull as many people as I can into this effort.”

Contrast Senator Warren’s sentiments with those of Republicans, most notably Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who swore in 2009 that his number one goal was not to work with the newly-elected President Obama to counter the effects of the worst economic downturn since the great Depression, but to do all he could to secure Obama’s defeat four years later.

McConnell and his fellow Republicans repeatedly and brazenly repudiated Obama’s initiatives, not just to address economic misery, but to enact policies that had previously enjoyed significant Republican support such as immigration reform. The basic tenets of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) – a system that provides universal healthcare mostly through private companies – originally had strong support from Republicans. Mitt Romney ran away from it in 2012, but it was his signature achievement as Governor of Massachusetts.

Fortunately, like the 1980 election that brought Ronald Reagan to power, Trump’s election will have a galvanizing effect for progressive causes. My December contributions this year will go to organizations that fight bigotry, defend women’s reproductive rights, demand action on climate change, and aim to overturn Citizens United, redraw congressional district lines and end the charade of “voter fraud” measures that disenfranchise people of color.

And while I’m sympathetic to Sen. Warren’s desire to work with President Trump to accomplish his goals, I am a loyal Democrat and will do everything in my power to help elect Democrats in the midterm elections and end Trump’s presidency in 2020, if he doesn’t get driven out of office before that. I’m excited about the Democrats who did win their elections this year, especially the new women in the Senate, and I’m confident that many new, fresh faces of Democratic leadership will arise. The present is heartbreaking, but the future looks far more progressive in many, many ways.

Exploring Musical Opposites: High & Low

flowersI’ve been teaching my students in kindergarten and first grade about musical opposites. Right now, we’re especially focused on how pitches can move up and down, high and low. I learned the following finger play from a friend; the author is unknown. I adapted the words to teach more clearly about musical themes.

As you say the rhyme, you can emphasize the changes in pitch by featuring a slide whistle or another instrument, or simply use your own vocal inflection, showing the sounds going from low to high and high to low. Wiggle and Waggle are your two thumbs, moving up and down. “Home” is down by your side.

This finger play can be followed by singing a major scale on “do-re-mi” as student move their hands or bodies up and down with the notes.

The Story of Wiggle and Waggle

This is my friend Waggle and this is my friend Wiggle

They like to walk together and they like to talk and giggle.

And so one morning on a bright sunny day

My friend Waggle goes out on her way

She goes up up up the hill and then goes down.

Up and down all through the town.

She goes up high high high and down low low low

High and low all through the town.

But she can’t find Wiggle no matter where she roams.

So my friend Waggle goes up and down, high and low, back home.


And then, the next morning on a bright, sunny day

My friend Wiggle goes out on his way

He goes up up up the hill and then goes down.

Up and down all through the town.

He goes up high high high and down low low low

High and low all through the town.

But he can’t find Waggle no matter where she roams.

So my friend Wiggle goes up and down, high and low, back home.


But the next sunny day, Wiggle picks up the phone

And makes a call to Waggle, who’s at home – Hello!

Wiggle says, shall we meet

On the street?

Waggle says, yes, let’s meet

On the street!


And together, they go up up up the hill and then go down.

Up and down all through the town.

They go up high high high and down low low low

High and low all through the town.

And then, they say: that was fun, going up and down, high and low.

Let’s do it again tomorrow!

For more up/down and high/low activities, you could also have children sing and move to Nancy Hershatter’s song “Once I Was a Seed,” featured in another post on this blog about learning about sequence and narrative.

Why We Need Music in School – A Response

16685614_SSMusic education is good because it helps raise students’ test scores. I recently read an article by teacher and blogger Peter Greene that adamantly contends we should not use this argument to justify music education.

Hmmm. Why not? If test scores go up when music is part of the school curriculum, doesn’t this tell us something important about the power of music?

It seems to me we have a “both-and” situation here. I agree with Greene that we should value music in schools because of music itself. Music is universal, it’s beautiful, it helps us get in touch with our deepest feelings. It’s transcendent, builds community and helps everyone participating feel like a winner. And for many students, it’s one of the highlights of school.

But wait, there’s more! Music also has this incredible effect on the brain. Let’s celebrate that the field of neuroscience has been very busy documenting the beneficial impacts. Bestsellers such as the late neurologist Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music have brought scientific research on the human experience with music into the popular culture.

Levitin’s book contains elaborate brain diagrams showing that nearly all parts of the brain are utilized in processing musical experiences, not just those related directly to listening and language, but also the memory center in the hippocampus, the timing circuits in the cerebellum, the planning centers in the frontal lobe, and the motor, sensory and visual cortexes.

Sacks noted that these many different parts of the brain often work together when one is making music.  “For the vast majority of students,” Sacks wrote, “music can be every bit as important educationally as reading or writing.”

Shouldn’t the fact that music is good for your brain be one of the main reasons for teaching music in school? Why not make a connection between musical aptitude and many other abilities?

As Harvard’s Howard Gardner explained in his landmark work on multiple intelligences, musical intelligence “should be viewed differently from our other intelligences, because it carries more emotional, spiritual and cultural weight than the other intelligences. While also helping people organize the way they think and work, it helps them develop in other areas, such as math, language, and spatial reasoning.”

I’ve been particularly drawn to the connections between music and learning to read. Music is a natural fit with learning about sound, about rhymes, about language. I often say that music is actually the best way to learn many early literacy skills. But you don’t have to believe me, just consider some of the many studies out there that confirm this conclusion.

Studies going back nearly fifty years show a correlation between instruction in the Kodály music system, a folk song-based method which originated in Hungary, and improvement in students’ reading ability. This relationship was tested first in the Hungarian student population (Kokas, 1969), and again in American children during their first year of school (Hurwitz et al., 1975).  The Hurwitz study found significant differences in academic achievement, including reading, between children who had received the Kodály music instruction and those who had not.

Additional studies specifically focused on early literacy showed that:

  • Children who could tap a regular rhythm achieved greater success at early phonological awareness activities. (1)
  • Children who had regular music instruction scored better on pre-reading assessments. (2)
  • Children who were taught pre-reading skills using music had higher assessment scores than those in classes that didn’t use music. (3)
  1. David, D., Wade-Wodley, L., Kirby, J., and Smithrim, K. (2007). Rhythm and reading development in school-age children: a longitudinal study. Journal of Research in Reading, 30 (2), 169-83.
  2. Gromko, J. (2005). The effect of music instruction on phonemic awareness in beginning readers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(3), 199-209.
  3. Fisher, D. (2001). Early language learning with and without music. Reading Horizons, 42(1), 39-49.

Sure, let’s absolutely enjoy music for its own sake, but let’s also connect music to literacy, math, science and social studies. Why limit the benefits of music to the music classroom?

Perhaps, as Greene suggests, it’s unfortunate that we need to use improving test scores to justify anything we do in schools. But I’m coming to accept that education is increasingly data driven, and in many ways that’s not a bad thing, as long as it’s kept in the proper perspective. (And yes, I know that it often isn’t.)

The bottom line is I’m not surprised at all about the correlation between studying music and achieving higher test scores. And if that’s what it takes to keep music programs in schools, by all means keep using that argument!

Writing a Song About Flying!

Photo on 9-4-16 at 12.01 PM #2 (1)Ever dream of flying? Not flying on an airplane, though I love that, too. I mean letting your body catch the wind as you rise up into the air, soaring and gliding and seeing the sights far below.

The classic Peter Pan fired children’s imaginations about flying. Just a little fairy dust, and off you can go, to a magical land beyond the horizon. A contemporary picture book about a flying adventure is Abuela, by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.

I first read this book at part of an “Adventures” reading unit for kindergarteners; it’s a wonderful book for ages 4-7. An added bonus is that it includes many words and phrases in Spanish, as a young Latina, Rosalba, goes flying around the city with her grandmother, her abuela.

My song “Flying High,” from my new album Amazing is the perfect complement to this book, or to any book about flying. This song is available at my web page through CDBaby or Songs for Teaching.

CDThe chorus goes:

I wish I knew how to fly, like fairies, birds and Superman!

If I could fly, I’d go so high, and with magic, I think I can! I think I can!

Two of the song’s three verses pose open-ended questions about flying:

  • If we could fly, where would we go?
  • If we could fly, what would we see?

The song answers the questions, but of course, there are many other possible answers. Writing a new verse to the song could be a creative extension of the Abuela story for the class. It is also a way for students to learn and practice writing in the genre of poetry.

Students could start with a writing prompt, answering one of the questions in their own words, starting with prose rather than poetry. They would need to use their imagination to think about where they would go or what they would see when they’re flying! (By the way, there is also a song called “Imagination” on this same CD!)

Once everyone’s done with their writing, the teacher could review the papers and help students transform their prose-writing into poetry in order to construct a new verse to the song. The first line would be the question. Let’s say the question is, “If we could fly, what would we see?”

Here are some possible answers:

  • A plane flying through the sky
  • A bird swooping and gliding
  • A white, fluffy cloud
  • A kite with a long tail
  • The top of a skyscraper
  • People walking below, looking small
  • The arch of a bridge
  • A river looking like a snake
  • The moon rising
  • The sun shining bright
  • A dragon breathing fire! (why not, it’s already a magical story!)
  • A superhero flying by

Especially when working with grades pre-K through first, I’d recommend helping students write the verse as a group. First, let the students know the basic structure. Each verse has four lines. The first two and the second two are rhyming couplets, so the rhyme scheme of the verse is A-A-B-B. You already have your first line, “If we could fly, what would we see?” so the end word of the second line must rhyme with “see.” Brainstorm rhyming words with “see.” These could include me, tree, bee, be, free, sea, whee, glee, three, tea, knee. The original text uses the line, “An eagle soaring proud and free.” Here are some possible alternatives that keep close to the rhythm of the original:

  • The bright green tip-top of a tree
  • People walking far below me
  • A plane is gliding right near me
  • A gull that’s heading for the sea
  • A kite that catches wind so free
  • A bright red bird, what can it be?

The next two lines must rhyme with each other, so be sure that the end word of line 3 has some rhyming possibilities. You might come up with a great line, but then have to rule it out because of the lack of rhyming options.  Here are some possibilities:

Couplet 1:

A tall building scrapes the sky

How did it ever get so high?

Couplet 2:

A river winding through the city

Up here, clouds look so pretty!

Couplet 3:

A kite that’s bobbing in the wind

The blue sky never seems to end.

Couplet 4:

A river winding like a snake

Flows into a bright blue lake.

Writing rhyming lines can be tricky, so it’s good for the teacher to practice it ahead and have some possibilities in mind (plus be familiar with end-words that might not produce a great rhyme for the song).

Songwriting with students is one of my favorite teaching artist activities. With a little practice, teachers can also help students be the songwriters and poets!

I Learned About Orff This Summer!

Pitched percussion instruments are an important part of the Orff approach to teaching music.

Pitched percussion instruments are an important part of the Orff approach to teaching music.

During the summer of 2016, I had lots of adventures. While traveling through the American south, I stopped at the University of Memphis for two weeks to take a course about an approach to music education called Orff.

Orff isn’t an acronym, it’s the name of the founder, Carl Orff, a 20th Century German Composer. Composer Gunilde Keetman was an indispensable partner to Orff in the development of the teaching approach, called Orff Schulwerk. Perhaps because of her gender, she didn’t get credited in the name!

The American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA) describes the approach as follows:

“In Orff Schulwerk classrooms, children begin with what they do instinctively: play! Imitation, experimentation, and personal expression occur naturally as students become confident, life-long musicians and creative problem solvers. The Orff approach to teaching is a model for optimal learning in 21st Century classrooms.”

Here are a few important things I learned about Orff during my two weeks. Orff uses pitched percussion instruments such as glockenspiels and xylophones to help students create their own music that really sounds good! For beginning students, instruments are often put in a pentatonic scale (by actually removing the non-pentatonic keys), so that whatever the student plays will blend with other notes being played.

For those non-music majors who don’t know, a pentatonic scale is a scale with five pitches instead of the usual seven in the typical octave. The notes “fa” and “ti,” are omitted. The result is a sound that is often heard in ethnic folk music such as Irish music, as well as in the blues. As mentioned above, a pentatonic scale permits a blend with whatever other note is being played, often creating a lush sound. Orff also uses non-pitched percussion instruments of all kinds to add various effects to the music being played.

A second important thing I learned about Orff is that body percussion plays an important role in teaching. Students often echo a teacher’s body percussion movements to begin learning a rhythm pattern or song. Body percussion might be on several levels, including a stomp, clap, tap on the chest or thigh, or snapping the fingers. Body percussion for younger students is kept simple, either with a simple combination such as tapping thighs and clapping hands, or keeping to one level, such as stomping feet, marching or clapping hands.

One of the Dancing Masters' many publications.

Folk dances and movement activities from the New England Dancing Masters are often part of Orff class activities.

Indeed, feeling the music in the body through movement is also an essential part of Orff, as is the case in the other musical pedagogy I’ve studied, Dalcroze. We spent 75 minutes of each day during our 2-week Orff course on movement activities, including moving freely to various types of music, choreographed movements and folk dances.

There’s much more to tell! I hope to post more on this blog about how I’m using Orff in my music classroom this year.

New CD Features Friendly Dragon

CD cover art by Molly Knobloch, with graphic design by Mel Green.

CD cover art by Molly Knobloch, with graphic design by Mel Green.

My new CD is here! It’s called “Amazing!” It has a happy, musical dragon on the cover, drawn by my talented artist daughter, Molly Knobloch. The dragon is featured in the song “No Fire, Dragon!” which I wrote 10 years ago while working in a preschool classroom of children aged 3 and 4, in Lexington, MA.

For a limited time, you can hear this song for free on my SoundCloud site. The recording features the excellent sax playing of Billy Novick, who’s brought his multiple musical talents to several of my CDs.

But back to the song’s origins. I was just starting to write songs based on the reflections of children in the classrooms where I taught. I brought in a dragon puppet and asked the children what kind of song I should write about my dragon. A little girl held up her hand and shouted, “No fire, dragon!”

With those words, a song was born. I worked from the comments of the children, who wanted a friendly dragon they could play with. In practical terms, they wanted to be sure that the dragon wouldn’t breathe fire, or eat them or their pets. They also liked the idea that the dragon could fly them around the sky, rather than playing its more traditional role of getting into duels with knights.

While I never recorded the dragon song up until now, it has served me well over the years. For ten summers, I produced original plays at the summer camp at the Arlington Center for the Arts, where I now serve on the board. These plays were freewheeling affairs where I would present a story, then let the cast decide their roles. We’d make up some songs and improvise scenes that would get written into the final script. We’d also sing some songs that I came up with in advance, both my original songs and a few from other sources.

One play that we produced twice was the story of The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, written in 1898. Grahame’s dragon seems to fit right in with the “No Fire” message; it prefers to hang out in its cave and write poetry rather than getting into duels.

Unfortunately, the nearby townspeople are locked into their preconceptions about dragons and hire St. George, the knight, to slay it. But good St. George gets to know the dragon, thanks to a sensible boy who’s become the dragon’s companion. They secretively work out a mock duel to satisfy the fearful town. In the end, the truth becomes apparent, and the townspeople accept the dragon for what he is!

The song “No Fire!” was a great addition to that play, as well as a play we did based on the myth of the Golden Fleece. The dragon in that story is not so friendly, making the message of “no fire” even more appropriate!

The dragon on the cover of my new CD represents the soul of the album, in a way. The songs are about the world of imagination – with its ties to magic – and wonder that’s part of childhood. Another song, also written with reflections from several classrooms, explores what it would be like if we could fly. The tag line of the song is “With magic, I think I can!”

It makes me smile, to know that children, the people I work with every day, are a subset of our population that believes magic is real. That’s the kind of wonder, optimism and excitement I want to channel into my own work and spirit.