Student Songwriting: Brainstorm to Exercise the Brain!

This article first appeared on The Children’s Music Network blog as part of an ongoing series about songwriting with students.

There’s a blank white board in front of you.  Name your idea – any idea is great.  Let’s see how many we can assemble!

What a tantalizing invitation, a welcome alternative in test-frenzied classrooms where there often can be only one right answer.  Students are invited into an open-ended discussion that spurs their creativity and curiosity about the shape that the final product might take.

Brainstorming is the best way I know to spark ideas for class-created songs.

Occasionally discussion ventures toward the absurd or unacceptable – classes may need to be warned against references to overt violence or toilet humor. But mostly students with a range of abilities thrive in the excitement of brainstorming, especially if instruments and singing are involved.

With my first graders at the Condon School in Boston, we choose our song topics from ideas the students submit.  Part of the submission exercise is to offer descriptive details about the song topic.

For instance, one class chose to write a song about Alexander Graham Bell.  On the idea sheet, a student quoted Bell, who said, “Whenever one door closes, another opens.” The students thought this was a great saying, and I decided we definitely needed to include it in the song.

I asked students for other verbs – I usually call them “action words” – associated with being an inventor such as Bell. Students suggested learn, study, research, question, experiment, create, think, test, and brainstorm.  These words ended up forming the basis of our chorus, with the following first line: “Learn and question, think, create.”

I then asked students to brainstorm some rhyming words for “create” – with the emphasis on the “ate” syllable. The students were used to thinking about rhyming lines because we’d talked about them in our Word Families exercise.   The class thus helped write a second rhyming line:  “I might invent something truly great.”

The next two lines grew out of continuing the class’s suggestions of verbs:  “Brainstorm, test, always be bold/And a whole new world just might unfold.”  The final line was my idea, but the rest of the chorus came directly from the students’ input.

Classes seem to love this give and take.  And if they start to seem antsy after ten minutes, it’s time to get them up and move!  Consider an idea developed by my colleague Katherine Dines of Hunk-ta-Bunk-ta:

I developed a “A Shake Break.”  Every 10-15 minutes in a session, or whenever the process needs a shift, I get children to jump to their feet and shake.  I do it in a way that it’s still rhythmic, rhymes and is “musical” – which keeps them on track.

“I’m taking a shake break. Taking a shake break. Taking a shake break NOW

I’m taking a shake break. Taking a shake break.  Taking a shake break HOW?

I’m taking a shake break. Taking a shake break. Turning my brain around. (or any other rhyme you come up with—the more bizarre and spontaneous, the better)

I’m taking a shake break. Taking a shake break and…sitting back down on the ground. (You would rhyme this with the line above).

ALL children love this and it’s remarkable what happens to their BRAINS after they have had this “break.”

This is just an example of one of the many movement/stimulation activities that can be part of a brainstorming exercise – or any other classroom routine. Good teachers know to get students up out of their chairs on a regular basis. It’s exercise for the brain!

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