March Reads for the Music Classroom
With spring around the corner I see this as a season of awakening and re-birth. Whether it be nicer weather or more daylight, spring brings energy back into the classroom. The books I am going to recommend for this month, reflect this renewal and springing back into life after a seemingly long hibernation in colder weather.
Crack-Crack, Who’s That? by Tristan Mory
This is a brand new book that will be coming out on March 1, 2022, and I am absolutely in love with it! It is about animals hatching in the spring, and comes with a handle that you can pull and the book makes a satisfying cracking sound while revealing the next animal that just hatched. What I love about this book is the element of surprise as my littlest learners will wonder who is hatching at any given moment.
The next part that I love is the potential for instrument playing for every single sound that is listed. You can start with playing sounds for “crack-crack” if you have preschool learners, for example. If you are reading this to older students, have them play all of the other sounds while you play the “crack-crack” sound. Take turns switching instruments to make sure everyone gets a turn.
This can also be great for center work. I would type out the individual words, print them out, laminate and give them to groups of five students and have them create compositions with the different sounds. I wrote a lesson plan on this for Musicconstructed.com, here is the link.
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
This is a wonderful book about the ballet Appalachian Spring written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. I love to read the book to my students first, and explain who Martha Graham and Aaron Copland were. Then, I explain what they were trying to represent in this ballet which is the simplicity of the early settler lifestyle which allowed for gratitude and celebrations of every occasion in their lives. I show my students the ballet version and ask them questions regarding the dancing, scenery and characters in the ballet. For a more detailed lesson plan, please click here for a lesson plan that I wrote for Musicconstructed.com on this book.
To continue exploring ballet, check out the Kennedy Center Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Performance. You have to register in order to receive access, and this usually takes one day. This is a wonderful opportunity to continue exploring modern dance with your students, particularly from a legendary American company such as Alvin Ailey.
Little Blue Truck-Springtime by Alice Schertle
Another great read from Alice Schertle! I enjoy her book series a lot and try to use these books for most holidays and seasons with my students. The rhyming text, colorful pictures and hardcover design make this an appealing read for my lessons. This book is no different since it covers one of the important aspects of spring which is rebirth and renewal. Little Blue travels throughout the farm, meeting all of the animals, only to find out that they have given birth to little babies! This is a great way to welcome spring in your classroom.
If you want some songs to go along with the Little Blue Truck series, I have written song tales for several of the books in this series, feel free to check them out here.
Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson
I really like using this book in the spring because it is all about food and an abundance of it! Bear will not stop eating and keeps asking his friends to bring more and more food. The rhyming text is once again, another attraction of this book. As an added extension, I have created a chant that your students can say after every time that the book says “But the bear wants more!” Here is a sample of the chant:
This is a great way to add a steady beat, and decoding activity to this book. Another plus is that you can learn about rests by figuring out what the exclamation point means. If you would like more on this lesson, please click here.
I hope these book suggestions help you ring in spring in your classroom. Would love to see how you implement these in your room!
February Reads for the Classroom
Now that we have gotten back into the swing of things, February is a great month to celebrate love, honor the achievements of Black Americans and keep students motivated while having fun throughout the long and cold winter months. Here are some book suggestions:
Love Grows Everywhere by Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
This is a brand new title that just came out in January of this year. What I love about this book is that there is a rhyming text that students can keep a steady beat to. The characters in the book are also diverse, which makes this a great addition to your classroom library. Use this book to talk about love and the different ways we can love one another. Pair with song options such as Heart Songs for Kids and Valentine’s Day song by Jack Hartmann, and you have a wonderful lesson about love for your young students.
Little Blue Truck: Valentine’s Day by Alice Schertle
This is another classic from the Little Blue Truck Series which I love to use with my students around Valentine’s Day. This book is a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a child-appropriate manner since it focuses on the truck delivering cards, which is what most of the students do during this time. Since this is a series that I enjoy so much, I have created a lesson and song specifically for this book. The lesson focuses on practicing solfege by having the students sing to the truck at the end of the story when the animals yell “Surprise!”. In addition, I have created a song that goes with this book so you can sing it after reading to your students. To access the song, please click here.
Since February is also Black History Month, there are many resources including books that celebrate the achievements of Black Americans. Here are a few artists that I choose to focus on in my classroom.
Before John Was a Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford
Jazz is a quintessential American art form which was founded by African American musicians in the late 19th century. John Coltrane (who happens to also be one of my favorite musicians) pioneered the use of modal music as well as the concept of free jazz which was an experimental approach to jazz improvisation. I love to either read this book followed by a video, or show my students the video read along that goes with this book.
I love to use this book because it is concise, and very accessible for young learners to learn about this great musician. The pictures are very well done. They showcase his instruments and create a sense of constant motion with long lines symbolizing music weaving throughout the book.
A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russel-Brown
Another icon whom I love to read about and show to my students, is Aretha Franklin. Well known for songs such as “Respect” and her singing of “Amazing Grace”, Aretha has earned her place as the Queen of Soul in the music world. She worked hard to not only entertain and be the best musician she could be, but worked to break barriers that prevented people who looked like her from being treated equally.
This is an inspiring musician that I love to introduce to my students. I then play videos of Aretha’s music for them to listen to as examples of her work as well. Some of the videos that I play are Climbing Higher Mountains from 1972 and Amazing Grace.
To conclude the lesson on Aretha, I then do this routine to the song “Respect” with my students.
Hope that these can help you in the upcoming month!
I always love celebrating Mozart in my classroom, especially since his birthday falls several days after mine! I have gathered some resources that I would love to share in this blog post, which could help you introduce Mozart to your students. I have used these books and videos with students from PreK up to 2nd grade. Feel free to use and adapt these materials in the best way for your classroom.
Play Mozart Play by Peter Sis
I like this book for the pictures, which are very attractive for younger learners and just enough text to convey the story. I usually start with this book as an introduction to the composer. I like to then play the variations for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and have them listen to the original and the variations while keeping a steady beat.
The Story Orchestra: The Magic Flute by Katy Flint
The next book that I like to use is The Magic Flute, as a great example of an interactive book that tells the story through words and sound, that my students really love! This is one of many books in The Story Orchestra series. It does a great job of telling the story of The Magic Flute, and showcasing highlights from the opera. The book has a button you can press on each page to hear a highlight from that particular section of the opera, which matches with the story.
After I have read those two books and we have done the listening, depending on the grade level, I like to show a history of Mozart’s life which can be found here.
If I am working with particularly young learners, I like to play this clip of a cartoon version of the Rondo Alla Turca, which features several different instruments. It is funny and I use this opportunity to ask my students the names of all of the different instruments that are in the video.
My final activity is this movement activity, courtesy of Mikaela Sammond. She created this wonderful scarf activity to one of Mozart’s many menuets. In this video, she gives very clear directions on what to do during different sections of the music, which can then be used to explore form in music with the older students. I love to do this as the final activity in the lesson on Mozart. Students get to move and play with colorful scarves as the culminating activity.
I hope this was helpful to you and you can use some of this in your teaching.
Now that winter break is over and we are all back in our classrooms, I thought I would suggest some books that I like to use with my students in the winter months. Sorry for the delay, as I have been battling Covid which is why this came out a bit late!
While there is a more famous version of this story, this one is also a wonderful tale which allows students to get creative with their uses of the mitten. I often start out reading this book by asking the students about ways that the mitten can be used. Then we read this book and then we read this poem that I composed for the book. I like to ask students about the words in the poem whether they rhyme or not. Then I have follow up activities in the form of decoding worksheets and rhyming words worksheets. For more on that lesson please click here.
Bear Feels Sick
Since it is cold and flu season, this is a good book to do with students. I like to discuss some ways to make someone feel better when they are sick. This is a great title to start a conversation about this.
In addition to the rhyming text, I have composed a small chant that can also be sung for this book. To check out that lesson click here. Here is a small sample of that chant:
Bear Snores On
Another classic from the Bear Series which fits the season since many animals hibernate and sleep. This is a lovely tale of a bear who snores on despite all of the happenings around him, only to wake up from a small pepper fleck. A great seasonal book to keep a steady beat as well as talk about hibernation and why that is important for certain animals. I created a small chant for this as well-here is a small sample:
For more of this lesson plan, please click here.
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow
This is one of the books from the Old Lady Series which I like to use during these months. The rhyming text is perfect for keeping a steady beat and I usually use this towards the beginning of the lesson. I also created a chant to go with this book that students can use so that they can be more engaged in what they are reading. Here is the chant:
Froggy Gets Dressed
This is a great book for the snowy winter days. The frog gets up and gets ready to go outside only to discover that he is partially dressed each time that he is outside. By the time he begins to dress himself the third time, he realizes he is too tired to go outside and falls back asleep.
What I love about this book is the possibilities for vocal exploration and instrument play that it offers. While the frog is getting dressed, there are different sounds that are made while he is putting his clothes on. These can be done as vocal exploration or you can have students play instruments to the different sounds. This is a great book with which you can start your first day back with your little ones.
Hope these suggestions help you start your January off right!
December Reads for the Holiday Season: Some Titles to Consider for Both Christmas and Hanukkah
As we get closer and closer to the holidays and holiday break, it is important to still engage your students with interesting Christmas stories that are not necessarily the typical stories that one would read to students in this season. For this reason I have included Hanukkah and Christmas books that I love to use this season.
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas
I have long been a fan of the Little Blue Truck Series. This is a wonderful story about a little blue truck that delivered Christmas trees to all of his friends. The rhyming words make this story go quickly while helping your students keep a steady beat. The addition of a counting element as Little Blue distributes the trees helps with cross curricular connections in the classroom. In addition the graphics and the light up tree at the end are sure to engage and delight your young learners!
Gingerbread Man/Matzo Ball Boy/Runaway Latkes: Different Version of the Same Story
I have loved the gingerbread story for a long time and did not know there were any alternatives to this story. This article will talk about the original story and alternative stories you can use to celebrate the Jewish holidays in your classroom. What I love about these stories is the repetitive chant that makes the students more engaged as they cheer on the main characters, also opening up room to keep a steady beat and practice rhythm and solfege syllables.
I have used the gingerbread story around Christmas time since that is a common cookie that is baked around that time of year. There are different versions of this story, and I happened to get this book at a sale. I love the colorful pictures as well as the message that exercise is important.
I was surprised to find other alternatives to this story, appropriate for Jewish holidays, specifically Passover and Hanukkah. The first story, The Matzo Ball Boy is very similar to the gingerbread man, because the repetitive chant is almost identical.
Keep Running Gingerbread Man The Matzo Ball Boy
“Run, run as fast as you can, “Run, run as fast as you can,
You can’t catch me, You can’t catch me,
I’m the gingerbread man!” I’m the matzo ball man!”
This is thus a great alternative with a similar storyline that you can use to celebrate Passover with your students. The ending is different than that of the gingerbread man story. The only thing is that I would look up all of the Yiddish words and explain them to your students beforehand.
Another great alternative to this is The Runaway Latkes, which is a good way to celebrate Hanukkah. The repetitive chant is not the same as that of the other two books, but the storyline is similar. I would preface the story about latkes with why we eat latkes on Hanukkah as well as how they are made. Also, an explanation of some of the terms such as rabbi, cantor, synagogue, etc.
While the chant is not similar, the words lend themselves easier to being sung. What I have done with my students is sung the first two lines and then chanted the third, resulting in the following (the letters stand for solfege syllables so and mi):
S S M S S M
Big and round, crisp and brown,
S S M M S S M
Off we roll to see the town,
And you can’t catch us!
Bear Stays Up for Christmas
Another favorite of mine that I love to use in addition with a lesson that I created for this story. The Bear Series books by Karma Wilson are some of my favorites to use for various parts of the year and this is no exception. I have used most of these books and was delighted to find a Christmas one! This is a great way to celebrate the Christmas spirit while practicing steady beat as you read to the students. In addition, I have created a chant and corresponding decoding worksheet to go with this title.
Here is a sample of the chant:
These books can be used with students as young as preschool to celebrate the various holidays in your classroom, and I hope that they can help you as you get ready to acknowledge these special occasions with your students.
November Reads for Your Classroom
November is the month of all things turkey, Thanksgiving and gratitude. I love this time because I get to focus on the theme of gratitude which I feel underlies this holiday and is even more important to reflect upon.
Here are some books that I have found useful with my students in the month of November.
Run, Turkey, Run! By Diane Mayr
What I love about this book is the repetitive saying “Run, Turkey, Run” which opens the door for a song or chant to replace this simple saying. There are various versions, although you can also compose your own song/chant. Here is a link to a sample lesson with this book which uses the song below.
I have used another version of this song, though I don’t have music off hand and accompanied myself with ukulele. If you do not have Orff instruments, simply have your students grab rhythm sticks and keep a steady beat while they chant/sing!
Over the River and Through the Wood by Linda Ashman
While there is a famous song by the same name, this book describes the journey of a family eager to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Each time that their mode of transportation does not arrive, a horse drawn carriage comes to save the family and bring them closer and closer to their destination. Everytime that the horse comes up to the family, you hear the sound “Neigh”. Students can participate and say “Neigh” each time that the horse arrives, or you can make up a quick saying for them to say when the horse arrives.
Here is something that I thought of:
You can use this chant to then go over ta and ti-ti rhythms as well as getting the students to play along on rhythm sticks or small hand drums.
You can then introduce the song and create a lesson around visiting family during Thanksgiving with this book and the song.
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
I like to use this lesson to talk to the students about gratitude and what they are thankful for. Then, I teach them a chant that I created for this book. I will post a short snippet of it here.
For the rest of the chant and the lesson please click here. Have students keep a steady beat while they are learning this. When reading, have the students say the chant after each time that you say “And the bear says thanks”.
Then, I show them the beat chart from the lesson above and ask what was the same and what was different? Have them go through the chant clapping and tapping the rhythm. Ask what is different and what has changed and then explain the differences between the two. Explain the differences between the two. Hand out the worksheets to students in grades 1 and 2 and have them match the words with the rhythm.
I love this book for so many reasons. It is a book about gratitude, giving, recycling, and has a wonderful song to go with it! I have used this book on numerous occasions and always come back to this wonderful lesson.
I start off this lesson by talking to the students about what gratitude means and how we can practice that. I explain that one of the ways that gratitude can be practiced is through being thankful for and taking care of your stuff. As we go through the book, I love to ask the students what Joseph made next from the clothing/item he currently has. Then, we sing the song at the end.
As an added extension, I have also composed a chant that students can say everytime that you read the phrase “It got old and worn”. This chant can be used to teach about quarter rests as well as reviewing ta and ti-ti rhythm syllables. For the chant and the extension lesson click here.
Here’s to a productive and gratitude-filled November :)
With all of the books and activities that are available out there, I thought I would write about two that I have recently used with my students. The reason that I love these two books is because they help young children learn to play small, handheld percussion instruments without having to follow a particular rhythm while imitating real life noises.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
I discovered this book only recently (although I know it is a classic-where have I been!) but I love the musical possibilities that it offers! This book has a repetitive set of patterns that occurs throughout the story as the little old lady meets and is followed by a pair of shoes, a pair of pants, a shirt, a pair of gloves, a hat and big pumpkin head. The sounds that these objects make lend themselves to being played on hand held percussion instruments.
From the first time that we meet the big shoes, I use drums to illustrate the “clomp, clomp” sound that the shoes make. After this, I use a guiro to show the “wiggle, wiggle” and a maraca or egg shaker to have the shirt shake. Then the students and I do the clapping, nodding and booing on their own.
Another great title that lends itself well to this same kind of instrument exploration is this title. What I like to do is assign different instruments however, since the sounds are not the same ones that we have come across in the previous book. I like to use the cabasa for the crunching sound, the guiro for the creaking sound, and a small drum for tapping. I break the class up into three groups, and have them play along with me while I read. Then, I have everyone switch instruments so make sure everyone gets a chance to play.
I hope this adds some more fun lessons into your Halloween themed lesson plans!
I have always considered October the most quintessential fall month. It is just beginning to feel cold and crisp, you have gotten used to the schedule and routine of your classes and have hopefully built relationships with your students.
Now that you have gotten the hang of routines and schedules, Halloween is right around the corner. Here is a list of seasonal books (many that are from a book series) that you can use with your students during this time.
12 Days of Halloween by Jenna Lettice
I cannot stress how much I like this series of books! From the familiar melody to how the author uses it to adapt to any holiday or situation, this is sure to be something your children will enjoy. This book goes through every Halloween item, and costume that you are likely to find while helping the students count on their fingers the items that they are coming across throughout the book.
The Ghosts Go Marching by Maria Modugno
This book is wonderful because the author takes the famous melody of Ants Go Marching and changes the lyrics to fit a Halloween theme. You can have the students keep a steady beat while singing through the song the first time as well as singing “Hurrah” and shouting ““Trick or Treat!” at the end of each phrase. Here is the music for the song. You can find recordings of it on Youtube.
The second time that you sing the song, have the students march while singing through the verses. Continue to have the students sing “Hurrah” and shout “Trick or Treat!”. This book is best to introduce after you have already sung the original song “Ants Go Marching In”, because then students will have familiarity with the melody already. Add rhythm sticks to keep the beat.
Spooky, Spooky, Little Bat by Rosa Von Feder
I really like this book because of the finger puppet built into the book! The words rhyme, which allows students to keep a steady beat while the book is being read. The illustrations are beautiful and the rhyme scheme helps keep this book moving for my smallest students while following the bat’s journey. I usually follow this book up with a movement activity or song about bats on Youtube.
The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry
I came across this book at a university bookstore and the illustrations caught my eye right away. Upon reading it, this beautiful story made me buy this for my classroom. The scarecrow saves and nurtures a baby crow and the two become fast friends as the crow family begins to expand. The rhyming language of this story in addition to watching the baby crow becoming an adult crow and having children, makes this a wonderful coming of age tale for students.
I composed a short lesson and lullaby for the students to sing to the crow. For a link to that, please click here. Meanwhile, here is a preview of the lullaby.
Hope this helps you with planning your October lessons!
I hope that you have begun your school year and are transitioning into the school year smoothly. As a lover of books, I am getting to see what new books I can incorporate into the classroom and I came across two more books I wanted to highlight on my blog.
Little Ghoul Goes to School
I discovered this book through childrenslit.org where I serve as a book reviewer and receive books in exchange for book reviews. I read this tale and initially thought this might be a Halloween story, but it is a story about the first couple of days of school.
What I love about this story is that the little ghoul thinks all of the worst things about school, some of which come true and some of which do not. Halfway though the story, we realize that the first day we have just read about was simply a dream, and that the real first day is yet to come. However, while the real first day does have its low moments, all of this changes when our main character sees the librarian that she envisioned in her dream and bonds instantly.
This is a great reminder that we do not know where our children will find what speaks to them in the school environment, and it is important to try and make our spaces as welcoming as possible. Another great lesson from this book is that often our fears about situations are just fears and it is important to give new situations and experiences a try.
Time for School: Little Blue Truck
I love the Little Blue Truck series due to the seasonal nature of many of their books as well as the rhyming prose, which naturally lends itself to a lesson on steady beat. This one is great because it talks all about getting to school on time which many students will no doubt struggle with. The illustrations as well as the sounds of the animals and the truck throughout the book provide children with an opportunity to participate and vocalize those sounds. The rhyming language gives this book a wonderful momentum that will help to set the tone for the beginning of school.
Hope these books help you in your first few weeks of settling into routines with your students!
The first month of school can be stressful with the start of routines, schedules and getting to know your students. Additionally, this will be our second year of teaching during a pandemic and so there will be more protocols and guidelines that will limit what we can/cannot do in the classroom.
As someone who loves to use books, I often love to plan out what books I will use in a particular month. While this is in no way a comprehensive list and the possibilities are endless, I thought I would tell you about some of my favorites that I will use with my students in September. I use these books with students from PreK-2nd grade.
Goodnight Owl by Pat Hutchins
I love this book because it helps me to introduce Snowy the Owl puppet which I use to help with classroom management. Since I use Snowy the entire year as my assistant in the classroom, this book helps me to introduce this puppet. I often have students do vocal exploration following Snowy’s path as well as have Snowy high five students (in pre-pandemic times). I use this book along with a lesson that I wrote for this book where students sing a lullaby to help the owl fall asleep. For a free copy of that lesson click here.
Essentially we read the book and every time that we come to the phrase “the owl tried to sleep”, students will sing a lullaby to the owl. You can add instruments to go along with the lullaby as well. The accompanying worksheets test the students’ memories of which bird and animals made which sound.
Another reason that I love this book is that it helps me to introduce students to the way that I use books which is to find a repetitive phrase and then use that as a springboard to have students either say the phrase that the author wrote or say/chant something I wrote to go with the book.
Pete the Cat and the New Guy by Kimberly and James Dean
A new school year means new students and one of the best ways to build a healthy classroom culture is to work on building relationships with those who are entering our classrooms for the first time. This book is not only from a classic series but it is one that teaches students about everyone’s unique gifts. The final picture of everyone playing music together makes it perfect for the music classroom!
This book is wonderful because the words rhyme, and so you can practice saying this like a rap and have the students keep a steady beat either on their palms or with rhythm sticks. The part where you can have them engage with the story even more comes when Pete says “Don’t be sad, don’t be blue. There is something everyone can do!” This is something students can chant or sing. You can create a solfege melody to go with this as well.
What I love about this book is the theme of inclusion and unique gifts of the individual. I think that this is wonderful towards building a classroom community where all students can contribute in their own unique way.
The Duck Who Didn’t Like Water by Steve Small
The reason I chose this book is that it is a great story filled with wonderful illustrations about rain. The subject of rain is perfect for the fall, between the weather changing and having more rainy days, to songs about rain, this book is a great way to introduce rain into your classroom!
A great way to engage with this book is to have students play either barred instruments or chimes to indicate rain while reading this book. Since there is no repetitive pattern, it is hard to know when students should play but I would set the students up with instruments and then practice gesturing towards them to play and then doing the cut off. Once you are reading the book, pick specific places to play and point to class to play when it is time to create some rain!
After reading this book, I would follow up with the song “Rain, Rain, Go Away” and have students echo and solfege the song. Then I would decode for so-mi solfege and have students echo various solfege patterns as extended practice.
The 12 Days of Preschool by Jenna Lettice
This one is another seasonal favorite with many spin-offs such as The 12 Days of Thanksgiving. It uses the popular melody to the tune “The 12 Days of Christmas” this book describes everything that preschoolers will learn how to share in 12 days and beyond. I love this book because you get to practice this famous melody so that students learn it well before Christmas and it is repetitive which helps students remember the words and be able to name all of the things they will be sharing as the song goes along. Another skill that it teaches is counting. I highly recommend using this book in the first week of your preschool classes!
Somewhere in the City by Yu Leng/It’s My City by April Pulley Sayre
One way that I love to get my students thinking about music is to ask about where they have heard it as well as what objects/instruments make music. One common question I like to ask is what sounds do they hear in their everyday life? The two books I listed do an in depth dive into sounds that one would hear in their everyday life. First we read the book, “Somewhere in the City” by J. B. Frank and make the noises we hear in the book. As a review (and depending on the age of the class) I give out a worksheet to have students review who made which noise. Click to find that worksheet here. However this book does not cover specific sounds made by machinery, automobiles, etc, but more of everyday sounds like hissing, gurgling, etc.
In the following lesson, I review what we had previously learned and ask if there are more sounds that can be made. I read “It’s My City” by April Pulley Sayre, which covers sounds made by clocks, cars, hot dog stands, etc. I have created another worksheet to go with this lesson as well. Click here to access this!
I have linked all of the books, puppets and worksheets in the post.
I hope that this is very helpful as you start this next year!