When literacy coach Heather Rader walked into Sean Moore’s second-grade classroom the kids were already sitting at the carpet. On the chart paper were the phrases “cooler than the flip side of my pillow,” “shine like gold,” and “buzz like a bee.” The words were somehow familiar, but she didn’t put it together until the kids urged Mr. Moore to “play it for her, play it for her!” As the second graders transitioned to reading workshop, Sean put on this YouTube video:
He’d heard Uncle Kracker that morning on the way to work and figured it was a great hook to invigorate his writing lesson. The goal for that day was for students to revise and enhance their word choices to bring their poems to life. “You Make Me Smile” was an example of a musical artist doing what Sean wanted the students to do. The students loved the song as a unique “mentor text” and as a result, their own writing improved.
“Something about music changes the ways my students interact.” Sean told Heather.
“I feel the same way,” Heather responded. “And there are so many different ways to infuse the classroom with it.”
Music as Transition
Much like a well-loved read aloud gets used for multiple purposes, “You Make Me Smile” was embedded into many parts of the day. Sean played it during the transition from morning math to calendar to literacy block. While gathering their writing notebooks, folders and pencils, students seemed to exhibit a stronger sense of purpose. Their questions and concerns during these transitions were important; trivial matters were set aside because they wanted to sing and move to the music. Surprisingly, the transition times were shortened and they arrived with big smiles on their faces. And how could they not? It’s a positively infectious song.
In another classroom across town Heather thought of Linda Karamatic’s “magic” songs. One was Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World with the corresponding picture book.
She got teary-eyed the first time she watched Linda’s students with arms around shoulders swaying to the music during a transition. Mrs. Karamatic’s newest find was Neil Sedaka’s rewrite of his 1962 hit “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” now written as Waking Up Is Hard To Do for his grandchildren. Kids really love belting out, “Down doobie doo down, down come-a, come-a. . .”
Using music to transition isn’t just for young students either. Heather’s fifth graders loved Dig It off the Holes Soundtrack. Clean up and classroom jobs went smoother at the end of the day.
Here are three popular transition songs with clean lyrics, life-affirming messages and catchy melodies. Certainly you can play these songs on a music system, but lyric videos are easy to pull up. One word of caution is to look at the comments below any video and make sure they are appropriate. Otherwise make sure to select “full screen” before bringing it up for kids to view.
“I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz has touched a lot of people. “Songs are my best friend in a time of need,” he said about the hit.
While “Good Time” by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen is mostly about hanging out, having a good time and saying “Woah, oh, oh, oh,” it’s very catchy and will make make any clean-up time much more fun.
India Arie has been pumping out positive messages for years. The chorus says it all “Young people, would talk to old people, It would make us a better people, all around (Yes it would). If old people, would talk to young people, It would make us a better people, all around.”
Music as a Body Break
Many brain researchers agree that students need a kinesthetic brain break every 30 minutes or so. Most of the time it can be a quick “reach for the sky” or “touch your right hand to your left ear,” but some wiggles call for a more intense body break. Sean often uses Anne Green Gilbert’s structure called “The Brain Dance” to help students refocus after lunch. He finds that students particularly benefit from the ending of the dance, which calls for spinning to activate the vestibular system.
The Cha Cha Slide gives dance directions, so there is nothing to memorize. Another alternative with a good beat is The Hamsterdance Song. Have kids print or write their names in cursive to the beat. They can start writing with their hand, then transition to elbow, toes, hips etc. Standing up, raising the heart rate, and laughing together can be the perfect body break for an after lunch math lesson.
Music to Build Background Knowledge
“In Mexico the sun is called el sol, and the moon is called la luna. I am called Elena.”
So begins the book Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin. Elena finds her Papa’s glassblowing pipe and asks if he will teach her.
His stern words turn out to be prophetic, “You are too little, Elenita, and the hot glass might burn you. Besides, whoever heard of a girl glassblower?”
Because Monterrey is where the great glassblowers create art, Elena wears her brother’s trousers, hides her hair under a sombrero, and sets out. Along the way she meets a burro, roadrunner and coyote. In order to help each one overcome an obstacle, she plays a tune on the glassblowing pipe. Serenading her new friends turns out to be just the practice she needs to make something magical with the pipe.
In addition to the pages of beautiful language and paintings, Heather wanted to let the students “hear” while they used sensory images so she downloaded several traditional songs off iTunes like Cielito Lindo (lovely sky), Estrellita (little star) and La Golondrina (the swallow).
If you are looking to use music to help build background of a place or culture, another go-to for teachers is Roots and Branches: A Legacy of Multicultural Music for Children by Campbell, McCullough-Brabson and Tucker. The accompanying CD offers the experience of the rich instruments and voices.
The students’ response to “You Make Me Smile” reminded both of us of the power music can have. Music is so much more than background noise while something else happens in the classroom. Whether as a mentor text for language, a transition to activities, a body break or to build multicultural background, as Uncle Kracker would say, it makes us “dance like a fool, forget how to breathe, shine like gold and buzz like a bee . . .”