Simplify Concentric Circle Games

My classroom is rather spacious, but pull out the risers and a few instruments and suddenly the movement space dwindles. Here are a few ideas for implementing exciting lessons in small spaces.

Tideo and John Kanaka both have concentric circles as part of the game formation. However, I teach Tideo in second grade because of the takadimi tadi tadi ta pattern. Teaching young students to play in concentric circles takes more time than I’m willing to spend, so I simplify.

tideo_lyrics_CSimplified version: Scattered partners. Students play the clapping portion (patsch, clap, partner clap) each time they sing Tideo, and they add a dishrag during the last “jingle at the window, tideo.” When I’m ready to teach high do’ (fourth grade), the song comes back into circulation, but the game will be played in concentric circles. All students move one step to the left at the beginning of phrases one through three (on the word ‘pass’), performing the clapping pattern on all ‘tideo’ words. Students then stay with that partner and trade places on the first and second ‘jingle at the window.’ On the third ‘jingle at the window,’ students end the song with a dishrag.

Note: If there are chairs and desks in the way and there’s not enough room for the whole class to play in concentric circles, why not divide the group into two or three sections? Can you find two or three smaller places in the room for eight to ten students to play? This tactic works well with passing games, too. If one or two people make mistakes in the game, the whole class isn’t involved. The teacher can focus attention on the group that struggles and allow the rest of the class to continue practicing and playing.

John Kanaka is similar to Tideo. Rather than beginning with concentric circles, why not teach the game with scattered partners first? Students work with their partner until the high do’ in phrase five, then move to a new partner. In my class, I encourage students to find a partner within one step of their current position. If no one nearby is available, they raise their hand and walk to someone else with their hand up. It works remarkably well. I usually teach this game at the end of 3rd grade or early in 4th grade. By changing the game slightly and increasing the difficulty level, older learners don’t get bored. It’s also important to use well-known songs to prepare or practice known concepts and these songs are little treasures!

Look for reading examples of each of these songs under Resources for Teachers.john_kanaka_F_lyrics

Solfége Problems? New Strategies to the Rescue!

At workshops, teachers often ask me, “Can your students really read that solfége?” Or sometimes it isn’t an outright question, but it’s a statement such as, “I don’t like teaching solfége because it’s hard.”

Although I understand where you’re coming from, just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be left out of the lesson. Instead, try incorporating a few of these tips and suggestions.

1. First, add pitches the students already know to the tone ladder.

2. Sing a few patterns with hand signs and solfége and ask students to echo you. Then try singing a couple on a neutral syllable, like “loo,” and ask students to identify and sing them right back to you. If they don’t get them right, remain calm. If they tried to identify the pattern, but were wrong, simply sing back their answer. Tell them which pitches they got right, if any, and let them try again.

3. If your students aren’t strong readers, don’t try to read a whole song. Start small with four to five pitches on the staff, or one phrase of a known song. After they read it, change one pitch at a time until it becomes a different song or game.

4. Wait! Back up! They couldn’t even read one phrase? Okay. There’s no need for tears. Try this. Identify the first note, last note, highest note, and lowest note. Sing each one as it is identified. Are there any easy patterns like so la so mi or mi re do in the pattern? Point them out and ask students to sing just that much. See the example below.come_thru_ph4_G

In the song Come Thru Now Hurry (Alabama Gal), phrase 4 is a great phrase for practicing solfége. I highly recommend using the do clef in your reading examples to help students find do. Then ask someone to point on mi re do, and be sure you sing it as you ask them the question. One child points it out and the whole class sings and uses hand signs.

Then pick out another two pitches such as the so mi.  Try covering up the other pitches, or just cupping your hands around the so mi. After students identify and sing so mi, ask them to put together so mi re do. Then they can quickly identify the first mi in the phrase. To assist students in singing the mi so interval correctly, you might sing:

one two ready go

Overall, if there’s a tricky spot, be sure to point it out, sing it with the students, and prepare them for the full range of pitches they’ll encounter. Then  you can give them their starting pitch, point to the beat, and allow them to sight-read with solfége and hand signs. I hope these tips will help you and your students with solfége!

Tongo – Polynesian Canoe Song

This awesome folk song has multiple uses. Its pentatonic range of low la up to la (la, do re mi so la) allows teachers to use it with multiple grade levels. The syncopated rhythms and dotted quarter note and eighth note rhythms make it engaging for upper elementary as well. The call and response format makes it very easy for students to learn. Finally, the opportunity for improvisation makes it a winner. Let’s dig in!

For the game, my students sit in long rows of equal length, as if they’re sitting in canoes. After singing the song, I clap a four beat pattern and they echo me. Actually, I do four different four beat patterns and they echo each one. Then I immediately sing the song again. By teaching them not to talk after each “set,” I’m also building good classroom management habits.

After we’ve tried this a few times, the head of each canoe chooses an unpitched instrument. During the final phrase of the song, they stand and face their row. They improvise four beat patterns and their row/canoe claps back the four beat patterns. Be prepared for a bit of chaos the first time. The students have to get used to listening for just their leader’s instrument and the four beat patterns. My student teacher made a sign that said, “Play” with four hearts under the word. She stood at the back of the canoes and pointed to the beats while the leaders were supposed to improvise their patterns. It helped the “leaders” stay together. When the song begins again, they should hand their instrument to the next person and walk to the back of the canoe.

Another helpful tip: Clap some patterns for the students while singing phrases that match such as, “Doggie, Doggie, where’s your bone?” “My paddle’s keen and bright” “Rain, Rain, go away” etc. so they get some ideas and realize they can use rhythms from songs they already know.

Eventually, ask your class who would like to be the singing leader. You’ll be surprised and delighted to hear your students take over. The full song with lyrics is also available under Resources for Teachers near the bottom with full lyrics. Tongo in F

What’s in the cards?

Choosing individual students can be challenging because some students are eager to participate, some are shy, others reluctant, but all need opportunities to participate in class and we have to assess them. Many years ago a colleague shared an idea of using a set of cards for class games, and a few years before that I saw a teacher use class cards to determine which students had a turn with the class set of books. So, the card idea wasn’t mine, but I’ve revised the way I use the cards, and the cards themselves, several times during my teaching career. Please feel free to use this card template or revise them in any way that meets your needs.

How I use them: Under each category there are two columns of boxes. The smaller one on the left is for the date and the one on the right for a note or scribble. If students write a note or rhythm on the board, I’ll mark it under the correct column. The game column is especially important to my students, though. If someone has had a turn at the jump rope game, for example, I scribble the date and write “jump” in the right column. Those students don’t get a turn again until everyone has had a turn to jump on one week or another. In the game Chicken on the Fencepost/Dance Josey, I write “DJ” when they get at turn as a farmer and no one repeats until every student has had a chance. The list goes on and on, but the students feel that it’s fair. The same goes for the Instrument section. If three students are called on to play a bass xylophone bordun to accompany a song, the students know I’ll call on someone else the next time. Naturally, there are plenty of lessons that everyone will play an instrument in, but in the case of only a few players, I mark their cards and spread the wealth.

How do you handle calling on students for class activities?

Music Cards

Differentiation in the Elementary Music Classroom

Differentiation. It’s a word we hear in staff development all the time and most music teachers probably think, “I differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the students in every class!” Although it’s true that we do this through our activities, I’ve never done it with worksheets. However, considering all the new students who weren’t in my class last year, I’m having to do more reteaching and remediation than I’ve ever done before. So, I decided to provide my third grade classes a choice this week. I called the worksheet levels blue, green, and black.

The blue is the simplest worksheet and included labeling the tone ladder, identifying pitches to Phoebe in Her Petticoat, and then writing four pitches on the staff. The green level began the same way, but instead of writing four pitches, students transposed Phoebe in Her Petticoat into a new key. To make it a black level challenge, they added the rhythm stems. The green and black levels also allow students to create a new melody on a blank staff.

A majority of students chose the harder worksheet and worked at the green or black level. A few chose the blue level but finished too quickly. They determined that they should have chosen the harder one. Those students either took a blank staff and worked on transposing Phoebe in Her Petticoat or assisted other students who raised their hands. A few students chose the blue worksheet and it was just right for them. (See the worksheets under “Resources for Teachers” or click the links above.)

A final thought: Carol Ann Tomlinson wrote, “Students who consistently fail lose their motivation to learn. Students who succeed too easily also lose their motivation to learn. For learning to continue, students must believe that hard work is required, but the hard work often pays off with success….Challenges must grow as students grow in their learning.” p. 19 The Differentiated Classroom

Are you challenging your students in any special ways? I’d love to hear about it!

Hogs in the Cornfield – the first song request!

Here’s a big “Thank you” to Lori for suggesting a song to post. It was a good choice, too! Not only is Hogs in the Cornfield a useful song, but it’s a fun game for the students to play. Here are a few ways that I use Hogs in the Cornfield:

1. Phrase 1 for ta-dimi prep

2. Phrase 2 for takadi prep

3. Phrase 2 for high do’ prep

Rather than elaborate on all three concepts, I’ll just touch on the third one, do’ preparation. Everyone learns in different ways, so it’s important to provide kinesthetic, aural, and visual learning opportunities. Kinesthetic activities might include singing and clapping in contour, pointing to a picture or the words in contour, or even moving the body higher or lower as the voice moves. Aural questions involve identifying the pitches for each beat of phrase two and calling do’ “high.” It’s important at this stage to identify how far the “high” sound is from la. (a skip, or two steps) Finally, students should have the opportunity to create a visual representation of the phrase on their own. I like to use Unifix cubes, but almost any small object will work. Some teachers will allow their students to use anything in the room to make their picture. Brave souls! Personally, I like Unifix cubes because four cubes equals one beat and each student receives a baggie with four beats. Some students can make a melodic picture very quickly while others may need to sing the phrase several times or receive one on one assistance. Need to show your principal differentiation? Ask the more advanced students to figure out the rhythms, break the cubes into a rhythmic representation, and then move them into melodic contour.

While you’re prepping a new melodic concept, students should demonstrate known melodic concepts. Why not have the students read or write the solfége to phrase 1 prior to the kinesthetic, aural, and visual steps? It’s a great way for students to hear the interval from so to do’ (end of phrase 1 into phrase 2) and should help them identify do’ to la (beginning of phrase 2) as being closer.

For more information about preparing and presenting high do, I recommend Kodály Today by Mícheál Houlahan and Philip Tacka.

Which techniques have worked well in your classroom? 

Hogs in the Cornfield solfége and rhythms in F



Bow, Wow, Wow do presentation

Feel free to use this picture for your personal classroom use. It will be available for download on my Resources for Teachers page.

My second grade students know the solfége pitches la, so, and mi  and have learned do aurally. It’s time for the visual presentation and I’ll be using the third phrase of Bow, Wow, Wow. I’ve presented it many different ways over the years, but this time I’m using the visual attached with a picture of my dog, Duke, in place of do. This also works well with a dog bone picture, written on a chalk board, or with magnets on a magnetic white board with staff. Simply replace the dog picture with a quarter note, or add a stem to his picture if that’s easier, and voila! Your presentation is sure to please and delight the students. Bow Wow Wow phrase 3 in FWhat do you do when presenting do to make it fun and engaging for the students?