Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Friday, January 30, 2015

Teaching form in the Classroom

This week I started my unit on form with PreK through fifth grade. I've found in my teaching so far that form is the most difficult unit for a lot of students. It is a very abstract concept, and unless you are an experienced musician, it can be difficult to understand the phrase structure and the subtle differences that make up the form of a piece of music.

Whenever I teach a new concept, I try to make sure my students do a few things: sing it, move to it, play it on instruments, and visualize it.

Being on a cart makes some of these things particularly challenging, but I wanted to share some of the things I've been doing in the classroom to teach form:

Fifth Grade

I wanted to do a fun, engaging lesson with my fifth graders to introduce rondo form. Since I am on a cart at one of my schools, our range of motion is somewhat limited. Even if we move desks out of the way (which I think is a waste of time during our 30 minute block for music), my fifth grade class is 33 students and there just isn't space in their classroom. Since it's icy, we couldn't go outside... I had to think of something we could do inside at our desks.

That's where this FANTASTIC resource comes in:

Rhythm Basketball by Pitch Publications!

The Nutcracker March is in rondo form... How convenient! The play-along slideshow has a different page of rhythm for each section and was labeled with letters so that we could clearly see the form.

I modified the lesson to use tennis balls instead of basketballs, and it worked great! The students bounced their tennis balls off of their desks so there was no need to move furniture around. Everyone had a fun time, myself included. Even the kids who can tend to be tough nuts to crack were opening up and participating. I can't recommend this activity enough! 

Fourth Grade

I started their form unit by reviewing Call & Response. I learned this song in college and have taught with it every year since. We had a lot of fun singing and moving to show the form:

For some of my larger classes, we modified the movement slightly. Instead of being in one large circle, we split up in several groups and just made circles wherever they would fit around the room. The moves are simple enough that my students were able to do them all without my guidance. 

We also sang and played instruments to the Banana Boat Song, Day-O. (I was disappointed that only one of my fourth graders had seen Beetlejuice. Kids these days.) This one is in their Spotlight on Music curriculum, too! I had them play guiro and cabasa on the response, which sounded great with the calypso style.

Third Grade

We were working on AB form (I don't bother throwing the terms "binary" or "ternary" at them. I'd rather give the form a name they are more likely to remember.) We used movement to experience AB form by performing the dance, Niggun Atik. I learned this at a Kodaly workshop last year and was thrilled to see it also included in the third grade curriculum for Spotlight. 

If you've never seen the dance before, this video is a pretty good demonstration:

We start by just learning the footwork, and then the next time I bring this dance into their classroom I add the clapping and Egyptian hand-holding.

Second Grade

I LOVE doing cumulative songs with this age group. They really enjoy the challenge of reading and performing all of the lyrics. In their Spotlight book, we sang "I Bought Me a Cat" and I introduced them to the vocabulary term, "verse." We defined a verse as a repeated melody with different lyrics each time. 

First Grade

Speaking of cumulative songs, I did a really fun one with my first graders: The Rattlin' Bog! I had never heard this song in my childhood... when I got to college a few of my fellow Music Ed majors were appalled that I didn't know it and proceeded to teach it to me. Now I love singing it whenever the mood calls for it! 


We learned a few call and response songs, although I have not yet introduced that terminology to my kinders. My favorite is John the Rabbit. I use the version from Music Together. We start by learning the response part, "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am" and move like bunnies whenever we sing that part.

I also went out on a limb and decided to have my first graders sing this song and make finger puppets to go along with it!

I used the bunny from this template:


I love incorporating some crafts into my lessons whenever I can. Especially on my long days with no planning time. After teaching seven classes in a row, it's nice to get a break from whole-group instruction and just let the kids create for a little bit.

After they colored their bunnies (and named them, of course), they used them to perform the response part of the song.

The best part, though, is the "bunny dance break" during the instrumental interlude. 

These are some of the things I've done this week to teach form in the classroom. What do you do to teach these concepts in your room?

No comments:

Post a Comment