Offering Choices, Part I |

Offering Choices, Part I

As Kodaly-inspired teachers, we are sometimes criticized for being too scripted in our lessons, for not allowing the students to choose and create as much as we should. While Kodaly-inspired lessons offer the students a chance to sing, play, move, dance, read, write, and more, I think there is some validity to this criticism. We write lessons with smooth transitions from one activity to the next, but often, many of our activities are chosen by us, instead of the students.

At last year’s  OAKE conference in Phoenix, I attended two excellent sessions about student choice, presented by Crystal Schlieker and Nyssa Brown (see Nyssa's blog at Both offered wonderful ideas about how to increase opportunities for student choices. After these sessions, I began to offer more and more choices to students, and found that letting go of this control was actually freeing! The next few blog entries I write will be about this topic, with my own ideas as well as ideas from Nyssa and Crystal (thank you to both of them!)

Activity 1: Aiken Drum
This is a song I learned in my student teaching, and have used ever since. It’s a wonderful listening experience for the students, and they get to choose the food for each body part of Aiken Drum!  After singing "eyes are made of jellybeans," we sing the melody again and students decide what his nose is made out of, then mouth, then shoulders, etc. I do as many body parts as time allows, but typically start at the top of the body down to his feet, and then end with hair. I have accompanied the song with autoharp, dulcimer, and guitar, and the students are just enchanted and thrilled by this odd man made of food!

Activity 2: "Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain" by Verna Aardema
Nyssa presented this book at her session about divergent thinking. It is a cumulative book, so for each part that is repeated (“this is the cloud,” “this is the grass,” “these are the cows,” etc.) students choose a sound or a motion that could represent that part. The first time I used the book, I read through it all and asked the students what the story is about and what pattern they noticed. We compared the cumulative aspect of it to “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly” (the students made that connection without me asking!) Then we had time to choose the motions/sounds for the first three parts. In the next lesson, we recalled the motions/sounds they’d already come up with, and then continued and finished the book. I had planned to continue this process in another lesson with instruments—having students choose what to play on which instrument—so I was excited when students were one step ahead of me and chose the thunder tube, rainstick, and glissandos on the glockenspiels without me mentioning the use of the instruments. Each class had different motions and sounds, so it was lovely as a teacher to hear several different versions of the story!

 Activity 3: Students choose the next activity
This was a suggestion by Crystal Schlieker during her session. Often, when we write lessons, we decide what song will happen when. Instead, have a portion of your lesson in which one of three songs could work, and students get to vote on which one they’d like to do next. I’ve also had reward days after students have exhibited good behavior for a marking period or semester. They brainstorm a list of songs, games, and activities they love to do, and then they vote on their three favorite activities, and the class gets to do their favorites during the rest of the class.

Activity 4: Jump in, jump out
This great name game was presented by Nyssa during her session. You can see it here:

The words I learned (which are slightly different than the video) are:
Jump in, jump out,
Turn yourself about, I said
Jump in, jump out,
Introduce yourself.
My name is _________________ (yeah!)
And I like ________________ (yeah!)
I’m gonna keep likin’ it (yeah!)
For the rest of my life (for the rest of your life!)
I did this name game with my third, fourth, and fifth graders at the beginning of the year, and they loved it! It’s a great way to learn more about each student, as they choose what they’d like to share. They can also choose different lyrics; instead of “I’m gonna keep likin’ it,” they might say, “And it is awesome,” or whatever they choose.
I’ll be following this up with more ideas soon! Have fun!

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