Offering Choices, Part III |

Offering Choices, Part III

My last two blog entries have been about offering students more choices in the music classroom. Here are some final ideas about offering students choices:

Creating a thunderstorm: Kathleen Neds was my long-term sub for my recent maternity leave, and she did this with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. The kids raved about it, so I tried it with them once I came back, and I was impressed with both their musicality and their creativity. Students can go to any barred instrument, the rainstick, the thunder tube, the gong, drums, or scarves (or anything else in your room that might sound or look like a thunderstorm.) The first time you do this, you can conduct the students, showing which instrument players to play when, and when the students with scarves should start moving. The idea is to create the sound of a thunderstorm, by starting slowly and quietly (barred instruments can play glissandos or go back and forth between notes, drummers can make a circular motion on their drums and then switch to hitting, the gong player can play quietly at first, then get louder and louder) so that students crescendo into a very loud, intense thunderstorm. Then, the sounds die down and everyone gradually stops. Once students are comfortable with this, one student can be chosen to conduct, and can choose who plays when, how loudly or quietly, when to stop, etc. This is a wonderful opportunity to have students make musical choices! Kathleen had students then watch a you tube video of Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst,” which is a beautiful choral piece imitating a thunderstorm. It can be watched here: 

Another listening example you could use is Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which was written in part to imitate a thunderstorm. It can be watched here:

After watching it, we discussed how it was similar to a thunderstorm. I also had them close their eyes and imagine a thunderstorm. What did they see? What did they hear?   One more extension is the book “Listen to the rain” by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by James Endicott. First, I read through the book. Then we go back through the first few pages, and I have students show me with their voices or bodies how they might represent that page (perhaps hitting their laps for “the slow soft sprinkle,” or making wind sounds on “the whisper of the rain.”) Then we read the book again and students accompany with their bodies or voices. Perhaps all of the students will be doing the same thing—or maybe not!

Jeremiah Blow the Fire: This fun chant goes like this:
Jeremiah, blow the fire, puff, puff, puff!
Jeremiah, blow the fire, puff, puff, puff!
First you blow it gently, then you blow it rough!
Jeremiah, blow the fire, puff, puff, puff!
After the students know it well, I say it for them, but ask them to listen to what I have changed. Then, I whisper “puff, puff, puff,” and they identify the change. The next time I say it, I change “first you blow it gently” to a singing voice on sol-mi, and “then you blow it rough” in my low “grumbly voice.” They identify those as well. Then we try to say it with all of those changes. It’s a great way to identify different types of voices.
The next lesson, we speak it through with all of those changes. Then I show them several non-pitched percussion instruments (i.e. rhythm sticks, triangles, egg shakers, wood blocks, etc.) I ask them which instrument should play on “puff, puff, puff,” “first you blow it gently,” etc. I draw pictures of those instruments by the lyrics on the board. I have students choose which instrument they would like to play, and then we play their arrangement of the chant.

Choosing learning centers: Several months ago, I wrote a blog about using learning centers in the music classroom.  If you have time after the students have rotated to all the stations, you can have them choose their favorite and go to that station. It’s interesting to see which centers the students choose as their favorites, and it gives them one more time to do their favorite activity of that music class!
Offering students choices during music class may seem a bit intimidating at first, but in my experience, it is actually very rewarding to give up control of the classroom and have students steer the lesson where they would like it to go! If you have any other ideas, please post them below. Have fun!

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