Friday, February 9, 2018

Finding Do with "Leap Back Home To Me"

I am a member of the MusicEd Blogs Community on Facebook. We are collaborating for the month of February to share our best ideas for teaching melody! If you are not already following us on Facebook, you should click the link above. 

For today's post, I am sharing a lesson on how to introduce melodic improvisation with a picture book. I love using children's literature in the classroom. Books are magical and can capture the attention of even the most challenging class.  about the book "Leap Back Home to Me" by Laruen Thompson. This book is featured in an old post from 2012, but I have updated my lesson procedures after many years of refining.

If you are not already familiar with this book, watch this short video:

When singing with solfege, I always call do home base. I use this book with second grade to introduce melodic improvisation on the Orff instruments and ending on do. 

The book is very rhythmic and is set up in stanzas of 4 lines. In each stanza, the first 3 lines are different places that the baby frog leaps when playing and exploring away from the momma frog. The 4th line always repeats the phrase "leap back home to me." Here's an example:

"Leap frog over the  lady bug,
Leap frog over the bee,
Leap frog over the tickly clover,
Then leap back home to me."

 I start reading the text in a speaking voice. But, on the last phrase, I sing "mi, mi, re, re, do." The students soon catch on to the form and anticipate the recurring phrase to join in the singing.

After finishing the book, we read notation of the phrase on the board and sing with solfege and hand signs. I also review the form of the poem asking how many places the frog leaps away from the momma before leaping back home. (Answer: 3)

We move to the Orff instruments and set up our instruments in C pentatonic, removing F and B. The students echo short melodies I create with mi, re, and do. We compare these melodies and I ask them which phrases sound finished.  We conclude together that it sounds more complete to end on do.  Then, we learn the phrase for "leap back home to me" (mmrrd) and perform it again while reading through the book.

To begin melodic improvisation, I have students echo this short phrase with a speaking voice and clicking their mallets-"leap away, leap back home". The rhythm is ta ta ta rest, ta ta ta rest.  I instruct students to choose new notes on their instruments for "leap away" but play mi, re, do for "leap back home". We practice this phase several times together and in small sections. Then, I ask them to choose new notes for "leap back" as well. The only note we must play together is "home". We take turns sharing as small groups and then I offer individuals to perform as well. If all the students feel eager to solo, I will provide a steady beat bordun on C and G as we take turns performing quickly, one after the other.

The students always enjoy the book and are eager to explore the instruments and improvise. By the end of the year, I introduce rhythmic building blocks and to get students comfortable improvising with rhythms using quarter notes and paired eighth notes.

I hope you and your students enjoy this lesson! It is one of my favorite activities I look forward to each year. If you would like more ideas about teaching melody, don't forget to follow our MusicEd Blogs collaboration for the entire month of February.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Paper Organizer

Papers! Papers! Papers!  I hate having stacks of papers lying around waiting to be returned. Sometimes, it can be as many as 8 school days before I see a particular class again. Sometimes, I admit, papers linger in my room because I simply forget to pass them out. I knew I had a problem but wasn't sure how to fix it ... until now!

A fellow teacher was getting rid of this pocket chart and I decided I could use it to tame my paper problem. I created labels for each class. I color coded them according to grade levels. I have organized them according to the day I see them in our rotation. When we complete a paper, the stack goes in the appropriate pocket. This chart is hanging on the back of the door. There are 2-3 people in each class who will check the door before we leave and remind me to return their papers before we line up. Placing this by the door means I will notice it more often.

There were even some empty pockets at the bottom that I labeled "EXTRA" for each grade level. When I copy papers for the entire grade, I place them in these pockets and leave the extras hanging until everyone that was absent has made up the assignment.

I'm very happy with this new system. Getting rid of the paper piles on my desk and table has brought me so much joy! How do you tame your paper problem?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tech Tip: Multiple Windows

It's time for a tech tip! Watch the video below to see how I view multiple windows at the same time. I use this most often during lesson planning to copy and paste between two documents. I've most recently used this feature during classroom instruction to display a YouTube video along with a Flipchart or Powerpoint slides. Watch below for more details!

Tech Tip: View Multiple Windows

Tech Tip: Increase productivity by viewing multiple windows at the same time. I use this feature during lesson planning and during classroom instruction.

Posted by Music With Mrs. Dennis on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Although I am primarily a musician, I try my best to integrate all art forms into my curriculum. Returning from Christmas break, I always teach a lesson on drama to most of my grade levels (2nd-5th). We explore pantomime. This is a great follow-up for our Nutcracker unit because ballet dancers must use pantomime to communicate on stage when they are not dancing.

When I introduce pantomime, I first perform a scene by myself from a familiar story--Snow White.  My students must watch for clues and guess the story

I enter a cottage, am shocked at the filth, and start cleaning. Then I yawn and take a nap. I wake up to greet the 7 dwarves. I stand tall and bend over to shake their hands. There is a knock at the door. I greet the guest, accept the apple, take a bite, and die.

We discuss what actions and facial expressions were good clues and what other stories they may have thought were a possibility. Then, I divide the class into groups of 5-6 to pantomime a story together. I have created story cards with familiar fairytales and nursery rhymes. Each group draws 3 cards and then selects one to act out.

They usually have about 15-20 minutes to rehearse together. I ask that their performance be 2 minutes or less. During the last 5-10 minutes, I allow them to choose props that are essential to telling the story. Scarves are very versatile and become costumes or scenery. Other common props include: chairs, stuffed animals, and random objects around the room.

I save the last 15 minutes of class for the group performances and discussions. I encourage good audience behavior while each group is performing. I created a rubric to assess the performance.

This lesson is a great success with students of all ages. Students love the opportunity to explore their dramatic and creative sides. The 17 page Powerpoint, 24 story cards, lesson plan, and performance rubric are available for download on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I'm certain your students will enjoy this lesson as well!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Interactive Halloween Door

Our PTO is throwing a Halloween Door Decorating Contest again this year. I won the contest a few years ago and decided to step it up again. Here is a link to my posts if you missed them.

My door is inspired by Beethoven's 5th Symphony. "Fate Is Knocking At Our Door..."

Beethoven appears as the grim reaper. The music for the fate motive is printed and color coded to match the Boomwhackers. The Boomwhackers are held in xylo-tote and large binder clips. The clips are hung with 3M Command Hooks.
The door is a hit with students. I hear them stopping by before school, afterschool, and even sneaking during the day to come play Beethoven's 5th. I'm sure I may be driving my neighboring teachers crazy, but it makes me smile every time.

Here's a video of the door in action:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Instrument Petting Zoo

This year I decided to try an instrument petting zoo for Back-to-School night. It was a great hit and I plan to do it again for our conference night.

I borrowed some hula hoops from the gym teacher (in rainbow colors, of course) and arranged them in a circle on my carpet. I placed a variety of instruments in the hoops. The first picture below shows common instruments that I set up for the kindergarten orientation. I chose a lollipop drum, maracas, cowbell, woodblocks, guiro, and triangle. For grades 1-5, I decided to pull out instruments the students don't get to play as often. I chose a ukulele, thunder tube, tubano, Boomwhacker xylophone, suspended cymbal, and temple blocks.

I invited the students to stand beside a hula hoop on the outside of the circle. When they heard the bell tree, they could play their instrument. When they heard the gong, they had to stop and place their instrument back in the hoop. When they heard a glissando on the xylophone, they would rotate to the next hoop. Placing them in hoops helped establish boundaries so the instruments were protected during transition time. Everyone that stopped by loved the petting zoo. It was a great chance for them to explore, but also practice their listening skills.

Before my next zoo exhibit, I have upgraded my visuals. I have created a slideshow to display with easy visual instructions. I hope this saves me from explaining the rules to each new visitor. I also created some paper signs to hang on the instruments to represent "play", "stop", and "walk". I have also created signs to hang around the school to invite students to visit the petting zoo.

If you are interested in displaying an instrument petting zoo, you may find my resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. There is a zipped file with the slideshow and printable signs. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Welcome Back, Class: A Review Unit

To start the year, I plan a unit that will review many musical elements and dust off the vocabulary they may have forgotten over summer. This is a 3-lesson unit for 4th grade which will get the students playing rhythms, singing a melody, playing harmony, improvising, and composing. Here is an overview:

Lesson 1:

I begin the unit with body percussion, including patting, clapping, rubbing, and stomping. We review rhythmic durations by viewing the notation on the board including quarter note, half note, eighth note pairs, and quarter rest. I review dynamics by adding a crescendo on the 3rd phrase. We review the element form and perform the poem in a 2 part round with voices and body percussion. Then, we review timbre and add hand drums.

Lesson 2:

The Remix!!! We review the poem and discuss the musical elements. We discover we were missing melody and harmony in our previous lesson. We echo solfege and review the lines and spaces on the staff. We perform the melody on Orff instruments. We add a broken bordun for harmony. I have the students echo a rhythmic phrase "Fourth Grade Rocks!" They improvise with that phrase twice. I give them parameters for their improvisation. The first phrase CANNOT end on do (C). The second phrase HAS to end on do (C). We perform the improvisations in small groups: 1) glockenspiels; 2) alto/soprano xylophones; 3) metallophones, 4) basses. Our final performance is ABA form with the improv sandwiched between the song.

Lesson 3:

We compose! The students match school subjects with the correct rhythmic building block. I ask them to create a phrase using 8 books. I give them some parameters for composing. I ask that the last book be a rhythm with quarter note and quarter rest. I also ask that the phrases begin with the same 2 books. (Books 1 and 5 should be identical and books 2 and 6 should be identical). The students first get in small groups and use manipulatives to compose. Using manipulatives first saves the erasers on my pencils!!! When the group can perform the poem both verbally and with body percussion, they are given a worksheet to notate their patterns. When everyone is finished with their worksheet, we do a final performance in rondo form sharing the book compositions. We alternate the "Welcome back, Class" poem with each individual group.

This unit is always great fun! After only 3 lessons, I can say my students have used body percussion, played drums, played xylophones, used expressive speech, used their singing voice, performed in round, with ABA form, and rondo form, improvised melodically, and composed rhythms! It is a great way to start the year!

If you are interested in teaching this unit, you can search my TpT store for full lesson plans, PowerPoints, printable worksheets, and manipulatives.