Taming the Lower Primary class with a song

I had my first productive lesson with Lower Primary students all term yesterday. The odds were stacked against us – it wasn’t my usual day, they weren’t with their usual teacher, and I worked with them straight after lunch rather than first thing in the morning. However, the lesson went very well! So what did we do this week that so captured them?

The focus of this week’s class was on writing a song together, on the theme of ‘names’. Regular readers of this blog will know that the children in this class have spent the whole term using rhythms derived from the syllables of their names to compose instrumental pieces, both melodic and purely rhythmic. I wanted a song to tie all of these sections together.

We started with a quick warm-up. I got straight into it, with no preamble or explanation. I started a clapping pattern and they followed. Then we said our names 1 x 1 around the circle. We did a big stretch to get the oxygen flowing, and then we sat down on the floor and I asked them all to face the white board.

We brainstormed sentences with the word ‘name’ in them. What is your name? That is my name. Why do we have names? I asked, hoping to get some more unusual sentences. But that was a difficult question for them to answer. I didn’t push it, but kept things moving.

Brainstorming words like this can be tricky for those children with less English, or who struggle with reading. I didn’t want to spend too long on this task. Very rapidly I scanned our list of words and sentences and started to pull some out that I felt had strong musical qualities. I asked Ally (our music intern student from Melbourne University) to play a simple ostinato on the notes C and G on the violin. I invented the first line, and said it to them, and asked volunteers to sing it back to me, looking for a possible melody. We then, together, chose another 2 lines, devised melodies for them, and our song was complete.

After this, we passed untuned percussion instruments out among the class. Some played djembes and drums, the others a variety of small hand-held instruments (cabassa, guiro, tambourine, wood block). In two groups, we played the name-rhythms we had invented in previous weeks. We then practiced alternativing singing the song with playing the rhythms. This took us up to the end of the lesson.

In all I had their full and focused attention for an hour. Given that in last week’s lesson there was defiance, tears and uncontrolled giggling, I felt very relieved! Here is the song we wrote, which I personally think is quite delightful!

Tell me, tell me, tell me, what’s your name, what’s your name?

Tell me, tell me, tell me, what’s your name, what’s your name?

What is a name? A name is what we call you.

What is a name? A name is what we call you.

This is my name. What is your name?

This is my name. What is your name?

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