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Music Teacher Tip #21 - Integrating Literacy

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Music Teacher Tip #21 - #IntegratingLiteracy:

If you are a choral or general-music teacher, you can easily integrate literacy on a regular basis. Almost all songs have words - poetry! No matter what our age, we can all benefit from the study of language, no matter whether it’s our first language or one with which we are unfamiliar.

To integrate or not integrate literacy?

If students are singing the words, they should understand them. How else will they effectively express the text?

To make literacy connections, younger students can find rhyming words, count numbers of syllables in words, or even find words that start with the same letter.

Older students can find metaphors, similes, assimilation, dual meaning, onomatopoeia, etc.

It’s important to not only mention these concepts, but to connect them to the elements of music. Older students can analyze (Bloom’s Higher-order thinking) how the text and music are married. For example, in “Breath of Life” SATB, the arpeggios in the piano simulate the waves of the ocean. The text uses the ocean as a metaphor for life’s challenges and victories.…

Sometimes the polyphony in the voices illuminate a word like “scatter” in “A Tapestry of Music.” (See measure 20.)…

In “Moment by Moment” (unison/optional 2-pt.), there’s a place where the lyrics are: “Have you ever caught a moment, held paradise in your hand?” Following the word “moment”, there is a caesura in the score. (See measure 20.) Students can try to guess what that symbol means based on the context clues in the lyrics.…

It’s also important for students to have a chance to relate to the lyrics personally. The best songs have universal themes. The song “Darkness Fell” (2-pt./opt. 3-pt.) is accessible musically for beginning part singing, but the lyrics are more sophisticated and use darkness as a metaphor for anxiety.

Another great way to create (which is the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy) with students is use folk songs or other free-domain songs and guide them to add their own lyrics. Doing this allows students to think critically about how the musical phrase connects to the structure of a sentence, for example. Students can also consider rhyming structure, choice of literary devices, etc.. Students can also make changes to the original song regarding tempo, style, expressive elements, etc. based on the lyrics they create. Here is an example of one I did with K-1. We ended up performing this one for the school’s winter program. They dressed all in white and danced with giant cardboard snowflakes. In case you’re wondering, it was adorable and age-appropriate. ❄️

(Sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.”)

I’m a little snowflake in the sky. I float down from up high. Watch me twirl and glitter as I go. Look! I’m turning into snow.

(Interlude snow dance)

(Repeat verse)

If you’re looking for an opportunity to assess students’ understanding of the music they’re singing, ask them why the composer made certain decisions related to the text such as text painting, why the melody has sustains or syncopations on certain words, or why the melody is ascending on a certain word instead or descending. (See the last word “fly” in “Watch Me Fly” (2-part).

By the way, most composers/lyricists would probably be willing to Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom with your students and would probably only charge a little (if anything) if you’re working on something they wrote. ❤️

At the very least, talk about the meaning of the text for every song. We sing to express something and we have the gift of language to help us do so. Take advantage of it!

Happy teaching! 💗🎶

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