If you teach elementary music classes, especially younger elementary, then you know the important role that books play in pacing a lesson. If your lesson is 40 minutes, then you want to make sure the students are at least singing, creating music, moving to music, and performing on instruments. However, with all that pacing, and making sure that we are covering what we need to cover, we also need to vary our activities to hold their attention and to find ways to reach every child in the classroom. In addition, we need to make sure that we have an activity that can calm them when needed.
Books are a wonderful way to vary the activities, to introduce or prepare a musical concept, to connect to students, to calm students, and for students to connect to music. Here is a list of five books that I have used in my classroom or are planning to use in the near future. This is a short list as there are numerous books a teacher can use in their classrooms.
The criteria for books should be that you like the book so that your students can share in your joy for the book.You should want to read that book numerous times because you, nor you students, rarely get tired of it. It should, but not always, have a magical or fantasy quality to it to ignite the students’ imaginations.
Five Great Books
- Pete the Cat Series by Eric Litwin. There are numerous ways to use this book. The librarian and I had the kindergartners act out Peter the Cat I Love My White Shoes and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Once class acted out the story while the other class played the steady beat on classroom percussion instruments. We eventuallyperformed this for their parents. Bonus: Pete the Cat song books from The Wheels on the Bus to Five Little Pumpkins.
- Horace and Morris Join the Chorus (but what about Dolores?) by James Howe. I use this book to practice the five voices: singing, talking, calling, whispering, and inner voice (the one that they think but don’t say).
- Mortimer by Robert Munsch. I use this book for teaching low to high and high to low. Thestudents act it out, play the actions of going up and down the stairs on the orff instruments and boom whackers, and create a melody to the song that Mortimer sings in the book.
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. I have students act this book out with various movements, emphasizing levels, tempo, and space. In another lesson, we add classroom percussion instruments to highlight the different movements. Two years ago, the kindergarten teacher had the students create and enhance their own version of this story. Some of the characters stayed the same and I am proud to say that my daughter played the mud.
- Momma Buy Me A China Doll by Dr. John Feierabend. If you follow Dr. Feierabend’s First Steps in Music for Preschool and Beyond approach, then you utilize the 8-part music readiness curriculum. SongTales (step five, though many music educators place it as step eight as a cool down or calming portion of the lesson) are ballads for children that develop sensitivity and expressiveness for music. SongTales are introduced to the students by the students listening to the teacher singing the SongTale, or listening to an audio recording of it. After it is introduced through singing, the teacher can show the book. There are several SongTales available through print and through Kindle. I like using the Kindle versions as I can access them from my computer or my iPad (with the Kindle app) and project them onto the screen. This way, a class of 30+ students can all see the book as I sing it to them.
What are some of your favorite books for early elementary music class?
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com