Next Week…Heading Into December!

Before I left this afternoon I ran off a few things and started planning for our return after Thanksgiving break. We get a break at Thanksgiving that is almost as long as our Christmas vacation, so I really needed to think ahead a bit so I’ll be ready next Tuesday.

One of the things that I have to do in December is prepare all of the students for our Christmas sing along on the 23rd. In addition to my chorus performing and the “Santa Band” playing, all of the students sing along to a power point presentation for which I play and lead. It’s our last big blow out before we leave for Christmas vacation. (Here in our little Pennsylvania town, it is still a Christmas vacation.)

Having said that, the first thing I will teach the kids upon our return from Thanksgiving is the Dreidl Song from the current issue of Music K-8 magazine. It’s arranged in a catchy fashion, with a kazoo break right in the middle. (I also ordered 200 Kazoos from the Oriental Trading Company this afternoon. Their Kazoos have a reputation for not always working, (they got a 3 our of 5 star rating on their own website), but, having ordered 200 there should be enough for all of my 4th and 5th graders to play, even if some of them don’t work. And they were CHEAP. I have a favorite book on Hanukkah traditions that I will read to the younger kids. All grades will work on this song….I don’t think it will be too hard for any of them, and the kazoos will help hold the older students’ interest.

I was asked by the 5th grade teachers to do a lesson on “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and the Underground Railroad. I actually taught this yesterday to the first group, because they were working on this particular topic all day.

I begin by reading the book “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeannette Winter.

Follow the Drinking Gourd

I warn them ahead of time that the book makes me cry. Most of the time I make it through ok, but with some books it’s just always an issue for me. ( I don’t even TRY to read “Love You Forever” to them.). Having warned them, off we go. Whenever there are snippets of the song on a page I sing them, so that before I even begin teaching the song they’ve heard it. As we go through the book we discuss what each line of code might mean. By the way, this is a Reading Rainbow book, and there is a video that goes with it that features “Sweet Honey in the Rock”.

Next I have them follow along and listen to the Music K-8 arrangement of the song, which they always enjoy. I teach the song by rote and we sing with the accompaniment. Easy Peasy.

Last, we fill out a sheet that has the lyrics on one side and a place on the other for them to fill in what the code actually means.

“When the sun comes back and the first quail calls” is telling the travelers when to leave: early spring. It was a journey of nearly a year, and they needed to leave at exactly the right time in order to avoid the coldest weather, since they were traveling north.

“Follow the drinking gourd”. The North Star is located by its proximity to the Big Dipper….the drinking gourd.

” For the old man is a waiting’ for to carry you to freedom”…..there will be people to help you along the way.

“The river bank makes a very good road. The dead trees will show you the way. Left foot, peg foot traveling’ on. Follow the drinking gourd”. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read, because their masters did not want them to be able to follow a map or read directions. So what’s the best way to remember something? Sing it! Stay along the river bank. Look for the dead trees marked with foot and peg prints. Keep looking to the North Star to be sure you’re going in the right direction. “The river ends between two hills. There’s another river on the other side.”. These lyrics actually referred to the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. By the time the travelers reached this point it would be cold enough that they could probably walk across the Ohio River on the ice, and the old man would be waiting to carry them to freedom….members of the secret society called The Underground Railroad.

Our town actually has several historic homes that were Underground Railroad safe houses. We discuss this, and I make no bones about the fact that, in spite of the fact that it was a different time, I cannot fathom how any human being could ever believe that it was alright to own another. Even then there were plenty of people who knew that slavery was wrong, or the Underground Railroad would never have existed.

I think that this would be a great lesson for February…Black History month. It just so happens that our 5th graders are studying it now, so this is when we do it. Every so often a topic comes along that we discuss, not so much as teacher to student, but as person to person. I happen to know a little more about it than they do, so that puts me in the teacher role, but sharing how we feel about the information makes us just a group of people who have things to say about it. They take it very seriously, and I’m proud of them for that.

For listening we will have our last hearing of “Swan Lake”, because it’s time to move on to “The Nutcracker.”

Music Express Magazine is great for listening maps and lessons on composers. You can search their site to find out exactly which volumes and issues have information about composers and their works. I’m using a “Swan Lake” listening map from Music Express for all grades this cycle. It keeps them focused on the music and, in this case, on which instruments and dynamic levels they are hearing. For information on the composer himself I am using to make animations that they can relate to, by inserting myself and some of them into the story.

This is an animation of Bach, (our previous composer), introducing Tchaikovsky (our new composer), to me and 2 students who animated themselves in a video where they interviewed Michael Jackson. Since those students are now in my library of characters, I used them to create added interest.

I use the listening map and show the video to students in all grades. I’ll post an additional primary activity shortly.




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