It had been a very long time (pre-pandemic) since I have seen my sister and her family.  We finally had the chance to travel to Florida for a much needed visit and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have papaya trees growing in their yard!  Sweet!  I was humming calypso all week.

I have used the song Shake the Papaya Down many times over the years and always have to give an explanation on what are papayas and why are we shaking them down?  Students will become more engaged with a lesson when they have some background knowledge on the topic. Papayas aren’t found in too many grocery stores, so not many families are able to include them in their regular meals.

I know my students would love to see my pictures.  Maybe you and your students will like to see them, too.

What are papayas?

Papayas are a soft tropical fruit that is yellowish-orange in color. They are healthy, low-calorie food, with lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

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The scene:  All the teachers are sitting in the same school professional development session where the principal or curriculum coach is describing the new district focus for the year.  Writing across the curriculum.  All teachers are to include writing in their lessons.  Have you been there? I have!  How are we music teachers to do this when we only see students for a short time each week?  Read on for some easy ways to incorporate writing into your music classes.

Group Collaborative Writing

When I pressed the issue of limited time with administration, I discovered that everybody doesn't always have to write!  We could collaborate on our writing as a whole group or in small groups or pairs and it was fine to mix it up.   This was freeing!  We could work on a description of our music activity or a report on a field trip as a group.  

I used this strategy at the beginning, as I was developing procedures for our writing time.  These group collaborative writings also served as demonstrations to teach the students how to write on their own.  I would be the one to take notes and display them with the projector or with a document camera so the students could add on or edit.  I'll share more specific ideas below.

Writing for Different Purposes

In the beginning, I admit that I was envisioning many paragraphs and editing and dictionaries (which I don't have in my class), and whew! That was too much! Then I learned that the English Language Arts standards included writing for different purposes. This could be the answer! 

TO INFORM - share facts and other information.
  • Composers or Music History topics fit in here. 
  • One quick possibility is to present your lesson, then have each student write one thing they remember on a sticky note.  Gather the sticky notes and rearrange them into a paragraph.  Students will call out any missing facts to complete your class report! 
  • For a longer project, allow students to research a composer, genre, or musician and write a report with guidelines that you provide.

TO EXPLAIN - to tell what, how, and why about a topic. 
  • Explain how to play a recorder, ukulele, or other classroom instruments.
  • Explain how to do a folk dance.
  • Explain a new music vocabulary term.
  • Play a piece of music and let them write instruments, tempo, dynamics they hear, identify (or guess) the genre, give a possible use for the music. Many music educators call this SQUILT - Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Listening Time.

TO NARRATE - to tell a story. 
  • The story can be made up or truthful. The story can be long or short.
  • Write a simple story to cover the beginning, middle, and end. For younger students, this story could consist of 3 sentences! For older students, the story could be 3 paragraphs and include more details.
  • Add instruments or songs to the story to create a mini-performance. 

TO PERSUADE - state an opinion or goal and support it with reasons and supporting details in order to convince the reader to agree, take action, or both. 
  • Write school newsletter announcements for upcoming programs.
  • Persuade classmates to join the choir or other performing groups.
  • Persuade others to listen to a new genre of music.

ENTERTAIN - to engage the reader using techniques such as humor, adventure, or suspense.
  • Play music and have students write or draw what they picture.  Create a great story to go along with the music!
  • Give students an opportunity to present their drawings or writing and explain them to the class.
  • As an extension, write a brief explanation of the picture.  This would make a great bulletin board display.

EXPRESS - to share thoughts or feelings.
  • Write about their feelings when they were performing on stage.
  • How does this music make you feel? Why? Use music vocabulary to support your ideas.
  • Writing poetry that could be set to music is a great option. 
  • As a preliminary step to poetry writing, give students a word and ask the class to write as many rhyming words as they can think of.

EVALUATE - describe the positive and negative aspects and present evidence for support.
  • Book, music, or concert reviews fit this category.
  • Evaluating music and music performances is a part of state and national music standards.
  • Begin with short reviews of video performances.  Include music vocabulary and evidence from the video to support the evaluation.
  • Reflect on school concerts.  My students always love to see themselves in a video!  Check out how I use this type of writing following every concert here.

Helpful Resources

Writing prompt templates help me organize my plans for writing in the music room, especially last year when we were switching between virtual and in-person classes.  The writing prompt templates are just the size to write a question or prompt to guide student writing. 

For a quick write, consider using sticky notes, whiteboards, sentence strips, or exit tickets.  These blank exit tickets are great for short questions or statements about what students learned in class. 

For longer projects, journals or special writing paper are more appropriate.  Those special writing papers really make a nice bulletin board showing off student work!  Nutcracker Notetaking includes a graphic organizer which I use as a space for students to take notes while we are reading the story of the ballet.  Then, the completed organizer serves as the pre-writing for a report on our field trip to the ballet.   

Another example of a special writing paper comes in this Pirate Writing Paper set.  This was perfect for my first graders to use following a trip to see the musical, How I Became a Pirate.  

Just Do It!

I am a firm believer in arts integration.  While it is really awesome when I can help classroom teachers authentically integrate music into their lessons, I also need to be willing to integrate other areas of the curriculum into my classes.  

It takes the creativity of an arts educator to extract principles from those one-size-fits-all professional development sessions and integrate them into our classes. You are that creative music teacher!  You can do this! Our students are better served when they can make connections across the curriculum.

As I said at the beginning, everyone doesn't have to write every time.  Every writing activity doesn't have to end up on a bulletin board, although writing does make for a great display.  Some of the above examples are very quick and easy.  Others may take the entire class period or more.  The key is to just do it as a natural part of your music lesson.  

How do you incorporate writing into your music lessons?  Let me know in the comments!

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More on Teaching on Spoons

From Nothing to Something

In my last post, I shared about finding and using the Free Banjo & Spoons Project lessons from The National Museum of African American Music and QuaverEd.  

In this post, I will share how I incorporated writing list poems and performance into the project. As I said, I used the Spoons Project with my 4th & 5th grade classes who I saw on a rotation.  Each rotation was 5 days long, so I needed 5 lessons.  Lesson 1 & 2 focused on a bit of history and learning some playing techniques.  Lessons 3 & 4 include the writing activities along with more spoons playing.  Lesson 5 will be the culminating performance.

Lesson 3-4:  Screens from Spoons Project Lesson 1 & 2- List Poems

  • Lesson 1 Screen 2 Find the List Poem Performance example by clicking the green arrow, then the bottom button.  I kept losing this video because it is buried on a secondary screen!
  • Lesson 1 Screen 9 Listen to Mr. Talley introduce List Poems.  Click on the examples and read them.
  • Lesson 1 Screen 10 Listen to Mr. Talley introduce this project.  Uncover the steps as you discuss the expectations.  
  • For most of my classes, I asked each individual student to write a list poem that included at least 5-7 things that they had learned about spoons as an instrument.  This work could be done as partners, small groups, or even write a class poem.  I did the class poem for that group that had to finish the project in only 4 lessons. I allowed this part to take about 20 minutes during Lesson 3, then another 10-15 minutes during Lesson 4 to finish up.
  • Lesson 2 Screen 9 was a great intro for my Lesson 4 because Spoonman Talley encourages students to look over the poems that they already started.
  • During each of these lessons, we included spoons practice. We did echo patterns, then improvisation patterns.  I asked each student to begin to work on one pattern that they could memorize and play over and over as the accompaniment to their poems.  Watch Mr. Talley's performance example again if students need a refresher on what this performance might look like.
  • During the 4th lesson, students should begin to practice their performance.  I asked my students to play a pattern on their spoons, read their poem, then play the same pattern again on their spoons. Lesson 3 Screen 9 has nice "Preparing to Perform" steps (click the green STEPS button at the bottom of the page) that can guide this practice.
Lesson 5: Performance Day

  • We began our lesson with a little improvisation practice, just to get students in the mood, ready to play and perform.
  • Lesson 3 Screen 3 and Screen 5 have short videos with more playing techniques and improvisation. Screen 12 has the audio playlist.  I used these as we had time and left this part out if we were rushed.
  • Lesson 3 Screen 9 Watch Spoonman Talley's list poem performance.
  • Lesson 3 Screen 10 My List Poem Performance gives 3 choices for accompaniment music and some evaluation questions.
  • Allow students to perform their list poems and their spoon pattern. 
For my classes, the performances were informal, just for the class.  Set this up in whatever way would work best for you.  Perhaps your students will perform with a partner or a small group.  Perhaps you will video the performances and post on FlipGrid or in your learning management system for families to enjoy.  

Encourage students to give positive feedback to their classmates following their performance.  In my experience, students excel at finding the mistakes.  My strategy is this:  Audience members (classmates) give positive feedback, performers get to say one thing they might do to improve the performance.  We are always our own worst critics, so it is easy for the performers to find fault with themselves. I ask the class to find something GOOD about the performances. This builds the performers up!

Where to Find Spoons

Spoonman Talley demonstrates many different types of spoons, so it seems we can be open to many possibilities.  There are several options for acquiring spoons for these lessons.  
  • Plastic spoons can be purchased at Dollar Tree or party supply stores.  These are a good size, but there is always the possibility they will break. The good news is they are very inexpensive, so you can purchase extras.
  • Metal spoons can be purchased in bulk at Walmart and on Amazon. These spoons can be cleaned in the dishwasher between uses.  I purchased enough for two class sets so that I could teach a full day with no sharing of spoons, then wash at the end of the day to prepare for the next day.
  • Thrift Stores can be a source of inexpensive metal spoons.  This may take some time and patience to gather enough for a class set.
  • Ask for donations from your school community.  Many families may be happy to part with a couple of spoons!
I purchased these metal spoons for my classes.  The plastic spoons would also work for this project. Click on the images to shop on Amazon. (*affiliate links)


Highly Recommended

The slides, musical examples, list poem writing, and Mr. Talley's videos are well done and easy to use.  It was important to me that we have time during every class to play the spoons, so I decided to skip over some of the material.  This is working out great because I can revisit this lesson this year with the same students and there is more to learn! You may decide that you have time for an 8-lesson series, or you might have a longer class period and get through more of the material.  

I hope you will look these lessons over! I highly recommend!  

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