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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!

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 actually play the spoons, so I made the decision 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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