Bringing the Pages to Life: Making Stories Musical

Have you been asked (or told) to include reading and literacy activities in your music classes to support what is being taught in the homeroom classes? In this post, we will be discussing strategies for incorporating reading and literacy activities in music classes without giving up musical objectives. 

How many of us have been asked or told to include reading and literacy activities in our music classes to support what is being taught in the homeroom classes? I dare to say that would be most of us. How many of us made a herculean effort to suppress the eyeroll and keep those, “But I only see my students once per week and music time is precious” comments to ourselves. Me, too. I was right there with you.

My stance on this subject has changed over the years. The book that first caught me way back in the 90’s was The Singing Sack compiled by Helen East. My copy is so old that it didn’t even come with the CD as they do now!

These were stories…that we could retell…and learn new vocabulary…and they included short songs that were part of the storytelling…AND they were from places all over the world. There was so much that we could do with these stories that I was hooked.

I received more inspiration from various Orff workshops over the years. It became a joy to find a new children’s book and develop musical lessons that ALSO supported literacy. A win for me and my students and a happy principal!

This is obviously not a new and groundbreaking topic, however, I still see questions quite often from music teachers asking for ideas on incorporating children’s literature. My objective today is to offer a few tips on choosing books as well as some suggestions on pairing books with musical objectives.

Session Video Presentation

Watch for tips on choosing books and pairing them with musical goals, as well as explore musical creativity for both teachers and students. Join me in discovering how music and literature can create a win-win situation for both teachers and students!

00:00 Introduction
02:33 Session Objectives
03:04 Classroom Standards
06:00 Music Curricular Objectives
07:04 Types to Look for when Choosing a Book
07:36 Combining Book Types + Music Curricular Objectives
18:07 How to Manage the Creative Process
19:36 Linear vs Layered
22:48 Encouraging Student Creativity
25:12 Session Recap

Links to Literature 

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Books that are Song Lyrics You Can Sing

You Are My Sunshine by Dare Coulter
If You're Happy and You Know It Jungle Edition by James Warhola

Stories with Add-On Characters

The Mitten by Jan Brett
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern
Possum Come a-Knocking by Nancy Van Laan

Stories with Repeating Text Phrases

Books with Pictures Only - No Words

Journey by Aaron Becker
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Hike by Pete Oswald
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola
Laney Dances in the Rain by Ken Willard

Encourage Students Creative Choices

Don’t be afraid to let the students make creative choices! It will be noisy and it may not be perfect, especially on the first try. Think about these tips as you design your creative lessons.

Teach a variety of skills - The more skills we have, the more tools in our creativity toolbelt. While this is true, we don’t have to teach every skill before we start encouraging creativity! Students can practice creative choices with only a few basic skills. It is a very spiral process.

Design learning activities to foster creativity - many, if not most, of the activities mentioned today will support student creativity. When you give students a choice, they learn to creatively apply the skills they have.

Use Mentor Texts - give children authentic, real-world examples of different kinds of music from which they can learn. For example, students may benefit from performing a layered speech piece before they try to create their own.

Share ideas with each other - This includes allowing students time to share as well as YOU sharing your creative thought processes as you teach a song or present a learning activity.

Set up an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration. Help students with a format for offering suggestions instead of criticism. (“I wonder…” “Have you thought about…” “I noticed…”)

Incorporating reading and literacy activities into music classes may seem daunting, but it can be a rewarding endeavor. By choosing the right books and aligning them with musical objectives, music teachers can create a win-win situation for both students and themselves. Embrace the power of music and literature, and discover how they can enhance your teaching experience and engage students in meaningful learning!

Musically yours,


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