Showing posts with label older kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label older kids. Show all posts

Sunday, April 30, 2017

4 Good Ways to Recognize Bad Ideas--a Guest Post

I'm pleased to have a guest post today by Bryce, a long-time Primary music observer (and my husband). I love how he shares his perspective. He just says it like it is!   -Michelle

Repeat after me--being on Pinterest does not make it credible.
Bad ideas are everywhere.  They saturate the news, Facebook feeds, your kids’ every action, and even lurk in the dark recesses of your own mind.  Some are easy to spot, like mixing household chemicals into explosives that produce lethal chlorine gas without proper ventilation in the room.  Others are a little subtler, like choosing a primary music activity set that doesn’t teach or engage the kids in your primary.  So how do you spot these bad ideas?  I’m not a professional, but I’ve sat in enough singing times to recognize a few trends:

1.      Does the activity support only one learning style (or none at all)?

Sharla Dance, our go-to expert on all things music teaching, classified childhood learning as fitting into eight basic styles: physical action, words, visuals, nature (whatever that means), spiritual, logic, cooperation & teamwork, and… wait for it… music. Check out her blog here.

Each child in your primary class benefits from one or more of these styles.  Because every star is different and so is every child (I dare you to read that without singing it in your head), you’ll need to include multiple learning styles within each activity.  I recognize that there’s a school of thought that it’s okay to address only one learning style per activity, so long as you have multiple styles in the overall music time. Those people are wrong.  That’s just how it is.

The prime example of a bad idea—one of the worst ideas you could possibly do—is to simply draw names from a hat and make the kids sing it. (This includes derivatives like flipping over pictures on a chalkboard and singing the song underneath.)

The problem here is that this engages none of the learning styles.  For example, there’s either no visual reference or the pictures are too small to be seen from the back of the room. Having one kid from the primary come up to draw a song leaves everyone else sitting still, so there’s no motion element. The word learners aren’t given any associations or interesting connections to make in order to internalize the lyrics. Even worse, blindly flipping cards or drawing songs replaces logical progression with chaos, making the whole experience deeply uncomfortable for logic learners.

Some people learn best through natural processes--like natural selection.
Always focus on teaching kids the way they need to learn—not based on the first Pinterest board you find on Saturday night.  No matter how cute the board or bucket for the activity may be decorated, do not be deceived, those people are trying to lead both you and the kids you teach down to hell.

Let me repeat: If you structure singing time around drawing songs from a hat, you should be darned to heck (because let’s face it, actual hell might be a little extreme).

2.      Does the idea offer variety?

Anyone who’s ever had kids knows they have short attention spans. However, those with older kids or whose children are freakishly patient may have forgotten just how short this attention span really is.  I’ve seen goldfish with longer attention spans than my own children’s.  So unless you’re practicing some sort of witchcraft or hypnosis to keep them riveted, you will need to switch activities several times.

Along those lines, be very sure to mix up which learning styles you’re using each time.  You could involve four learning styles in every activity, but if you never engage the kids who really need to learn through logic, then you’re a horrible person (albeit not as horrible as the ‘hat’ people) and it will be all your fault when the child apostatizes later on.

When switching activities, keep focused on your core learning.  People seem to default to a singing random wiggle song, followed by an unrelated main activity.  Instead, try choosing what you want the kids to learn that week and structure several short activities around the theme to engage them from a variety of learning styles.

Yes, teaching this way takes more effort and planning, but that’s just part of the cost of magnifying your calling.  If you think that load is too heavy, remember that you could have been called as Primary President.

3.      Is the activity exactly the same for both junior and senior primary?

While the trunky 11 year-olds in senior primary may have the same attention span as a new sunbeam, their actual needs couldn’t be more different.  If the activity you come across online is identical for both junior and senior primary, leave a nasty troll-ish comment and move on.

In one ward, I saw a very well-intentioned music teacher try to engage the junior primary by sitting them in a circle and having them do a complex wood-block clicking pattern, complete with passing the blocks left and right as part of the pattern.  Half the kids didn’t want to share their blocks (surprise there), and the other half couldn’t figure out which way was left.  In this music leader’s defense, she really is fantastic but was just having an off day.

4.      Does the idea support on-the-fly adaptation?

There’s an old saying from some philosopher guy with a Latin-sounding name that goes “It is a bad plan that admits no modification”. If this ‘fantastic’ idea you found on the internet doesn’t allow you to adapt on-the-fly, then it’s probably a bad idea.  If the kids aren’t responding well to the activity, then adapt your lesson immediately.

The hapless music leader in the previous example responded quickly to the kids and adapted her wood-block patterns to their skill level, shortened the activity, and then moved on to the next one that engaged a different learning style.  Nice recovery!

Here’s what a good example looks like:

Let’s say that I need to help junior primary children learn the lyrics to Book of Mormon Stories.  Most of them can’t read, sit still, or focus on anything for more than a minute at a time. Challenge accepted.

My first thought is to use Pinterest.  Then I think better of it.  I hate Pinterest. A lot.  Instead, by expending a little mental effort, I come up with a plan that involves…

1.       Multiple learning styles: I decide to use a visual to help create a memory trigger for the lyrics and engage visual learners.  However, just slapping some laminated pictures on the board only engages the visual learners (assuming they can even see it from the sides or back of the room). I need to get the visuals to the kids. So I prepare bookmarks with a picture of the story on one side and a key phrase from the verse on the other.  One learning style, though, isn’t enough, so I add elements:

If you don't learn to recognize bad ideas, you
may not be able to recognize good ones either.

I engage the motion learners by getting them out of their chairs for the whole singing time.  As I sing the verse a capella to the kids, each class sits cross-legged in a small circle.  Their teacher will have a Book of Mormon with a picture bookmark inside for each child.  The kids take turns leafing through the Book of Mormon to the page with the pictures inserted.  When they find it, they can take one to keep in their own scriptures.

The collaborative learners can be engaged by helping their classmates recognize the words printed on the back of the bookmark—a key phrase for the verse.  If we’re working on the Alma verse, my key phrase would be “Alma was rebellious, and he fought against the light”. As they learn from their peers and teacher, they can join in singing that phrase with me each time I repeat the song.  The word learners are also engaged by having a specific phrase that connects their scriptures, bookmarks, and the verse of the song.

While all this is going on, I continue singing the verse on ‘loop track’.  To keep the interest of the music learners, I can alternate between singing the full verse, whistling softly, and omitting words to keep things changing enough that it doesn’t fade to the background.

2.       Variety: As kids get their bookmarks, I keep them engaged by giving them new directions.  If we’re doing the Alma verse, I use it like a wiggle song.  When I sing “fought against the right”, I have the kids stand up and throw a couple punches into the air—specifically where another child is NOT standing.  When I sing “an angel came”, they stand imperiously, and stretch out their hand as though speaking emphatically.  When I sing “struck before his brethren”, I instruct the kids to collapse to the ground, as though unconscious.  This will get a bit loud as they moan and wail dramatically.  Remember: the noise is part of the kids getting invested in the activity; it’s okay.

Notice that I just transitioned activities here but never had to announce it.  They blended together and kept the kids focused on the song they need to learn.

3.    Different for junior and senior primary: I’ve focused my plan here on junior primary, but were I to adapt this for senior primary, I would get them out of their chairs to come and get the bookmarks first.  Their next task would be to find the place in their scriptures where the bookmark should be placed. (With some guidance, of course.)

As they looked up the scriptures, I would also get the kids to alternate whistling along when I sing and then sing words as I either leave blanks or start whistling.

And yes—they still get the death scenes.  I’m pretty sure the eleven year-olds will even pantomime burning one of their own at the stake.

3.       Adaptability: This can easily be rearranged and tweaked to fit the kids’ needs.  For instance, we can start with the pantomiming activity and then migrate down to sit in circles.  We could even skip finding the bookmark in the scriptures portion and hand them out, asking the kids to tell their class something they know about Abinadi as I hum or sing in the background.  As they get their bookmarks, I could even have the pianist play the verse in the background while I dramatically summarize the story of Abinadi for them.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

And I didn’t draw a song name from a hat.  Not even once!


Looking for more?          
Check out a description of each of the 8 learning styles mentioned above.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Conducting With Straws: a Guest Post

I'm thrilled to have a guest post today by a talented friend of mine. Imani has a background in music, and she is the current Primary Music Leader in our ward.  I hope you have as much fun learning from her as I do!

Conducting with Imani

Two of my biggest challenges when teaching primary music are using movement in my teaching style and adapting activities to the Junior Primary. Since I learn best by reading and following instructions, I have to stretch myself to create opportunities for non-readers to learn the songs. I was inspired by my research online to meet both those challenges by teaching time signatures with leading wands.


A straw for each primary child to lead the music from their seat
A large drawing of a staff to display on the board (You can also draw the staff on the board)

It’s important to set expectations for behavior when you pass out the straws. I tell my primary kids that I am looking for reverent children every time I choose a name from the can of popsicle sticks, and I say it slowly and often so they have enough time to check their behavior and get ready to participate.


Explain what the time signature is and where to find it on a piece of music. The number on top is the number of beats in a measure, while the number on the bottom is which kind of note gets the beat. The explanation can be very simple for Junior Primary and more complex for Senior. I have a background in music, but explanations for time signatures can be found online, including in this conducting manual by the LDS church:  Conducting course.  I stick to the different numbers, and how the beat sounds different when we hear it, but I don’t really go into note values or fractions.

On the board, write down the most commonly used time signatures: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8. Demonstrate the patterns for each, which can be found in the hymn book.
Commonly used time signatures

Two patterns for conducting 6/8

I use descriptions like “a fish hook” or a “giant cross.” I also emphasize the downbeat or the “one” as I demonstrate the patterns and have them follow along.

Now for some fun! In the table below are the time signatures of the songs for this year’s program. Have the pianist play a few bars of each song without you directing, and see if the children can guess the time signature by beating the pattern with straws. Call on someone to make a guess, then sing the song together while they join you in directing the pattern.

When I Am Baptized
As a Child of God
Stand for the Right
Nephi's Courage
The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
Choose the Right
I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus

Finally, choose three or four children to each lead a section of the primary. Space them far apart in the front and see if the primary can sing together with each one conducting at their own pace. Emphasize the need for one conductor that everyone can follow. Next, choose one conductor to lead the primary, but have everyone cover their eyes while singing. Emphasize the need to watch the conductor closely and listen to the piano. You can explain that the piano also follows the conductor so we can all sing together. Choose a child to conduct a song where the pianist cannot see him or her, and see if the primary can sing together. End by leading the primary with all of their watchful eyes on you. (Hopefully!)

Planning to Be Flexible

Colorful straws for everyone!
I usually plan more than can be completed in one Sunday, and this lesson is no different. Often I find myself finishing a lesson the next week, and repeating the parts the children enjoy the most.  If you need to fill more time, try a couple of the challenges below. I like this lesson because it uses movement to learn the songs and is easily adaptable to Junior Primary. I also like that it teaches some basic musical concepts we can build on in the future. 

Challenge #1: See if the children can fit the 2/4 pattern into all of the songs.

Challenge #2: Introduce some less common signatures like these from the hymn book:

     "High on the Mountain Top" 2/2
     "Lead, Kindly Light" 3/2
     " ‘Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love" 6/4

Hope you enjoy singing as much as I did! 


Looking for more?     Check out my blog post here for ways I've taught the Activity Day girls to conduct music. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hand Patterns: a Versatile Activity for Any Song

Hand actions keep the kids engaged
Hello, my friends!  I obviously didn't post last month. My excuses are--in descending order--I moved; My mom, sister, and niece came to visit from out of town; and we threw the most epic Harry Potter party ever. :D

Let me make it up to you with an activity that you can adapt to use with a multitude of songs. I've been using hand patterns to teach the memorization songs for the books of scripture during prelude, in both junior and senior Primary.

For Junior

With your younger ones, simple is the key.  There is still an age gap, though, so here's a way to address both your Sunbeams and your 8-year olds.  Start patting your hands on your lap, with 8 repetitions. Then switch to clapping 8 times.  Tell your older children that you'll up the difficulty in just a minute, so they need to be able to do the pattern really well.  Sing your chosen song through a time or two, checking to make sure the Sunbeams are able to follow. 

Once they get it, tell them it's time to switch things up. Change to 4 pats and 4 claps. If you want to add another variation, try 3 pats and one clap.  The little ones will be lost, but you caught them earlier, and the older ones will love the added challenges.

For Senior

Your older classes will definitely require a different pattern than the younger ones.  8-count patterns are better than 4-counts, as the added variety will help maintain their interest longer. Here's one pattern idea: stomp, stomp, pat, snap, clap, hold, clap, hold. Don't give any intro to this activity. Just start singing and stomping away, and they'll pick it up. Once they have it down pat, here are a couple variations:

1-Instead of the hold:  hold while circling hands away from your body and back to your chest

2-Instead of the hold:  reach hands out to both sides to clap your neighbor's hands.  
This will be a bit tricky, so it's best to demonstrate it first with a couple volunteers.  

Feel free to come up with your own patterns, of course!  This activity is great for any song with a strong beat.  Try it with "Follow the Prophet," "Book of Mormon Stories," "The Church of Jesus Christ," or others. Have fun with it!

Happy singing,

Looking for more?    For another simple activity that incorporates movement, try "Marching With Scripture Power," here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Guest Post: "The Lord Gave Me a Temple" in a Melody Map

I'm excited to feature a guest post today!  Rachel, the Primary music leader in the next ward over, presented this activity at a stake music training, and I asked if she'd share. Enjoy! -Michelle


Melody maps are a wonderful tool for both junior and senior primary. They help the children visualize the song. Adults read music to learn a song. A melody map is essentially the same idea. Young children incorporate the same skills reading melody maps as if they were reading sheet music. It’s a wonderful preparation for eventual sight singing. The amazing thing about using melody maps is that they can be used in a variety of ways, thus allowing flexibility and versatility when teaching different age groups.

Initially I was nervous to teach the junior primary with melody maps. I decided to give it a try. I taught the first part of the song without the melody map, and then taught the second part of the song with the melody map. I noticed that in weeks following as we reviewed the song, the children were more confident in singing the portion of the song that was learned by using the melody map. They had memorized it quickly.

Senior primary will catch on to melody maps relatively quickly. To keep them engaged, you may want to mix up the pages and have them place them in the correct order as you sing the song. You can also cut out symbols and images which the children can place on the map when they sing certain words.



-Large poster board or sheets of easel paper

-Thick sharpies or markers – black and other colors

-Picture cut-outs or symbols that you desire to use that correspond with words often sung in the song.

     Some good pictures to make would be…

     Body = faces of children

     Temple = small picture of a temple

     Spirit = cut out shape of a white body

-Magnets to hang the maps on a white board or chalk board

Construct a melody map as shown in the pictures below. I happened to have several small squares of construction paper already cut out, so I used those. You can simply draw the symbols using different colored markers. You can also use different symbols such as triangles, circles, etc. Make sure to have the sheet music in front of you as you are constructing the map so that you can accurately represent where the notes are placed. Spacing is very important. There are four phrases in the song, so I constructed a map to represent each of the four phrases.

"The Lord gave me a temple to live within on earth."

"Once in Heaven I was spirit, but I left my home at birth."
"I'll make my temple brighter. I'll keep my spirit free."

"My body is the temple my Father gave to me."

I used the following symbols for different note values:

Quarter note = yellow square
Eighth note = black square
Half note = blue rectangle
Dotted half note = large red square

Presentation-first week

Place the maps on the white board in random order.

Ask the children to look for the map that best represents what you are singing and raise their hand when they know the answer.

Sing the first phrase of the song a few times until most of the hands go up.

Ask a child to come to the front of the room to choose the correct melody map. Have them hold it in front of the classroom.

Ask the children to sing that phrase with you a few times while pointing to the symbols as you sing.

Repeat this process until all phrases of the song have been sung.

Presentation-second week

Bring out the melody maps again and place them in the correct order on the board.

Hand out various small pictures that you cut out previously to some of the children.

As you sing the song, ask the children to come up one by one and place their picture on the map that corresponds with the word sung. 



Looking for more?  For an example Singing Time that incorporates a melody map, see my post here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Guest Instruments--a Spiritual Analogy for "If I Listen With My Heart"

Different instruments will capture the kids' attention
Does your ward have a few people who can play different instruments? I had a couple guests come into Primary to play their instruments for the children, and we played a guessing game to see if they could identify each one by sound only.


Reach out to a few instrumentalists in your area.  Most musicians are thrilled at the chance to share their talents in Primary!  I arranged for flute, guitar, and glockenspiel (the metal xylophone-like instrument pictured at right).   Give them the sheet music for the song "If I Listen With My Heart," found here.  Ask them to prepare to play the melody of only the last, repeated line, "And if I listen with my heart I hear the Savior's voice."  I also asked my pianist to prepare to play the same line.


Sing the first line of verse 3 of "If I Listen With My Heart":  "I feel the Holy Spirit as He teaches truth and right," and pause. "Boys and girls, did you know that everyone feels the Holy Ghost a little bit differently?"  Explain briefly that although the Spirit teaches the same truth about Jesus, people feel it in different ways. You could give some examples of ways you feel the Holy Ghost.  "That's why we need to listen with our hearts." Sing, "And if I listen with my heart, I hear the Savior's voice."

Tell the children that you're going to help them understand how the same message could be shared in different ways.  They will hear different instruments play the same bit of song, but each instrument sounds a little different from the others.  Challenge them to pay close attention the first time through, as you will quiz them afterwards!


One at a time, ask the guest musicians to play their line of the song.  In between each one, either cue the children to join with you in singing the same line, or make comments such as, "Could you hear how this time, the music was higher? But it's the same song, isn't it?!"  

Once each instrument has been played, grin and tell the children it's time to see how well they listened.  Ask the children to close their eyes and see if they can hear which instrument is being played.  Silently point to one musician, so he can play his line.  Invite the children to open their eyes, and then take their guesses. You'll be surprised by how well they listen!  Give each musician a time to play for the children again.

As you finish, remind the children that just as they had to listen so carefully to hear the difference in the instruments, they also have to listen carefully with their hearts to hear the Holy Spirit speak to them. I can think of no better skill for us to teach our children.

Happy singing!

Looking for more?     For another thought-based activity, try Nature Daydream, here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Inside Camera--Focusing on Mothers in Your Ward

Use family pics from your Primary
Superlative alert:  this is my all-time favorite Primary music activity. Ever.  Probably because it's my kids' favorite activity, too. :)  The base idea I got from Sharla over at, and I just tweaked it a bit.  I dare you to give this a try, and see if your kids don't beg you for more when Singing Time ends!


Ask each family in your Primary for a family picture.  My Primary secretary quite handily sent out a group email for me. The families emailed me their pictures, and I printed them out on cardstock.  Yes, this takes quite a bit of colored ink, but these pictures can be used over and over, so I was okay with the cost.  

The odds of your receiving a picture for every family are kind of slim. You could send out personal emails a few days afterwards, or you could just use the photos you received. If you're ambitious, you could even arrange a time at church to snap photos of the remaining families.  


Tell the children you're going to play a game. Ask them to pretend they have cameras inside their heads, and you want them to take an inside photo of the picture that you will hold up.  Tell the children to memorize the picture as much as they can because you're going to hide it and then quiz them on details. 

Hold up the first family picture and start singing your Mother's Day song of choice. This year, we're learning "I Often Go Walking," but this works equally as well with any family-focused song.  (I do this activity for Father's Day, as well!) Sing the song through once.  You'll probably be singing a solo, but that's okay, since the kids will be learning as they hear the song repeatedly.  As I sing, I walk across the front of the room slowly, giving all the children a closer view. I pointedly bring the picture close to whichever child is in that family, to make sure he notices.  

After singing the song once, hide the picture and ask 2 or 3 questions.  Some good example questions are "How many girls are in this family?" or "How many people are wearing glasses?"  You can base questions off of the individual pictures. 

For each picture, the last question I always ask is directly to the child in the picture, and it is, "What is special about this mom?"  

Then, I pick up the next picture, and we repeat the whole activity. I normally have time for 4 or 5 pictures, but that's never enough for these kiddos! I can repeat it week after week, as we prep for Mother's Day, using different family pictures each time, and they never get tired of it, even my tough-to-impress older kids. ;)

Happy singing!

Helpful Hint:  Mother's Day and Father's Day can be tough for some kids.   See my blog post here about special needs Primaries, with a section about children who have special needs when being taught the doctrine of families.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Songs Are Powerful--Use Charades to Encourage Application

Charades help reinforce the principles
I've recently been inspired by some other Primary Music Leaders as well as the Church's fantastic new teacher improvement manual, Teaching in the Savior's Way.  They've reminded me that our calling is not to teach children songs.  Our calling is to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we just use music as our medium.  “Music can help you draw closer to your Heavenly Father. It can be used to educate, edify, inspire, and unite” (Pres. Thomas S. Monson).  With these thoughts in mind, consider charades as a Singing Time activity that can drive home the point that we're trying desperately to make:  Children, this gospel is for you.


Think of the songs you're teaching and reviewing.  Which ones call the children to action on an ongoing basis?  In the past, I've used "Follow the Prophet," "Come, Follow Me," and "I Will Be Valiant."  This year, you could use "If I Listen With My Heart" verse 2 and "Stand For the Right." 

Next, think of simple applications of the song for the children, which could easily be acted out as charades.  Some ideas are reading the scriptures, praying, sweeping the floor, rocking a baby, comforting someone who is sad, or inviting a lonely person to play. They should be everyday occurrences, with no more than two actors needed. Write the clues on paper strips, and place them in a bowl or bag.


Tell the children you're going to play charades--actions only, no sounds!  Give them a general category, such as "Things the prophet wants us to do."  Instruct the children to raise their hands when they have a guess, but to wait for others to figure it out, too.  Immediately start singing your chosen song, and offer your container to a child for him to choose a paper strip. 

Let the child read the paper silently and begin acting, while you keep singing.  Pause to read the paper to young children, or to explain if a child needs a partner to act, naturally. :) When you finish singing your song through, pause to take guesses from the children. Offer help if needed, and then sing and repeat.

Why It's Powerful

The children are hearing words like, "At work or at play...stand for the right," "I hear the living prophet speak the things that Christ would say," or "Then let us in His footsteps tread."  Over and over, they're hearing the words, as they see their peers modeling righteous behavior. They can learn through movement, if they are acting, or they can learn through engaged watching, since they're being asked to think about what they are seeing.  Either way, they are both hearing the song and seeing how the principles apply to their stage of life.

Happy singing!

Looking for more?  Check out this Singing Time plan for ideas of other activities to pair with charades.  Or, for another good reminder of our purpose as music leaders, read Why We Do What We Do.