Showing posts with label visual. Show all posts
Showing posts with label visual. Show all posts

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. 

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, 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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Did Jesus Really Live Again?"--Child-led Actions

"Did Jesus Really Live Again?" is one of my favorite Easter songs.  It tells the story of the resurrection in a simple way.  This activity helps the children, both younger and older, interact with the story and think about what happened.


Learn the song really, really well. All three verses.  Then, think about the size of your Primary.  How could you best divide the song, so that each row or class could be assigned a line or two of the song?


Ask the children, with their teachers' help, to come up with an action or two for a line of the song, which you will assign them.  Start singing the song, walking by each row and pointing to them when you sing their line. When you finish the song, repeat--again walking by each row and emphasizing their line, so they can hear the words again.  

When each group has had enough time to create an action, ask them to show the whole Primary. Sing just one line, and then copy their action. Sing that one line again, asking the whole Primary to perform the action with you. Repeat for each group, and then put the whole thing together!


This activity taps into several different learning styles:

  Movement:  The obvious. They get to do each action.

  Visual:  The children get to see each group perform each action.

  Words:  The children have to listen carefully to the words in order to create their actions. Also, for younger children, having something concrete to represent the lyrics is especially helpful.

  Cooperation:  Each class/row has to work together to choose an action, and then the entire Primary has to work together to fit the actions to the entire song.

Happy Easter, and happy singing!

Looking for more?    I'm pairing this activity with a silent video. I'll play one of the Bible videos with the sound off, and I'll sing "Easter Hosanna" while it plays, pausing my song at times to comment on the video.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

White Board Colors--An Older Child Activity for Verse 2 of "If I Listen With My Heart"

White Board Colors
I always worry a little bit when preparing to teach wordy songs with several verses. I want to be sure to give my children different experiences learning the different verses, so they can have separate and distinct memories associated with the words. 

After working on verse 1 of "If I Listen With My Heart" with my kids for a few weeks, they knew it pretty well.  So, I decided to introduce verse 2 with White Board Colors, an activity I borrowed from Elise over on the Facebook Choristers group. (Love that place!) This activity does well for a first introduction to a verse, since the children are encouraged to interact with the song in a number of different ways.  

The Prep Work

Virtually nil.  Gather white board markers (or chalk, if that's how your room is set up) in 6 different colors.  Before Singing Time, write the entire lyrics for the verse on the board, along with these 6 instructions:  

Share (in purple)
Draw (in red)
Sign (in blue)
Erase (written in black)
Eyes closed (in orange)
Hum (in green)

The Instructions

Hold up a bag containing your six markers.  Announce, "I have different colored markers in this bag. When I offer the bag to you, choose one--without looking!--and then check for your color-coded instructions on the board."  Offer a brief explanation of each one:

Share=pause the singing to share one way you can listen to the living prophet

Draw=erase one key word, then use your marker to draw a simple picture to replace the missing word

Sign=using your marker, underline one key word, then make up and show a sign-language style sign to represent the chosen word

Erase=take the eraser (left by the board) and erase one word

Eyes closed=using your marker, underline a word or phrase on the board. The entire Primary will then close their eyes during that phrase every time.

Hum=using your marker, underline a word or phrase to be hummed every time

The Presentation

After the instructions, immediately launch into singing.  Walk around the room, offering the bag to various children to choose a marker.  I normally pass out about 3 at a time, and then I wait for space to open up at the board before passing out more markers.  Ideally, you'll be singing constantly, only pausing when a child draws the Share marker.  I find that it's helpful to stop every so often, though, to encourage a child who's confused about the instructions, or to clarify the sign that a child chose.  

The variety of the activities allows you to repeat this song over and over without feeling stale.  I sang this verse repeatedly for ten minutes, until we finally ran out of time.  The kids never did lose interest!

Happy singing,

Looking for more?  Even a great activity like this one shouldn't last your full 20 minutes.  Take a look here for a complete Singing Time plan that includes White Board Colors, as well as a couple contrasting activities.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Odd One Out: Teaching Younger Kids "The Books in the Book of Mormon"

Inspecting pictures to find the odd one out
This simple activity was a definite hit in my Junior Primary last week. We're learning "The Books in the Book of Mormon," and over the past few weeks I've already used several physical activities. This time, I wanted to tap into the visual learning style, but I needed to find something simple enough for my brand-new Sunbeams.  Odd One Out is the result.

Prep Work

Prep work consists only of gathering pictures.  I used pictures from the old Gospel Art Kit, the Primary 1 manual, and some I ordered from the store.  The Gospel Art Book would also be a good source, as well as your meetinghouse library.  I chose 16 pictures total:  12 of Book of Mormon scenes and 4 of NOT Book of Mormon scenes.  The 4 NOT Book of Mormon pictures that I chose were some birds, a fish, President Monson, and Noah's ark.  I separated the pictures into sets:  3 Book of Mormon pictures with 1 NOT picture. I made sure the Noah's ark picture would be in the last set I used.


Place one set of 4 pictures (3 Book of Mormon scenes with 1 NOT) on the board for the children to see. Ask the children not to say anything yet, but to see if they can figure out which picture is not from The Book of Mormon before you finish singing the song.  Start right into singing "The Books in the Book of Mormon."  

When you're done singing the song once, remind them again not to say anything (you have new Sunbeams in your ward, too, right?!), but ask them to give you a sign if they know which picture is the odd one out.  Raising hands gets boring, so I had them give a different sign each time through, which related to the odd picture in some way. For the birds, for example, we used a thumb and forefinger to mimic a bird beak.  

Ask for one child to point out the odd picture.  If you like, you can briefly describe the stories from each of the Book of Mormon scenes.  Then take down this set of pictures and put up the next set.  Repeat for this set and the next.  Before the last set, tell your older children that you'll be trickier on this last one, as all the pictures will be scripture stories, but one will be from a different book of scripture than The Book of Mormon.  If the children were starting to lose interest, this added challenge will bring them back in.  

This activity went over so well that I'll be bringing it into my Senior Primary, as well, but using tricky pictures for the odd one out every time. :)

Happy singing!

Looking for more?  This would be an excellent activity to use when taking music into a less active child's home.  Or, check out Puzzle Pictures for another engaging visual activity.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Adventures with Activity Days: Part 2 of 2

This post is the second of a 2-part series describing ways to bring Primary music into a weekday Activity Days meeting. Read part 1 here, about memorizing the Articles of Faith.

Tracing conducting patterns
I love that Activity Days gives our girls the chance to learn how to conduct music.  If you think about it, women and girls in our church have a ton of opportunities to lead music, so it makes sense to help our girls learn this skill.  I've been invited into Activity Days a couple different times over the years to teach basic conducting patterns.  Here are four techniques I've used.

1.  Finding the Down Beat

This is a most over-looked skill. :)  Let's face it, the piano will keep playing, and the congregation will keep singing, even if you don't have a clue what a down beat is.  But we're talking about teaching these kids correct technique, right? So let's start them off right. 

I have the girls sit in a circle on the floor with me, and I ask them to listen to the flow of my singing and try to sway to match it. I try to emphasize the down beat slightly, and I sway and nod my head with the beat, too. Then I ask them if they can feel that there's a stronger beat that comes every so often.  I label it as the down beat, and then I sing a song with a different time signature, so they can identify the down beat there, too. 

2.  Tracing Conducting Patterns

Before class time, I drew the shape of the conducting patterns for 2, 3, and 4 beats onto separate sheets of white paper, making sure to have one set for each girl.  (If you have any left-handed students, make a mirror-image shape for them.)  I also taped the papers onto the wall or chalk board.  Now I let the girls choose a color of crayon. Directing them to start with the 2-beat pattern, I ask them to trace as I sing.  After singing for a minute, I pause singing to say rhythmically, "Down, up, down, up," at the same tempo as the song. Then, I switch back to the song, so they can match their movements to the beat. After they've got it, I have them switch colors, move to the next paper and pattern, and repeat.

Practicing with ribbon wands

3.  Practice with Ribbon Wands

Once the girls have learned the three basic patterns, I change things up to allow for extra practice.   I give each girl a ribbon wand and ask them to spread out through the room.  I ask for favorite Primary songs from the girls, but I also have a few songs in mind of my own, in case their songs don't cover all the time signatures we're learning.  Then we sing and conduct all together, using as many songs as we can until the hour is up.

4.  Provide Opportunities to Conduct Afterwards

Learning a new talent is always more fun if you have a chance to use it right away.  In addition, the Activity Days girls have a Faith in God requirement to teach or share a song with either their family or Primary.  So, after I teach them conducting music, I offer the girls a chance to lead a prelude song in Primary opening exercises.  If they are interested, I let them pick which Primary song they'd like, and I remind them before Sunday.  When they're conducting, I normally sit in the front row and conduct the pattern low in my lap, in case they need a little help.  

It's so rewarding to develop a new ability and be able to share it, both for the girls with their conducting, and for me with my teaching them. :)

Happy singing!

Looking for more?   Learn about the different icons I include, like this one,  , and how they correspond to different learning styles in my post here. Or, if you'd like another activity that includes basic music skills, try my post on using hand bells