4 Ways to Use Amazing Songs To Make Your Lessons More Attractive

Some of my earliest memories of school include singing songs and using chants to remember what I was learning. (A is for Apple, A, A, A is still imprinted on my mind!). Songs are a wonderful way to help students understand and remember different learning topics - so where can we find them and how can we used them in the classroom?

 
4 Ways to Use Amazing Songs to Make Your Lessons More Attractive
 

Luckily for us, we live in the time of the internet and YouTube! This allows us almost instant access to some amazing educational songs which we can play right to our classes. One of my favourite bands for educational songs is They Might Be Giants. They have a couple of educational albums including Here Comes the ABCs and Here Comes the 123s, but the one I've used the most is Here Comes Science - I have a strange love for their Solid Liquid Gas song!

 
 

Schoolhouse Rock is a classic example of educational songs for a reason - even outside of the United States it's likely that you've heard at least some of their songs. These songs were originally created when an advertising executive realised that his son could remember all the lyrics to songs even though he was having trouble remembering multiplication tables. There's lots of songs available covering a range of topics - in English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.

 
 

There are also a really wide range of teacher and student created educational songs! Some educators and classes have been incredibly creative with how they've explored a topic and they've been kind enough to share their creations with the internet.

 
 

But how can we use educational songs in the classroom?

1. Introduce New Topics and Gain Interest

Songs can be a wonderful way to introduce a new topic to a class. It may be directly connected to the topic you're going to be covering (like the Solid Liquid Gas song when you're about to explore solids, liquids and gases) or it might be indirectly connected (like protest songs when you're covering the Vietnam War and reactions to it). Students can just listen to the song, watch a music video or examine the lyrics. They may note new vocabulary, discuss what they think they're going to learn, or make connections to topics they've already covered or knowledge they already have.

2. Reinforce Facts, Events or Processes

Once students have been introduced to new topics or ideas, songs can assist in reinforcing them. This can be particularly useful for things which need to be memorised, like mathematical facts or formulas or historical dates. It may also offer an alternative way of looking at a topic - something which can be very useful for some students who are having difficulty with the way the material has been covered. 

3. Prompt Questioning and Further Exploration

While songs can definitely tell a story or provide information, their structure and length - and the fact that many are written for entertainment - means that inevitably parts are left out. This is great for us as teachers though, because we can use songs to prompt further questioning and exploration - did George Washington and Alexander Hamilton really have a close working relationship like they did in Hamilton? Why did Constantinople become Istanbul? What is the story told in From Little Things Big Things Grow?

 
 

Students can brainstorm these questions while listening to the songs, annotate on the lyrics of the songs or use a display board to add questions to as they learn more about the song and the events or ideas it describes.

Looking for a song about a historical event? This Genius list includes a lot of them - though not all would be appropriate for the classroom, so check them out first.

4. Create Your Own Songs

Can't find a good song for the topic you're covering? Then write your own (or ask your students to write one for you!)

Creating a song for your students, or having your class work together or in small groups to write songs can help to refine the topic you're teaching and really concentrate on what's important. Students need to show a really good understanding of the topic to create effective songs and the process can be a great way of clarifying and assessing what they know. 

Lots of teacher and student created songs begin as parodies of well known songs - this can make life much easier because you're not having to come up with the music or the rhythm of the songs - you're just fitting words into an already created structure. Some students (and teachers!) however, may enjoy the creative freedom of coming up with a brand new song.

This step by step guide is a great place to start if you're considering writing your own educational songs.

 
Using songs in the classroom - blog post from Galarious Goods
 

Whether you're just listening, taking an in-depth look at educational songs as part of your teaching or planning on becoming the next Schoolhouse Rock, educational songs are a great way of adding interest and memorability to your lessons. It's definitely worth trying to fit them into a lesson where you can.

Want to use educational song in Australian Government assessment? The Year 6 Creating Laws in Australia Assessment resource includes an educational song writing assessment task - perfect for any class examining how laws are made.

 
 

Creating Lessons from Holiday Decorations - A Big List of Ideas

It's time to decorate the classroom! Or to create fabulous decorations for your students to take home with them! But what other learning can you get from holiday decorations?

 
 

Find the Maths

  • What angles can you find in a 5 point star? A 6 point star? 7 points?
  • What's the circumference of the bauble? The diameter?
  • What shapes can you find in holiday decorations?
  • What nets do you need to create 3D decorations?
  • What's the area of those nets?
  • How many decorations do you need to decorate a classroom? To decorate a tree?

Find the Writing

  • Write about why we need holiday decorations
  • Write about the history of holiday decorations
  • Write a procedure for making holiday decorations
  • Write a short story about holiday decorations
  • Write a newspaper article about how your class is decorated

Find the Engineering

  • Which decorations are the strongest?
  • How can you made decorations stronger?
  • How do you test the strength of a decoration?
  • Can you use decorations to make a machine?
  • Can you make decorations move on their own?
  • Can you create structures out of decorations?

Find the Creativity

  • How can you portray decorations using paint? Pencils? Clay?
  • What recycled materials can you use to create decorations?
  • Can you create a dance about decorations?
  • Can you create a play or a song about decorations?
  • How can you use colour in your decorations?
  • How can you use shapes in decorations?

Don't forget to leave your holiday ideas in the comments!

 
Christmas math and engineering resource using paper chains. Students explore the mathematical topics of measurement, length, perimeter and patterns and engineering principles of creating tests, assessing suitability, exploring materials and drawing conclusions. 

Christmas math and engineering resource using paper chains. Students explore the mathematical topics of measurement, length, perimeter and patterns and engineering principles of creating tests, assessing suitability, exploring materials and drawing conclusions. 

 
 
 

Surviving Christmas in an Australian Classroom

Ah, Christmas. The students are tired. Admin are insisting that it's business as usual until 3pm on the last day. There's activities and performances and assemblies and you never get a full class for more than half an hour at a time. You've just found out you need to move your whole classroom across the school. Oh, and it's swelteringly hot!

Of course, what you need are Christmas or holiday themed activities which promote real learning - while fitting into the spaces of time you get in the classroom!

 
 

Bring on the Games

This is a great time for reinforcing everything you've taught during the year with a series of games. Your students will love you, they'll have a better chance of remembering things into the new year and then their next teacher will also love you! 

Short multiplication games, grammar games and spelling games are great for filling in the 5 or 10 minute gaps before you have to be somewhere. You could also hold a trivia quiz over the last few weeks, breaking the class into teams and covering all sorts of information from the year (things you've covered, books you've read, events you've attended plus general trivia).

Board games and adapted board games can work really well for those times when you're missing some of the students. You can also take the games outside to rejuvenate students. Use the first hour of the day when it's a little cooler, or find a covered or shaded place to play. 

Writing Tasks

Writing is one of those tasks which is wonderfully adaptable to any event or time of the year. Students can create their own creative writing prompts, create stories, poems, songs or plays about Christmas or the holidays. They can respond to articles in newspapers or online. They can write letters to family and friends or write reflections about the year they've had. 

Persuasive writing is now a big feature of Australian classrooms and an excellent technique to work on at Christmas time. Students can write advertisements or letters to the editor or they can respond to a persuasive text prompt.

 
A collection of five Christmas in Australia - themed persuasive writing prompts, this resource can be used for test preparations, homework assignments or as part of whole class teaching or writer’s workshop.

A collection of five Christmas in Australia - themed persuasive writing prompts, this resource can be used for test preparations, homework assignments or as part of whole class teaching or writer’s workshop.

 

Reading

Although the Christmas season might not allow enough time for a Christmas novel, there is enough time to examine Christmas picture books. Students can examine picture books based on old carols and stories or picture books which tell new stories. They can talk about the way Christmas is portrayed, the emphasis which is put on Christmas in the books (is it about Santa? Giving? Where Christmas is held? The food?) or how different Christmas books compare with each other. Alongside the reading discussion, there's plenty of room for accompanying writing and craft activities.

 
Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities. A perfect resource to continue and extend learning in the final weeks of school in Australia.

Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities. A perfect resource to continue and extend learning in the final weeks of school in Australia.

 

Maths Investigations

Christmas and holidays are great for maths investigations. You can plan for Christmas lunch (time table for cooking, menu planning for 4 people or 6 people or 8 people, working out the cost of ingredients and creating a budget.

Or you could create an investigation around wrapping presents - how can you wrap different sized boxes? How much paper will you need? 

Or look at patterns of Christmas lights. What patterns can you create? How does it change when you use different numbers of lights or colours?

There are so many easy to set up and easy to implement ideas to create real learning at Christmas time - even with the heat. And don't forget my Christmas freebie - available here!

     
     

    What are Math Investigations?

     
     

    When we teach mathematics it can be very easy to get caught in the nuts and bolts - the mathematical processes and ensuring that students get the 'right' answers.

    It's important, though, to extend past the basic rules and processes, to get our students understanding how they can be combined and where they might have real-world applications.

    Maths (or math) investigation allow students to apply their maths understanding in various situations. They usually start with a 'real world' mathematical question - big or small:

     
     

    Students then formulate plans to answer the questions, collect data, use multiple processes to solve the problem, communicate the answer and reflect on their learning.

    The joy of maths investigations lie in their flexibility. You can ask students to solve a large question which might take a few weeks to solve, or give them a smaller, more focused question to solve in one lesson. You can provide measurements or partial answers, or require students to collect them themselves. You can combine them with science or engineering or history or the arts. And you can cover a wide range of maths standards.

    Have you used maths investigations? Have you got any good maths questions to share?

     
     

    Five Quick Alternatives to Holiday Busywork

    With lots of holidays approaching, you might have made the decision to step away from holiday busywork. But planning integrated learning activities can take time - especially when they begin to grow and get overwhelmingly complex. And time for teachers is always a precious thing!

    With that in mind, here's five easier ways to bring great holiday learning into the classroom.

     
    5 Alternatives to Holiday Busywork
     
     

    1. Creative Writing Prompts

    If you've been covering creative writing in your English classes, this is a perfect way to combine holidays and lessons. You can share one prompt for the whole class to respond to, give students a choice of four or five prompts or allocate a different prompt for each student.

    Take it Further

    • Challenge students to try a different creative format like poetry or a fictional memoir
    • Ask students to work in groups or pairs - collaborative writing can create some interesting results
    • Students can publish their work to create a class book or website

    2. Persuasive Arguments

    While persuasive arguments are often about big important subjects, students can also develop persuasive writing skills with smaller holiday related topics. 

    Think about elements of the holidays which could be (or have been) changed. For example, students could write a persuasive essay arguing that trick-or-treating should involve non-food items only.

    Take it Further

    • Persuasive arguments can be essays, letters to the editor, advertisements or debates. Students can engage with them as part of a wider project - like creating a holiday podcast or a holiday newsletter or news website
    • You can mix up presentation - students can turn their arguments into posters, blog posts, displays, newspaper articles or podcasts

    3. Read About It

    Picture books, short stories or text excerpts can be a great way of exploring a holiday through literature. As well as reading the story, students can discuss how the holiday is portrayed, if it feels realistic or connected to their own experiences and if the author has done a good job of portraying the holiday. They can also explore holidays in different parts of the world.

    Take it Further

    • Reading holidays texts can be done as a whole class or different groups can discuss different texts. Students can come together to compare different texts, creating images to show how they're different and alike.
    • Students can create reviews or advertisements of the texts - turning them into images, videos, short articles or audio files.

    4. Maths Investigations

    Maths (or math) Investigations can easily be condensed or simplified if you're short on time. To do this, pick an element of your holiday - eg. valentines for Valentines Day. Then brainstorm some mathematical questions:

     
     

    Any one of these investigations can be presented over one or two lessons. Or, if you have more time you can combine and expand them!

    Take it Further

    • Ask students to create their own mathematical investigations
    • Brainstorm several investigations and set up maths centres. Or create a choice board allowing students to explore the maths investigations in their own time.

    5.  Create a Maths Question

    A lot of the time we give students maths problems and ask them to find the answers. But what if we turned that upside down and gave them the answer - then asked the students to develop a range of problems to match it?

    This gives students an alternative way to look at mathematical processes and can help them understand how word problems or multi-step problems work.

    It's easy to give answers a holiday feel. For example - the answer could be 720 Christmas Lights. Students can then create simple and complex word problems which match the answer.

    Take it Further

    • Students can share their questions with classmates, other classes or the wider community
    • Challenge students to match their questions with what they're learning in class. Can they make an area problem? A chance and data problem? A problem involving fractions?

    Although combining learning with the holidays can seem daunting - especially when you need to fit it around parties, parades, events and the excitement of a class of students - these quick alternatives can give you a great way to celebrate and learn.

     
     

    No More Holiday Busywork - Creating Thoughtful Holiday Lessons

    There are pumpkins everywhere you look, costume plans are being discussed on social media, and the shops are filled with holiday goodies. In the classroom, students are ready - more than ready - for Halloween. They are certain to be engaged in anything to do with ghosts, horror houses, black cats or chocolate!

    Do you bring Halloween - or other holidays and celebrations - into your classroom or not? You could say no, stick with regular lessons, insist that holidays are an 'out of classroom' thing. Or you could fall into a Pinterest spiral and plan All The Activities.

    However, when it comes to holidays and celebrations, it can be really easy to fall into 'busywork' - worksheets with vague connections to the holiday or the work being covered in the classroom or craft activities which look fabulous, but don't really offer a lot of learning for middle grade students.

     
    No More Holiday Busywork
     

    Busywork can provide links between holidays and the classroom, and they can keep students engaged and . . . well, busy. But are they the best way to mix celebrations and learning? Can teachers find better ways to mix holidays and curriculum?

    One alternative option is Integrated Learning - searching for the deeper learning possibilities when connecting holidays with different learning areas. Sitting down with a pen and paper (or laptop or tablet!) to brainstorm connections, can leave you with some surprising - and fantastic - learning opportunities.

    For example - here's a Halloween brainstorm:

     
    No more holiday busywork
     

    These activities all offer opportunities for engaging, thoughtful learning - perfect for making any celebration memorable in your classroom.

    Tips for Integrated Learning Planning

    • You don't need to use all your ideas at the same time. Store some for later, share them with colleagues. Too much can be overwhelming for both you and your students.
    • Try brainstorming in a team - bouncing ideas off each other can lead you in all sorts of interesting directions.
    • Keep any required standards on hand.  These can feel limiting, but the challenge of working with them can also be motivating - who doesn't like a challenge.
    • Enjoy the celebrations!