Rehearse the Poetic Verse, Reinforce Skills in the Course

By Patti B.

             Music and poetry have similar elements such as cadence, meter, verse, rhythm, and repetition.  Children take great pleasure rhythmic language.   When music helps expose children to rhyme and repetition, then it is aiding students in skills necessary to learn to read.  I have always incorporated poetry into the general music setting.  This year, I have featured a seasonal poem with the entire school each new month.  I would like to share how I have used this poem to teach and review numerous elements of music as well as provide reading and spelling instruction and a sense of community in the school.

            First, I have used the poems to teach and reinforce rhythm.  After the students have mastered the recitation and movement of the poem, we can label the rhythms, note values, and even rests that the poem is using.  Furthermore, we have perfumed the poems with one or more ostinatos.  The older students are able to play the ostinato on an instrument while saying the rhythm in their head.  Younger students are still speaking the ostinatos aloud with body percussion or instruments.  We have also incorporated “student directors” to lead their small group.  The students are very motivated to be the leader.  The majority of the students are confident in their skills to be able to lead a group even when other groups are performing something different.  My classes have been more successful with performing multiple ostinatos than other attempts I have made with songs.  I believe assigning “directors” for each group has been a key component of this.  Hopefully, their success will transfer to more difficult songs with ostinatos and thick textures.  It is also amazing to hear the students critique their own performances of the poem with ostinatos.  They are harder on themselves than I am.

            Secondly, the monthly poems have allowed our classes to review other musical elements as well.  For example, we have performed the poems as a canon to continue to develop an understanding of how a round works.  We have also assigned dynamic and tempo markings to the poem to recall these symbols.  The students have gotten a “taste” of composing by assigning their own dynamic or tempo markings to the poems.  They carefully plan creative ways to make the text match the dynamics or tempo markings.  Antiphony has been introduced through these poems.  Identifying the meter of the poem is another beneficial activity.

            Finally, the poems have been an excellent way to continue to connect reading and spelling into the music room.  The poems assign a “catchy” rhythm to the spelling of the months.  The first graders are so proud to be able to spell a nine letter word-September!  They are eager to inform their classroom teachers of this accomplishment and present these big words on their spelling tests.  The rhyming and repetitious text is reinforcing their reading skills.  Moreover, the fact that every class in the school is learning the same poem allows the students to have shared experiences with all grade levels.  The poems could be recited at a school assembly or at other times to get their attention. 

The following articles and website can be beneficial to find out more on how to use poetry and music together.

 Towell, J.H. (1999). Motivating students through music and literature.  The Reading Teacher, 53(4), 284–287.

D’Agrosa, E. (2008).  Making music, reaching readers:  making powerful connections possible for young students.  General Music Today, 21(4), 6-10.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie K.
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 02:40:19

    I love this idea! As a new general music teacher, it is something I want to start doing with my music students. I really like your ideas. It is true that poems can help teach and reinforce rhythms. In fact, just adding words to certain rhythms can help the students learn those rhythms easier. I teach a World Drumming class, and I have seen students struggle to learn certain rhythmic patterns. However, if I add words to those rhythmic patterns, they are able to understand and perform the rhythms correctly.

    From the sound of it, you do many different activities with just one poem. The nice thing about that is that you can use that one poem to help you cover and meet many Illinois Standards. I am sure that regular education teachers also appreciate the fact that you are helping students improve in the areas of reading and spelling, as well. It is a wonderful thing when we can use music to reinforce other subject areas and content.


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