Thursday, December 30, 2010

Those Older Boys!

The cosmic question! “What do I do about the older boys?” I received an e-mail question asking for specific ideas that will challenge the senior primary and encourage these boys to actively participate and enjoy singing time without resorting to games all the time and avoiding the feeling of needing to entertain the kids.

How I would love to actually answer that question. I have the same challenge and often feel the same lack of creativity to meet it. But, over a long time, I have developed some attitudes and strategies that help me deal with this challenge. These personal strategies may not help anyone else, but I’ll explain what I think anyway.

First of all, I have to tell you that I absolutely love being the Primary chorister. I think it is the most fun I ever get to have in a church calling. I love to sing with the children. I love to see their faces and engage their eyes. I have learned that the children react to my attitude about this calling. When I am enjoying myself, they enjoy singing time too. When I feel the Spirit, I have to trust that the children are feeling as wonderful as I am. I do everything I can so that I feel the Spirit. There are always enough children willing to look at me and participate with me, that, when I send out loving, joyful thoughts as I sing, I feel that love coming back to me from many of the children. This is how the Spirit functions and it feels sooooo good. However, because I purposefully engage their eyes, I necessarily notice the ones who avoid my gaze, those who don’t sing. 

These are the children that I try to win over in a personal relationship. I try to get to know them better and try to help them get to know me. When I know them well enough, I begin asking for their cooperation. I try to enlist their help, to invite them to help me accomplish singing time. I always look for a private opportunity to discuss what I need from them and they are often willing to help me, now that they know me and we have a relationship.

I’ll give you a quick example. I’ve been working on one of our older boys for most of this last year. I’ve engaged him each week somehow, usually with a question that leads to a short conversation. Though he has a great voice and likes music, he is often unwilling to sing. He tells me things like “I’m so tired.” “I don’t feel well.” When we were practicing for our program, he was exceptionally ornery and uncooperative. I finally took a little break and invited him to come with me out of the room. I boldly asked him what his problem was! He said, just as boldly, “I don’t want to sit on the front row!” I told him that I would try to take care of his problem and asked him if he would help me by singing. He promised to sing. I went back into the room and asked the counselor in charge to change his seating. She did and the problem was solved. He still doesn’t sing many weeks in primary, but we have a relationship that allows me to continue to work on him. When I'm singing and looking at him, he doesn't avoid my gaze and when I wink, he smiles. So I would encourage you to develop cooperative relationships with the children, especially those with whom you are having trouble.

Sometimes we see the “blah, blah, blah,” roll-the-eyes type of reaction when we introduce our activity for singing time. How do I handle this? Well, I can tell you that I handle it much better now that I am older and don’t care so much about what people, including children, think of me. I have just finally learned the truth that it is not my job to entertain children, but to teach them. If it happens to be entertaining, so much the better. I simply do my best to prepare what I think will be an enjoyable singing time and ignore those niggling doubts that the children were bored. Because I am trying to do everything I can to feel the Spirit, this helps to banish those doubts from my mind. I wish I could help everyone see the truth of this. No doubt, you will in time.

The sweet sister who sent the e-mail also mentions, “I know some of this comes with the age, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse.” I think we cannot call it an excuse. It is simply true that this behavior is typical of the age. To some degree, we just have to ignore their behavior and allow the children to learn better ways to handle boredom, restlessness, or insecurity. During this time, songs may remain unsung. In the meantime, we learn to handle our own insecurities about this. I appreciate the spirit of her statement though. Of course, we can't allow disruptive and disrespectful behavior to go unchecked. Of course, there should be a discipline plan in place and hopefully working with behavior that is truly bad. But I can ignore rolling eyes and audible sighs. It may bug me, but I can get over it. I also recognize in her statement the desire of this sister to be prepared and that is a good thing. To spend time thinking of activities that will interest the children and to ponder ways to allow active participation is something we need to be doing.

As for specific examples of these creative, challenging ideas? I guess I have to respond with the whole of this blog. I will just refer you to my archives and hope that as you read through the different ideas of activities that I have posted, you can think of ways to adapt them in some way to make them more suited to the children you teach.

But, even saying that, I took a personal challenge. I went to my master list and chose one of the simplest activities that I use. I had not yet posted it, so I posted it yesterday, specifically so that I could refer to it. The color grid is a really, really simple choosing activity. One could even see it as overdone and boring. I can easily imagine older boys rolling their eyes at such a thing. I thought and thought about how tossing the beanbag on the color grid could be made more challenging for the older boys. What I came up with is an adaptation of the bean bag. If you look at the picture, you’ll see two bean bags. The black one is tricky. It is half-way between a bean bag and a ball. It is heavy enough that it won’t roll right off the mat, but round enough that it won’t land where you might expect. Tune in next week for a tutorial on how I made this bean-bag not so easy to throw. The basic activity didn’t change and my younger kids will enjoy tossing the regular bean bag, but the older boys might be challenged by the tricky bean bag.

If you have ideas for this sweet sister, please leave a comment or a link to another source. Everyone will appreciate solutions to this common issue. Speaking of comments, don't miss the one Kimber left on this post. She is convinced that the teacher is an important part of the solution and I agree!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Music Aid - Color Grid

This is my color grid. It is a really simple choosing device. Usually I just assign a review song to the different colors and let the children toss the bean bag to choose the song. Sometimes I use this mat at the end of singing time, choosing different ways to sing a song that we've worked on that day. I've also used it like a tic-tac-toe grid with discovery questions about the song. By the way, I use the multi-colored square in the corner as a wild card. The kids never know what might turn up here.

This particular grid is made with fabric. You can make an easier color grid simply by taping colored paper together. Laminating the paper would make it sturdier. I made one with the fabric so that it would hold up forever! :o) I've also used a color grid in sharing time to choose review questions, etc. The kids seem to like to toss beanbags.

I know this is simple. I'm almost embarrassed to show it to you, but simple is often a very good choice in an activity.

I also have an ulterior motive for posting this now and it has to do with those ten-year old boys. Check back because that post is coming up tomorrow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry, Merry Christmas!

I really had better go and do Christmas for my family! And practice to accompany and perform special musical numbers! And mail gifts, etc.  And bake cookies with my daughter. My time has run out!  So I'm going to take just a little time away from the blog. But in the meantime...

I've been pondering another question sent to my e-mail. What can we do about those ten-year old boys! You know the ones who roll their eyes and don't like to participate. Why is that? I know if we could figure it out we would all be rich, rich, rich. And famous! Why don't you all think about it too and we'll tackle it after Christmas. I also have a post planned about how I try to organize all the stuff and clutter that comes with being the Primary chorister. Don't you wish someone would design a great system for that?!?  I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Music Aid - Sing/Hum Puppet

This is my "sing/hum" puppet. She is made from cardboard with felt face pieces and yarn hair. When a child shows the face with the eyes and mouth open, the primary children sing the song.

When the face shows the mouth closed, the children hum. It's that simple.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Good Question!

I recently received an e-mail question and I really hope some of you can help me answer it.

One of the things I find challenging is the size of my primary. There are 120 children in our Primary and most of them come on a regular basis. So I have 60 kids for jr, then 60 for sr each week. That's great, isn't it? But it makes some activities impractical or too expensive or just too chaotic in our crowded room.

So my question is: do you have any ideas for working with a really big primary? Ideas for adapting ideas for lots and lots of children? Things that work especially well with large groups?

I have never, in all my experience worked with a group quite this size, but I know that many of you do week after week. I have the utmost admiration for you!! May I ask those of you with large primaries to leave a comment and help Jenny out. Pretty please... I know she will appreciate your comments and I will also!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fun Facts Quiz Puzzle

Choose a picture to match the monthly theme and cut it into 8 pieces. On slips of paper, write several facts about the theme with a word or two left out that the children could supply or an easy quiz type question. Put the missing words or answers to the questions on the back of each puzzle piece along with the title of a review song.

When you are ready to sing, post the puzzle pieces on the board with the answers facing out. Invite a child to choose a slip and read it. Have them find the right answer and turn the puzzle piece with the picture facing out. Sing the song and put the pieces together until the picture is revealed.

These are the questions I’m using with this puzzle to go along with this month’s theme.

1. Find the word that names something we can do to prepare to live with Jesus again.
2. Jesus (taught) us how to live.
3. (Jesus Christ) made it possible for us to be saved from our sins.
4. Jesus Christ came to earth as promised by the (prophets.)
5. Jesus made it possible for us to be (resurrected.)
6. The (Holy Ghost) help us know that Jesus loves us.
7. Name a way that you can offer a gift to Jesus for Christmas.
8. Sharing the (gospel) helps other come unto Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Song Review - "Don't Sing This Word"

This classic review idea comes directly from the Sharing Time Ideas in the May 2004 issue of the Friend magazine (pg.16). Have a child leave the room. Ask the Primary children to choose a word from the song that they will not sing. Write the word on a strip of paper. Bring the child back into the room and have him stand in front of you. Hold the word above his or her head as a reminder to the Primary not to sing this word. Have the children sing the song and let the child guess the missing word. Lots of choristers use this review idea with great success! Some put the wordstrip on a hat or visor, but it’s just as easy to make a paper sign to hold. The children love it.

A warning - you should be prepared for someone to make a mistake. Remind the other children ahead of time to be kind if someone inadvertently sings the word. Children can be easily embarrassed, and sometimes children are NOT kind in what they say.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Other Blog!

Okay, I know this doesn't have anything to do with Primary music, but I want to tell you that I recently launched another blog. It is going to chronicle the making of my daughter's hope chest. So I may be just a little distracted while I get it organized and figured out. Do you think I can keep track of two blogs? I bet I can. My husband just heaved a big sigh when I told him. Mostly because I'm not connected to the internet at home and do my blogging from the public library, of all places. I hope you'll all be more enthusiastic than he was! ;o) I am excited about it! I finally have a few posts up and I hope you'll come by and visit at Let me know what you think!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reverence Idea Link

Tifany has just the cutest "Reverence Mouse" posted on her new blog at Honestly, I think it is so cute. One could look for some other small stuffed animal to use in a similar way, but trying to be as "quiet as a mouse" is just the thing. I also want to make some of her crocheted bell bracelets. I can see that I'm going to have to crochet soon!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Song Review - Sing That Phrase

The game “Sing That Phrase” is to one song what “Name That Tune” is to many songs. When I use this game to review a song, I first sing it with the children all the way through one time. Then I invite one of the children to roll the dice. The resulting number matches one of the phrases of the song. The pianist plays that melody phrase (you’ll need to have the pianist mark the music) and the children guess the words that match that melody. Then we sing the phrase together and repeat for as long as the children are willing.

If you keep the dice handy, this is an easy game to pull out if you have a bit of extra time. One note - If you use this idea with songs that have more than one verse, you'll have to keep reminding the kids which verse you are reviewing or they will get confused. I think it really works best with the songs that just have one verse including the chorus. If there are too many phrases that repeat musically, it will really get confusing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaching Method - “First Letter Wordstrips”

On a strip of paper or cardstock, write the first letter of each word in a phrase or line of the song. If the phrases are particularly long, or to make it easier, you may want to make two strips for a phrase. When you are ready to sing, randomly post the word strips on the board.

Explain to the children that the cards are clues to the words in the song. Challenge them to listen to the song and figure out the clues so they can help put the phrases in the correct order. Be prepared to sing the song several times. When the strips are in order have the children sing with you, using the strips as cues to the words. Remove the word strips as you review the song. This method really only works for the kids who can read well and those who are sophisticated in their thinking. The others will benefit from hearing the song sung, but the littlest ones will just stare at you! Be prepared with a few wiggle songs as well.

You can find references to this method in the June 2002 and August 2009 issues of the Friend magazine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Teaching Method - Synonyms

Choose three or four keywords from each phrase of the song and write them on one side of separate word strips. Now choose a synonym for each keyword and write the synonym, in a different color, on the other side of the word strip.

When you are ready to teach, post one synonym from each phrase on the board. Tell the children that you will sing a song about these things but NOT these words. Challenge them to listen for the correct words. As they give the answers, turn the keywords over, singing that phrase again. Repeat, using the other word strips. Invite the children to sing with you as they are able.

You really don’t even need to divide the song into phrases, especially if it is a short song. Just choose several key words and write synonyms for them. Post them a few at a time so that you have a chance to sing the song several times.

This activity obviously works best with children who can read and who understand about substituting words, but if you use clear synonyms (not always easy) and explain the word, the little kids can also participate. I've used it in my combined primary and the kids like it. It works because the big kids don't always get it right away and I can remind all the children, including the younger ones, that "we are listening for a word that means the same thing as (blank)" So even those who cannot read can still listen.

This is also a great activity to use with a song that the children know, but which needs some review.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I'll be back on Friday (for those of you who are not shopping!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Choose and Review - "Picture Hunt"

For one of the weeks this month, I’ve planned a singing time using several of our favorite songs about service. It’s a “Picture Hunt” which is loosely based on the idea of a treasure hunt. Clues in the song lead to a picture with another song title that has clues to the next picture, and so on.

We’ll begin by singing “I Will Be Valiant” and I’ll ask the children to listen for who is serving and who is being served. The answer for this song is “I” and “serve his people” and I can predict that the children will choose the picture that I used when they learned the song. That picture has the title for “Called to Serve.” Answering the question should lead the children to choose the picture of the missionaries. That picture has the title for “Smiles,” which leads to the picture of the smiling child with the title “Tell Me The Stories of Jesus.” The picture of a primary class has the title of “Jesus is Our Loving Friend.” The children will likely choose the picture of Jesus with the child. This picture has the title “Families Can Be Together Forever,” pointing to a picture of a family in family home evening with the title “When We’re Helping.” Two pictures are left showing children serving or being kind. Both pictures will have the title “I Want to Be Kind to Everyone” and “As I Have Loved You.” Either of these songs match the pictures so we can sing one or the other for either picture.

This is nine songs total and depending on how the time goes we can spend some time discussing these ways to serve others. If there is extra time, we can sing “Do As I’m Doing,” pantomiming and guessing different ways to serve.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Choose and Review - “Count the Words” Board Game

Make a standard board game on poster paper with spaces to advance from start to finish. Color the spaces, if you wish, or decorate the game board to match the theme. Write word strips with short phrases that also match the theme. For example, ways to obey the commandments, be a friend, be a missionary, follow the prophet, help others, etc. Make the phrases between one and four or five words long. Put these word strips in a can or basket to draw from. To advance, choose a word strip and read it out loud. Count the words and advance a marker that many spaces. Sing a song for each word strip chosen and continue until you reach the finish. If the track is a long one with many spaces and word strips, choose a reasonable number of songs to sing and put these on some of the word strips. Pause the game to sing the song. The point of the game is simply to move the marker from the start to the finish, briefly discussing the principles and singing the songs along the way. The picture shows the game I recently made to play on the Sunday after our program. It has a service theme for the month of November. I’ll put the game board on the chalkboard with magnets at the corners and use another magnet for a marker.

In case you are interested in making a similar board game, I’ll explain. Start with poster paper and a ruler and marker. Make some kind of track with spaces leading to a finish line. I used a pencil first to get the general shape and then used a permanent marker to draw over the pencil marking. I made this track long on purpose because I will likely have plenty of time on the Sunday we do the program. A longer track takes more time, but it does increase the participation for the kids. We won’t sing a song with every move.

After I got the track drawn, I paged through the digital copies of the Friend magazine, looking for illustrations of children performing service. When I found a likely picture, I printed the page, cut out the illustration and then glued it to the game board. After I had the big spaces filled in, I had to look specifically for smaller pictures. I trimmed some of them to fit. Depending on the track you draw, this may or may not be necessary.

After I had the illustrations in place, I colored the spaces with chalks. Crayons would work just as well, but chalks fill in large spaces fast. Unlike crayons, chalks are easily erased if I get just a little sloppy at the edges. I also liked the way the tone of the chalk matched the tone of the printed pictures, but that’s getting a little picky. The kids won’t notice or appreciate that. ;o)

There are 52 spaces in this track, so I made twenty word strips with a total of 60 words. The word strips for this service game are: dust, give a Book of Mormon, pick up toys, smile, help clean the church, donate toys, help cook supper, set the table, shovel snow, pick up litter, be kind, take cookies to someone, push the swing, hold the door, put groceries away, mow the lawn, bring a friend to Primary, be cheerful, wait my turn, say a prayer for someone. I tried to choose songs that matched the action on the word strip.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Successful Program!

We had our program yesterday and it was a smashing success. I am so relieved, as I always am, to have it successfully finished. We sang a total of 18 songs! The kids were flagging a little at the end, but everyone sang very well and I am so proud of them for learning so many songs. They had to learn 8 of them in a relatively short period of time. When I saw the program, I was immediately concerned with the number of songs and the fact that they didn't know many of them. But, I have a testimony of unity and although I expressed my concerns, I thought I would wait and let things unfold. I was certain that the counselor who wrote the program would make changes if they were necessary. I am so glad that we didn't change anything, because the Spirit was very strong. Everyone learned the songs and no one fainted from standing and singing so long.

So, on to the fun Christmas songs.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boring Questions?

This is the second suggestion in reponse to the comment that using listening type questions has been a “bit boring.” I understand this problem. We seem to run the risk of being boring everytime we stand up in front of children. Maybe it's my gray hair speaking, but I sometimes think the kids just need to "deal with it." :o}

Using discovery questions doesn’t need to happen in isolation of other activities. It shouldn’t be an “all or nothing” method. I often try to enhance the questions with visual aids like pictures or wordstrips, if possible, to reinforce the answers. I can have the children hold the pictures while we sing the phrase or post the wordstrips and then put them in order. The song presentation suggestion in the Sharing Time Ideas in the Feb 2002 issue (pg. 32) of the Friend magazine illustrates how using pictures can enhance these discovery questions.

Instead of visual aids, I might use other activities that follow up on the question. For instance, if I were teaching the song “I Believe in Being Honest” I might ask the question “What do I believe in?” After hearing the answer, I might pass a beanbag while we sing the phrase once or twice again, asking the child left holding the beanbag to name one way to be honest. Or, I might point out how the eighth note in the rhythm perfectly matches the word “believe” and have them clap the rhythm while we sing the phrase again. Or, I could teach the ASL signs for the words “believe,” “honest” and “true” and sing that much again, using the signs. Then I would move on to another question.

Sometimes I do use questions one after another. In this case, I want to find an engaging way to deliver the questions. For instance, if I wanted to teach “I Often Go Walking,” I would put questions on blue silk flowers and scatter them around the room. The children would gather the “blossoms” one at a time, listening and answering the question on each flower as I sing the song. After making a bouquet and answering the series of questions, I would introduce other activities to review the song and explore other aspects of the music.

So the questions work really well as a kind of foundation to my overall teaching plan. Tying the questions to visual aids and activities keeps things from being too boring.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Good Comment!

"I haven't had great success with listening questions in the past..." I’ve been thinking about this comment (this post) for several days, mostly because it is such a sincere expression and because I need to acknowledge the problems you might have when you use this method of teaching. I think there are a couple of fundamental reasons why using questions might fall flat. I’ll address one reason today and another tomorrow.

When we use discovery questions, we are expecting the children to take part. They have to think of the question and then listen for the answer. So unless they are willing to truly participate, with their mind, they won’t be engaged in the process. Unfortunately, many of our primary children DON’T listen much of the time and some of their minds are not very disciplined. I know it seems cliche to say it, but it does feel like the children expect you to entertain them. Some are reluctant to do anything that doesn’t feel like fun, fun, fun! Many seem to be inclined to be more passive than to work.

You will have noticed that startled look when you call on a child with any question and they seem to say “What! Are you talking to me? I don’t understand what you want me to do.” There has to be a little bit of training on your part in order to help the children learn to participate in this method. But I think the children can learn to do this, and I think it is worth helping them learn this skill. The reasons are many and some of them don't have anything to do with learning the song. Our children need to learn to listen and to find the principle in what they read or hear. This is so fundamental to the way we are taught the gospel. Anyway, once the children catch on to what you are asking them to do, I find that they are mostly willing to participate.

Persistence is part of the training. You can’t give up if the children appear bored or if they don't seem to understand. You need to persist long enough to give both you and the children the chance to get the hang of it. You could begin training the children by asking a discovery question before you sing the opening song or the prayer song. Once they catch on to listening, you can add a few more of these questions to your teaching time. Ask clear questions and start out with the easy ones. If the children don’t understand the question, they won’t be able to listen for the answer. Don’t accept answers that are incorrect or that are imprecise. This is really hard for us to do. I certainly don't expect that anyone will be rude or hard-nosed, but I’m convinced that we are not doing the children any favors when we let them get by with a thoughtless response. Respectfully repeat the question, remind them to listen for what the song says and then sing it again.

A good attention getter at the beginning of singing time helps, as does learning how to redirect the attention back to you when the children get restless. There will always be one or two children who just resist doing anything that wasn’t their idea to begin with. I simply try not to react to them and continue to teach the rest of the group.

None of us wants to be boring, but part of our job is to help these precious children take responsibility for learning the gospel. Our job is to find active techniques that will invite the spirit and increase the probability that the children will discover gospel principles and be motivated to live them. This is a big job and a serious stewardship. Fun and games are completely secondary. I don’t want to stand before the Savior and report “Well, they liked me and I think they had fun!” There is usually time for a little fun as well, but sometimes learning the gospel involves work. If the children are challenged a bit, just remember that it is good for them.

Sorry, I didn't mean to rant --a (hopefully) helpful tip coming tomorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Organizing Singing Time

I recently received an e-mail question about how I organize my teaching time during singing time. I thought I would post what I do and hope that some of you will leave a comment describing how you organize your singing times. As I think about it, someone new to this calling could really use help knowing how to allocate their time. As a general rule, during the months that I teach program songs, I teach the new song on the first week of the month. I use the second week for review and the last two weeks for what I call "choose and review."

On the first week, I generally plan to spend the whole time on the new song. I can usually teach a song on this first week unless it is long or feels hard or complicated. In this case, I'll split it up and teach it over two or more weeks. Our new song for January has 3 verses and is musically quite complicated so I'm planning to do one verse per week. It really just depends on the song. Some songs can be easily taught in 10 minutes, while others take much longer. With some songs, the children need time to absorb and think about the bits you've taught them before you give more and more information. Believe me, if the children reach a point of saturation, they will not remember what you teach them. Sometimes they just get weary of the same song. So, I try to have a review activity in the back of my mind to use with a different song, or a rest activity with wiggle songs as a back-up. I can always return to the new song on another week.

I try to do some kind of review activity with the song on the week after I teach it. Usually this falls on the second week. I often use an activity that matches the song specifically, one that continues to explore the interesting features of the song. For instance, I'll bring rhythm instruments or I'll bring the worm puppet and we'll focus on the melody with pitch-level conducting, etc. Sometimes I just choose a general song review activity from my list and review the new song. If you look under the "song review" label on the blog you can see many of the activities that I have on this list.

If the children have learned the song well, I won't need the whole time for review. In this case, I'll review the song I've just taught and add a couple of others that we've learned recently. This review week is really important to me because the program songs need to be reviewed regularly or the kids tend to forget them! I also use this second week to review or "reteach" a great song that the kids just don't remember very well.

On the "choose and review" weeks I try to plan an activity that matches the monthly or weekly theme and assign several songs to sing. I try to use the songs that teach the principles the monthly or weekly theme focuses on. This keeps basic primary songs in the repertoire so that the kids sing them often. It seems to have become a common practice for primary choristers to focus only on the program songs. The result is that the children don't sing a very wide repertoire of songs. If you look under the "choose and review" label on the blog, you'll see lots of examples of what I do on these last two weeks to keep basic songs in front of the children.

I keep track of what I do for choose and review from year to year because, of course, basic themes show up again and again. These ideas can be adapted and recycled over and over. If you were to look at the old Sharing Time Ideas in the Friend magazine over several years, you would readily see how a fairly limited number of basic activities (like case studies, games, treasure hunts, puzzles, etc.) are adapted to different themes. That is the idea behind my choose and review list. When I need an activity for choose and review, I look over my list and see what basic activity I might like to adapt. I like to use the Friend magazine for ideas for these choose and reviews. There is soooo much in that magazine!

That is a basic idea of how I schedule things. I also try to plan for whatever extra time might be given to me. Now and then there will be time left over and depending on the experience of the presidency, you may be called on to fill the time. I always have a short review activity in my box. Choristers typically rely on the "favorite song" but if we prepare we can take advantage of this time. (Not that it isn't nice to sing favorites once in a while!) Our primary has an extra song scheduled into our closing exercises and I use that time as well to sing the songs that I've recently taught.

It doesn't take long to recognize that we choristers need to be flexible. I think how well we master this skill largely determines how happy we can be in this calling. I may be prepared to teach a new song and find that too many of the children are absent for some reason. Sometimes the kids just don't respond to what I have planned and I need to move on to something different. Sacrament Meeting or Sharing Time might go way over time and I have less time to teach than I had planned on. Some Primary presidencies are more aware and considerate of singing than others are. There have been times, during sharing time, when I've been sorely tempted to just snatch the crayons right out of little hands! One can always be prepared for the extra time, but if you are given too little time, you really have to learn to communicate your needs to the presidency. I hope none of you have problems that way.

So, how do you all organize your time?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teaching Method - Envelopes

Some teaching methods don't use discovery questions, but use other activities to involve the children in listening to the song. "Envelopes" is an example of such a method. This idea comes directly from the Sharing Time Ideas in the May 2004 issue of the Friend magazine (pg.16).

Divide the song into phrases and make a wordstrip for each word in the phrase. Put the wordstrips for each phrase into an envelope. When you are ready to teach the song, divide the group and give each group an envelope. Sing the song a few times and ask the children to put the words in the correct order. Invite each group to sing their line. Have them mix up the wordstrips and pass the envelope to a different group. Repeat the singing as often as necessary.

Monday, November 8, 2010

One more thought...

Before I leave this series, I want to tell you how God is so good to me; how He blesses me and sustains me in this calling. When I first saw the new outline for 2011, I eagerly looked for the songs. I have to confess that my heart slumped a bit. I looked at the new song and I thought “Oh great. Three verses, long phrasing, abstract principle, involved music. Look at those eighth notes! This is going to be hard to teach.” I recognized right away how beautiful it would sound - with a children’s choir! Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those. So I’ve been just a bit discouraged about teaching this song and I didn’t look forward to plowing through a study of it.

But God is as good as He always is! Studying the message of the song brought His spirit to me. Listening to the beautiful intervals and harmonies in the music again and again, as I tried to discover what was going on, stirred the familiar feelings of love and commitment in my heart. Sure enough, ideas began to come to me. Now that I have a plan in place, I am excited and confident that I can teach this song. There is still time to refine the plan when other ideas come, but I’m looking forward to it now and anxious to get started.

“And if I listen with my heart I hear the Savior’s voice.” Thank you Sister DeFord, for such a lovely song. What a wondrous God we all serve!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Am I Nuts?

After posting this series on how I prepare to teach a new song, I suspect that many of you are thinking “That woman is NUTS! I can’t do this with every song I have to teach! I can’t even sing very well, let alone read music!” I know this process looks hard, but with practice it becomes easier and more natural. So why would you want to go to the trouble when you can make a simple poster or set up a game to teach the words?

Of course, you don’t have to go to the trouble. Songs can be taught in other ways. But, I have always found the process worth the effort for two important reasons.

#1. My effort to understand the message of the song and to consider ways to teach this message to the children is an ACT of faith. It says to the Spirit, “I am looking for what is here to be taught. I am open to help and inspiration.” Because I know that I cannot exercise faith in vain, this action brings blessings to me and a confidence that ultimately our Heavenly Father will help me present the song in a way that He can make effective.

#2. When I have completed this process I have made the song part of me. So, when I am helping the children learn, the information comes out of me. It comes from my mind and my heart, where the Spirit has a chance to help me. I can look into the eyes of the children. I can connect with them and engage them in what I’m trying to do. I don’t have to rely on whatever visual aid or activity I’m using to direct what I do, hoping that it will work. Rather, these aids become tools to help me teach what I know about the song. Pictures, activities, games or posters become the vehicle to deliver whatever I’ve determined is important for the children to understand. Gaining knowledge and understanding about the song means that I can go looking for just the right picture to illustrate a phrase or a fun activity to explore the rhythms or melody. I know exactly what these will do and why I am using them. I don’t have to settle for whatever seems appealing or fun. I can make the activity fit the song. And when I have created a plan, I am confident that I can make it work.

An added bonus is that I have information that I can continue to share with the children whenever we sing the song. I can add things like “I love the way the accompaniment makes the song feel so majestic,” or “I like how the rhythm of the music feels like I’m skipping down the sidewalk.” When I’ve discovered such things about the song, I am anxious to share. I look forward to singing time. When the children learn these interesting things, the song becomes part of them as well, in a way that goes beyond learning the words.

Maybe I am nuts. But I am confidently nuts! ;o)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Song Presentation - Example: "The Lord Gave Me a Temple"

“The Lord Gave Me a Temple” - Analysis

Message: My body is the temple of my spirit. It is a gift from my Heavenly Father. If I keep it clean and pure, I can claim promised blessings, including eternal life.

Words to explain: claim, resurrection, celestial glory

Key words: Lord, body(3x), temple(4x), spirit(2x), free, Father, clean, pure, habit-free, claim, promised, resurrection, celestial glory, forever, light

There are a lot of key words in this song. Important principles are taught! The song talks about two temples. I’ll need to make sure the kids understand that these are different, but also similar. The temple becomes a metaphor for our body. The words are interchangeable in the song. The children need to understand this but I’m not sure the young ones can understand metaphors! :o/ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 may help.

Rhyming words are earth/birth, free/me, habit-free/me, bright/light. The rhyming words will help the children remember the phrases.

Phrases: There are two verses with four phrases each. Eight phrases altogether. In the first verse, the first phrase and the last phrase state the same thing except for “the Lord” and “my Father.” This could be a little tricky to explain. Unless someone brings it up, I’ll likely leave it alone. The words “body,” “spirit,” and “temple” are completely intertwined. I’ll need to think of ways to help make this clear. Hopefully, the activities in four weeks of sharing time will also help teach this adequately.

Actions or Visual or Music Aids: I could use a puppet and my hand to illustrate the concept of body and spirit together and separate. I can show pictures of temples and discuss how our bodies are like and yet different from temples. I could make word strips or cards with the rhyming words.


Which word describes where I lived as a spirit?
What has the Lord given me?
What word describes what I was in heaven?
When did I leave my heavenly home?
What is the temple my Father gave to me?
What will I do with my body-temple?
What will I do for my spirit?

What two words describe when I will take my body?
What two words describe where I will live in light?
Where may I claim blessings promised to me?
What words describe how I will keep my body?
What word describes how long I will live in glory?

Notes About the Music

Signature: key is D major. 4/4 time. Beginning pitch is F sharp. Range is a full octave from D to high D. The mood marking indicates we should sing the song “sweetly.” The tempo is brisk but not fast - andante to moderato. The tempo stays steady throughout, and matches the conversational feeling of the words. There are no marked dynamics and keeping things steady here also matches the narrative style of the song. We could swell with a little more determination on “I’ll make my temple brighter, I’ll keep my spirit free.” This would emphasize this active commitment.

Melody: There are four phrases in the song. The first and second phrases begin the same and move smoothly in steps up and down the scale. The second phrase changes after the word “but,” with two steps up and then a wide interval (5th) between the E and the B. This change reinforces the change that happened at birth. The third phrase begins with an interval (4th) between the A and the high D and then comes down the scale, two steps back up and then down again to an E. The final phrase is very similar to the first phrase. It repeats the notes in a slightly different form and rhythm, but ends exactly as the same. This makes a nice musical “inclusio” or envelope for everything in the middle. The form is ABCD. I like the way the melody moves up and down and it feels very smooth. I could demonstrate this by drawing a melody line in the air with my hand. If I then show melody pictures (charts) drawn with a line I could ask the children to find the order of the phrases by looking at these charts. The words “temple” and “spirit” are drawn out over three tones. I could have the children listen for this.

I think the music emphasizes the words in the third phrase beautifully with the vocal jump followed by the descending scale. I can testify of the principle that effort and obedience now will result in future happiness.

Rhythm: Three of the four phrases have a quick eighth note pick up. The other rhythms are very even half notes and quarter notes. It feels very steady, not too exciting, but it supports the conversational tone of the song.

Accompaniment: Chords add beauty and majesty to the song-just what a temple needs. The upward movement in the accompaniment, beginning just before and continuing into the third phrase builds to the climax on that high D. I could show pictures of beautiful temples around the world while the children listen to the music and ask them for words that describe the music.

Challenges: The main challenge for this song will be remembering the words for both verses, especially for the younger kids. The concepts are too abstract to illustrate with picture cues. We’ll just have to sing it a lot to solidify the words in their memory. The rhyming words could help. I could make a chart with these words listed to use as a cue-card on review weeks.

Teaching Plan: “The Lord Gave Me a Temple”

Attention Getter: Use a puppet and my hand as an object lesson to show the two parts of the soul. Read D&C 88:15. Ask the children to listen to a song and discover another word for body. After the children name it explain how the temples and our bodies are alike in the need to remain beautiful, clean and pure from wickedness.

Use “Mystery Words” with the discovery questions to teach the words of the song. (Simply put, “Mystery Words” is an activity where cards are folded over and taped with the answer word inside. The discovery question is written on the back of the card and question marks are drawn on the front. The cards are posted on the board. A child chooses a mystery word card and reads the question. Sing the song and let the other children discover the word. Open the card to see if the answer is correct.)

Demonstrate the eighth note pick up. Have a child clap the beat. Show where the eighth notes come and invite the children to clap with you. Explain that there are three of these pick ups in the song and challenge the children to find them.

Point out the commitment in the words of the third phrase (verse 1) and ask the children what we could do with the music to emphasize this commitment. Sing the phrase with a slight crescendo and then ask the children if that helps us sound more determined. Point out how the vocal jump and descending scale also emphasize the words of commitment in this phrase. Testify of the principle that effort and obedience equals happiness now and in the future.

Ask = "Can you hear which two words are said over three tones in the melody?” After the children discover the words (temple and spirit), demonstrate how to sing the first part of the word on the first two notes and finish the word on the third.

Show how the melody moves smoothly up and down by drawing a melody line in the air with my hand. Invite the children to follow you and sing the song. Then show a chart of the melody line for each phrase and ask the children to put these in order.

Listen to the music while showing several pictures of temples to the children. Ask them to think of words that describe the music. Tell them I think it sounds “majestic.”

As a way to help the children remember the words, ask them to listen for the words that rhyme. Show a cue-card with these pairs of words listed. Use the card in reviewing the song until they are confident with the words

To review: (I could choose any of the song review methods)

Prepare: puppet, “mystery words” activity, melody charts with line drawings, pictures of temples, cue card with rhyming pairs of words.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Song Presentation - Example: "Stand for the Right"

“Stand for The Right” - Analysis

Message: Our prophet extends a challenge to be true in our obedience and to stand for the right at all times. (There is an unspoken message that this will take courage. The prophet assumes that we have it.)

Words to explain: words (meaning counsel), true, stand

Key words: prophet, words (2x), true (4x), work, play, darkness, light, stand, right

Phrases: There are four phrases. “Be true’ is repeated four times. The message is taught clearly and emphatically. The key phrase would be “Be true...and stand for the right.” Both the scripture in Duet 6:18 and in Alma 53:20-21 help reinforce this message. The rhyming words are you/true and light/right.

Actions or Visuals: picture of President Monson. “Work,” “play,” “darkness” and “light” could also be illustrated with pictures or maybe sign language. I actually think this would be a great song to learn sign language (ASL). It is short and fairly simple, so even a few signs could suffice.


Who has some words for you?
What are the words?
When should we be true?
Where should we be true?
What should we do as well as be true
How many times do I sing “be true?”

Notes About the Music

Signature: The key is D major. 3/4 time. Beginning pitch is A. The vocal range is one octave from D above middle C to a high D.

Mood: The mood is marked “emphatically.” The tempo is fast -allegro. This is much faster than we normally sing it. Its pretty easy to drag this song, I need to remember to sing it up to the tempo. The tempo is consistent throughout the song, but should slow a bit at the end. The mood feels very deliberate. It is very straightforward and definite. The descending scale on the last phrase needs to be sung with emphasis.

Dynamics: There are no marked dynamics and since the mood is so deliberate I think it should be mf throughout with maybe a slight swell on the downward scale on the last phrase.

Melody: The melody moves in steps and there are a number of repeated notes. The first note in most of the measures is held longer. Most of the intervals are either seconds or thirds - very comfortable and natural to sing. One exception is a (4th) jump between the A and a high D. This D is the highest note and somewhat difficult to sing, but we move off it quickly. I think this last phrase is the climax. The notes in this phrase move down the scale from high D to F sharp, up one step to the G and down again to the D. The climax is reached with that vocal jump to the high d on “be true.” The melody moves over “words” in the second phrase and “true” in the last phrase. I’ll need to point this out and maybe show a picture of the slurred notes. Using pitch-level conducting could show the intervals and the nice descending scale in the melody. Matching melody charts to the phrases would also work.

Phrases: There are 4 phrases. The third phrase is identical in tone to the first, but the rhythm is slightly different. There is an added eighth note which nicely matches the natural rhythm of the words in this phrase. The form would be ABAC.

Rhythm: Most of the measures have a long-short rhythm with a half note followed by a quarter note or a dotted quarter followed by an eighth. The last phrase has all quarter notes on the descending scale. This steady rhythm seems to add strength and emphasis to the challenge to be true and to stand for the right.

Accompaniment: The long regular tones in the accompaniment stirs feelings of resolution and commitment. There are strong alto notes as well. I could teach some of the older kids or the teachers to sing the alto part. If we learn the song with the melody only and add the accompaniment later, the kids should be able to hear how it adds to the dignity of the song.

Challenges: This is a pretty straightforward song, without any real challenges. I need to discuss what it means to be true and stand for the right. It isn’t as hard to sing a slurred word as it would be to sing distinct notes, but I should still point out the slurs.

Teaching Plan - “Stand for the Right”

Attention Getter: Show a picture of the prophet Joseph Smith and read JSH 1:25. All of our prophets have urged us to do what Joseph Smith did. Ask the children to listen to the song to hear what Joseph Smith did.

The questions seem to center around the 5 W’s so I will use that method to teach the words of the song. I’ll use the word strips and ask the children to discover WHO the song is about (prophet), WHAT the prophet has for us (words), WHAT the counsel is (be true) and (stand for the right), WHEN we should do it (in darkness or light -always), and WHERE we should do it (at work or play - everywhere). Although not actually written into the song, I could point out the unspoken message and ask the children HOW we should stand for the right (courageously, or the children may think of other words). Testify that we can meet the challenge to be obedient and live righteously.

As the children discover the answers to the questions, teach them the ASL signs for those words and then practice the phrases one at a time.

Use pitch-level conducting or melody charts to show the intervals and the nice descending scale in the melody.

Postpone using the accompaniment. After the children have learned the words, have them listen to the music and ask them if the accompaniment adds dignity to the song.

Review ideas: Use “Action Substitutes” with the ASL signs replacing the words as we sing. Play “Sing that Phrase.” Find four (or eight) scriptures or quotes of prophets challenging us to be obedient and righteous. Number these quotes from one to four and then number the phrases of the song. Draw the papers from a can and read the quote. Have the pianist play that numbered phrase and challenge the kids to recognize and sing that phrase. Testify to the children that prophets have always challenged us to be true and to stand for the right.

To prepare: picture of Joseph Smith, 5 W’s word strips, worm puppet or melody charts for the phrases, pictures of the slurred notes for “be tru-e,” several quotes or scriptures of other prophets on numbered papers (for the review game.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Song Presentation - Example: "If I Listen With My Heart"

This post is an example of a complete teaching plan. As I have mentioned before, I almost always use discovery questions and directed listening experiences. I believe this is the most effective way to teach a song. This method does take some training on the part of the children. Some primary children are not used to listening! But once the children understand what you are asking them to do, they usually respond very well. I'll try to post two more examples so that you will have a pretty good idea of what I typically do.

Teaching Plan - "If I Listen With My Heart"

First Week - Verse 1

Attention Getter: Show a picture of Christ and the children. Ask the children to close their eyes and imagine being with Christ. With their eyes closed, have the children listen to the song to discover how they can hear the words of Christ.

Sing the last phrase again and challenge the children to create actions to go with the phrase. Help the children sing the phrase while doing the actions.

Ask = “What are the two things I would have liked to do with the Savior?” Ask the children to create actions for this phrase as well. Sing the phrase with the actions.

Ask = “What can I do to hear the Savior’s words? Again challenge the children to create actions for this phrase.

Ask = “What word is sung on the highest note. Use pitch level conducting to discover the word. Invite the children to sing this phrase again. Emphasize the step by step building of the melody to the climax on the word “peace.”

Pass out pitch sticks for the children to use with pitch-level conducting. Use a vocal “oooooo” to help them hear the jumps in the melodic intervals. Use the sticks as you sing. After working with the pitch sticks, show the children melody charts for the phrases. Challenge them to find which chart goes with each phrase.

Use a picture of Christ and the children to review the whole verse.

Second Week - Verse 2:

Attention Getter: Tap or clap the rhythm of the first phrase. Invite the children to do it with you. Sing the first phrase while clapping the rhythm. Ask the children if they can tell if the rhythm continues on the next phrase. Sing both phrases while clapping. What about the third phrase. Does it match the rhythm? What about the fourth phrase. Does it match?

Ask = “Who speaks the words that Christ would say?” Show a picture of President Monson and have the children sing that phrase.

Ask = “What two words describe how the prophet teaches us to live? Sing this phrase with the children.

Use the echo method to teach each of the phrases for this verse. Sing a phrase and then have the children sing it back. Discuss dynamics and show how the melody builds a natural crescendo on the third phrase. Invite the children to sing the phrase with this dynamic change. Then use a picture of President Monson to review the whole verse.

Using the pictures, review both verses together.

Third week - Verse 3:

Attention Getter: Post a cut-out of a heart on the board. Using the side of a piece of chalk, shade a kind of halo around the heart. Explain to the children that we can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost as a kind of happy light in our heart and mind. Read and briefly discuss D&C 8:2.

Ask = “What other name does the song use for the Holy Ghost?”

Ask = “What does the Holy Ghost teach me?” Help the children sing that phrase and post a word strip with the word “teaches” near the heart on the board.

Ask = “What else does the Holy Ghost do for me?” (Post word strips for the words “comforts” and “testifies”) Sing this phrase with the children.

Ask = “What word describes how the Holy Spirit speaks to me?” (Post a word strip for the word “quiet”) Sing this phrase with the children.

Point out the steady accompaniment and how it contributes to a feeling of security and peace. Testify that we can rely on the Spirit and feel secure in the teachings of the gospel. We CAN feel peace in our hearts.

Prepare a smaller picture that includes the heart and the key words to review this verse. Then use the three pictures to review all the verses together.

Ideas for Review:

Use the chimes on a review week to emphasize those four important notes. D, G, A, and B

Use the paint brushes on a review week to “Paint the Melody.”

Use rhythm instruments on a review week.

Use "Action Substitutes" with the actions the children created for the first verse.

To prepare:

collect pictures: Christ and the Children, President Monson, Picture of heart with shading and 4 keywords: teaches, comforts, testifies, quiet

pitch sticks
heart cut-out
word strips for keywords: teaches, comforts, testifies, quiet

P.S. I haven't yet posted about the melody charts, the Echo Method, Chimes or "Paint the Melody." Be patient. They'll be up pretty soon. Kristin had a great post on chimes in July.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Study Notes - Example: "If I Listen With My Heart"

Having posted about how I prepare to teach a new song, I felt like I wanted to give an example of what I might come up with when I go through that process. I've typed up the notes that I took as I studied our new song "If I Listen With My Heart." These notes merely reflect my thinking about this song. If you were to go through this process you may find some of these same things and notice other things that I may not have seen. Even if you don't have musical training, this process could still help you understand the song better and feel more confident in teaching it.

These typed notes reflect more organization than my handwritten ones. My mind doesn't always follow such a linear path. I sort of jump around from studying words to studying music and then back to words. I write down presentation ideas as they come to me. So please don't think that every song has notes just like this one. My notes can be pretty jumbled until I organize them into a teaching plan. I'll post the teaching plan tomorrow. Here goes...another LONG post.

Notes About the Words

Message: As we learn to listen with our heart, the Spirit will teach us the things our Savior would have us know. This will bring peace into our lives.

Words to explain: search, peace, righteousness, testifies, soul, times of need

Key words: listen (2x), peace (3x), scriptures, prophet, Holy Spirit, teaches, comforts, testifies, quiet

Phrases: 3 verses with 4 phrases - the last phrase is repeated. 10 phrases altogether. Each verse teaches a way to hear the Savior’s voice. We can hear the Savior’s voice in the scriptures, through the words of our prophet and directly through the ministry of the Holy Ghost. The song teaches that this is listening with our heart. Key phrase: “And if I listen...Savior’s voice” (use D&C 8:2 to help explain this concept.)

Actions or Visuals: pictures of Jesus with children, scriptures, and the prophet, and some kind of illustration for the Holy Ghost could be used as reminders for each verse. The words “walk and listen” could be acted out, as well as “search the scriptures,” “hear,” and “listen with my heart.”

Questions: What will I do with my heart? What will I hear if I listen with my heart? What two things would I have liked to do with the Savior? What can I do to hear the Savior’s words? What word describes the Savior’s words? Who speaks the words that Christ would say? What two words describe how the prophet teaches us to live? What name does the song use for the Holy Ghost? What does the Holy Spirit teach me? What else does the Holy Spirit do? What word does the song use to describe how the Holy Spirit speaks?

Notes About the Music

Signature: key is G major. 4/4 time. Beginning pitch is low! B below middle C. The range is pretty extensive. The low B to C above middle C. (on peace) Long introduction.

Mood: The mood is marked “quietly,” but the tempo is not slow. The slower end of the tempo range would allow the children to get the eighth notes in more easily, but the phrases are fairly drawn out, making breathing a bit more of a challenge. We will have to experiment to find a comfortable tempo. The tempo stays steady throughout the whole song. The song feels thoughtful and reflective.

Dynamics: There are no marked dynamics, but the note “quietly” would indicate mp. I feel a natural crescendo build as the first notes in each measure (G, A, B) of the 3rd phrase ascend to the C on “peace.”

Melody: The melody moves smoothly around three important notes: G, A, B. The first two phrases finds these notes ascending in the second beat of each measure. The D and the B below middle C form a sort of foundation at the bottom of the melody range. Sometimes these two notes are heard in the left hand accompaniment. In the third phrase the G, A, and B notes ascend again to a climax on a C note. In the fourth phrase these same notes descend and resolve into a G major chord. It might be fun to bring the chimes for these notes and let the kids hear how important they are in the music.

There are several musical intervals in the melody. The widest interval is in the third phrase; a whole octave jump between the lower B on “can” to the higher B on “hear.” The other jumps ascend from D to G (4th), C to A (5th), D to B (6th), B to A (7th), a jump down from the F# to the lower B (5th), and then back up in the octave jump to the higher B (8th). I’ll need to help the kids hear and sing these vocal “jumps” accurately. I could use pitch-level conducting. Simple stick frog puppets would be fun for the Sunbeams to use instead of the plain pitch sticks.

Phrases: The phrases are musically different from each other. The first two are almost identical except for the last two eighth notes which go up on the second phrase instead of dropping down as it does in the first phrase. The form could be labeled AABC. I could make melody charts to help the kids see the phrases. It might also be fun to bring the paintbrushes and “paint” the phrases in the air. This would also help the children notice some of the wide intervals between the notes.

Rhythm: The last notes (the pick up) before each measure in the first two phrases are two quick eighth notes. On the third phrase the first note is held a ½ beat longer, creating a syncopation that is different than the first two phrases. This second rhythm helps to build to the climax on “peace.” The fourth phrase is also rhythmically different from the others. While similar to the first two phrases, the eighth notes are on the second beat instead of the fourth. All of these fun rhythms keep the music interesting. The song feels quick and light even as it’s meant to be quiet. While the rhythms are definitely fun, the kids may find the eighth notes difficult to sing because they don’t match the words. I’ll need to teach them how to move their voice across the word while keeping the notes distinct. I’ll look for an activity that will take advantage of these lively rhythms. Rhythm sticks would be fun. Someone could use two wood blocks as an accompaniment to keep the beat.

Accompaniment: The accompaniment also contributes to the song. The beautiful harmonies add to the deep feelings generated by the message. The even quarter notes and the regular rhythm helps to create a steady, secure kind of atmosphere. It seems to support the message that we can rely on the Spirit and feel secure in the teachings of the gospel.

Challenges: This song is definitely written for the older children. The message is lovely, but inescapably abstract. We’ll need to spend some time discussing the three ways we can hear the Savior’s voice, emphasizing that the Holy Ghost helps us hear this voice in our mind and heart. Using D&C 8:2 might help the children understand. Three verses and long phrases will be hard for the younger ones to remember. The repeated phrase at the end of the song is effective. I could teach this phrase first so that the juniors can come in with what they remember. Actions for some of the key words would help. Hopefully, over time the younger children will learn from hearing the older children sing. The melody, while beautiful, is all over the place. The range is extensive and it may be a challenge to sing the intervals. The eighth notes are also a little difficult. We’ll need to practice keeping both the notes and the words distinct. I will definitely pray that the Spirit will help the children learn this song.

The teaching plan, based on these notes, will come up tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teaching a New Song - Preparing the Teaching Plan

I hope you understand that this sounds more complicated than it is in practice, especially after doing it a few times. Once I really learned how to do this, teaching new songs became a breeze! Honestly! I know it sounds complicated though. Brace yourselves, this is a LONG post.

When I sit down to prepare to teach a new song, I get my songbook, notebook paper, a pencil and the list of questions I posted earlier. These questions help guide me through a study of both the words and the music of the song. I take notes as I study the song and write down the ideas that come to me. With knowledge that I gain from the study, and having learned the song myself, I create a plan to teach it to the children.

I first plan an attention getter. It might be an object or a picture or a question suggested by the words, message, or the setting in the song. I might use a puppet, a costume or simply ask the children to close their eyes to listen to some part of the music. Whatever I choose must be short and lead right into the song. I also try to make sure that whatever I do relates directly to the message of the song or there is a risk of it being more a distraction than a help. Attention getters are important because, without their attention, children tend to just let our teaching wash over them. We need to help them accept their role in learning and the first step is to engage their attention. If a student is interested and willing to participate, it is much easier to teach them.

I next write discovery questions that will help the children listen to the song in order to answer the question. We’ve been taught repeatedly that “children learn a song by hearing and singing it over and over again.” (2010 Outline for Sharing Time, “How to Teach a Song,” pg. 27) So, in my mind the value of discovery questions is that children listen to the song, or parts of the song, several times in the course of discovering answers to the questions. Other activities can accomplish the same purpose as questions. I just give the children the opportunity to hear the song several times. As I write the questions, I try to phrase them so that the children have to listen closely to the song to find the right answer and cannot just give a standard answer. Sometimes I challenge the children to sing the answer back to me. I try to write a question or plan a listening experience for each of the most interesting things I discovered about the song in my study. I usually end up with several questions about the words and melody and a few ideas for experiences with interesting rhythms, musical elements or dynamics in the song. When I have diligently studied both the words and the music I end up with a lot to choose from, particularly for the songs that seem hard to teach.This means that I have more material to use on subsequent weeks as we sing and review the song.

After I have planned the listening experiences, I ask myself how I might further involve the children. I try to think of activities that allow the children to hear and interact with the song. Rhythm activities, moving with the melody, rearranging pictures or even themselves, using puppets or costumes, all get the children actively involved with the song. I try to use methods that allow all the children to participate together. Each time I prepare I challenge myself to remember the youngest kids. It is so easy to overlook them. They don’t read; they often need to be told something more than once, and they need to move! I find it much easier to prepare for two groups, but my primary is currently combined, so I need to find appealing activities that can be appreciated by both the older and the younger children. This is a challenge and I’m afraid that I don’t always meet it.

Essentially, my teaching plan almost always includes using discovery questions or some kind of directed listening and then I try to plan one or more activities that use additional methods as well. If the song is relatively easy, the kids will have learned the song with the questions and these additional activities begin the process of review.

I write out my plan so that I will remember what I want to do. Then I gather or make any visual or music aids that I need to reinforce or accomplish the activities that I have planned. I try to review my plan and practice singing the song throughout the week in advance of teaching the song. If I think my plan might seem confusing, I write some simplified notes to give to our pianist so that she has some idea about what I am going to do. Then she can anticipate what is coming up without trying to read my mind! Sometimes we laugh at the end of the day, because it doesn’t happen as planned. She still has to be pretty good at reading my mind.

There is a reason why I haven’t posted complete ideas about teaching songs. I almost didn’t do this blog at all because I am reluctant to interfere in your own creative process. Haven't you noticed that step by step plans often don’t work like we want them to? I assume that is why the church doesn’t publish them much! Each of us has the responsibility to teach the children under our stewardship, to receive inspiration about what to do and to function under the proper keys of priesthood authority. But I also know that ideas beget ideas. So, I offer mine, along with the explanations of methods, as something that you COULD do if you wish and hope that you will adapt and modify and suit things to yourself and to your primary.

I’ve mentioned before that I keep ideas for teaching on a master list, adding to it when I find new ideas and methods that I hadn’t considered before. Chorister blogs have been a real blessing for my list! I regularly study the methods section of Teaching, No Greater Call, thinking about how the methods suggested in this manual can be adapted to teaching songs. I also review the Sharing Time Ideas in old issues of the Friend magazine and think about how I could adapt these ideas to singing time. When I’m ready to create my teaching plan, I review the methods on this master list and decide if one or more would work well with the song. Doing this review helps me plan a variety of things and keeps me from doing the same activities again and again.

It didn’t make sense for me to just put my master list all at once on the blog. My intent has been to explain each of the methods I regularly use in a separate post. So please be patient and you will eventually see the entire list. Meanwhile, you can see the posts under the “teaching methods” label and a number of methods under the “reviewing songs” label. I use many of these reviewing methods when I teach a song as well. Look under the “song presentations” to see some abbreviated examples of parts of this process.

Lists of ideas, including mine, for choosing and reviewing songs are easily sorted through and picked over. It is still fun to look at cute music aids like puppets and posters even when you know that you may never use something like that. However, teaching a song seems intimidating and we wish someone would just give us a formula. The church HAS offered a formula and it is spelled out in the new 2011 Outline for Sharing Time on pages 26 and 27. The formula is simple. Attract the children’s attention, direct the children’s listening, involve the children, and sing, sing, sing. This same message has been taught for many years. It seems they want us to fill in the blanks ourselves. The blanks are big. I admit it. I can testify that if you learn to follow this basic outline you WILL be able to help the children learn the songs.

I'll post a couple of examples of this process over the next several days, so that you can see a model of how this process looks on paper. Please feel free to use the examples however you wish, but I really hope that you will see through to the process and how I use the process to create a unique plan to teach a song.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teaching a New Song - Questions for Study

Before I begin thinking about any kind of plan I study the words and music of the song I want to teach. I learn the song and live with it for a couple of days. These are the questions I use as I study the song. I learned to ask these kinds of questions many years ago through the training in the old video “How to Teach a Song to Children.” I’ve added things that I want to look at to those original questions. This is a lot to go through every time. I don’t always get to each of the questions and I don’t always find answers to all the questions in every song. I find that some songs are easy and others more difficult. The questions are just a guide. Often I find things that I can share with the children, but much of the information is for my own benefit.

I don't ALWAYS do this for every song I teach, but this process of study ALWAYS helps to increase my confidence in teaching and leading the song. Try using these questions with one of the new songs for next year and just see if it doesn’t increase your confidence in teaching it!


1. What is the overall message taught by the song? What do I want the children to understand or feel as they sing this song? Do I have any personal experiences or feelings that I could relate or express that testify of this message?

2. What are the key words in the song? Write out the phrases of the song. (A phrase includes the words that go together in a sentence, thought or line in the song.)

3. Are the words easily understood by all the children? Will I need to explain or pronounce any of the words? Are any words repeated? How many times? Which words rhyme? Do any of the words suggest hand or body actions?

4. What teaching or visual aids are suggested by the words?

5. What questions could I ask that can be answered by listening to the words?


1. What is the time signature? What is the beginning pitch?

2. Is there a mood marking? (cheerfully, boldly, etc.) If there is no marking, can I determine the mood? How does the mood add to any feelings generated by the song? Are there key changes that effect or cause atmosphere or mood in the song?

3. What tempo is appropriate for this song? Does the tempo change? Does the tempo add to the feeling or mood of the song?

4. Are dynamics (loud and soft) marked in the song? Do the dynamics create any musical emphasis? Do they emphasize any words particularly?

5. What is the form of the song? Which musical phrases are the same and which are different? Does the phrasing allow for natural breathing? (The form describes the phrasing. For instance, if the first two phrases sound the same and the next two phrases sound the same and the two phrases of the chorus are different altogether, the form could be described as AABBCD. “Come Follow Me” could be described as ABCD. All the phrases are musically different from each other. Rhythmically, they are the same, but form usually refers to the melody.)

6. What is the melody range? How does the melody move? (By skips, steps, repeated tones, etc?) What are the high and low notes? Are any notes held longer? Are there intervals or pitches that may be difficult to sing? Do any of the melodic patterns repeat? Is there a melodic climax? What are the appealing features of the melody? How does the melody enhance the words? Which words receive musical emphasis?

7. Are there interesting or memorable rhythm patterns in the song? How do the rhythms relate to each other within the form or phrases of the song? Do any of the rhythm patterns relate to the words in a particular way?

8. What questions could I ask that can be answered by listening to the music? How could I demonstrate or illustrate some of these interesting musical ideas? What activities or experiences could I suggest that would help the children perceive, feel or sense the music?

P.S. If you feel like you need help understanding the musical questions, please ask. I have three posts scheduled later this week that gives examples of some of the things I might find. If you have zero music training, it would really work best for you to sit down with the primary pianist and go through a song. He or she could help you by giving examples of what the musical questions ask. If the pianist is unavailable, you could ask the ward organist or the ward choir director or another musical friend. Please don't think this process is impossible because you aren't a trained musician. You can learn a lot by listening carefully to the song several times on the songbook CD's published by the church. You can even listen to the songs online here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching a New Song

I’ve had a number of you ask for help and ideas to teach new songs. It is time to explain how I approach a new song. The short answer is that I largely use discovery questions when I teach and I posted about this earlier. My system is a little more involved than that post would indicate, however, so I will further explain. Each day this coming week I have scheduled a post to demonstrate what I do. If this topic is what you've been wanting, be sure and check back each day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teaching Method - Exploded Flipchart

An exploded flipchart is essentially a flipchart, just stop before you have it all put together.

Collect a blank sheet of paper for each phrase you want to illustrate. Find a picture or draw an illustration for each phrase. Make a word strip with a key word or word-group for each phrase also. Put thin magnets on the back of each piece. When you are ready teach, post the pieces randomly on the chalkboard. (You could explain that the flipchart exploded in your bag!) Ask the children for their help to put it together again.

Sing the song through once and then phrase by phrase as you put the pieces together and in the right order. Invite the children to sing with you as they are able.

You can use the pieces again for review or make a second flipchart with the pieces securely attached.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teaching Method - Advancing Game

Prepare a game board with as many squares or steps as there are lines or phrases in the song, plus 2. Place some kind of marker at the "start" and a picture or keyword that describes the message of the song at the "finish."

Have the children listen to you sing the first phrase. Then invite them to sing it with you. Next they should sing it by themselves. If they can sing it well by themselves they can advance the marker one step. If they cannot, repeat the process. Do this with each phrase until you reach the final two squares. Ask the children to sing the entire song twice to advance to the finish.

The picture shows a simple game board that I drew on the chalkboard to use with the song "The Golden Plates." The pictures come from the Primary Visual Aid Cut-outs (Set 7: Pioneers and Restoration).

P.S. It occurs to me that I should mention something more about this game. You can see that it isn't competitive in any way. I don't much care for competition in primary (or anywhere else, for that matter) so, depending on how considerate your primary kids are, and how "trained" they are at loving competitive games, they may wonder what the point of this game is. The point is simply to get the marker to the finish line. That may not be enough competition for some kids. If that is the case, they will find the game boring. This is a simple game that even my younger kids can enjoy. I have a combined group and most of them are willing to play a game that is played just to reach an objective. Even the older ones in my group are considerate enough to not make comments about how something is boring or babyish, although sometimes I catch them looking at each other and rolling their eyes ;o) If this isn't the case with your group, I suggest that you try to retrain them so that you can enjoy something like this, or choose something different.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simple Teaching Method - Choosing Pictures

Using pictures from the GAK, the manual picture kits or your own picture file, select several pictures for each phrase of the song. Find more than one picture for each phrase, as this gives the children more pictures to choose from. Post the pictures around the edges of the chalkboard, leaving a large space in the middle. Ask the children to listen to the song and to decide which picture helps remind them of each phrase. After singing the entire song, sing the first phrase again and have a child choose a picture and move it to the blank space. Or the child can hold it while all the children sing that phrase and then post it. Repeat for each phrase and then sing the entire song together. Use these pictures in upcoming weeks to review the song.

You can find variations of this method explained in the Sharing Time Ideas in the March 2002, June 2005, and March 2008 issues of the Friend magazine. Because this method is simple and straightforward, “Choosing Pictures” combines easily with another simple method to add variety and keep the kids engaged with the song.

Because choristers use so many pictures, I've kept up a picture file for many years now. I have pictures from the old, old manuals as well as the new ones. I have many pictures that I have simply cut out from discarded church magazines. I am always the first in line for discards from the library or someone's basement. I also very much appreciate the church giving us access to the digital issues that can be found online at These digital issues are in a pdf format that I have downloaded onto my computer at home. When I need a picture to illustrate a certain principle or concept, I look through my picture file. If I don't find what I need there, I just page through the digital magazines until I see something that will work. Then I print that page and cut out the picture.

I laminate the pictures that I've printed and those that I've cut from the magazines so that they will hold up better. I keep the manual pictures in their original envelopes and GAK pictures in the original file box. I keep the cut pictures loose in a plastic box. When I want to find pictures, I simply scatter the loose ones on my bed and paw through them. ;o} It isn't a very organized method, but it works for me.
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