Writing Ideas in Music, Part 3: Crossing the Acrostic for Compositions

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Sometimes, the best inspiration for lesson plans for music (if you expand your horizons) can come from a school hallway. A few years ago, I walked past the third grade classrooms in my building and noticed some neat acrostic poems the kids had written based on the word “Missouri”. I was looking for some unique ways to enhance and reinforce recorder playing for my third graders, and I was inspired. I asked the teachers to have the kids keep their poems at school a little while longer after they were taken down and I copied each one so the kids could write more on them.

First, the kids divided their words into syllables then notated the rhythm. I made sure they used natural speech rhythm, known as “prosody”, to the best of their abilities for the rhythms with which they were familiar at the time. They wrote those rhythms above their words.

Next, the students got to select whether they wanted to use their recorders or barred Orff instruments to create their melodies. If the students chose recorder, they were limited to high C, A, or high D, the pitches I teach at that age. (More on that rationale in another blog.) If they wanted to include more pitched, they could use the barred Orff instruments. I encouraged them to build on a pentatonic scale to make it easier to create an improvisational accompaniment, but if they wanted to include fa and ti, then I told them they had to end on C. Some students chose to experiment with their instruments to come up with just the right melody; some chose to create a “mystery tune” and be surprised.

Finally,we had a practice session day. The next music day, students were given worksheets, and I called up one student at a time to play for me while I recorded their composition on Audacity. If they wanted me to (and their parents had signed the technology permission form), their clips were then included on my music class website.I also created a copy of their creation in Finale, so they could have a “real” printed copy of their composition.

In subsequent years, I took an extra day to have the kids write their poems in music class. Because of the Common Core changes, the writing focus in the regular classroom went away from poetry writing to more prose, opinion, and descriptive writing. I like the idea of being able to keep the creative writing, the poetic writing,in the music classroom.The students get practice with their penmanship and spelling, get a feel for rhythm and phrasing, and have a springboard for composition.

The last year before my sabbatical, my third graders’ program theme was “School Daze”. The students wrote acrostic poems about SCHOOL, and selected ones were used as introductions to each song that was performed. So, for instance, if a student had included a reference to physical education somehow in their poem, one of those poems would be read to introduce the song Exercise Tango from Plank Road Publishing. This idea, I believe, really helped make the program more “of the children’s” and not so teacher oriented and run.

Sometimes, incorporating Common Core standards does not have to mean verbatim (unless you have strict directions to the contrary, which I find very unfortunate. Writing and other cross-curricular implementations should fit naturally with music, and vice versa, not forced. Kids know the difference). Don’t be afraid to have them write a poem. Don’t be afraid to post their poetry on the wall! We are about form. We are about structure and phrasing. We are about rhythm. And so is poetry.

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I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

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