Fun Times with “Shoo, Turkey” Call and Response Game for Thanksgiving


I usually had a difficult time getting some fun stuff in for Thanksgiving for my first and second graders because they were getting ready for their holiday programs. However, I thought it was important that we start rehearsals early enough to 1. incorporate concepts within the music and 2. add other fun stuff that had nothing to do with program songs. 

In November, one of the most favorite games was “Shoo, Turkey.” There are various arrangements of this song/game in publication, but the one I always used was from the Bessie Jones/Bess Lomax Hawes book Step It Down. This is a great call and response song you can use for assessment!

Alan Lomax, a well-known folk musicologist, recorded Bessie Jones singing this ditty during an interview on the music she remembered growing up in a Georgia farming community. (By the way, her biographical information in Step It Down is fascinating! If you don’t have this book, you should. It is a treasure.)

The “call” in the recording is different than it is in the book, but that’s the beauty of folk songs. The Moving Star Hall Singers have a different version on another treasure trove: Smithsonian Folkways recordings. The words to this version are similar to what Jones has in her book. 


1. Point to the students to sing the response when you sing the call.

2. Teach the order of the call and response phrases with cards (like the ones in my “Shoo, Turkey” activity from Teachers Pay Teachers).

3. Create a signal you can use as students learn the call. 

In Bessie Jones’s version of the game, the children stand in a line facing the leader during the call and response. During the chorus, each child turns 45 degrees to the right and follows the end player as they wind around the room pretending to shoo turkeys away. The fun part: the kids are squatting like a bird, throwing first one arm and then the other out on the beat. To make it challenging, the printed music includes claps on 2 and 4. So, for a challenge, which kids can do this: (1) arm out (2) clap (3) other arm out (4) clap?

How can you keep this game safely distanced? 1. adapt with standing instead of squatting and put foot markers on the floor. (If you have the time, you can purchase these from Amazon:


2. If you have someone who can help you (because I know you are totally swamped right now) and you have small enough classes because of class splitting or quarantines, get long light-weight rope and ask a family member or friend to use colored tape to mark off hand-holders 6 feet apart. (This idea is a long shot, but for some of you, it might work). You would have to eliminate the clapping, obviously.

If you can go outside, this is my version of the game: the soloist is the “farmer”. The chorus is made up of “turkeys”. During the chorus, the farmers chase the turkeys. If they are tagged, they go in the turkey “pen” (a designated place in the room). The new farmer is selected from any students who did not get tagged. Everyone gets to start over.

You can get a ready-made activity through my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The activity includes a link to a Boomcard deck, as well as activities to help with call and response, ta ti-ti, and rest. If you would like the Boomcards alone, check out this preview to see if it will work for your class.

Have you played this with a different game? Share your plan here or email . You will receive a free copy of Turkey Movement Cards for your contribution.

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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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