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Goodbye Do Re Mi! Hello Elvis!

A Music Education Lesson Plan for Elementary School Teachers

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In my elementary school experience, music education consisted of dissonant renditions of musical classics like "Do Re Mi" and patriotic songs such as "America" and "Yankee Doodle." Since I didn't really like to sing in the first place, these songs did little to inspire a love or appreciation of music.

However, music education can take on a whole new meaning in today's elementary classroom. I recently observed the opening exercises of a prominent and accomplished fourth grade teacher in a neighboring district. I'm so glad that I did. In the hour that I was there, I learned about the wonderful role that music can play in the classroom.

This teacher avoided the stuffy old tunes of yesterday; instead, she actually taught her kids to sing an Elvis Presley song together. In a controlled and dignified manner, the children sang "Return to Sender" by the King of Rock 'n' Roll! And, best of all, she tied it into the curriculum. For instance, this class participates in a yearlong project of writing friendly letters to prominent people. The celebrities usually reply with an autographed photo. However, in recent weeks, the class had received an unusual number of "return to sender" envelopes, letters that didn't make it to their intended recipients. So, after the teacher announced this trend to the students, she introduced the Elvis song to the students. How could they feel bad about their returned letters when Elvis himself croons about repeatedly being rejected by his love through the post office?

I watched as the students got genuinely excited about learning a new song. However, the exercise was not chaotic or undignified in any way. The children did not act silly about the material at hand. I believe that this can be attributed to the way that this particular teacher has set up her routine of teaching music. Here is the process that I observed during the lesson:

  • First, the teacher put the lyrics up on an overhead projector. She also made little notes on the lyrics where the students should add extra emphasis or make sure to pause from singing.
  • Then, she asked the students to listen to the song twice, without making a sound.
  • When the students were finally allowed to sing along with The King, they sang enthusiastically and with attention to detail.
  • The class sang the song together approximately four more times.
  • Finally, the song "Return to Sender" entered the rotation of songs that the class practices together on a daily basis.
As someone who can't sing well at all, I had not been feeling too thrilled about teaching music to my students. However, now that I have seen this creative way to teach music, I feel excited about introducing my students to new and interesting songs, tying them to the curriculum in innovative ways. I feel confident that my students will be excited about this type of music education as well!
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