Monday, February 16, 2015

In the Music Room: Black History Month Ideas

Studying other cultures and people is something that brings me a great deal of joy. I try to share that joy with my students by sharing a culture's music, clothing and history.

Throughout the year, we perform songs, dances and games from many cultures. I have tons of artifacts, instruments and cool pictures that show a peek into the lives of that culture's people. Many teachers, including myself, find that Black History Month in February creates a natural place in the year to emphasize songs and dances from African American culture.

Here's a peek at how my students celebrate Black History Month!


Black History Month Show
As part of our month-long celebration, we presented a show to the student body on the first week of February. Here's a quick outline to what we did this year.

1. Interviews! My students signed up to be "actors" and we put on a small play, which really turned out nice. We set up a few chairs and a table and had one student ("Oprah Winfrey") do the interviews.

She interviewed about 16 famous African Americans, and I broke it up into chunks so that the PreK and Kinder teachers wouldn't kill me. *giggle*

We started off by interviewing famous athletes, then the choir sang some songs, then we brought up famous inventors, a dance group danced, then interviewed the civil rights leaders, etc. You can get my Black History Month script here FREE (coming soon!) and use it in your class as a read-along or Reader's Theater!


Aren't President and Mrs. Obama so cute?!

2. Choir performance! While preparing Christmas songs in the fall semester, I slipped in a packet of African American spirituals including "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In." It surprisingly took a long time for my students to grab ahold of the correct melody for these songs. I grew up with these songs, so I thought they would be "known" quantities!

We did a simple partner song with those two:
Form: A: whole group unison Swing Low; B: whole group unison Oh When the Saints; C: Group A/B partner song.

Very impressive for such a simple arrangement. I had intended to add 2 other songs and do a 4-way mashup but ran out of time. (sound familiar?)

The first week back after Christmas break, I did a drum circle with Dinah (Thanks to my friend Lauren for the idea!) and it was a HIT. The 4th and 5th students loved the song and it really grooved along well.

So... when I could see we wouldn't have time for the rest of the mashup, I had the choir start practicing Dinah in a round. WOW! They were so energetic and crisp with this song. I would like to credit my teaching (cough) but I really think that folk song lends itself well to a round. The words/rhythm have a great groove and the kids put it together in a short amount of time.

Form: A: whole group unison; B: Group A/B in round; A: whole group unison

Then later in the show, we sang the traditional "Follow the Drinking Gourd" from our current text. My student love that song!

One week in January I had laryngitis (ugh!) and I had to teach choir with no voice (they loved that!), so I put on this video to teach them what the words meant.


We had been singing it for about 2 weeks so they had a good understanding of what the words were. Have I mentioned that I love using video to give the kids a break from my voice?



It has a great little map and explains each verse with the song - perfect!

3. Community Groups! My vice principal has some fantastic contacts in our community and arranged for a dancing group and a fraternity step team from our local university to perform!



Plus, a professor from the same university came and spoke. He turned out to be a HUGE hit with my kids because after he told a little story about staying in school, he rapped for them - super cool!

February Playlist
In my class, we sing songs from so many cultures it's hard to keep track! However, in February, I try to bring back a few of their favorites from African American culture, including Little Johnny Brown, Just from the Kitchen and Did You Feed My Cows?

There's a great recording of Did You Feed My Cows by Ella Jenkins on Spotify and Pandora! Check it outThere's another variant on youtube here.

Each week of February I like to use a song from African American performers as my end of class listening example.

Here are some of my favorites:
Chubby Checker: Twist
Jackson 5: ABC (s,l, d)
Mandisa: Good Morning (smlsm)
Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World
Pharrell Williams: Happy (brain break!)
Aretha Franklin: RESPECT (brain break, steady beat)
Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag (fast beat, steady beat)
Joplin: The Entertainer (I have a slow recording so... slow beat, steady beat)
Ella Fitzgerald: All the Pretty Little Horses (lullaby)
Ella Jenkins: Did You Feed My Cows?*

*Pair Ella's recording of All the Pretty Little Horses with this book!

What are your favorites? I would LOVE to add some to my list.

Teaching Resources 
Have you seen Tracy King's TpT store? So cool! She has some great resources for Jazz, which is a perfect pair with February. Check this out:


How do you celebrate Black History Month in your music room?

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