Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens may be the perfect introduction to classical music for children, and the Maestro Classics edition is specifically intended for that purpose. The CD and the accompanying booklet have lots of background information about Saint-Saens, who was a musical child prodigy. Kids will enjoy hearing about his public performances of Beethoven at age 6.
They’ll also enjoy the Carnival of the Animals, a collection of pieces of music referencing various animals. The links in the list below go to lesson plans and resources for learning more about the animals in question:
- wild donkeys
- the swan
Each selection is quite different from the others, from the lovely cello piece “The Swan,” a popular ballet solo, to the clattering bones of “The Fossils.”
The Carnival was composed in February 1886 for a chamber group of flute, clarinet, two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. The recording reference here is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with a glockenspiel instead of a glass harmonica.
The glass harmonic or armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin. It works by the same principle that lets people play tunes by rubbing their fingers around the edge of a glass. Explore this safely in the classroom with a glass xylophone.
Here are some discussion questions and activities to use with this piece:
- Write up each of the Ogden Nash verses (in the booklet that comes with the recording) and analyze them at the appropriate level for your class, identifying rhymes, memorizing them, or looking up unfamiliar words.
- What makes the lion’s music sound like a lion? What’s elephantine about The Elephant? Challenge students to get specific about the characteristics of each piece that remind them of the animals.
- Listen for specific instruments, such as the cello in The Swan or the piano in Kangaroos.
- Listen and read about Saint-Saens and add events from his life to your classroom timeline.
- Have students learn and sing “Clair de la Lune” with the singalong. Then have them listen for the tune in Kangaroos. They can also hear “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the can-can in other parts.
- Have students draw the animals as they listen.
- The Boston Philharmonic has a resource guide with masks of the animals and pictures of the instruments as well as some fun activities.
- L.A.’s Music Center has a resource guide with extensive lesson plans.
- SmartBoard lessons
- A coloring book in PDF form from Music Matters Blog
Enjoy some imaginative learning fun with Trout Fishing in America’s song “Big Trouble,” a song expressing the trepidation a kid feels when he thinks about his parents coming home and finding the mayhem caused when “the monsters came to my house to play.”
The monsters may be fantasy and fiction, but the feeling is one most kids can relate to. Ask kids whether they’ve ever had an accident in the house or gotten into trouble with friends. How does it feel as they think about what their parents will say when they find out?
Then play the song (download the mp3 of Big Trouble or buy the album by clicking on the title below) and read the lyrics.
My parents went out this afternoon,
And I was all alone.
I sure wish I’d gone with them,
Wish I’d never stayed at home.
‘Cause I’m gonna be in Big Trouble
When my parents get back today.
‘Cause this afternoon the monsters came
To my house to play.
There was a dragon in the kitchen,
that’s why the ceiling’s black.
And a vampire drank all the Kool-Aid,
And a witch chased off the cat.
The Fly threw up some oopy goop
And that’s what clogged the drain.
And the Blob sat on the sofa,
And he left an awful stain.
Well Frankenstein wanted to play baseball.
So I told him to play outside.
He didn’t hear a word I said,
That’s how the TV died.
What happened to the table?
They’re probably going to ask.
There was a big guy with a chainsaw
And a scary hockey mask.
Well the ghost went through the closet
He knocked the clothes all off the rack.
And the mummy ripped the sheets up and wore them
‘Cause he was starting to unwrap.
A werewolf ate all the cookies,
And then he ate the cookie jar.
And he was going to eat me, too,
So I hid behind the door.
Once you’ve enjoyed the song, choose one or more of these activities to practice basic skills and extend the learning:
- Underline the rhymes in the lyrics and find the rhyming pairs.
- Have students identify the monsters listed in the song. Some, such as The Fly and The Blob, are from movies. Frankenstein is a novel (the doctor, not the monster, is named Frankenstein — most kids don’t know this). Werewolves and ghosts are creatures of folklore, and mummies are quite real — but the idea of mummies as monsters is probably also from the movie. Depending on the grade level, students can sort the monsters into these groups or research their origins. Click through the links on all but the movies to find lesson plans, activities, and links on those monsters.
- Have students draw a map of the house in the song, showing the damage done by the monsters. Older students can research to estimate the cost of the damages.
- “Big Trouble” is in a minor key. Use the Exploratorium’s major and minor key exploration to learn more about the spooky sounds of minor keys.
- Once you’ve thoroughly explored the sound and the meaning of the song, challenge students to write what happened when the mosters came to their houses to play!
Stomp is a high energy dance/percussion ensemble loved by kids and adults alike. Use their dazzling performances to explore questions in art (check the dance education standards), even if your class can’t attend a performance. Download Stomp’s PDF and try some of our ideas below.
Stomp provided a video to us as a media partner of the Walton Arts Center. You can download the video for classroom use; please do not upload it anywhere. You can also buy Stomp DVDs (check out the rules for using DVDs in the classroom). Thank you for providing a good example to your students.
Alternatively, begin with the videos at the Stomp website or at YouTube:
Click through to find many more examples. Enjoy a few with your class and discuss. Here are some starting questions:
- Is this dance? How is it like other kinds of dance students have seen? How is it different?
- Stomp combines dance, music, and theater. Find examples of all three.
- What kinds of skills do the members of Stomp need for their jobs?
Once you’ve enjoyed the art of Stomp, move on to some deeper study questions:
- Dance is often about interpreting music through movement. The dancers of Stomp provide their own music with their bodies and with common objects. This kind of music is percussion. Learn more about percussion at the Artsedge lesson Percussion and Pitch.
- Stomp’s PDF has a lot of science of sound connections. Use Stomp as the focal point for your lessons on sound energy.
- At different points in the show, the dancers try out objects to see what kinds of sounds they can make. In one scene, dancers make a variety of sounds with paper and plastic bags by shaking them, blowing them up and slapping them, or pushing them together. Give students time to experiment with classroom objects to see how many different sounds they can achieve. (You know your class — offer guidelines as needed to keep noise levels manageable.)
- The sounds of Stomp are the music. The sounds of tap dancing are also part of the performance. Ballet dancers sometimes make sounds with their shoes when landing from a jump, but they are not part of the show. Help students list more examples of dances, such as the Cherokee stomp dance or flamenco, in which the sounds dancers make are part of the performance. This is a great opportunity for internet research.
- Stomp has performed in more than 350 cities in 36 countries. Find some of those cities and add them to your classroom map.
- Check out Stomp’s timeline and add some of their dates to your classroom timeline.
- At the end of the performance we attended, Stomp dancers clapped out rhythms for the audience to echo. One dancer would clap twice, and the audience would clap twice. The dancer would clap three times, and we would clap three times. They would vary the rhythm, give different patterns to different parts of the auditorium, and add snapping or other movements. Do this in your classroom. Then have students lead the game. You can get up to about seven elements before it becomes too much for short-term memory.
- Divide students into groups of four and give them time to plan out a Stomp-style dance. Have each group develop a thirty-second dance routine using their bodies or objects for percussion, and have each group perform the dance for the class.
- If you want more structure, use an Artsdege lesson on social dance to organize some rhythmic stomping.
- Make your own rhythm instruments. Discuss how these are different from using found objects to create sounds, and how they are different from the musical instruments used in an orchestra.
We’re largely made of water, so it should be no surprise that much of human life revolves around water. Explore some of the ways water matters with these lesson plans.
Water to drink
Human beings cannot live without water, and finding clean, potable (safely drinkable) water is a challenge in many parts of the world.
- Learn about the water cycle.
- The American Water WorksAssociation has a presentation showing how water gets from the source to the faucet: “How Water Works”
- Check out the EPA’s drinking water page for games and activities related to ground water and drinking water for K-12. Lots of printouts!
Water for transportation
Rivers were highways long before cars were invented, and ships sailed the ocean long before planes were thought of. Boats used the cutting technology of their day – from steam engines to servo motors — before land or air vehicles did. It’s easy to overlook the importance of water transportation, but even today it’s extremely important for freight.
- Use our cookie geography lesson to see how human settlements grow up around rivers and other navigable bodies of water.
- Explore the science and geography of boats.
- Explore the Steamboat Arabia to get a clearer understanding of the importance of rivers and riverboats in the pioneer era.
- Learn about pirates and Vikings as examples of historical use of water for transportation.
Water for power
Water has supplied energy in many ways throughout history, and it still is an important source of power today.
- Learn about hydroelectric power with our Energy Engineering Lesson Plans.
- Long before hydroelectric power, water wheels drove mills. Check out the War Eagle Grist Mill for an eye-opening virtual field trip.
- Pearson has a nice steam engine animation.
Water for art
People need water for survival, and we’ve used water to get things done, but human beings also like and need to create beauty. See how water connects with culture:
- Cherokee water drums use interesting physical properties of water to create different sounds. The lesson plan at the link includes both science and music.
- Handel’s Water Music is a wonderful piece of music designed specifically to be listened to on a boat. Learn more about this as a good introduction to classical music.
- The Sea King’s Daughter and The Little Mermaid are a couple of watery fairy tales. The Selkie is a folktale and a ballad. Examine ways that the sea has inspired literature with these three stories.
- Chris Witcombe has an interesting lesson on Water in Art that looks at some of the many ways visual arts have used water as a symbol or inspiration. Note: this lesson includes many classical paintings, and the subjects are often nude. Review the lesson before you use it in your classroom to make sure it will be appropriate for your class and community. We’d use it with a projector in classes in which this was appropriate, and use it as an outline with different examples for those in which it was not.
For an election year, a patriotic theme is a natural. It’s also a fun way to introduce American History lessons, and a cheerful theme at any time. Read on for ideas for ways to use patriotic songs in art and English lessons.
There are plenty of ready-made decoratives:
- Stars and stripes border
- Patriotic Stars Border
- Patriotic Bunting Scalloped Trimmer
- Carson Dellosa Patriotic Topper features American landmarks.
- Songs of Freedom Bulletin Board Set has the first verses of the national anthem, “American the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and “America.”
- Hooray for the USA! Bulletin Board has lots of festive pieces.
- America From A to Z Alphabet Set is an over-the-board alphabet set with photos of American icons like the flag and the Statue of Liberty.
- Symbols Of America Mini Bulletin Board Set coordinates perfectly.
- Red white and blue starburst adds a third dimension.
Slogans can range from “Hooray for America!” to “Showing Our True Colors.”
Bring out some patriotic books:
- We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is inspiring and informative.
- A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution
- The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide is a great addition to regional studies.
- The Story of “the Star-Spangled Banner”
- Peter Spier’s The Star-Spangled Banner is a great favorite of ours. The illustrations really add depth of meaning to words that kids often don’t get.
- This Land Is Your Land is a beautifully illustrated picture book of Woody Guthrie’s quintessential American song.
You might have noticed quite a few patriotic songs aleady, but there are more, and they make a great way to do basic language arts instruction. Think of all the topics you can work on with some big charts of those songs:
- parts of speech
Have students think about, discuss, and then illustrate their favorite things about their country. Challenge each student to find a line from one of the patriotic songs you’ve sung that fits his or her picture. Then create a class book of patriotic songs illustrated with student artwork.