1. Listen to Music
Sounds easy enough (no pun intended)! But, how many teachers actually take advantage of an opportunity to play music in their classroom. Or even consider that those opportunities exist? I have a Grooveshark account with various playlists that I use throughout the year. I have playlists for the Women Suffrage Movement (which includes this Helen Reddy classic), American Indians, an European-themed list for an Explorers' Cafe menu activity, an African-American spirituals playlist of songs written and sung in cotton fields, and yes, even a Party Mix for those special occasions. In addition to these playlists, I listen to R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" and Sara Evans' "Born to Fly" as students enter my classroom on the day I teach procedures. My students hear the song "Rule Britannia" when I teach about the British Empire. While many students actually hate the song, it gets "stuck" in their heads, and many remember it months later. And, I play this musically-centered YouTube clip to introduce European Exploration:
I play Europe's "The Final Countdown" as students enter the classroom on the day before our end-of-year assessment. It's crunch time. It's a big deal. It's the last day to review information as a group. It's the Final Countdown.
Music can be played while students are entering the classroom, when individuals or groups are working on a task, when students are completing a picture or gallery walk, or as the focus piece of a lesson to be studied and analyzed.
2. Play Entertaining Music Videos
There is a vast array of music videos on YouTube that are very useful for teaching students. If your school district prohibits access to YouTube, then they are causing students to miss out on some pretty cool stuff. I use a variety of music videos that I've found on YouTube including old School House Rock videos, Horrible Histories videos, and much more. There is a plethora of material out there for every content--the questions to ask when selecting a video are, "Is this appropriate for my students?", "Will students enjoy this?", and "Will they learn something from it?"
3. Star in Music Videos
I have already confessed that I cannot sing. But, sometimes, I just feel the need to do it anyways. Here's a song I sang as "Bob, the Archaeologist." If you are so bold as to listen, brace yourselves, some of it is quite painful to the ears.
At times, I talk to the kids about the importance of stepping out of their comfort zones, and this is one way in which I model that for them. Speaking of being out of comfort zones, I've even convinced my wife to record a rap under the name "Lady P." When the kids said that she didn't "know how to rap", they opened the door for a challenge. I told them that if they thought they could do better they should try it. I gave them a few days to memorize the rap and practice. This was victory for me and they didn't even know it! They memorized the very content that would soon be on their test!
My co-workers and I created another music video called the "Fresh Delegate of Philadelphia" to the tune of Will Smith's "Fresh Prince" theme song. Kids are shocked when they see the videos on YouTube and always want to know how many views it has and how they can find it.
4. Teach Students to Sing Songs
I've written songs about various topics. One song that I teach all of my students to sing is a song I wrote about the southern states that seceded. Before they learn it, I show them a video. In this version of the song, you will notice that I obviously played around with my voice.
Before I show this video to students, I call out and "thank" one female and one male student for staying after school with me the day before to record the video. I tell the students that the female student sings the first part and the male the second. While confused at first, they grow to appreciate my humor, particularly when they hear the deep voice of the second part. Then, I teach all the students the lyrics to the song and have them sing it. We eventually add in some solo parts and a few choreographed moves, and then we go perform for the secretary!
I also wrote a song about Westward Expansion entitled, "Write Me Maybe". Here it is, performed by some of my former students (with parental and student permission, this can be found on YouTube):
Several other students have shown interest in creating music videos for other songs that I have written, including "I'm on the Border" to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas song "I Got A Feeling" and "Did the English Settle" to the tune of "Do Your Ears Hang Low".
Another thing that I've done is provide every group the same set of lyrics. Then, in groups, students must pick a genre of music and perform a version of the song that fits the genre. Some possible genres: Hip-Hop, Country, Gospel, Rock, Rap, Folk, the Blues, Pop, Broadway Musical, Children's Song, etc.
5. Have Students Write Songs (and Perform Them!)
There are many ways that teachers can provide assignments geared toward songwriting. One way that I have assigned this is with my RAFT homeworks. I'll never forget one student's recorded performance of "We Belong Together" a love song between the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. He not only wrote the song, but he sang and played the trumpet as well!
Another way to have students write and perform songs is with a Who's Got Talent or American Idol-style competition. In this scenario, I allow students to compete as an individual, pair, or group--and they get to select who they work with. I provide students with particular criteria that they should include in their song and let them go at it. They can get pretty creative when we give them the time and space!