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Using Music to Improve Reading: Close Up and Fluent!

By Shari Edwards on April 3, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Spring is here, and my class is still singing its way towards greater reading fluency. Actually, they are doing that and much more. One of our latest activities consists of three songs and close reading strategies, along with fluency practice using the songs.

Last week, I handed my class the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow,” written by Harold Arlen and made popular by the movie The Wizard of Oz. There has been a lot of excitement lately around the Disney movie Oz the Great and Powerful, out in theaters. My students were excited to see it, and for me . . . some songs just make it feel a little bit like spring!

Triple Your Fun With Three Songs That Work Together

Song List:
"Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen
"What a Wonderful World" by George David Weiss
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" adaptation sung by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

(These songs can be found on iTunes. The lyrics sheets can be downloaded at the links on the images below.)

One . . .

Introduce "Over the Rainbow" with lyrics first and then the song. Let them discover, on their own, what song it is when you hand out the lyrics. Some will be singing it before all the lyrics are passed out! DiscoveryOver the Rainbow is so much fun! Have them read the lyrics and mark words they aren't sure of with a dot. Read and sing several times that day or spread out over a few days, depending on how your students do with their fluency.

I love the jazz version of “Over the Rainbow,” sung by Nikki Yanofsky which I played for them the first few times we used the song for fluency practice. My students like it, but they still beg for the original, and familiar, Judy Garland version. We compromised and now use both! (Maybe 2nd grade is too young to appreciate an adaptation of a beloved song, but they do let me play it part of the time.)

Our lyrics sheets were for the adapted version this year. Instead of printing my students a new sheet to match the Judy Garland version, I asked the class to mark their lyrics sheets so that they would work with the jazz and the original version. That meant they really had to listen and watch for the changes so they could mark them. This is a perfect and challenging activity for primary students and strengthens their ability to read closely.

And a Two . . .What a Wonderful World

Introduce "What a Wonderful World" next with lyrics first and then music. My students love listening as Louis Armstrong sings this song and probably wouldn't be happy with another voice! There are descriptive words in the lyrics that I have my class underline once they have dotted the words they don't know. Read and sing this song with your class and have them pull out "Over the Rainbow" again, also. Once students are familiar and fluent with these two songs, they are ready for the third one.

And a One, Two, Three!

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole combined the first two songs into "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" on his 1993 album, Facing Future. It is a beautiful adaptation that many students will be familiar with.

I play the song for them, without telling them the title and before handing out the lyrics, and HOPE someoneSomewhere and Wonderful World recognizes that there are words from one, or maybe two, of the previous songs. Someone always does! They can't wait to get their hands on the lyrics! We read and sing along this time. Even though they are familiar with the words, the song moves fast and they are challenged to keep up and follow along!

Ask them to get out the first two songs and choose two crayons, one for "Over the Rainbow" and another for "What a Wonderful World." Have them underline the title of the first song with one crayon and the other with the second crayon. Now, they underline the portion of the title in the third song to match each color. Model and let them continue finding lines from the first songs in the last and marking them in the correct color. They will find themselves skimming, comparing, and reading closely as they complete the color-coding through the rest of the song.

marking lyricsmatching lyrics


Refrains and Reflections

There are so many ways to use these songs. Here are a few I've found:

 - Look for word work opportunities (contractions, r-controlled vowels, compound words, etc.)

 - Compare and contrast the two songs

 - Discuss the differences in vocalists (voices, locations [Canada, Louisiana, Hawaii], etc.)

 - Find the settings and viewpoints expressed in the songs

 - Illustrate the parts of the song

More Great Spring Songs

Very soon, I will be introducing early 20th-century America to my students during a social studies project called Project: Uncle Reuben that will take over my classroom for a few weeks. We will explore some music of that time period to help us with fluency, vocabulary, and extending our schema about the 1920s and '30s. Any ideas for music? I will be compiling my list here at Pondering Pedagogy.

What do you think?

Have you tried using music to improve your students' fluency?

 

Comments (25)

The close reading ideas you mentioned in your post are extremely unique and seem to be very successful! I like how you used music and song lyrics for students to increase their fluency and practice the skill of close reading, something that students may struggle with. It seems as though this would really get students enticed and interested. I was wondering if you would allow student-choice in this type of activity for older students? How would you go about tailoring this for older students, as many of them still may struggle with fluency? Is there anything you would change to increase other important literacy skills and strategies in their learning process as well?

Hello! You bring up some interesting questions! I think you could use this strategy very successfully with older students. There are many songs I pass up because the meaning is a little over the heads of 2nd graders. Choice of song might be possible but I find it easier to work as a class on each song as we spend time singing aloud. It might work in groups, though.
I am constantly looking for ways to increase literacy skills. Check out some of my other posts for more of the ideas I use in my classroom. Look at the other blogger's posts also. I've seen some great ideas in their posts also!

I love this idea Shari! It is amazing what music can do for children's reading and their memory. I often think how funny it is that I'll hear a song on the radio from years ago and still be able to sing along (fluently)!
I have never tied music to fluency instruction like you have shows us in your blog. I am excited to try this! I think this would be a fun thing to do in the spring and I love the rainbow theme. Have you done any other themes for music/fluency lessons?
Thanks for sharing this, I am looking forward to having my students try this out.

Hi Jenn! I'm glad you found this strategy useful! I use lots of themes in my selection of music. For our study of Kansas history, I choose songs from the pioneer and cowboy era and during The Uncle Reuben Project, we sing songs from the 20's and 30's. that extra connection helps engagement and increases their vocabulary.

I love this idea Shari! It is amazing what music can do for children's reading and their memory. I often think how funny it is that I'll hear a song on the radio from years ago and still be able to sing along (fluently)!
I have never tied music to fluency instruction like you have shows us in your blog. I am excited to try this! I think this would be a fun thing to do in the spring and I love the rainbow theme. Have you done any other themes for music/fluency lessons?
Thanks for sharing this, I am looking forward to having my students try this out.

This post has made a great impact in my classroom. Thank you for making the connection between music and fluency! I am a music teacher, and a special needs reading instructor and I love using song lyrics for the students to practice reading. The songs used in this blog were some that I have not used, but will add to my list. THANK YOU!!!!

Thanks for the comment, Becky! I'm so happy you found it useful!

Sometime I do it in my class! It really works, and children are improving better than otherwise...

Thanks, Maria! I believe they improve faster this way, also!

Hurray for you AND your students!!!! ( one MORE reason for praising Arts Education...instead of destroying it...). For some kids, this may be the ONLY way to "get it"! THANK YOU!

Thank, Bonnie! I totally agree!

I LOVE this!! In the past, I have actually used "What a Wonderful World", both the original and the Israel K version for a project at the end of the year. I typed each line of the song on it's own blank sheet of paper and each student got a line of the song. The student had to illustrate that particular line of the song, making a picture book for the song. The kids loved it and it made a beautiful, inspiring picture book to share with parents at the end of the year! It helps them with visualization, especially with literal and nonliteral language. Another song I did that with was more current: "Firework" by Katy Perry.

Thank you for this! I'm excited to really dive into Close Reading and Poetry with this idea!!

Hi Emily! What a great idea! I might have to try the book for myself! Thanks for the comment!

Wow! It looks like a lot of my research is being done for me! These are great ideas for songs! I can't wait to add them to our list!

I always use the theme song from Aladdin: A Whole new World", in teaching describing words.

Emmalyn this was such a great song to add to the list. I have never thought about this song being used for describing words until now!! My students will love this activity! Another fun Disney song to use for various activities is "Part of Their World" from the Little Mermaid. I used this song to talk about describing settings of a story "where they can walk, where they can run, where they spend all day in the sun" only we use the book connections in place of walk, run and sun.

Hi Emmalyn! Thanks for the idea! I will be adding it to my list to use during writing, also! Thanks for your comment.

What a fun project!
How about the Charleston (they could learn the dance, too)
California, Here I Come (written in 1921)
One song my sons always enjoyed singing is the Gershwins' "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (You say to-may-to, and I say to-mah-to...)

Have a great time!
Carolyn Clark

Okay, Carolyn, who is going to teach them to dance? I guess I'd better get busy an learn it because that is just too god of an idea to pass up! Thanks for the comment!

You could use "The Entertainer" and talk about ragtime.

Thank you, Denise! We didn't do any of that last year. Something new for my list!

Thank you, Denise! We didn't do any of that last year. Something new for my list!

How about Happy Days are Here Again, or The Birth of the Blues?

How about Happy Days are Here Again, or The Birth of the Blues?

Thanks, Heather! Good songs to add to my list!

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