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April 3, 2013 Using Music to Improve Reading: Close Up and Fluent! By Shari Edwards
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?



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