Combining Music and Literacy in the Classroom

** Thank you Jenny Holt, a freelance writer and author of many blogs and books, for this guest post.


For children in Grades 7-9, combining music and poetry is a natural teaching progression and can help their understanding in both subjects. Two-thirds of American 4th graders cannot read proficiently and 1 in 4 children don't learn to read adequately. This needs to be rectified. Using music as a tool to understanding words will boost student’s enthusiasm and give them a creative outlet. Create your lesson plan by using a short poem and asking them to set the words of this poem to a melody, using the natural rhythm of the words. 

Talking through the poem

Ask your students to read the poem aloud and mark out the number of syllables in the words. These syllables will relate directly to the types of rhythms that you are using for each of the words. For instance one syllable words such as “walk” can be combined with quarter notes, and two syllable words such as “running” can be combined with eighth notes. Talk through the vocabulary in the poem with your students, making sure that they understand the meaning of the words. This will help their language comprehension. 

Linking melody with emotion

Ask your students what the poem means and what emotions the writer was trying to get across. This will give them exposure to new vocabulary and help them to express their own feelings. Discuss with them how they can use music to reflect the words in the poem. In simple terms, if the poem is happy, then may wish to write a melody in a major key, and if the poem is sad, then use a minor key. If the words of the poem describe flying upwards, then maybe they can use a smooth melody, ascending in notes. 

Discussing the melody compositions

Send your students to a dedicated music room or practise space to run through their work, and then ask your students to record their musical compositions. Playing back their work will give them a sense of achievement. Listen to the compositions as a class and discuss how each student has used the music to express the poem that they have been given. Are there any similarities between the compositions? It is always worth discussing with them how they would take their compositions further. What instruments would they use to reflect the words in the poem? Would they add more notes and harmony? 

Music and words have been intrinsically linked throughout history and we can really take advantage of this as teachers. In order to boost the literacy skills of the children, it is important to instill enthusiasm at a younger age. Children will then be able to understand how expanding their vocabulary will help them to express their own feelings as they grow into adulthood. 

 Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash



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