In 1992, Hurricane Andrew raced through Florida, flattening towns and destroying everything unlucky enough to be in its path. Weeks later, the Girl Scout councils sent out a cry for help: all of their materials had been washed away, and they needed supplies.
I, a fellow Girl Scout leader, wanted to help, but as a college student I was also quite broke. What to do? It took some thought, but finally it struck me: design some easy, low-to-no material activities, and package it in a useful, compact manner. And so they were born: the pop-can-games and pop-can-songs. The “pop can” I refer to is the tube-shaped can one buys Pringles chips and tennis balls in. I don’t remember why this shape seemed so important, but I have kept to this format ever since.
What did I make? In essence, it was quite simple: I made a number of tagboard strips that fit into the pop-can, about 2 inches (6 cm) wide, and 8 inches (20 cm) long. For the games can, I wrote the directions a low- to no-material game or activity on each strip, and put it in the can. For the songs, I wrote out the words for well-known Girl Scout songs in my very best handwriting on one side, the title on the other, and put the cards into the song can. Then I sent them off to Florida, where I never heard from them again. No matter – I also made a set for myself, typing out the words this time and making them look that much more professional. I used them for years, not only as a Girl Scout leader, but also as a starting classroom teacher in The Netherlands.
Years later, I taught at a Dutch grade school, and found myself wanting to find a way to structure the music lessons with my children so that they could have some choice in which songs they wanted to sing, while giving me the chance to stop singing St. Nick songs once January had come and gone. Also, I didn’t know that many Dutch children’s songs, so I needed a way to remember the words while teaching the children. I decided it was time to pull a good idea back out of the hat. I made a few changes, however. This time, instead of writing a title on the back of the card, I drew a picture, depicting what the song was about. On the reverse side, I had the words to the song. This way, the children could choose the song based on the picture, and I could use the back of the card to remember the words. The cards were a great success, needless to say. Later on, when I made the change back to ESL, I gave my old Dutch song cards to a fellow teacher, where they are still in use.
Nowadays, I still use song cards, and the design has only gotten better and more professional-looking. I still have the picture on one side, and the lyrics on the other. I now mount the stips of paper to a strip of colored paper, color-coded to match the theme: animal songs are often on brown paper, St. Nick and Christmas songs are often on red, and so on. The reason for this is because I now have so many, it’s easier to sort them quickly based on color. Another change is that instead of drawing my own pictures, I find pictures on the internet and paste them into my own document. It saves me time and the children like them just as well.
When I do music with the children, I share a number of cards with them – usually between 2 and 4 songs at at time. I review the titles, and for new songs I sing a little bit of it, so that the children can remember what the song was about. A child – often a non-speaker – gets to choose the song, and we sing it. If it’s a new song, I’ll show them the back of the card, so they get an idea of how long the song is going to be. They are often quite impressed when there are lots of words! They also tend to choose the prettiest / most colorful cards first. Once we’ve sung it through a few times, the children get to choose a different song.
With these cards, the music lessons allow the children to choose which songs they want to sing and in which order (The new one first? Or the one we already know?), while allowing me the chance to remove the ones I’ve gotten a bit tired of, or introduce new songs to the class.
Note: I’ve put a number of my song cards on http://www.teacherspayteachers.com (seller’s name is MissAmyK), if you’re interested in having a closer look at a number of the cards I’ve made.
I wonder what other teachers do to introduce new songs to the class?