Instead, I wanted to take a moment to talk about which musicals I use in the classroom and why. I have some absolute favorite musicals that I try and show at some point every year. Watching a full musical does take up quite a bit of class time and to some it might feel like it's a "cop out" to show a video instead of involving the kids in a musical activity where they create or reproduce music on their own. However, I would say sometimes the best learning comes when you are reflecting and thinking about music instead of creating if yourself. I mean, I learn a lot about teaching when I teach but I glean a heck of a lot more when I watch a video of myself teaching. The same is true for kids. They learn a lot when they're singing, speaking, dancing, and playing but they learn in different ways when they watch and evaluate a performance. That's why there are local and national standards that support evaluation of music and music performances.
I think Annie is a great "beginner" musical to show to kids a for a variety of reasons. First of all, kids love to see KIDS singing, dancing, and acting. Just the fact that the main character is a kid makes this movie a winner for many students. I also like showing this musical to kids because lots of my kiddos can connect with Annie in personal ways. Many of my students come from low-income families and some actually are in foster homes. They resonate with Annie and want to see her succeed. I also like how the musical doesn't gloss over how hard it is for Annie to let go of her original parents. Spoiler alert: Annie never ends up with her "real parents" but finds a home with Mr. "Daddy" Warbucks. Another important theme is that Mr. Warbucks' millions of dollars can't solve Annie's problem. Money doesn't make everything better and in fact it's the the money that complicates Annie's problems. Students engage with real issues and see kids struggling with real problems. At the same time, the joy and exuberance of the musical is so palpable that kids love to watch and come away feeling happy and excited.
The newest adaptation from 2014 presents a whole new twist on the story (and features Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and Cameron Diaz). This is set in present-day and shows Annie as a kid in foster care just trying to make it through the system. There are lots of updates that change the story a little bit but the bones of the original story remain (no nation-wide search for Annie's parents, Warbucks is renamed "Stacks," and lots of people/places are modified). The only downside is that Mr. Stacks says "They'll kick your ass in Harlem," and a couple characters say the word "hell" throughout. Come on producers, you know this will be shown to kids! If you are willing to bleep those moments, then this version might be the best. Updated songs (with mash-ups that kids love) and new takes on old characters make this a kid-favorite.
Bye Bye Birdie
Elvis Presley is obviously the model for the character of Conrad Birdie. When introducing Bye Bye Birdie, I start with the story of Elvis. I’ll play an Elvis song and ask them to identify the performer. Then I’ll show them THIS video. It makes them giggle and then we talk about the audience’s response to his performance. What modern performers illicit a similar response? Why do you think this happens? Many conversations lead to Justin Beiber. The girls giggle. The boys roll their eyes. Then we watch THIS and continue the conversation.
One of my favorite extension activities for Bye Bye Birdie is to have students re-write the lyrics to “We Love You, Conrad”. Here's a clip.
I love you, iPhone. Oh, yes I do.
I love your apps and case so blue.
When you’re not near me, I’m grounded. Dude.
Oh, iPhone, I love you.
We love you music. Oh yes we do.
We love you hip hop, rockin’ and blue.
We love to visit you on days of Tues.
Oh, music we love you.
We love you, Grandma. Oh, yes we do!
We love your cookies and your hair so blue.
But when you wear your night gown, we can see through.
Oh, Grandma we love you.
They made me smile too! The last one borders on negative, but the student explained that it was a “public service announcement”. That made me laugh, so I accepted it.
The Sound of Music
In case you're not familiar, The Sound of Music is a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that tells the true-life story of Maria, a spirited young Austrian woman who leaves the convent to become a governess for Captain von Trapp's seven unruly children. Her charm and songs soon win the hearts of the children - and their father. But when Nazi Germany unites with Austria, Maria is forced to attempt a daring escape with her new family. Maybe it's because kids are main characters or it might be that Maria is the embodiment of positivity and courage. Maybe it's the catchy music or dramatic plot elements. For whatever reason, The Sound of Music is very clearly a fan-favorite with my kiddos.
On the outside this musical seems to be a perfect and "family-friendly" choice with great and catchy songs like "The Sound of Music," "Do a Deer..." and "Climb Every Mountain." I mean, there's a song all about solfege, how great is that!? However, when you look past the smiles and joy of the overall effect you realize that this musical is very squarely based on sensitive and difficult issues. There are some serious conversations to be had about religion (Maria does want to become a nun after all!), history, culture, language, and more. Austria has been taken over by the Nazis, alliances in the country and the social structure are changing, the oldest von Trapp daughter ends up in a relationship with a Nazi, and so much more. The main thrust of the storyline is based on the fact that these children need a nanny/governess because their mother has died and their father uses his military background (he used to be in the Navy) to manage their family. This is not a "when you wish upon a star" sort of story, but it enchants kids and draws the in nonetheless.
P.S. The Julie Andrews version... not Carrie Underwood.
-Write a poem about your perfect day inspired by “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”
-What is a sooner? Do you think Aunt Eller could have been one? Write a biography for Aunt Eller assuming that she was.
-Create a poster enticing settlers to move to the Oklahoma Territory.
-It’s job fair time! You have been commissioned to speak at a local job fair. Choose to represent the farmers or the cowmen and make a presentation enticing young adults to choose one or the other.
Most of these activities have accompanying worksheets or writing prompts in a mega bundle I have in my store. Click here to see everything that's included.
Fiddler on the Roof
I can clearly remember when I was in 5th grade and Mrs. Rytych showed my class Fiddler on the Roof. Growing up an a small, rural town in Nebraska I had no concept of the Jewish people or the traditions that guided their life. Everything I knew about Jews I knew from Sunday School and the stories from the Christian Bible. I didn't know them from THEIR perspective and Fiddler gave me a glimpse into the life of a Jew in Russia. More than that, while Fiddler allowed me start to understand the Jewish people it really helped me start to see MANY other cultures in a new way.
I often show this video at the end of 5th grade and it is a sort of culminating experience for my students. We watch The Sound of Music in 4th grade, sing the Dreidel Song and play the Dreidel game in 5th grade, and experience other songs and symbols of the Jewish faith through their elementary experience. I've had a lot of great discussions with kids about the Jewish faith and understanding faith and cultural traditions outside of our own context. This year I had a really fascinating discussion with a few girls about head scarves. They noticed that the Jewish men and women always wear something on their head and that Tevya says "we cover our heads to show our devotion to God." Then they asked if Muslims and other cultures covered their heads for the same reason. We had a fascinating discussion about cultural norms and how what we think of as "normal" might not be acceptable to someone from another culture.
A huge shout out and THANK YOU to Tracy King - The Bulletin Board Lady for guest blogging! It was go great to talk with Tracy and share ideas about some of our favorite musicals to share with kiddos. If you don't already follow Tracy all over the internet, then you need to get on it, STAT! She's hilarious and wonderful and full of practical ideas to use in the classroom. Also, if you haven't checked out the materials that she uses to teach musicals then you are MISSING OUT. Check out the bundle and all her individual sets HERE!