I preface the song with “There once was a really funny clown. He loved to make people laugh and so he told jokes, he made funny faces, he did cool tricks. Even his name was funny. It was ‘Punchinello.’ Can you say that? Punchinello (for my ELL kids they need this repetition now because they’re going to have to sing it in a second)… but most of all, he loved to dance. He danced in so many funny ways that people laughed and then they tried the dance moves too. They loved to try Punchinello’s funny dances!” This song really is about the Punch and Judy character Punchinello and could be a fun culture connection if you did it with older grades. For first grade, I cool it with that deeper stuff and stick to the clown story.
Then we learn the song. We learn the first phrase first, “What can you do Punchinello, funny fellow?” and we talk about how everyone is asking Punchinello to show off his funny dance moves because they want to try to dance like him. We repeat the phrase, singing until they’re comfortable (this is the hardest part to teach and takes the longest, the rest of the song is a variation of this phrase). Then we move on to “we can do it too…” and sing through that until we’re comfortable. I stop teaching music there and start teaching the movement.
Once we’ve been through the song once I say that now “I am Punchinello and I’m going to do a funny dance while you sing.” So we do the first phrase and they sing and I do something easy and silly. I make a quick repeated nonlocomotor action that they could emulate: the sprinkler, the Charleston, jumping, shaking my hips, whatever. We do this several times so they see that they can do anything and that the action needs only be a short and easily repeated dance move. It shouldn’t be long or complicated and I demonstrate that long dance moves are hard for anyone to remember. I make a short example saying, “I could do this… or this… or this… see, it doesn’t have to be long or crazy.”
Then, it’s their turn to try the action. When we sing “we can do it too…” they get to do the action that I just showed them. So the routine is, watch and sing on the first phrase of “what can you do, Punchinello, funny fellow…” and then once we get to the next phrase of “we can do it too…” that’s when everyone in the circle gets to try out the action. “See how the lyrics match the actions?” I ask. It takes one time to remind and correct and then they’ve got the idea. We try this out a few times with me showing actions on “what can you do” and them repeating on “we can do it too!”
At this point some of your students will be elated and some will be nervous. Some kids (especially this young) will not want to create the dance and be the center of attention. Some kids will be jumping out of their skin to be in the Punchinello spot and make other kids do their funny dance. The first few times we do this song I make it easy on kids. When we get to “Choose one of us” I let kids raise their hands if they want to be Punchinello and make a funny dance. I don’t pressure kids who don’t want to try it. I figure, let them get used to the dance and the idea. Let them see the fun of the dance and try out the funny stuff and get comfortable with the idea.
After trying this song on multiple days (or maybe a few weeks later we will come back to this song) I start to move all kids into improvising the dance. I say that on “Choose one of us” that you don’t get to raise your hand anymore if you want to be Punchinello. Anyone could be chosen to be Punchinello now. To switch students to a new Punchinello, instead of hands up and choose, we do this. Whoever was Punchinello gets to skip around the circle and that whoever he lands on on the last word of the phrase “Choose one of us, Punchinello funny YOU!” gets to be the new Punchinello.
Some kids will not like this. They don’t want to go in and be the center of attention and are scared that they won’t come up with something to do. So, I show them some easy things to do. I show them they can wave their hands, shake their hips, tap their toes, or shake their head. I show them that “you don’t have to do something big or crazy, just something fun that everyone can do.” This usually dispels the fears of most kids, but if not I tell them that “if you can’t think of anything else to do, just hop! Everyone can hop and it’s fun and easy.”
The song is easy and could literally go on without ending. Kids love it and I think that I get tired of boom-chucking a I chord long before they get tired of singing and dancing the actions. With some classes I have to remind them to sing and tell them that they can’t JUST do the dance. We’ll stop the dance if they stop singing.
So, all in all a great little song with a I chord accompaniment and it gives students the chance to move and improvise dance movements. I love how easy it is to learn and sing and how it gets kids to move and improvise. Doing this song early in the year makes movement games and improvising so much easier down the line.
Possible vocabulary words for this lesson:
Locomotor vs. nonlocomotor