First of all, I officially teach this song to fulfill a requirement about teaching my students cumulative form (though I would teach it anyway, it’s a really fun song!). Let me quickly steal the unofficial definition of a cumulative song from Wikipedia:
A cumulative song is a song with a simple verse structure modified by progressive addition so that each verse is longer than the verse before.
Cumulative songs are popular for group singing, in part because they require relatively little memorization of lyrics, and because remembering the previous verse to concatenate it to form the current verse can become a kind of game.
Start at the beginning! The Process
“There was a hole (There was a hole)
In the middle of the ground (In the middle of the ground)
The prettiest little hole (The prettiest little hole)
That you ever did see! (That you ever did see!)”
And then I teach the next section of the song and have them echo it. When we perform it, this section we will sing in unison but I teach it through echo.
“And the hole’s in the ground… and the green grass grew all around, all around, and the green grass grew all around.”
We try this whole process one more time and each person adds an action of making a circle with their arms (like showing you’ve got a sumo wrestler belly or miming holding a beach ball) to show a “hole.” Once we’ve gone through the paces we run this first section where they echo and then we sing together.
The second time around you add the first object that goes in the hole. It’s a root!
“And in that hole (and in that hole)
There was a root (there was a root)
The prettiest little root (the prettiest little root)
That you ever did see (that you ever did see)
And the root in the hole, and the hole in the ground… and the green grass grew…”
And you sing the whole bit. For the root I do the actions of “digging roots into the ground.” Hands open with fingers pointing down pushing down (kinda like piano hands on a keyboard).
The next time round you add the next object: a tree on the root. It becomes apparent to the students on this object that you’re going to keep adding and adding over and over. You can even bring this up and say “Remember that vocabulary word for today, cumulative. Well this song is accumulating more and more words.”
“And on that root (and on that root)
There was a tree (there was a tree)
The prettiest little tree (the prettiest little tree)
That you ever did see (that you ever did see)
And the tree on the root and the root in the hole and the hole in the ground…”
I usually add the action of doing a little heel raise and dropping myself with arms down at my sides like the trunk of a tree plopping into the hole and then of course show the piano hands and then the circle arms again for the action of the “hole.”
The song goes on but the process remains the same after this. To save time I’m going to just post the other object and my actions and then move on to other things I love about this song. So, it goes…
Hole – circle arms
Root – roots digging in ground (piano hands moving down)
Tree – hands at side, hop in the hole
Branch – arm outstretched with fist on end
Twig – open hand or one finger on outstretched arm
Nest – cupped hands in front of me
Egg – hands over head in “tornado position” like kids do for drills
Bird – chicken wings
Wing – one arm as wing and raise as high as you can
Feather – “sneeze” the word “Pffffffff-EATHER”
Bug – Scream the word as if you’re freaked out by it
Virus – sweet and soft with hands folded
ESL/ELL Strategies to Embed in the Lesson
My principal loves to say, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and while I think that mental picture is a little gross, I get the meaning. Building this song from one small element to a larger story with lots of pieces makes the learning easier. Start with the small and easy, “a hole in the ground” and build out. They don’t have to learn it all at once but one small piece at a time. This is the perfect strategy for ELL students, and all students for that matter.
I also love using duets (sidebar: I call partners either duets or trios, etc. I never just call it “find a partner,” but “find a duet!” Hooray for constant content reinforcement!) because it gives students a little more help and individual attention. I’ve learned with my high ELL population that often students will help one another without my prompting. For instance, a student who is new to the country who only speaks Spanish will often find a friend/helper who will translate important words or commands for them. Putting kids into duets allows those natural pairings to happen and for the newer students the duet partner becomes their personal helper. The helper student reinforces, explains, and makes the process smoother and also helps the new student gain confidence and feel more comfortable.
The vocabulary in this song is great too, because you can mess with them when you get close to the end. I add on "a pretty little virus" at the very end and I ask, "Is a virus pretty? Would we normally sing 'pretty little virus?'" and I let them think through it. You can add in any sort of vocabulary you want. Don't fee limited to what's traditional. One time right before a holiday break I had an "extra" day with a class, a day that fell out of our normal rotation, and because they were quite familiar with the song I taught a variation. In the new version the animal in the egg wasn't a bird but a lizard. We had so much fun coming up with other lyrics that could work if the animal in the egg really was a lizard, or a dragon, or specific kind of bird like a buzzard. There are so many places you could take this!
Resources to Use
This specific book is by Shirley Handy and can be purchased on her website for bout $10 I think. She’s done lots of workshops and her work has been around for a while (so I’m sure this info isn’t new for many of you). You get the book in black and white and have to color it all in yourself, but once it’s done you’re able to use these cards forever! This specific set of cards comes on 11x17 heavy card stock, comes ready to color, and is easy to laminate and use over and over again. Really a fun and great resource! GET IT HERE!
The visual helps kids see the connection between the words and the actions and what’s happening with the song. The book allows them to see what’s happening while they actually feel and make the movements in their body. Then singing cements the story as they retell it themselves. This process is wonderful for ELL students because they have so much reinforcement and so many chances to internalize what they’re doing.
Here are some other things you might find helpful if you’re wanting to teach this song. First of all, there’s a video of Miss Nina singing the song with Joanie Leeds. It’s a little easier and maybe shoots for a younger age than I would use it with, but it’s a great video!
I’ve also recorded myself playing the piano accompaniment version that I use with my students. As you can probably hear when you listen to it, I love to throw in an accelerando with my kids. It keeps them on their toes, keeps up the pace, and adds even more fun to a crazy fun song. I hope this helps too! The recording is a little "tinny" because I had to set my laptop next to my digital piano and let it record the sound. I'm sure there's a way to pull the recording straight off the piano's flashdrive. I have a Yamaha Arius (the Clavinova's black sheep cousin) and if anyone has any tips about how to transfer the song I'd be glad to try again.
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