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Tips & Tricks

Music in Action!

Is your classroom wiggle-friendly? Those busy, bustling kids who can’t seem to sit still can be your greatest learners when you use action songs to teach. This article will show you how to create the right dynamics between teaching and singing.

Do you remember, as a child, how much fun it was to sing the monkey song and jump on the bed? Just when you and your friends were having the time of your lives, some frantic grown-up may have burst in and exclaimed, “Okay, okay—enough! No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Now you’re an adult with a bunch of fun-loving “monkeys” loose in your classroom! But instead of stifling their fun, why not channel your students’ energy into excitement for singing about God and His Word? Children are normally active so use that instinct to enhance your teaching. Adding actions and movement to your song time can be a key to accomplishing this goal.

More good reason

In addition to the child’s need for movement several significant benefits of action songs stand out. Actions are perfect to meet the needs of various types of learners—visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. Songs that have movement provide something to see, something to hear and something to touch or do. With actions, the children can more easily and quickly memorize the words, rhythm and tune of the song as well.

Action songs give the teacher greater control and flexibility in the classroom. They can be a great reward for good behavior. They can help children focus on specific lyrics or words that deserve special emphasis.

Action songs are also effective in setting the mood. If your group seems to be tired or has low energy you can choose an active song to spark their interest and involvement. On the other hand, a very active song can also help rambunctious kids burn off extra energy. Many times, after singing and acting out such a song the children will welcome the chance to sit still and relax for a few minutes. When they do they will be ready to listen. This kind of mood change is appropriate right before the Bible lesson.

Choosing a slow, worshipful song with reverent actions can create a quieter atmosphere just as successfully. I’ll never forget a time when I was leading a group of 300 third and fourth graders at a camp setting. I had the group moving, clapping and singing with very high energy and the pastors in the group were very concerned about crowd control. After my concert a few of them commented that they never thought I would be able to calm down the children once I had gotten them so excited. But a different song with slower actions made the transition easy for the kids. The powerful combination of music and action is unbelievable.

Do it yourself steps and strategies

The process of developing actions for a song begins by finding key words in the phrases. For a phrase like I will serve the Lord, focus on the words I, serve and Lord. Limit actions to these words. When you keep it simple you can communicate the message well. For a longer phrase like “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” you may focus only on the words strong, Lord and power. Simplicity helps kids to remember the words to the song.

Creating motions for difficult words is especially important. For example: when we sang the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” the children acted out the word reconciled by joining their right and left hands in a praying position. This motion represented coming together or being united. It helped clarify the meaning of a word that elementary-age children don’t often use or understand.

After you’ve identified a song’s important action words try to think of motions that match the overall energy and mood of the song. A faster tempo is better suited to quick movements, while a slower tempo would usually use smooth, gentle motions. A good way to match an action with a word is to imagine how to visually describe the word. Showing praise would be more active than love or trust, while words like talk or stand would present obvious ideas for actions. Words like strong can be done in a number of ways—and even hesitant boys will be eager to respond to them!

More motion making resources

A great idea is to use sign language for some key words in your songs. Children are fascinated by signing and love to learn how. Learning words in sign language is good exposure to another culture. It also increases awareness of the diversity of people in the world. Many books are available that show how to sign and may be checked out at your local library. Sign only the key words in a song. I use a mixture of signs and creative motions but I always let my students know which of the motions are actual signs.

Your students are an endless source of ideas for motions. They love to become teachers and have a part in the decision-making process. They may also help the attitude of students who are reluctant to participate. Using their leadership can be done in a number of ways. You could send a recording of the song home with one or a small group of students. They could then teach the rest of the group. Sometimes I have weekly action leaders stand in front of the group and teach the motions. Preview all actions before they are presented to the group to make sure only appropriate actions are used. Another option is to have “action police” to watch and see if everyone is doing the actions as instructed.

Tips for the creatively challenged

If you have tried and tried but can’t think of any actions don’t give up! Just visualize possible movements with separate body parts. For example, experiment with moving your hand, arm, wrist, fingers, forearm, full arm, elbow or fist. Think about individual movements you could do with your head (look up or down or to the side), shoulders (shrug), waist (bend), legs (hop, skip), feet (sidestep, march in place) and knees (squat). Movement possibilities are limited only to your imagination and continue to increase when you combine different body parts.

Another easy source for ideas is observation. Watching cheerleaders, drill teams or dance teams perform can lead to valuable insight and inspiration.

Look for songbooks that include action guides for great suggestions to get you started.

Adding actions to your teaching will at first take a little more effort and time on your part but the payback is amazing. When you channel your students’ energy in a positive direction everyone will benefit—and have fun, too. So go ahead. Pick out a song, add or learn actions and dare to try it!