I have found one of the best ways to build community in a classroom is by singing together. There is something magical about the bond that forms when our voices melt together and become one. And when you stop to think about it, singing as an ensemble, or group, encompasses three of the 4 C’s of Learning: communicating, creativity, and collaboration all at once.
If you attended EducationCloset’s Winter Conference last February, and were lucky enough to hear keynote speaker Dan Pink, he shared his thoughts on the importance of problem solving, dispelled myths about right/left brain function, and praised the benefits of arts programs (more specifically singing with a group) for future business practices, then you might agree with me. I believe he was describing this exact scenario: when we work as a collective group to achieve a common goal, we forget about ourselves and we move to a higher level of deeper connection.
Disclaimer: Yes, I am a very well-practiced musician (instrumentalist), but have little training in singing. The song you are about to experience is accessible to everyone. I promise!
A Warm Welcome
As the new year starts up again, I would like to share an idea for you to try with your students as an icebreaker. There is a wonderful Liberian Welcoming Song entitled: “Funga Alafia.” Here is a link to a Kennedy Center Performance describing the history of the song. The rhythmic feel is quite joyful and energetic. The words are repeated over and over, thus making it easy to retain for students.
Funga Alafia, Ashe – ashe
Funga Alafia, Ashe – ashe
Ashe – ashe, Ashe – ashe
Funga Alafia, Ashe – ashe
I use this song often with my primary students. And I have to admit, I love finding them singing it as they work independently or as groups. Even after their first exposure to the song! Recently I had a student run up to me in the hallway and start singing… I taught this song to her class when she was in kindergarten. She is now in second grade. Trust me, this song sticks!
Below is a video showing one of my kindergarten classes learning the song for the first time last year:
This song is not just about singing; it is the gestures or movements that provide the deeper connection. The gestures I use with my students go like this:
- Touch your head and extend your arms outward in front of you
– Meaning: We greet you with our positive thoughts
- Touch the sides of your mouth and extend your arms outward in front of you
– Meaning: We greet you with our kind words
- Touch your heart and extend your arms outward in front of you
– Meaning: We greet you with our loving heart
- With your left arm extended foreword (palm up), touch inside of your elbow with your right hand and brush forward 2 times. Then reverse: with your right arm extended forward (palm up), touch the inside of your elbow with your left hand and brush forward 2 times.
– Meaning: We have nothing up our sleeves/we come in peace.
There are countless versions of this song along with different interpretations of the movements. (Go ahead, Google it!) Once you have found the version you feel comfortable with, I encourage you to create your own gestures and meanings with your students. Here is a link to my favorite recorded version of the song which I use almost daily.
Time to move
Once the song and gestures have been taught to the students, we start loco-motoring through the general space of the classroom. I always discuss the importance of keeping our bodies within our self-space before we attempt moving around the open areas of the classroom. (In case you are not familiar with the elements of dance, you can find articles here and here at EducationCloset.com to help you along!)
We start by listening to the song and finding the steady beat with our feet while standing stationary in a circle. This allows me to see all of my students clearly. It also allows me to get to anyone who might need extra modeling. (Note: Is it just me, or is there something special about building community and connectedness while standing in the form of a circle?) Occasionally, I duplicate the beat with a drum to create emphasis. Once the students are demonstrating the “beat in your feet”, I allow them to begin traveling (locomotion) safely around the general space, always keeping an eye out and correcting anyone not maintaining their personal space.
As soon as they have shown me they can keep the beat and stay in their self-space, we add the music, gestures, AND singing. Oh boy, those brains are running on all cylinders about now. Don’t give up if you students aren’t able to process all of these events at the same time! It is a lot to ask of their brains when they haven’t done this before. If necessary, encourage them to focus on one or two things at a time. For example, just have the student walk in place to the beat and sing, or ask them to stand in place and perform the gestures and sing. Eventually, they will be joining in on all levels of activity.
Sharing With Others
Congratulations! You have created your very own classroom custom of greeting. Just think of the community of learners you have established for the rest of the year. Now, take that feeling of connectedness to the rest of the school. Perhaps your students can teach this song of greeting to another class, perform it to welcome visitors, or at assemblies. You may just start a trend.
Here’s to the start of a great new year – enjoy!
Mary is a STEAM TOSA, Project Lead the Way Launch Lead Teacher, and an Orff Schulwerk music specialist. Her eclectic background, along with her 28 years of elementary classroom teaching, gives her a unique perspective on Arts Integration.