Composing with Second Graders

19 Sep

After my second graders learned the note “do,” I was in need of a creative way for them to practice singing, playing, reading, and writing the new note. I came up with a very simple composition worksheet and SMART Notebook template. During one class period, we completed the entire activity as a whole class first, then I split the class into groups of 3-4 students.

During the next class period, each group began with the worksheet only. They had to check off one box at a time to graduate to the next level of complexity. For example, I had to approve their composed rhythm before they could move to a barred instrument to begin adding the melody. Once their song was completed on the worksheet, I listened to the group members sing and play it on their barred instrument before they could move to the computer phase.

While some groups were on the computers, other groups were using instruments with three choices: continue to practice your own song, trade papers and practice other groups’ songs, or play known do-mi-so folk songs by ear. This was quite raucous, but it kept everyone busy with only 5 computers in the room. The variety of activity also allowed me to roam around and assess the kids’ reading and playing skills. The whole activity only took three class periods, and the amount of learning, music making, and assessing was awesome!

Below are two of the many amazing songs the second graders composed. (As you can see, it was approaching winter break when we completed this activity last year.)

I printed a color copy of the song for each child in the group and one for me. They all turned out so beautifully that I made a bulletin board for outside the music room. (Confession: My amazing husband actually put it all together and hung it in the hall. Who knew he was such a meticulous bulletin board designer?) It was up the rest of the year! The best part about that bulletin board was the first graders’ reactions. I can’t remember how many times I was asked, “Will we do that in second grade?” Indeed, we will!!

15 Responses to “Composing with Second Graders”

  1. Cherie Herring September 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    What a great idea! We are a 1:1 iPad school as of this year, and this is just the post I needed for my activity next week. I like your steps leading to the final product. You have a great blog and I find your posts very refreshing and inspiring. Thanks for sharing!


    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley September 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

      Thanks, Cherie! I love your blog too! As a part of our district’s curriculum revision, every K-6 general music classroom got a SMART Board. I’ll definitely be sharing your SMART resources with everyone as we dive into our PD soon. Do you have some favorite SMART Board resources for music teachers that I could pass along?

  2. Tony Flores September 22, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    This is amazing!!!! I have been struggling with the same issue and you just changed my life! Thank you!!!!!

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley September 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

      Thanks! I was a little blown away by how much fun the kids had doing it, and I’m always blown away by their creativity. :-) For some projects, the kids wanted note heads and backgrounds that weren’t available in the SMART gallery. I did a Google image search and chose a few of the more appropriate results for them to choose from. I know it’s hard to see that in the detail of the bulletin board, but it really made those groups happy that they could find something that worked with their song’s title and concept.

      Thanks for the follow on Pinterest too, Tony! (Follow Tony here.)

  3. Aileen Miracle November 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Great ideas, Kelly! I’m excited to use this with my students! And I was excited to happen upon your blog. :)

  4. Michele Hobizal December 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    This is just what I needed for a fun activity to come back to after the holidays. Thank you!

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley December 21, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

      Thanks, Michele! I’m doing it right after our winter break too. I’m also thinking about how to alter it for my third graders using the pentatonic scale. They did the activity last year as second graders, so I need to take it up a notch for them this year.

  5. Barb English February 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Love this idea. Wondering what software you used on the computer for them to create these colorful and creative staffs. I don’t have a smartboard, was it smartboard software?

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley February 15, 2013 at 10:33 am #

      Hi Barb!

      I used SMART Notebook for the staff template (available for download above). Most of my groups used images from that software for the note heads, and they used the pen tool to draw the note stems. There was a mix of graphics from Google image search and SMART Notebook for the background images.

      You don’t have to have a SMART Board to use SMART Notebook software, and it is a free download from To keep it beyond the 30 day trial period, you just need a product key from a SMART Board. I have found that many districts have a product key on file somewhere if you don’t have any SMART Boards in your building. Ask your IT person. If I did not have a SMART Board in my room, but did have a projector, I would probably still use the SMART Notebook software. It has so many great, interactive features!

  6. Joy March 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your ideas with the world :)

  7. Lauren January 4, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

    What is the form that is the first check box on the composition worksheet?

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley January 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi, Lauren! I ask the students to decide if any of the 4-beat phrases will be the same and plan that out ahead of time. I have found that it helps them stay on track. :-) So the students might write ABCC to indicate the last two lines would be the same, or ABCD if each line will be unique.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. 2013 Second Grade do-mi-so Compositions | Kelly Riley's Music Classroom - February 13, 2013

    […] To read about the process and download the planning worksheet and SMART Notebook file, please read this previous post. After printing a copy of their own composition for each child, and rather than using even more […]

  2. Third Grade Pentatonic Compositions | Kelly Riley's Music Classroom - March 7, 2013

    […] songs and used SMART Notebook software to print and share them (see my post about that project here). Now that those students have learned the extended pentatonic scale (s, l, d r m s l d’), I […]