Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday America

236 years ago today, our country declared its independence. I'm not used to the 4th of July falling in the middle of the work week but I will be partaking in all the typical festivities - a huge family bbq and hopefully lots of fancy fireworks! It's also my beloved little brother's birthday so happy birthday to him as well. (If you're wondering, he's 216 years younger than the U.S.A.)

For today's post I thought I would share another lesson from my last student teaching placement. At my last school they would play the national anthem every day during third period. Many of my students didn't know the lyrics and some didn't even know there were lyrics to the song at all. As a part of acclimating my newcomer students to this new country, we studied about and learned the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner".

The Lesson.

I like to begin any new lesson by tapping prior knowledge - what do the students already know and what kinds of misconceptions, if any, are they bringing to the table? Here's what my students came up with:

Now this is where it was a little bit tricky for me coming in as a student teacher toward the end of the year. I didn't know if my students had already covered topics like the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 yet so I had to make a teaching decision and opted to go for a brief overview instead of delving into each war extensively. In thinking about my objective for the lesson, it was to familiarize students with "The Star Spangled Banner" and its lyrics, not so much to focus on the details of the wars. Instead, I wanted to provide at least some historical context so I managed to summarize both wars into six main points.

American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)

  • 13 colonies were still being controlled by Great Britain.
  • Colonists were unhappy with taxes and the government.
  • They wanted their freedom and got it! (Well sort of)

War of 1812

  • Other countries were still limiting the colonies' ability to trade and be a free country so another war was declared.
  • Lasted 3 years.
  • Finally people respected America as a country.

Then we discussed who wrote our national anthem. This is when I delivered one of the most poorly received mnemonics of my young teaching career thus far. "Who wrote our national anthem? Just remember this, the key to the national anthem is Francis Scott Key!". Yes, I went there and it was cricket-cricket-tumbleweed-foghorn like I'd never experienced before but hey, it was worth a shot.

Next, I put up the lyrics and we dissected the meaning of each and every single line. All my students were ELLs so I used lots of pictures where I could and did a lot of contextualized tier 2 vocabulary building. It was really neat discussing the meaning and symbolism behind each lyric together with the class.

Students were then given a blank 8-page pocket book that I created by cutting a piece of copy paper in half, folding each half into four squares, and taping the two strips along the edge to make almost like a long accordion. It was very compact and perfect for this lesson. I numbered each of the lyrics for the students and had them copy each line to the corresponding page in their book. Then students were responsible for illustrating each lyric in a way that would help them remember what it meant. Since we went through all of the lyrics together beforehand as a whole group, more students were able to access the different meanings of the song and even come up with their own visual interpretations. This was an effective scaffold to account for the wide range in my classroom.

Of course all lesson long I was asked if I was going to sing the National Anthem. Finally, it was at the point in the lesson to grace my students with my beautiful singing, but if I was going down I was taking them with me! I sang a lyric at a time and had students echo back without any music. After some practice I played this video on YouTube that had the lyrics on the screen so that my students could sing along with the actual song. For the rest of the week during third period I posted the lyrics up for students to sing along. As always feedback and modifications are welcome. Happy teaching!

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