Songwriting Exercise: Word Families

By Liz Buchanan

During my eight-week songwriting unit with first graders, I’m asking the students to sing and examine different styles of songs.  In the first week, we sang “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and the traditional “John the Rabbit” (which I normally sing as “Peter Rabbit” – since John and Peter are rather similar bunnies). We talked about reggae and also about call and response songs.

I asked each classroom to participate in a quick songwriting exercise, to create a verse for my “Word Family” song.  When I worked with kindergarten students at the same school earlier this year, the teachers requested a song about word families, that is, groups of rhyming words.  For example, ship, skip, slip, flip and about ten other ‘ip’ words are in the same word family.

Each of five kindergarten classes was assigned to write a verse .  We ended up with about ten verses, once I included my original verses plus those from a kindergarten class at another school where I work.  The word families for kindergarten were pretty simple, including rhymes for top, tap, pit, pan, pot and dad.

You can hear the kindergarten version of “Word Families” here.

I assigned my first graders slightly harder word families for their verses: rhymes with sight, down, found, hatch and team.

We agreed that since rhyming words are an important element in most songs, it is very important to be able to think of word families to help us make rhyming lines.  When we looked at the first verse of “A Fox on a Chilly Night,” we could see our ‘night’ and ‘light’ word family.

It was fun to see the students’ enthusiasm as they sang me their class verses. The teachers reported that it was a popular classroom project, and it will be great to sing the song again next week!

Liz Buchanan is President of The Children’s Music Network.