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Music and Literacy

Risa Cohen

Risa Cohen

Risa Cohen calls herself, “a Literacy teacher disguised as a Music and Movement teacher.”

As Children’s House students arrive in the morning they sing and dance with Risa. Then, during work time, the students do shared reading, independent reading, and literacy activities, using the songs they sang as their texts.


My Dad, one of 7, comes from a large family. Growing up, we would get together with most of the extended family about once a month. The things I remember most about these family get-togethers are food, laughing, and singing. My mother and my Aunt Ruth knew how to play the guitar. They taught the other adults one song each. When we gathered we would pass the guitar around and everyone would sing their song. My Dad always played “Dark as a Dungeon,” my Aunt Jane always played, “Bottle of Wine,” and so on. We all sang along with every song. When I turned 12, I asked my Mom to teach me a song on the guitar. She taught me “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie. This became my song. From then on I played it at family gatherings.
When I came to this school I was amazed. I had never seen anything like it and it immediately felt right. “This is my school,” I told myself. Later I discovered that our school song is based on my song!
A parent asked me to share the School Song. If you would ever like the lyrics to a song or a melody please email me. (I can sing it into your voicemail.) I love sharing songs! So here it is…my song, my school, your school… This school was made for you and me!
music by Woody Guthrie
lyrics by Lynn Fisher
This school is your school, this school is my school
From the natural playground, to our computers,
From the Pink Tower to grammar boxes
This school was made for you and me.
Verse I
As I was thinking about our history
I saw behind me a small beginning.
I saw before me a bright new future;
This school was made for you and me.
Verse II
And I’ve been making some very good friends
From tiny toddlers to Middle Schoolers.
This school is people.  This school is caring.
This school was made for you and me.
Verse III
And our horizons keep on expanding
With special classes and master planning
From parents’ hard work, to annual Spring Sing
This school was made for you and me.
Verse IV
Throughout the good times and times of sorrow
We build together a new tomorrow
This school is your school, this school is my school
This school is our community
I enjoyed singing this song at the Thanks and Giving celebration in Perrysburg yesterday. I look forward to singing it with you this Tuesday at the Toledo Campus Thanks and Giving Celebration.
Keep singing,


Continuing our name studies, we created and read a predictable chart. Each line of the chart started with, “My name is,” followed by the name of a child in class and a period. In a predictable chart, only one word or phrase of each line changes, so most of the text is predictable. After learning the pattern, even the most emergent readers in class were able to join in reading, “My name is.” And the readers who are decoding were able to figure out some, most, or all of the names as well. A few of them feeling especially successful declared, “This is fun!”

We have also been drumming our names. Try repeating your name 4 times, drumming each syllable. You will notice that many English names contain two syllables: one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. For example, Risa, Brandi, and Kathy all follow this pattern. The students noticed that many names have the same rhythm, but some do not.  Some names have only one, or three or more syllables. Others, like Brianne have two syllables but it is the second syllable that is stressed. Try drumming the names of your family around the dinner table tonight.

Keep singing,


Here is a song we like to sing:

What’s Your Name?

What’s your name?
What’s your name?
What’s your name?
What’s your name?

My name is ________.
My name is ________.
My name is ________.
Nice to meet you.

After singing this song, we have been involved in name studies. Children’s names are powerful words. In the teaching of Literacy, a child’s name can serve as the key to unlocking the doors of many concepts including phonemic awareness, concepts of print, name recognition (a precursor to word recognition) and the very notion that words have meaning. After all, what words could hold more meaning for children than their names?

I have been seating small groups of children in front of a pocket chart filled with the names of all the children in class (see picture below). Then I ask the students, “What do you notice?” All readers can approach this activity at their own skill levels, and observations have been varied. Following is a sample of quotations from students, representing some of the observations they made.
“That is my name.”
“Lucie, Lucianna, and Lilly all have L.”
“Christopher has the longest name. He has 11 letters in his name.”
“Achiga has 2 A’s in his name–at the beginning and end.”
“There are a lot of A’s!”
“This (capital) A and this (lower case) A look different.”
“Calleigh has 2 L’s, Izzah has 2 Z’s, Annie has 2 N’s, Gunnar has 2 N’s, Beckett has 2 T’s, and Maggie has 2 G’s!”

Encourage your children to notice print. Point out signs on the street and read to them daily. When driving past street signs, or around environmental print, ask them, “What do you notice?”

Keep Singing,

Here's your name pic

Literacy is communication. We read and write to communicate something. When reading text, we read to decipher not sounds and words, but meaning. As I write this blog, I am not concerned with how you pronounce the words I write, but I hope that you understand the message I am trying to convey. Spoken language is part of communication and also Literacy instruction. I feel that the integration of Music and Movement with Literacy instruction is a natural combination, since I see Music and Movement as other forms of communication.

A common starting point of communication in our culture is the handshake. Our first Literacy lessons involved shaking hands, looking at another person’s eyes, and saying “Good morning, (that person’s name).” We use our right hands to shake. Learning left from right is foundational to the left-to-right directionality we use when reading and writing. And learning each other’s names is not only a good community-building activity, but it will also help with name recognition and future literacy lessons. You may want to reinforce these lessons at home. When introducing your children to new people, encourage them to shake hands.

Keep singing,

Hello Children’s House Families:

One morning each week I spend time with your child’s Children’s House classroom leading a Music and Movement lesson. During the lesson we sing, dance, and have a lot of fun. Many students try to arrive extra early on “Risa Day” because they don’t want to miss any songs. After moving and grooving, I lead literacy lessons in small groups during work time. Each week we use one of the songs we sang as our text.

I always welcome family volunteers, and there are many ways you might be able to help. Some jobs can be done at home like filling the folders with papers, and preparing materials by hole punching, cutting, and taping. If you would be able to help with the folders and materials, or if you have a musical talent you would like to share in class, please email me. More importantly, I encourage you to observe your children on days when they have Music and Literacy.

I hope to see many of you at our sing-a-long Friday, Sept. 4, at 10:45 a.m.

Keep Singing,

My schedule of Music and Movement lessons this year is:
Sassafras – 8:15-9 a.m.

Black Cherry – 8:15-9 a.m.

Sapphire – 8:35-9:05 a.m.
Emerald – 9:05-9:35 a.m.

Poplar –  8:15-9 a.m.
Sycamore – 9:05-9:35 a.m.

Maple – 8:15-9 a.m.