Little Johnny Brown has a beautiful melody and contains plenty of opportunities for call and response in both melody and in actions. Little Johnny Brown is a song that comes from the Gullah people of Georgia, and “Much of this music is based on play parties and singing games that is rooted in West African traditions.” (2021, Association for Cultural Equity)
As with nearly every folk song that exists, there are several different versions. Here are few videos of the versions that I like and think would work well in the classroom.
PLAYING THE CIRCLE GAME
No matter the song version you choose, the circle game is played in much the same way:
- Students stand in a circle and one is given a scarf, handkerchief, or any other square piece of fabric you have on hand.
- Little Johnny Brown, spread your comfort down…
- Chosen student kneels down and spreads the fabric flat on the ground in the center of the circle
- Fold another corner Johnny Brown…(repeats 4x)
- Student folds a corner of the fabric to the center one at a time
- Take it to your friend Johnny Brown…
- Student gives the folded fabric to another student
- Show them a motion Johnny Brown…
- Student performs a motion of their choice and the rest of the students copy it
- Lope like a buzzard Johnny Brown…
- The two students circle each other like buzzards circling prey, having exchanged places by the end and ready to repeat the song with a new student in the center
SUGGESTIONS FOR ROTE LEARNING
- Have students make a circle, with you as the teacher in the center with the fabric
- Sing the song as you perform the motions
- Once you’ve handed off the fabric to a student, ask the class to start singing along, but only on the words “Johnny Brown”
- After the fabric has been passed a couple more times, ask students to sing the section Little Johnny Brown, spread your comfort down
- Continue with this pattern with each verse until students are singing the whole song independently
- Afterward, you can break the students into two groups, one as the call and the other as the response
As a shy person, I’m keenly aware of the anxiety that can come along with being the center of attention in any game or song. An intentionally inclusive classroom environment can go a long way in easing these anxieties in your shy students. Here are a few suggestions:
- Give shy students extra time to observe.
- Ask for volunteers before the game starts, then ask students to pass the fabric to those volunteers first. By the time they’ve cycled through the more outgoing students, the shy students will be more prepared to join in.
- Start the lesson with a model learning group
- If you have a large group of shy students in a class, a model learning group might work well. Model learning group (a term I just made up) means a small group of volunteer students who are willing (and excited) to try out the game first while the rest of the class observes. This also creates a great outlet for students who need extra attention because they will receive that needed positive attention as they show others how the game is played.
- Break into smaller groups.
- Little Johnny Brown works perfectly for groups of four. Instead of having one student control the fabric, have each student take turns folding in a corner so that they’re working collaboratively.