As promised, today’s post is a back to school song and name game that can be used for upper elementary. However, I should point out that (in my opinion) matching an activity to a specific grade level depends largely on the environment in which you teach. Personally, if I were to teach this to upper elementary students, I would encourage individual goofiness, as opposed to playing it straight-laced like I would with second grade students. The video below gives you a good example of elementary students having fun with this song and showing off their personalities.


The teacher sings “Hey Johnny”, replacing the name of Johnny with a student’s name. The named student then sings the part of the “soloist”. Now that the students has been named, the whole class can join in. The soloist will then replace “Mary” with another student’s name. The game continues until all students have been named.
If you plan to teach the blues scale to your students this year, this song would be a great introduction. Because all students are actively engaged in the song, they’ll really get a feel for the blues scale. After they’ve played the game, you can start the lesson by asking them what they noticed about the song. Ask if they heard any notes that made the song sound more interesting or unique. From there, you can discuss how Bb helps to create the E blues scale.
I’ve created a short playlist on my Youtube channel featuring several blues backing tracks. Have students move to the beat as they listen to the music. This would also be a good time to introduce them to some of the well known blues artists.

The blues are such a fun way to incorporate improvisation into your classroom. Plus, as long as you set it up correctly, your students will never fear hitting a wrong note. Here’s how you do it:
1. Set up your Orff instruments with the bars E, D, G, A, and Bb. Remove all other bars completely. Having a limited set of bars means that your students won’t feel overwhelmed with too many choices. You could always use less or more depending on your students’ abilities.
2. Play the following video and/or accompany the students yourself on guitar or piano.

3. Model your own improvisation first. Start out simple, with a steady beat, then gradually add different pitches and rhythms.

4. Now it’s their turn. Tell them that there are no rules! They should simply play what sounds good to them, even if that means playing the steady beat on one bar continuously. Emphasize that there are NO wrong notes, therefore, they should just feel free to enjoy the process of music making.*tip* give the whole class a chance to try it at the same time using the handles of their mallets. This will reduce the noise, but still allow them to get a feel for the placement of the bars and the steady beat of the accompaniment. Afterward, you can ask for the first volunteer to play solo.

5. Record them playing (if allowed) and let them hear it. Your students will be amazed with the music they made with only a few notes. This confidence boost will help them feel more comfortable with improvisation in the future.

What did you think of today’s lesson idea? How would you modify it to work for your own classroom setting? I’d love to hear your ideas!

6 Responses

  1. I love that video of the children's choir at the beginning- they are having so much fun and they are clearly so comfortable with each other! This is a great "name game" song and I'm looking forward to using it in my classes. Thank you for putting this together!

  2. I just used this song and the chord changes video this morning with my 7th graders. It went great – this was our first time playing barred instruments this year and I think it was a great way to get started. I'm going to expand on it next week and they'll all get to practice improv-ing over the changes.

    Funny story – when I turned on the changes for the first time, a student stood up with his hand over his face and I thought he was being silly and was about to start beatboxing over it, so I asked him to sit down…turns out he had a nosebleed. Oops!

    1. Congrats on a successful lesson!

      Lol, it's impossible to be prepared for everything! Usually, when my students came to me with a nosebleed, they'd already tried to stop it with various parts of their shirt. It was a mess 🙂

  3. I know a different arrangement of this song that I learned in a workshop sometime…it's similar with the wording and then at the end the person who answered the phone improvises an 8 beat rhythm on a drum and the class answers that person with an 8 beat response …sometimes on the ground, or on other drums.