Year 2 – Songs, Rests and Games

This morning’s lesson is with a Year 2 Class that has a high proportion (40%) of children with SEN of one sort or another. We begin with a new song, Tony Chestnut.

Tony Chestnut knows I love him

Tony knows, Tony knows

Tony Chestnut knows I love him

That’s what Tony knows”

I sing it a couple of times and then begin to teach it one phrase at a time.

After doing this, I ask how many phrases the song has. The class stand up and I ask “On your body, do you have a toe? A knee? A chest? An eye? A nose?” For some the penny is dropping. I begin to show the actions and everyone joins in. I have to explain that ‘nut’ can mean ‘head’. I ask “Which two phrases are the same?” We sing the song a few more times together with the actions. It’s a good active start to the lesson (whole body movement and singing). It’s also something new so it has a freshness to it. At this age (6/7 years old), no one ever complains about the lyrics. I used to think that boys might not want to sing about loving Tony Chestnut, but they never seem to mind.

I then move on to a perennial favourite of mine that I always do at the start of the lessons from Year 2 to Year 5. It’s a reflection of the fact that the Jolly Music series of books formed the core of my practise for many years and still does to some extent. I sing ‘Hello Everyone’ on two pitches, first (starting high) ‘so – mi – so so – mi’ and then starting low (mi – so – mi mi – so). I draw attention to the two pitch-pictures that I have drawn on the board to illustrate these two tunes. We play a guessing game where the class have to tell me which one I sang. At first there are a lot of mistakes. It’s partly because some children just put a hand up and take a 50/50 guess without thinking and it’s partly because they aren’t actually listening carefully. I play the game a second time after urging them to really listen and notice if the pitch goes up or down at the start. They do a lot better the second time. There has been quite a lot of this lack of engagement across the school in the last week or two. It’s as if the gloomy, grey weather and the very long term (15 weeks) are starting to take their toll.

We then look at a list of three titles: Pease Pudding Hot, Jelly on a Plate and Hot Cross Buns. I ask a child to choose one and we sing Pease Pudding together. They know this song from Year 1. It has some actions that fit into the rests. We swap the actions for finger-on-lips and then we replace that with a rest-gesture (hands coming apart in silence, sort of the opposite of a clap). We then clap the rhythm of the song as we sing and include the rest-gesture each time. This gradual sequence helps to keep everyone on board. We repeat the process for the other two songs. The children always sit with a particular partner in music, it’s my way of helping the less engaged or less aware or less able to be supported. I hold up a piece of paper with the rhythm of Hot Cross Buns written on it and ask the pairs of ‘music partners’ which song has this rhythm. It causes quite a bit of excitement. This knowledge is within their grasp but it will take a bit of decoding and talk just to be sure they are right. I repeat this exercise for the other two songs.

There is an ongoing effort on my part to involve all the children all the time. At this younger age it can be especially difficult to tell why someone in the class is not accessing a particular activity or not succeeding at it. Perhaps there is a specific SEN issue or is it just that, with English as an Additional Language (EAL), their cognition is overwhelmed at times? Perhaps differing levels of maturity are relevant? Is a child simply tired that day for some reason? Certainly, on my part, I am pouring energy into the session and working to keep all actively involved.

We stand up and make a circle. Last week we each had a plastic cup, in a circle, and – with some practise – everyone was able to pass it on to the next person every time there was a rest in Hot Cross Buns. We are about to do this same exercise but with any or all of the three songs that we’ve been looking at. It is fun to do and there is a nice sense of all working together. Someone even says that we are like a machine, because all the cups move together in a strikingly coordinated way. We play a knock-out game too. Everyone holds out a hand and while we sing the song I tap each hand on the beat around the circle. If your hand is tapped on the rest then you are out. One child is very upset to be knocked out in this way. There can be only one winner! All of this period of 20 minutes or so has been an intensive reinforcement of understanding phrasing, understanding what rests are, singing in tune, keeping the beat and working together.

We remain in a circle and I bounce a ball to the beat for everyone to catch and pass back on the beat: “Bounce high, bounce low, bounce the ball to Tokyo”. It’s a three-note song (la/so/mi) subconsciously preparing the eventual introduction of a third pitch (la) to their own awareness. We finish by singing Lucy Locket (another three-note song) and playing a simple game where one child walks around the circle with a bean-bag (the ‘pocket’) and drops it when the song ends. It is then picked up and a chase ensues. It’s like ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ if you know that game. Some who had been less engaged are now very excited to be singing and playing this lively game. In this way, we can ensure all children sing, by making it fun. I encourage all to show the beat by patting knees and then crossing hands to pat again. I choose a child who is good at this to play the slentho.



I acquired this instrument, a member of the Gamalan family, from Nikhil Dally. He is a superb music teacher of young children and I have learned a lot from him over the years. He runs Stepping Notes in Surrey. The criss-cross knee-patting is a perfect preparation for playing the two notes needed to accompany Lucy Locket. One hand strikes the bar with the beater while the other hand dampens the bar that has just been struck, necessitating a criss-cross action with the hands.

It has been an hour of constant music-making with some short periods of intellectualising (reading rhythms, talking about phrases, noticing the similarities between the three songs, naming pitches etc). Arguably, the songs chosen for this lesson are quite dull, mainly two or three note songs with just one five-note song at the start. However, what is simple can be sung accurately (rhythmically and pitch-wise). It is just like doing 8 + 5 in maths. We start simple to ensure solid foundations.

The wise musicians are those who play what they can master” Duke Ellington

Often, I do include a more complex song that is related to a topic that the Year Group are learning about but I did not do that this term.