If I Listen with My Heart
The brain craves variety, but needs repetition
Repeating that one more time: the brain craves variety, but needs repetition.
How can I repeat a song with the children enough times
that it will go deep into their hearts,
yet use enough variety so they don’t get bored?
Try using the Multiple Intelligence approach.
What is that? Consider this: Use an activity that uses movement one week, then use another activity the next week that has a visual puzzle. The following week use an activity that use words (concrete words for younger children, not reading), and the week after use a movement pattern that tests the logic side of the children’s brains. (Those are just examples of what you can do.) Especially if the activity reflects the mood and the message of the song, it can be very powerful for the children.
Below are at least a month’s worth of those kinds of activities for just this song.
Before we start, though, there’s another reason, for this particular song, to teach in so many different ways. A child’s voice has to learn how to jump from one note to another that is far away (especially a note upward). It takes practice for the vocal cords to do it well. This piece has LOTS of jumps for the children’s voices, so we need to present the song in at least 4 or 5 different ways so that the children can have practice. With variety in the presentations, they don’t even know that jumping from note to note is one thing they are practicing!
Verse 1 – Younger
Week 1 – Sway and Freeze
Week 2 – Melody Map with pictures
Week 3 – Action Word Actions
Week 4 – Paper Plates
Week 5 – Handbell Harmony
Verse 1 – Older
Week 1 – Word Puzzle
Week 2 – Windwand patterns
Week 3 – 8 Puzzle Match Up
Week 4 – Paper Plates
Week 5 – Handbell Harmony
The beauty of all of these different activities is:
- It uses different parts of the children’s brains
- The children are all engaged and participating
- The attitude they have about learning this song is positive, interested, and engaged
- They get the repetition they need without drilling.
- It is fun!
I am also going to teach the 2nd and 3rd verse of this song, but I will teach them as separate entities. They don’t get mixed up in the brain that way, and the children grasp the concept of the new verse as a separate thing from the first verse. That’s especially important for this song which tells of 3 ways to hear the Savior’s voice… one concept per verse.
I am teaching verse 2 so that we can use it for March, the month we concentrate on listening to the prophet.
Note: The links will be active for verse 2 and 3 at the end of January.
Verse 2 – Younger
(I will be teaching this verse on the prophet during March as we focus on following the prophet as the theme of Sharing Time.)
Week 1 – Tap, tap, swish, swish, and Partner swing as an extender
Week 2 – Concentration Match It Game with pictures
Week 3 – Paper Cup Tap Pattern
Verse 2 – Older
Week 1 – Melody Map and key words
Week 2 – Concentration Match It Game with pictures
Week 3 – Paper Cup Tap Pattern, and Take it in, Take it out as an extender
I will be teaching Verse 3 about the Holy Ghost in the month of April
Verse 3 – Younger
Week 1 – Windwands
Week 2 – Action Word Actions
Week 3 – Magic Crayon
Verse 3 – Older
I will be teaching a harmony partner song for the 3rd verse to the Senior Primary. The first week I will be showing a video from the Church website starting with the 3rd verse: Click here to see that.
I will be singing the harmony partner song (up by the end of January on this site) with the video as they watch,
then I will continue on with these activities plus teaching that partner song to the older children.
Week 1 – Envelope Game for Verse 3
Week 2 – Bar Graph of Partner Song with key words
Week 3 – Both Songs together (Melody verse 3 and Harmony Partner Song for verse 3)
This piece would be beautiful with a flute obbligato playing with the children. Here is one idea (up by the end of March).
Thanks for sharing this! Do you have any tips for a combined Jr. and sr primary?
I have the same question as Ally. I have already taught the first verse to the kids last week. My plan was to teach a new verse each week so by the end of January, the kids would know all 3 verses. And I can teach the new song for February. I’m new at being a chorister… so maybe this plan is not the best. Should I only teach one verse per month and somehow squeeze the other verses when learning other songs throughout the year? What’s your recommendation?
Dear Aline, To really know something (and to know a song so that you can remember it in 8 months when the review for the program might start), you have to experience different parts of it at least 3 to 4 times, with a short space of time in between to process it. Weekly Primary music gives you the chance to process with time in between, but you need to have at least 3 different ways of learning the song. I would recommend sticking with the same verse, but just presenting it with a different activity. The children may seem like they know it deeply after one week, but in all my study of the brain, you won’t retain something in the memory or the soul if you don’t have multiple exposures to it. Great questions.
Hi there, I am a little confused by your response. The way I read this blog is to present all three verses to the children every week but use a different activity for each verse to add variety and distinguish between the different verses. But in your response to Alline you said stick with one verse? Can you clarify? I’m new to this too and a friend just told me about your blog and book and I’m so excited to learn! Thank you!
Thanks for asking. I only teach one verse at a time. I am teaching verse one for this song in January, verse two in March (because of the theme of prophets), and verse three in April.
When you have mixed ages, you need to make sure you have something that challenges the older children at the same time as you have something for the younger children. If I were doing wind wands or ribbons, I would have a complicated pattern for the older posted on the wall, and I would ask the younger children to move with us as you sing and move(knowing they won’t get the pattern). Then ask the younger children to follow your movements (much simplified) while you ask the older children to go ahead and do the complicated pattern you just practiced (maybe with one of the children leading it), and you lead the younger children.
If I were doing an 8 puzzle match up, the younger children could pick the puzzle pieces first and put them up, then the older children would have to figure out how they matched together.
If I were doing a story song, or silent video, it would work for both groups. Thanks for asking!
Hi Sharla, I’ve just finally visited your blog after seeing all your rave reviews on the LDS Primary Choristers page. I am a counselor in the presidency currently filling in as the music leader and although I am musical and have done singing time many many times I always need new ideas! I’m just curious as to whether you spend your whole 20 minutes on the one activity and the one verse/song each week? I know that I get bored just doing one song for the whole 20 minutes let alone the kids! In saying this I haven’t tried any of your ideas yet so maybe it will take up the whole 20 minutes with ease 🙂
Dear Tyne, I just outlined what my singing time looks like for younger children to Camille under the post Sway and Freeze. I only spend 5 minutes to 7 minutes per song in a singing time. Wiggle song to help the children focus on me, Activity with the song, immediately move to another song for 5 to 7 minutes, and if there is time, I do another activity with a 3rd song (Article of Faith, new birthday song, song that will be used in Sharing time later in the month, etc.) Research shows that adult interest wanes after 10 minutes, and children are less than that! That’s why I only spend 5 to 7 minutes per song activity. I come prepared with three songs and their three different activities. Thank you for asking!
I love this blog, I just found it last week and it’s changing how I handle singing time.
My mind is a little blown (:P) that you don’t teach the whole song in one month. If you teach one verse per month, how do you get through all the songs (and verses of each song) by the time you get to the primary program? Is it because you don’t spend the whole 20 minutes for one song?
Dear Melissa, Great question! I am a brain researcher (how we learn best, especially children) and I know that the brain retains things best if:
The activity is engaging and really applies to what you are learning (that’s why some activities are more worthy than others… they relate to the song and give the mood and feel of the song better)(Another principle is that the feel of the activity stays longer in our memory than the content of the activity, so participating and engaged children learn best and feel great about what they are learning).
The song is presented in short bursts (5 to 7 minutes – the brain’s attention span for a child) every week (the brain needs a time to sleep to assimilate whatever has been presented), with an activity that is contrasting (the brain craves variety, but needs repetition).
So Singing Time and time to present all the songs? 2 to 3 songs every Sunday (which gives time for wiggle songs, too, for the younger children). We learn at least 2 songs a month. January to August – 8 months = 16 songs. There are 8 songs in the Primary program, and If I Listen has 3 verses, I Love to See the Temple has 2, so 11 songs plus a new birthday song, or a couple of songs to support Sharing Time.
Yes, it’s math, but I’m hoping I have given you some hope for being able to accomplish it all. In addition, the children will retain the songs longer, and have more enthusiasm for singing time because their brains are getting some of the things it needs to be successful! Thank you for asking, Take care, Sharla
If you have more ideas for scripture power I would love to see them. I also picked it for one of our extra songs. ?
I loved the idea of breaking up the verses when it applies to the topics in March and April. I am teaching the sign language with the song, and I wondered if you had some ideas of keeping them engaged? I loved all you ideas of actions to do each week, but I won’t be able to do that because of the signing we are focusing on. Thanks for your time.
Dear Joy, The wonderful thing about signing is that you can teach it and review it every time you review the song, perhaps as the opening song or reverence song. The children will actually stay more focused and engaged, and learn the song better if you mix up how you teach it, then return to the signing as you review it. The research shows the brain craves variety in order to stay focused. (See the book “Brain Rules” by a neurologist at University of Washington.) So you actually could do other activities and come back to signing, also. Always, though, you know your children best. Thanks for asking.
Sorry, I was wondering what the harmony partner song you were referring to with verse 3. Thank you so much for your ideas. You have helped me so much since I just started this journey in January and have never even learned how to lead music. But your ideas make this dreaded calling into an exciting one.
Dear Shannon, I wrote the harmony partner song and have it notated, but I will need a couple of weeks to get it up to the site. Thanks for asking! Sharla
Thank you! Thank you, Sharla, for sharing your fun and magical way of teaching music! I have been a chorister for only a year and was so very nervous about it and still get the jitters before Primary starts. I have found that although I LOVE music, I am an artist with paints and pencils more than music. I sang in choir during my Jr. and High school years, so I was exposed to music, but that was a long time ago and I never was the one teaching the song, and it took me more time to learn than the other students! I love to do fun and active ways to teach, but I get so overwhelmed when I try to find ideas that are effective, simple, fun and also make the most of the little time we have with the children. I am so excited to begin using your ideas because it fits all of those requirements and by practicing the various ways myself, I hope that I can learn the songs better myself! I try and try to memorize the words and get the beat down, but it is a challenge for me. I ordered your book and look forward to learning even more. I am beginning to have hope that I can actually do this calling and help these children know these songs so that, not only will they be ready for the program, but will know them in their hearts!
Dear Lori, I was drawn in by your note. Effective, fun, simple and active ways to teach is a great way to put it. Those things all open the door so that you can testify of what the message of the song really is. Good for you! And please keep experimenting with what will help the children experience the song in their hearts.
I’m sure you are INCREDIBLY busy just like so many of the rest of us…but are you planning on getting the lesson plans for Verses 2 and 3 (or at least 2) up on your site soon? We are starting to teach the 2nd verse of this song next week and would love to see all of your ideas because they work so well…and the kids love them! If it’s not in your plans, I totally understand! Thank you for all that you do for so many of us choristers out here!
I am wondering the same thing, Sheri!
Hi Sharla, I was wondering what the “tap, tap, swish, swish” and “partner swing” activities that you mention for week 1 of verse 2 are. Is there somewhere on your blog that you’ve already explained these terms and how to do the activities? THANK YOU a million times for all you do and for sharing with us! 🙂
Dear Nancy, I now finally have that link up. Thanks for asking!
Hi Sharla! I was wondering if you are going to post about your plans for verse 2 of If I listen with my heart. I was most curious about take it in, take it out with the paper cup pop for older children.
Dear Gina, I finally got it posted! (I just did a big workshop in Portland this last weekend and it always takes me a while to recover!)
Take care, Sharla
Also, what’s the Concentration Match It Game with Pictures? Sorry! I’m new to this — it’s kinda like a foreign language to me right now.
I am so relieved to see you are teaching it in three months. I taught verse 1 in January, but just had decided (and was bummed about it) I was going to pass on verses 2 & 3. I couldn’t figure out how to fit them in. I don’t know why I didn’t think of spreading it out this way. YAY! Thank you!!
What is your harmony partner song with the 3rd verse? Have you posted that yet? Would love to see it and incorporate it into our song practice as well. Thanks!
Dear Lori, I’m tweaking it right now so the ending is a little easier for the children. (I’m grateful I taught it and realized where I needed to change it.) I’m hoping to get it up in the next two weeks. (I’ve got to get the Stand for the Right monthly plan up first.) Take care, Sharla
Thanks Sharla. I know you are super busy. Funny how it might take a time or two to get the ‘bugs’ worked out. I am doing handbells with our Easter song, Hosanna (pg.66). I thought I had the timing all figured out with the bells, but, No! The kids are very patient though and we got it figured out. Now we know it even better because we all had to really think about it and do the counting. Thank you for your posts and your hard work.
I’m having trouble finding the harmony part for verse 3. Is there a link I’m missing somewhere?
I basically used the bass part for most of it up in the children’s octave. Would you like me to post it?
Yes, please! 🙂
You are my hero! Thanks for all you do! I am now finally going to teach the 3rd verse of If I Listen and I see just above someone asked for the 3rd verse harmony. Could you post it again since I am terrible with computers and can’t find it. Looks like you said you used the bass part. I could write one, but yours will be 100 times better. Also, what was the partner song you used? My kids love to be challenged with harmony and dynamics so I was curious what it was.
Here is the link to the harmony part. http://teachingprimarymusic.com/if-i-listen-with-my-heart-3rd-verse-harmony-part/
I can’t say enough good about this page and your teaching techniques. I was just called today, and the kids are VERY behind in their memorization. The primary president specifically stressed that I needed to get the kids up to speed as quickly as possible with their learning of the songs. I initially felt pretty intimidated by the task, but after being directed to your site by someone in a Facebook group, I have taken heart, and am quite excited now. I have loads of rich experience working in and with adult choirs, but NO experience working with children’s choirs, so these methods will be SO important for me. Your selfless service to all of us primary choristers is simply incredible. THANK. YOU.
Now, here’s a question for you: the kids have a decent familiarity with the songs right now, but are certainly not memorized…by any stretch of the imagination. At this point, they haven’t been exposed to these types of awesome memory-building tools, so they haven’t made the memory associations in their heads yet. What would you suggest, as we are now just a couple months away from the primary program, to help them get the words in their brains and make them stick?
On a side note, I believe I might know your daughter – Megan? She’s married to a guy I lived with my freshman year at BYU, and I believe worked on some show I did while I was at BYU. Small world!
Thank you again for your AMAZING, selfless service. I think I can speak for all primary choristers everywhere when I say that we are grateful beyond measure that you would share your wisdom and talents so willingly with all of us.
Megan (my niece) is married to Vince. Is that who you were thinking of?
And about memorization: We need to give the brain Multiple (not just one) memorization hooks. My suggestion is to do 1. a movement that goes with the song (the extension of that is Silent Singing), 2. a puzzle that goes with the song that is put together while you are singing, 3. Silent singing… this works well with Take it in, Take it out, or doing the movements to a song (especially action word actions), but not singing, Or singing only specific words and all the rest you sing in your head, 4. an activity like windwands, rhythm sticks, paper plates, paper cups, where the words have to slip in the backdoor as the children focus on those things.
If I were you, I would focus on 3 song for 3 weeks, doing a different activity like the ones mentioned above for each song, each week (yes 9 activities, but the children will love it. 5 minutes per song). The next 3 weeks do 3 more songs in much the same way. The children will have those 6 songs down in 6 weeks, then all you will have to do is review each song…. again with some of the same types of activities!
Thanks for asking. These types of things can be so effective! Take care, Sharla
I have a question that I need clarified. When teaching multiple verses for a song, do you teach a different verse each week and just review everything at the end of the month? Or is it ok to teach two verses for one week and just use different activities for each verse?
Week 1: if the savior stood beside me v1, I will be valiant, and gethsemane
Week 2: ITSSBM v2, I will be valiant, and gethsemane
Week 3: ITSSBM v3, I will be valiant, and gethsemane
Week 4: ITSSBM v1-3 review, I will be valiant, and gethsemane
I guess I’m just trying to get a better idea of how to use your method with teaching multiple verses. Thanks!
Thank you for asking! Here is the principle. The brain needs to hear/interact/engage with one verse of the song 3 or 4 times in a row with space in-between. (That would mean teaching the verse in a different way for 3 Sundays in a row.) At the same time, you need a contrasting song and activity during the singing time in order to have good tension/release or flow… so it can’t be the same song OR the same feel of a song. In your example above, If the Savior Stood Beside Me, I Will be Valiant, and Gethsemane is a great contrasting line up with a good flow.
But, if you only do one verse one Sunday, brain research shows that the brain will not remember that one verse very well, even if it is to the same tune. In fact, doing multiple verses one right after the other is called enmeshment… they will all start running into each other as we try to remember the song 4 months down the road. It would be best to do the 1st verse at least 3 Sundays in 3 different ways, THEN start in on the second verse, also 3 Sundays in a row in 3 different ways.
Thanks for asking!
Thank you so much, Sharla!! I just got your book and came to your workshop in Washington and have been implementing things I’ve learned! It’s made me love this calling even more, and it’s been so successful with our kids (the teachers and other leaders love it too). The example I gave is my actual lesson plan, so I’m glad it works! I’ll go back to the first verse this next Sunday and go from there 🙂
Thanks again! 🙂