Question and Answer: How do I get kids to learn the words?

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It is every Primary Music leaders nightmare. All the kids are up on the stand, the piano starts, you give the kids the signal and the words come out a whisper, a mumble, or just quiet because they don’t know the words.


The first response to this nightmare is ‘drill the words!’. Put the words on the board and sing them again and again. Practice makes perfect!

There is a problem with this method.

Kids and Leaders don’t like to drill

Kids get bored. Leaders get bored. And it affects how the kids feel about the song. They can become indifferent or worse, hostile to the songs which are suppose to help them feel the spirit and learn principles of truth. There has to be another way. Luckily, there is!

Backdoor Method 

The backdoor method is this. If you engage the children in a multiple of different ways with the song, the words slip in the backdoor. The kids seem to just magically know the words, because their brain learned them subconsciously while they were actively engaged in a variety of activities with the song.

Engage the children with the beat or the rhythm using items around the house for sound exploration, patterns to the beat, or rhythm patterns. Use two pencils for rhythm sticks, a small plastic container with a lid and some rice for a shaker, an egg carton and a pencil for a guiro, or a chopstick and a metal bowl for a ding sound. Wave a scarf or tissue to the beat high, then low. If the children are older, use codes and puzzles as they hear the song again and again. What word is missing? What are all of these letters (beginning letters of each word)? If I add a yellow dot for every word beginning with A, how many dots do I have to add?

Remember… the words of the song ride on the beat and the rhythm. While you are “paying attention” to those, the words of the song slip through the back door of a child’s mind, line upon line, little by little.

Eventually, as you do three or four different activities with the same song, the child “somehow” knows the song without having to drill it.

For the Primary Music leader, it feels like a leap of faith to not really always work on the words, but I promise it works!

2 Responses

  1. Christine Nelson

    I love what you do! It makes teaching the music so much more fun and makes the music come alive as the children learn the rhythm actions and their eyes sparkle with enthusiasm! Thank you for all you do! I’m just beginning to do a virtual singing time in January and it is a bit overwhelming to me! I appreciate any ideas you share!!

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Christine,
      Virtual singing time for me takes a bit more time than an in person singing time, but the children in my ward really seem to be enjoying it. Of course, it is up to the parents to offer the resource, but at least it is there each week.

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