Song Planner

Dear friends,

Courtney Edman created this great spreadsheet for planning your songs in a Multiple Intelligences, full of variety, reach every learner kind of way.  I thought I would share it here (with her permission).

Song Planner-2

Sit down and plan activities that match the feel and mood of the song… strong or gentle, flowing or marked, full of passion or full of tenderness.  Try to get an activity in each of the categories of how people take in information (which she has listed out for you on this planning worksheet).

Plan two or three or more songs at a time.

Then, when you want to teach 2 or 3 songs for 5 minutes each in your singing time, you go to your planning sheets and choose different activities for that Sunday.  I would try to contrast your activities (i.e. don’t do two rhythm stick activities the same day, or two silent video activities the same day, etc.) for that Sunday.


34 Responses

  1. Sonja Simmons

    Sharla, I purchased your workshop today and it was worth every penny. Thank you! I also have your book, which is also valuable. So, I have been trying to wrap my brain around your approach. I am pretty new to this calling and I have struggled a lot in hard and good ways. There have been a flood of creative ideas from so many people on the Internet, it is truly amazing.! At the same time, I have found myself having a bit of paralysis of analysis. So, for my clarification: I notice that your approach does NOT have any type of “choose and review” games or activities. It seems you are choosing about 3 different songs/verses each week and weaving them throughout the year with different learning experiences. Am I understanding that correctly? Also, how much prep time is appropriate per week to work on this calling? I find that I spend hours and hours and it doesn’t seem to be sustainable. Thank you! Your experiences and knowledge are groundbreaking and I appreciate you sharing so that we all may benefit. Sonja

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Sonja,
      Great questions. Thanks for asking!
      1. “It seems you are choosing about 3 different songs/verses each week and weaving them throughout the year with different learning experiences.” Yes, that’s the goal eventually (you have to build up slowly to this I think!!!), but if you are short on time during a week, you can definitely do a choose and review. I find teaching 3 songs a week, that you teach lots of songs in addition to the Sacrament meeting program songs. I’m trying to give the children experiences with the song. Choose and review activities often seem to be experiences that don’t have anything to do with the song, but they can be fun for the children.

      2. How much prep time is appropriate during the week? Once you have filled out the planning sheet for about three or four songs you have to teach that year, you have enough material to teach for three months. Your only prep time would be to gather the materials for that day. However, that said, you need to go slowly and line upon line as you learn to teach this way. If for no other reason, you have to acquire some tools like rhythm sticks and paper plates and shakers.

      Here are three different Sundays that you could eventually do:
      I’ll choose these three songs to focus on.
      Choose the Right, Nephi’s Courage, and I Like to look for rainbows (When I Am Baptized)

      1st weeK:
      Nephi’s Courage – body rhythm pattern (more complicated for older) Prep – practice the pattern at home.
      Choose the Right – Melody Map Prep – draw it out.
      When I am Baptized – Song Story Prep- read through it or make it up

      2nd week:
      Nephi’s Courage – Crack the Code with first letters of each word for Older, Action Word Actions for younger. Prep – draw out the first letters on different pieces of paper for older.
      Choose the Right – Windwands or ribbons, more complicated pattern for Older. Prep – practice the pattern at home.
      When I am Baptized – Shaker pattern. Prep – practice at home (perhaps make the shakers out of plastic Easter Eggs, glue, and duct tape).

      3rd Week
      Nephi’s Courage – Concentration Match it Game. Prep – get two pictures of Nephi, two pictures of Laman and Lemuel, two pictures of Nephi and Laban, two pictures of a sword, two pictures of some brass plates. Sing while the children choose two numbers to see if they match.
      Choose the Right – Rhythm stick activity. Prep – practice at home (maybe make or buy rhythm sticks)
      When I am Baptized – Put the words/ pictures in order. Sing only this word. words for Older, pictures for younger. Prep – Older – print out major words and tape them around the room. Younger – Print out pictures of a rainbow, rain, earth, a child at baptism, a happy child and tape them around the room. Children bring them up and put them in order as you sing the song over and over, then they sing only those words that are up on the board.

      Does that make sense? At first the prep is gathering materials like ribbons, rhythm sticks, shakers, paper plates, etc. But then it is just practicing whatever pattern you do with those things at home. The visuals take some time. Luckily there are lots of resources online at the church website. (Pictures use a ton of ink so I would take them to a print shop .)

      Word of warning. This kind of music sharing time comes gradually, line upon line. Maybe the first month you only do one or two songs. Maybe the second month you buy paper plates and use them. Maybe the third month you make shakers and use them. You will definitely burn out if you don’t follow the principle of line upon line, precept upon precept.

      You sound like a dedicated and resourceful music leader. Thank you for learning new things. Thank you for trying to make it the best you can for the children. What a blessing you are! Recognize these are only suggestions and that there are many ways to do things. These types of things do seem to work with children, but you have your own personality and way of doing things also. I wish you so many good experiences as you teach. Thank you for all you do!

      • Leighann

        This is awesome detail! Thank you for answering Sonja’s question so thoroughly! It was so helpful for me!

  2. Sonja Simmons

    Sharla, Thank you for the detailed response! That really helps. I have to say that yesterday was my best singing time since being in the calling. By that, I mean the children really responded well to the songs and activities. This was good because the Stake Primary Presidency was there and I was pretty nervous. I incorporated what I have been learning from you and it is starting to take off. And you are right about this taking time to learn. Thanks for that reminder. Thanks a million!

  3. Natalie

    Hi Sharla. I feel like I am learning so much, thanks to all your work and the sharing of what you’ve learned. I’ve been incorporating your techniques and loving the results. I just finished your book last night and have a question about planning for review. When you have a song with more than one verse, do you review all the verses together during the review month, or do you still review them separately? (Trying to figure out how to teach and review multiple verses with the amount of time we have :).) Thank you in advance!

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Natalie,
      You can choose to do all of the verses, or just focus on a verse that seems to need more experience with the children. If you are going to sing all the verses together eventually, you might want to devote a couple of Sundays spaced out over a month or two where you sing one verse right after the other. These are suggestions only and whatever works for you is great!

  4. Sarah

    How do you handle all the props and passing them out in primary? I watched your workshop and love it! But I wondered how you keep things organized. Do you have a box of scarfs, sticks, shakers, etc at the front that teachers help you pass out? Do you keep them in class bins and have the teacher pass to their class?

    • Sharla Dance

      I only use one or very seldom two kinds of props per Sunday. If I use paper plates, I put enough for the class under the teacher’s chair. If I use wind wands or rhythm sticks, my pianist and a counselor help pass them out while i continue to do the pattern with the children. (I demonstrate it while they hold their imaginary prop first.) At home, I have a box of rhythm sticks, a bag of windwands, a bag of scarves, and a stack of paper plates. I usually only bring one of those per Sunday, plus a poster or something else. Thanks for asking!

      • Reva C

        The simplest suggestions make a big difference. I’ve used plates before and found the passing out issue to be a big problem in my large primary. It was very noisy and chaotic, creating an atmosphere not conducive to learning. One of my 8 yr old boys tried them for a minute, then said “I don’t like this, I’m not doing it.” and handed them back. His whole class followed suit. Obviously NOT the goal I had in mind. When I read your suggestion above to put them underneath the teacher’s chairs, I had a light bulb moment ” I could ask B (the boy who refused to participate) do that during prelude!” He was very happy to do that and enlisted his class, the did it quickly and efficiently. They all participated happily in the activity- I think because it was less crazy chaos and because they felt an investment in the activity. Sometimes the key to success is in the small details!

        • Sharla Dance

          Dear Reva, This was brilliant. What a great moment. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sarah

    Also, I love that silent video you did in the workshop. How can I find that video? Can you link it?

    • Sharla Dance

      The video is the Light the World video from Christmas put out by I started at 41 seconds.
      Thanks for asking!

  6. Gayla Millington

    Sharla, you are a blessing straight from heaven!! The lives of the primary kids and those of us that are using your methods are being incredibly blessed because of your efforts and inspiration. Thank you!
    I have not had the privilege of attending one of your workshops, so I’m wondering – what song did you use with the “silent video” at your workshop (referenced above). I’ve looked at the video (Light the World) and it is so beautiful it would probably work with several songs but I’m curious what one you sang with it.

    Thank you, again!

    • Sharla Dance

      Hi Gayla, I’m sorry this has taken so long. I sang I’m Trying to be Like Jesus with that video starting at 41 seconds. Thank you for asking!

  7. Farah Thompson

    Sharla, I purchased the video of your Payson, Utah, workshop. I loved it. After two years in this calling I knew I needed to do a better job teaching these darling children. I found your ‘Song Planner’ and planned out my eight program songs! Yes, it took weeks to plan these out and it was a lot of work, but I have my Sunday’s planned for the next four or five months!

    The first week I taught “Choose the Right” with the melody map and I couldn’t believe how engaged the children (and teachers) were. They all learned the verse so quickly and then boom, I moved to a different song with a different activity. Needless to say – it was a great success and I even had a teacher approach me after Primary and tell me how much she enjoys singing time and how well I interact with the kiddos! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love my calling. After three weeks, utilizing your methods, I feel like I am really teaching the songs – especially, the spirit of the songs, instead of just doing an activity that was fun.

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Farah, I just re-read this comment and it warmed my heart to hear of your successes. It helps me to keep going!

  8. Florence

    I like the idea of this song planner. I must admit I am a bit clueless how to fill it out. Would having your book help more?
    Also I am on your email list but the only thing I have received is when you are doing workshops.
    I surely do appreciate your hard work and ideas.

    • Sharla Dance

      Yes, the book would help, but you could also scroll through many of the activities on the blog and gather ideas, too.

      Thank you for the prompting to add more to the email I send out. I’ve been the night time helper for a new born in the past two months, and I’ll admit I’ve been just surviving. I’m sending one out this week on a Mother’s Day activity to put in your tool box.

      Take care, Sharla

  9. Edyth Lang

    Sharla, I am sorry that the English language has only one word for my deep gratitude for your support-thanks! I was wondering about repeating activities. You mention that one should repeat the song every 4-6 weeks in a different way than how it was taught, but when my children learned the paper plate routine to “My Life is a Gift” they loved doing it over and over again even without the plates. Should I shelf such a fun activity in an attempt to bring different experiences with the music?

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Edith, Don’t shelf the activity! But do mix it in with other activities, too. This has two benefits: 1. It meets the requirement of the brain that is searching for variety, and 2. It helps the children to not “have to” do that activity when they sing the song in another setting like Sacrament meeting.

      Thank you for asking!

  10. Florence Hathcock

    Thank you, for your response, Sharla. I guess what I am really not sure about what is considered Kinesthetics verses living music, concrete representation verses visual intrigue.
    I have to tell you about an experience I had on Sunday. You have said that even if the child isn’t singing the song is going in the back door. I was talking to my senior primary about how important Primary songs are in our lives. How we remember them for the rest of our lives. Even if they are singing with me the songs are going in their minds. One of the boys who never ever sings said he likes think the words in his mind. I thought, YES!!!! He is getting it.
    Thank you for all your insight and encouragement.

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Florence,
      Thank you for sharing this experience. It makes my heart tender.

      About the different areas… here’s a brief, super condensed explanation

      Living Music – melody maps, rhythm bands activities, tone bell/hand bell activities, rhythm stick activities
      Concrete Representation of the Words – Draw the song, Action Word Actions, Sign Language
      Visual Intrigue – Concentration Match it with pictures, Put the pictures in order, Color Code, Silent Video, Picture Puzzles, Wind wands (because of the color and watching)
      Kinesthetics – any purposeful movement to a beat like paper plate patterns, shaker patterns, rhythm stick patterns, body rhythm patterns, action word actions, wind wands, paper cup patterns

      Hope this helps!

  11. Julie

    I purchased your workshop and LOVED it!! I was wondering how to get signed up for your emails? newsletter? anything and everything you do?

    I also wondered if you could give me your thoughts on a SMALL primary. 4 junior primary and about 14 senior primary. We currently all meet together for singing time. Should we do junior singing time separate if there are only 4 kids? Do you have any posts on a combined primary?

    You are wonderful, talented, funny, and a great example and so generous to give of your time.

    Thanks, Julie

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Julie, There is a “critical mass” (as the researchers call it) of children needed to make a classroom group activity (aka singing time) work. That number seems to be about 10. So your 4 younger children will probably do better in a combined singing time with a few accommodations. 1. Plan your singing time for the older children since there are more of that age. 2. Each week ask a different child or two to help out the 4 younger children. 3. Plan a simplified activity for the 4 younger children that the two helpers will help you lead. Make sure it doesn’t include written words. That’s sometimes hard because the older children need at least one or two activities a week that include written words.

      I will be thinking on a series of posts for a combined primary. Thank you for the idea!

      • Julie

        Thank you. You are so awesome to give each post your attention and take the time to answer each of us. I am so grateful.

  12. LeAnne Hansen

    I’m a new Primary chorister, and I keep reading about a video. Is it still available for purchase? Where can I find it? Your ideas have been a great help for me to “hit the ground running!”

    • Sharla Dance

      Yes, the video is available on this site. Just put it in the search bar and hopefully it will come up. (My tech guy is in charge of that, so I’m not exactly sure where!)

  13. Karin

    Sharla, I have been chorister a couple of times, but always felt like I was missing something. My training is in vocal pedagogy, so I felt like I had done a lot of research into childhood singing, but still, I wasn’t quite there. Sometimes singing time was great and we had a wonderful flow, the children felt the Spirit and so did I. But there were still many times where that didn’t happen. Then I found your site. Thank you! This pulls together so many things that I had learned in a way that worked wonderfully in Primary. One thing I am wondering is what is the Popcorn branch activity? I teach a combined primary (about 13 children) and we need lots of variety and movement to keep them engaged. I have loved all the activities I have tried so far and am looking for some good Nature Awareness ones for the entire group. I have looked in the book, the book’s website appendix, and searched everywhere else I can think to look (youtube, here, etc). Can you explain what that activity is? Thank you!

    • Sharla Dance

      Popcorn branch… take a branch and glue popcorn on the branch. It really does look like flowers!

  14. Charlene Hawkins

    I met a chorister in my daughters ward who was awesome and she gave me your info. Because of her I accepted the calling and just became the chorister in my ward (after 6 mos of searching by the bishopric and 2 people declined). I really need all the help and ideas I can get to help the children learn the music and make it become a part of them. I’m interested in your workshop and/or book. Please let me know where I can purchase or access them.
    Last Sunday was my first day using a few of the technique’s. It was rewarding because I didn’t fail and was able to keep the children engaged, but I still need more help. That was only one day. The children have been given activities during singing time the last several months and don’t pay attention to the music since it has been taught by the Primary presidency who doesn’t know too much about music. There were 13 children in junior primary and 4 in senior. I hope to hear from you for more info.

    Thank you,

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Charlene, Please let me know how things are going. (I didn’t reply sooner due to a series of surgeries.) I’d love to help with ideas and share some of the things that have been successful over the years. We are also filming the workshop being held in Logan on November 2nd from 9 to 12. I will post that when it has been videoed and edited.

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