How To Help Children Understand The Message Of The Songs

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How-to posts contain ideas for dealing with problems and/or meeting teaching objectives.  These posts may be updated as I discover or think of new ideas.  If you have something to add to the conversation, please leave it in the comments!

1.  By their nature, song lyrics are often worded in ways which are difficult for children to understand.  The concepts, however, are beautiful in their simplicity.  Always be mindful to help the children understand unusual phrasing and define the difficult vocabulary.  Try one of the following:

  • Before you teach the song, post vocabulary words on one side of the board and definitions on the other side of the board.  Have the children match the word to the definition.
  • Alternately (or for Junior Primary), use the same technique- but instead of matching the words to definitions, match the words to a picture which shows the concept.
  • Try scattering pictures around the room or around the board.  Ask the children to find the picture which matches each line.
  • Or, scatter some pictures which are relevant to the song and some which are not.  See if the children can decide which ones fit.
  • Teach the song line-by-line and explain the meaning in your own words as you go.
  • Ask the children to explain in their words what the overall message of the song is.
  • After the children have learned the song, post the lyrics or pictures on the board.  Read one of the lines in your own words and ask the children to tell you which of the lyrics they think you’re describing.

2.  Whenever possible (when it’s not required by the activity), don’t post the lyrics to songs!  Never incorporate the lyrics into your visual aides.  Encourage teachers and students not to use songbooks or songbook apps during Primary.  Reading the lyrics may help the children sing better, but it discourages memorization and understanding.  If the children need visual aides to help remember the lyrics, use art that conveys the concepts, not just the words (ie a bee for “be”, etc.).  I work hard to accomplish this in my song charts because I think it is so vitally important.  If, however, you’re uncomfortable using my drawings, look at the flipcharts available on the Jolly Jen site.  She uses church-distributed art almost exclusively.  Her flipcharts aren’t specific to the lyrics, but they are true to the overall theme.  And although she does include words, they can easily be cut off.  

3.  Ask the children questions about the song.  Some of the best questions are those which help them apply the principles to real-life situations.  Some methods you could use to incorporate these questions into your lesson include the following:

  • Play  Hot Potato and ask the child who is “it” to answer a question about the song.  
  • For songs with multiple verses, adapt this Rock Paper Scissors Game with questions about or themes from the song.  
  • Adapt this Who What When Where Why How game to your song.  
  • Repeat the songs in different ways using the Bird Cards, Family Cards, or Neighborhood Friends Cards and ask questions between verses.  For example, if you were teaching “The Family is of God,” you might review with the Family Cards.  As you sing in the manner of each family member, ask the children to listen for that family member’s role and give you examples after the song is over.

4.  Help the children feel the Spirit.  Explanations of the principles can inform the children’s minds, but the only way to speak to their hearts is through the Spirit. I love to use fun and games,  but that should never become the focus of your lesson.  Try to keep the children calm, focused, and smiling.  Think of President Monson telling a joke during General Conference.  Everyone smiles and chuckles, but you don’t see Uchtdorf doubled over in laughter,  Packer standing on his chair,  Holland slapping Nelson on the back or Bednar and Perry fist-bumping.

Oh, wait….

Anyway, that’s the mood I try to create in Singing Time.  It should be cheerful, but reverent enough to invite the Spirit.  
If your activity gets out of hand (and it will from time to time), be ready and willing to stop and restore reverence or change activities.  And if all else fails, just end on a reverent note.  Give the children an opportunity to expend some energy and then bring the lesson back on topic.  
Most importantly, when you DO feel the Spirit, always point it out to the children.  If they sing a song about the Savior and it gives you goosebumps, TELL THEM!  They need to learn to recognize the Spirit and gain confidence in their own ability to invite it into their lives.  

8.  Share your testimony of the principle you’re teaching.  Study it throughout the week.  Fast for understanding and inspiration at the beginning of the month.  Learn to apply it better in your own life so that you can teach with authority.

Children learn best when they make connections.  Look for ways to relate the songs you’re singing to other gospel experiences.

5.  Read the “Outline for  Sharing Time” frequently and talk to your Presidency about how they plan to teach it.  Look for opportunities to reinforce the monthly and weekly messages with new songs.  I like to use these opportunities to teach short songs or new verses to songs with which the children are already familiar.  (This is the only time I use flipcharts with words).  Even if you never plan to sing these songs again, it will expand the children’s repertoire.  And more importantly, it gives the children another perspective on and more insight into the themes they are learning.  For example, in February, the theme is “Heavenly Father Has a Plan for His Children” and the monthly song is “I Will Follow God’s Plan.”  But the fourth week, the emphasis is on agency.  You might teach the short, easy song “Choose the Right Way.”  It would only take five minutes to teach, but it’s catchy enough to stick in the children’s heads all week and reinforce the idea that agency is an integral part of Heavenly Father’s Plan.

6.  Read the “Faith In God” handbooks for Girls and Boys.  Point out when Senior Primary children have opportunities to complete requirements that relate to the theme of the song you are learning.  For example, the theme for May is “Families are blessed when they follow the prophet.”  You  might choose to teach the President Monson verse of “Follow the Prophet” and challenge the children to read a recent conference address with their families, which fulfills one of the Faith in God requirements under Learning and Living the Gospel.

7.  Read the scriptures listed on the bottom of the sheet music.  Explain the difficult words or phrases.  If necessary, give the verse context.  Briefly tell the story from which the verse comes and show pictures from the Gospel Art Kit.  Point out instances when song lyrics are quoted from the scriptures so that the children understand the Primary Songs teach gospel principles.

8.  Tell a related story or show a related video.  The church has made many free resources available for our use.  Take advantage of them.  Find a scripture story, an article from the Friend, a quote, one of the Mormon Messages or a short video from the Mormon Channel to reinforce your message and introduce the children to these resources.  I love the iPad apps for this purpose.  If your Primary is too large to see the screen, you can print the written materials or download the audio/visual materials to your laptop or a DVD.  More information on all of these resources can be found on the church’s Media Library page.  Keep in mind that your calling is to teach the songs, so be sure to keep the story or video short and relevant.  For example, the theme for the third week in February is “My body is created in the image of God.”  You might choose to teach or review the song “The Lord Gave Me a Temple” and show the short video “God’s Greatest Creation.”

9.  As the children come in to Primary, quietly discuss with them what they learned in the previous hour.  When possible, relate the song that you are singing to a Sacrament Meeting talk, the talk or scripture from opening exercises, the Article of Faith you’re learning (if applicable) or the lesson they had in their classes.

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