Author Guest Post: “Bring Songwriting into your Classroom” by Chari Smith, Author of The Piano


Bring songwriting into your classroom

Songs are memorable. Lyrics just stick to use, don’t they? Think about the abc song, much easier to remember the order of letters when it’s put to a song. When I taught music and theater grades K-6, I collaborated with teachers on their curriculum to incorporate what they were teaching into my classroom.

Teaching about the solar system? Let’s make a song about it.

Going through the multiplication table? Let’s put that into a tune.

The students sang these songs in the classroom, hallways, waiting for pick up, and more. Songs are memorable, and fun!

There are four ways you can bring this into your classroom:

  1. You create the song, by writing lyrics to a familiar tune or writing the music and lyrics yourself. Then, teach it to your class.
  2. Students write new lyrics to a familiar tune – individually or in groups
  3. Students write the song – music and lyrics
  4. Collaborate with the music teacher, or a local music school to do ongoing songwriting workshops

Let’s focus on option 2, having the students write new lyrics to a familiar tune. If you choose to have students work in groups, it’s an excellent opportunity to build their teamwork skills. You can start with basic songs they probably learned in pre-school to warm up.

The first step is to create a list of possible songs they can choose from. You can even create this list with students. When starting out, it’s best to start with simple songs. As they write more and more, moving on to longer songs such as pop tunes is fine. Starting with these short easy songs first helps them learn the process.

Some easy songs to start with include:

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It. If you’re happy and you know it. …
  • The Wheels on the Bus. What is this? …
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, …
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. …
  • The Ants Go Marching.
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider

The second step is to create a list of possible topics they can create a song about. You can do this for them or with them. For example, second grade science may include the following topics:

  • Properties of Matter(classifying matter, changing states, reversible and irreversible changes in matter, structures)
  • Living Things (needs of living things, seed dispersal and pollination, animal survival, migration, hibernation, dormancy, life cycles, inherited traits, fossils)
  • Habitats(desert, forests, grassland, marine, freshwater, polar, tundra, microhabitats
  • Earth’s Systems(landforms, wind, water, erosion)


Here’s an example of using the Itsy Bitsy Spider to sing about the stages of the butterfly:

Song: Itsy Bitsy Spider

Subject: Life stages of a butterfly

The butterfly starts as just an egg

Then grows into a caterpillar friend

Onto the chrysalis stage where it stays in a cocoon

Then at last the butterfly emerges and fly, fly’s away.

Did you try and sing it? I hope so. (Hear it HERE!)

Once students are in groups, have chosen the song as well as the topic, they are ready to get to the songwriting fun. Students should write lyrics in pencil. One approach may be to have each student write their own ideas for the song first, then share with each other to make decisions on what to include.

Once done, students can perform their songs. This songwriter’s showcase can be for each other, parents, or the whole school. It’s a great way for students to engage with your curriculum, build teamwork skills, encourage, and ultimately – have fun!

Published February 3rd, 2022 by Black Rose Writing

About the Book:The friendly piano is thrilled when a young musician named Katie first presses its keys. As Katie and the piano become daily companions, her musical skills grow and grow. Together they play beautiful music to match her every mood. But when Katie moves away for college, the piano is left behind, untouched and silent. What happens next helps the piano—and young readers—see learning as a never-ending cycle and music as a life-long source of joy.

“….a charming picture book about the experience of learning how to play an instrument from the perspective of a piano and its journey through one young musician’s life. The illustrations by Elle Smith, the author’s daughter, add warmth and depth to the story.” Amy Wang, The Oregonian, February 4, 2022

Full story: Catch up with these 10 picture books from Oregon authors and illustrators

“Together, Chari and Elle created a literary masterpiece, a children’s picture book called “The Piano”.  In it, children will be able to experience a beautiful combination of words that describes music in ways only a true musician could present. Phrases like “Bouncy beats” and “sounds that soared, and sank” helps the reader immerse in a musical moment even when there is no sound.”

The Reading Behaviorist, March 10, 2022 Full review here.

About the Author: Chari studied at Berklee College of Music and has been a writer/composer/pianist most of her life. In Boulder, Colorado, she wrote and produced two musicals with the Boulder Arts Academy. Chari also taught jazz piano to children as well as adults.

She is a published playwright — Extraordinary Women from U.S. History: Readers Theatre for Grades 4-8 (Teacher Ideas Press/ Libraries Unlimited, 2003) and Little Plays for Little People (Teacher Ideas Press/Libraries Unlimited, 1996). Her mini-musical Book Club was a part of the Portland Mini Musical Festival 2020. She is currently writing a full-length musical “Freedom: The Untold Story of Moses.”

Stay connected:
Instagram: charismusicaladventures
Facebook: @charismithwriter

Thank you, Chari, for this catchy author guest post!

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