Astronomy: A Doodle, a Song, a Reading List

Google Doodle marks scientist's birthday.
Google Doodle marks a noteworthy astronomer’s birthday today. Big Universe supports the sciences 24/7 with 1000-plus online math and science books for children.

Did you see the Google Doodle today? It’s awesome and animated. I sincerely love it when the beauty of science and the accomplishments of scientists and researchers are lauded. Thank you, Google.

Although I’m a writer by trade, I’m a science enthusiast to the core of my being. Big Universe does a great  job of supporting science literacy. We have more than a thousand math and science books for kids online – at all reading levels. The website’s search tools make it easy to find what you are looking for.

Today’s Google Doodle marks the 540th birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, the founder of modern astronomy. Back in his day, the rest of humanity thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus, however, insisted that the Earth revolved around the sun along with the planets. His idea was not well received. Years later, Galileo and his trusty telescope confirmed Copernicus’ theory.

Big Universe’s “Rourke’s World of Science Encyclopedia, Volume 7” is an excellent place to start exploring the topic of space. The book’s whole focus is astronomy. Or click this link to the Planets page on Big Universe Learning for other leveled-reading options.

One more thing.  I have a song to pass along. Please tell your students that it’s a late valentine from me to them. It’s an educational song on Youtube that’s sure to get stuck in their heads. It’ll help your kids memorize the planets in our solar system. Who can resist a catchy song, right?

Here’s the link for Planet Jive and the lyrics:


Mercury now is the one closest to the shining sun.

Venus, Earth and then comes Mars orbiting that burning star.

Jupiter is next to them, largest in the solar system.

Saturn keeps on orbiting, see how the rings keep circling.

Uranus looks blue and green. It’s cold, at minus 353 degrees.

Neptune is the bluish one, its atmosphere is hydrogen.

Pluto is the furthest out, the smallest planet there’s no doubt.

Nine planets orbiting the sun make up our solar system.


*Note: Interested in reading more about using music in the classroom? Click the following links to articles by Big Universe blogger Elizabeth Peterson: “Music in Our Schools”  or “The Arts and Literacy: Part Two”.


The Arts and Literacy: Part Two

Last week, we took a look at how drama and movement can be integrated with literacy.  This week, we take a closer look at music.

Music and literacy go hand in had.  The parallels between the two are amazing.  In fact, someone can work all their life to become literate in music, just as one may do so to become literate in a language.  You must learn to listen to it, read it, write, perform it and respond to it.  This is the same for language: you listen, read it, write it, speak it, and respond to it.  In essence, anyone who studies music can become a more effective language learner.

Music Listening and Reading

Let’s first consider the parallels between music listening and reading.  When someone reads, there are things they do before, during and after the experience. In fact when we teach reading, our lessons are structured around this format.

The same applies to listening to or “reading” music.  Before you listen, you must know some background about the genre, composer or piece. While you listen, you are concentrating on the experience by becoming familiar with the music as you listen to it many times. After you listen, you interpret what you have just experienced by making judgments about the music.

Knowing the background of the music we listen to can be beneficial. We can learn about the composer, the time in which he/she lived or the style of the piece. Learning about and playing some of the instruments that are used can also provide students with some good vocabulary to use later as well as using vocabulary words learned in music class.

As soon as we begin to read a story we are experiencing it. The same goes for listening. The more we listen to a piece of music, the more we remember main themes, hear the detailed layers of the instruments, anticipate familiar or favorite parts and even pick up on new surprises. Listening to good music has the same effect as reading a good story: we want to listen over and over to continue enjoying the experience.

After we have experienced a piece, we are open to interpretation. We think about and discuss what the piece means to us, making judgments about it, the instruments and even the composer. It is in this stage that integration takes place. Your objective for your students will determine what activity your students may do after they listen. You may want them to write, draw, create something, or practice their speaking skills.  This is true integration and the sky is the limit.

Writing and Composition

What better way to explore the writing process than with music?!  Musical creation, or composition, is nearly identical to the writing process that we teach our students.  Just look:

Composing Writing
Prewriting Students brainstorm sounds/melodies for their composition. Students brainstorm ideas/topics  for their writing.
Rough Draft Students get their ideas down. Students get their ideas down.
Revision Students ask: What do I want to improve? Students ask: What do I want to improve?
Editing Students make final corrections using a checklist. Students make final corrections using a checklist.
Publishing Students make a final score and perform the piece for an audience. Students make a final draft (book or otherwise) and read their piece to an audience.

Just explaining these connections between writing and composing to your students isn’t enough, though.  Going through the actual process of composing can be used to explore and reinforce the writing process.  Sometimes students need a new motivation to see things from another perspective and what better way than to change things up a bit and have them go through the same process with a different outcome?  A piece of music!

Have students write a short composition using anything from body percussion (slaps, claps and snaps) to small instruments (hand drums, cymbals and shakers).  They can compose their own Sound Symphonies using symbols to identify sounds they want all the while, they will go through the writing process from sound ideas to performance in front of their class.

Lyrics and Stories

Of course lyrics are a natural connection music has to literacy. They are authentic texts!  Composers and song writers go through their own creative writing process to come up with lyrics-poems that have meter, rhyme and tell a story or send a message.

Lyrics are poems and poems are lyrics.  When I taught 8th grade music, I created an entire unit around this reciprocal relationship between poetry and lyrics.  We started by looking at the lyrics to Led Zepplin’s The Ocean.  (I did not tell them they were lyrics to a song, just handed them the paper.)  We read it, discussed it a bit, talked about meter, rhythm and rhyme, and then I pressed play to the song.  (And as I rocked out a little, they gave me some looks, but I’m ok with that. ;-) )

The inverse to this would be to read poems to the accompaniment of music.  You can do this with so many poems.  Shel Silverstein is a favorite and honestly any kid poetry would work well due to the heavy emphasis on meter.

Of course, not all poetry is stricken with rhyme and rhythm such as that.  And so it is important to point out the flowing, musical quality that poetry has even if it is not with a strong meter.   For example, recite a haiku to sounds of nature coupled with instrumental music or visit a site that showcases poetry slams.

Singing a song is another form of storytelling. Not only is this how epic poems and stories have been passed down for thousands of years, but it continues to be a way for people to express life in seriousness and humor, reality and fantasy – much like the genres found in literature.

I know of a great music teacher who has many picture books that contain the lyrics to songs.  She uses them often as a reading teacher would use for a read aloud.  Introduces the book to her students, takes a picture walk, sometimes reads through the lyrics and then sings the song with them while turning the pages to display the wonderful illustrations.  Often the book will come with a recording of the song to play while you look, read and sing on.  There are some great examples of these on Big Universe too.

Lyrics provide another layer of music that can be shared with your students and connected to literacy through poetry and storytelling.

Other Skills Can be Honed While Listening to Music

My favorite way to integrate music into literacy instruction is through Active Listening time.  This is something I do with my students each day during snack time.  We listen to a piece of music for an entire week and throughout the week we focus on a variety of literacy skills.

  • Visualization – What do you think of as you listen?  Is there a story that unfolds?  Who/what do you see in your mind?
  • Inferencing – What in the music makes you see what you see?  What in the music gives you that overall feeling?
  • BME – Every good piece of writing (and MUSIC ) has a beginning, middle and end.  Listen for these qualities in the music and see how they parallel stories you read and write.

Just these three things alone give us so much to discuss and listen for that our time simply flies by!

This is just scratching the surface of what you can do when you integrate music with literacy.  What are some other ways to integrate music into your literacy programs?


Photo Credit:

Book Review: Christmas Music For Reading & Sharing

interior image - Twin Sisters bookAs a first grader, I thought I knew every Christmas song there was in the world. I was wrong!

Miss McNally taught us “The Friendly Beasts” for our Christmas concert, and I have never forgotten it. I can still recite every verse (*cough*) 40-odd (*cough*) years later. It is still one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, probably made more special by the fact that it isn’t on every holiday album and isn’t in every book of piano music, either.

Now, I can re-live the music and the memories with The Friendly Beasts by sisters Kim Mitzo Thompson and Karen Mitzo Hilderbrand. It is a welcome addition to our holiday bookshelf!

As I started looking for other Twin Sisters Productions‘ seasonal titles on I got very excited. With titles like Jolly Old St. Nicholas and Angels We Have Heard On High we have instant books-on-tape! Cool, don’t you think?

It is no news to you that we learn with our ears first. We know the word “mama” and can say it before we recognize it on the page. If there are ways to mix the two together, well that’s just awesome.  Enter: Twin Sisters Productions and holiday music.

Their catalog contains lots of songs in book form, as well as some wonderful seasonal titles that are books you share with toddlers before the “story” stage.  Complementing the songs with images and text that can help kids learn to read is a “teaching moment” extraordinaire!

These are books that are wonderful to share with toddlers and preschoolers with a teacher or Mom and Dad reading. In the min-reviews below, though, I offer some ideas on how I would use them with developing readers.

We Three Kings, illustrated by Jackie Binder

picture book holiday musicI recommend for Kindergarten and First Grade

  • There is lots of white space, with just 4 – 5 lines of verse / page. 
  • The illustrations are bright but simple (i.e., don’t distract the reader). 
  • Orient, yonder, wonder, and sacrifice are among the words that expand the reader’s vocabulary.
  • The rhyme has great variety for introducing different word families. Examples: are, afar, star; plain, again, reign.

similar: Angels We Have Heard on High, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas


The Friendly Beasts, illustrated by  Tara Larsen Chang

music picture book for preschoolersI recommend for Preschool, Kindergarten and First Grade

    • The lyrics are presented in three styles of text, with different sizes and colors.
    • Word rhymes for each verse stay within a word family.
    • There is plenty of word repetition, including kind, Him, cow, good.
    • The hardest word “Emmanuel”  is last … at the point where the reader has already gained their confidence. 

Similar: Up on the Housetop, Away in the Manger


The First Noel, illustrated by Jackie Binder

Christmas music bookI recommend for First Grade and Second Grade

  • The lyrics offer lots of repetition perfect for a newer reader.
  • The density of the pages requires a more confident / seasoned reader (text-heavy with 8-10 lines / page).
  • The last page is a Bible verse and has no images.
  • Lyrical words expand the readers’ vocabulary bank: intent, Israel, country.
The airwaves are filled with music that kids love to sing and music teachers everywhere are teaching the kids holiday songs. So why not take advantage of the moment? These are music storybooks with a broad audience: you can share them with your child on your lap, in your classroom or Sunday school gathering, or add to your music room as “sheet music.”

Practice Rereading with Music

Rereading is one of those reading strategies that is paramount to a reader’s comprehension.  When we want to clarify our understanding of a text, we reread; when we need to summarize an article, we reread; when we do research, we reread.  Reread, reread, reread.  But let’s face it, students are not fans of rereading.  Instead, they want to read quickly, move on and be done with it.

Music is one way we can reinforce the importance of rereading for understanding.  Let’s call this relistening.  (That’s not a real word, by the way… :) )

I listen to music every day with my students.  Doing so is a great way to build community as well as expose them to a variety of musical genres and artists.  In addition we do a lot with literacy skills; rereading is one of them.  Actually, it’s the relistening.  I will have my students focus on one piece of music for an entire week (we listen each day during our snack time) and it’s during that time that we are relistening to excerpts of the piece and the piece as a whole.  Each time we listen again, I ask them different questions about the music.  “What instruments are playing?”  “How would you describe the tempo?”  “Sing the melody back to me.”  And for each prompt, some students know right away, while others need to hear the music again.  And so we relisten.

After doing this a few times, I draw students’ attention to how we do the same thing when we read.  If we are unclear about an event, who a character is or where exactly things are happening, we need to take the time to reread.

When you compare listening to reading, often students understand the concept a little better because they are exposed to it in a new way through music.  For so many students music is a natural motivator, so practicing this way is actually a treat.  For others this is a new and abstract way of thinking and so it stretches their minds.

You don’t have to be a master musician yourself to do this, you just have to enjoy music yourself.  Actively listen to the music with your students and think of some questions you can ask them.  Start with questions dealing with instrumentation, tempo (music’s speed), dynamics (musical volume) and pitch (high and low notes).  Not every student’s hand will go up, so use this opportunity to relisten to an excerpt with your students.  In no time, your students will find clues in the music to help them come to an answer to your prompt as they become better listeners.  In time, your students will start to see the importance of going back to relisten and also reread for understanding.

Stories in Music

When searching for great stories to share with your students, make sure music is in your list of resources.  So many songs can tell a great story!  And this is a great way to integrate Music in Our Schools Month with Literacy month all March.

There are some songs that not only capture our interest, feed our emotions and get us motivated, some have all the makings of a well told story.  This week, I want to share a playlist with you that you can use with your students to teach some of these things.  For example, these songs have a beginning, middle and end.  Their beginnings draw you in by setting a scene, introducing a character and/or grabbing your attention.  They then go on to develop the story by giving details and showing a sequence of events.  The listeners need to visualize the actions and draw inferences.  This is real literary practice!


Songs that Tell Stories by Elizabeth Peterson on Grooveshark

I do this type of work with my students all the time and it always amazes me to see how many students love the activities of using their reading strategies with listening to music.  It also allows me to see some struggling readers shine.  Without the words to get in the way, I can tell that they are capable of visualization and drawing conclusions.

When I ask students to listen to music, we listen to one song multiple times.  Just as you get more out of a story if you read it more than once, the same is true with music.  And listening repetitively to music reinforces the importance of reading texts again and again.  When you give students the opportunity to do it with music, they grasp that concept more readily.

For more on how to bring listening experiences into the classroom, go HERE.

Enjoy the playlist and happy listening!  I hope you are able to share these songs and stories with your students.


Music in Our Schools

This month, as well as being Literacy Month, it is Music in Our Schools Month!  March is a great time to bring music into your classroom through listening, performing, creating it.  Of course you can also read about it, and Big Universe has some resources that you will find to be a great addition to your bookshelf.

  • Music Around the World – This is a book that describes various instruments from different countries while also touching on the concept of patterns.
  • Add some more math into the mix of music with Pythagoras and the Ratios as readers discover how the Greek contributed to the way in which we tune and play a variety of instruments.
  • Power Chord – This chapter book is a good read for middle school students.  The main character decides to start a band (to get the girls) and ends up facing a moral dilemma.
  • Why not add in some biographical reading with The Beatles Graphic Biography.  As far as I’m concerned, every kid should learn about these guys!
  • For a listing of all the books in the Big Universe about music, go HERE.

Dig through your own books and those in your school or local library.  You will find lyrics or books about song, theory books and song books, composer biographies and beautiful picture books whose theme is the power of music.  Displaying a small (or large) collection of music books in your classroom is a great way to get students thinking and excited about music in their lives.




Reading and Music Ability Linked, New Study Shows

Musicality and reading ability are linked, report scientists in a recent neuroscience study.

If I had a do-over, I might like to have studied neuroscience. The brain is an amazingly complex and marvelous wonderland. So much has been discovered about how it functions, and yet there is so much more to explore and understand.

 That’s why the ANI article “Musical Ability Biologically Linked to Reading Ability” caught my eye. It detailed a study published recently in BioMed Central’s Behavioral and Brain Functions journal, which correlated reading proficiency and musical skill.

Researchers from Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Chicago tested children’s ability to hear and remember words. These findings were compared to reading ability and musical aptitude.

“Both musical ability and literacy correlated with enhanced electrical signals within the auditory brainstem,” said research team leader Dr. Nina Kraus*. “These results add weight to the argument that music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms and suggests a mechanism for the improvements in literacy seen with musical training.”

Children in the study listened to a sequence of numbers and then were asked to repeat them in reverse order. Electrical activity in their brains was measured during this auditory testing. Researchers found that “poor readers” had reduced brainwave response to auditory stimulation as compared to “good readers.” Musical rhythm aptitude appeared to reflect these findings as well.

I’m sure these biological findings come as no surprise to Big Universe blogger Elizabeth Peterson, who is an advocate for arts integration in the classroom. Her Oct. 12th post, “The Connections Between Music and Reading,” does a good job of explaining how motivating music can be to an emerging reader. You can also read about Active Listening Snack Time in her post “Using Music to Help Teach Visualization Strategies.” She is the author of the book “Inspired by Listening.”

Other Articles You May Like:

Big Universe Books for the Budding Neuroscientist

  • The Brain, (Teacher Created Materials Publishing), Interest Age: 6-12.
  • The Nervous System, (Bellwether Publishing) Interest Age: 9-12.

 Note: Dr. Nina Kraus is a Northwestern University professor of neurobiology, physiology and otolaryngology. She investigates the neurobiology underlying speech and music perception and learning-associated brain plasticity. Dr. Kraus studies normal listeners throughout the lifespan, clinical populations (poor readers, autism, hearing loss), musicians and animal models. Her method of assessing the brain’s encoding of sounds has been adapted as BioMARK (biological marker of auditory processing), a commercial product that helps educators and clinicians better diagnose learning disabilities.