After visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I wrote this essay for Teen Librarian Toolbox about the power of diaries–especially for teens. In the essay, I also mention my suggestion for a library display and share my Encourage Diary Writing Display sign.
What do students do when they write a song?
- Research/brainstorm (it’s okay to be messy)
- Write rough draft
- Recognize and follow patterns
- Use repetition
- Experiment with rhyme
- Use rhythm
- Make sure each song has a surprise
Students at Potomac Elementary explored lots of elements of songwriting in my songwriting residency. Thanks to teachers, staff, PTA, and first-grade students for all the enthusiasm.
Our subjects were math and science. Teachers Ms. Siegel and Mrs. Li gave me a list of topics that first graders study. I chose a different topic with each class: Magnets, Soil, and Measurement.
Here are the songs the students wrote. When you listen to the songs, pay attention to the pattern, the rhymes, the rhythm, and the meaning.
Download the pdf of the You Need Me song about soil with lyrics and chords. Sing and play along with the song.
Download the pdf of the Magnet Magnet song with lyrics and chords. Sing and play along with the song.
Download the pdf of the Ruler Power song about soil with lyrics and chords. Sing and play along with the song.
First we did brainstorming to write down all the things about the topic that we know. Sometimes questions would arise and we had to do research to make sure we were correct. Then we used our brainstorm to write a rough draft. We had to experiment with different rhymes and rhythms to make sure the song made sense and sounded good to our ears. We had to recognize a pattern in our first verse and then apply that pattern to the rest of the verses. We decided that a good song has magnetic properties—it sticks to your brain!
Besides learning a lot about songwriting and writing original songs, we also learned about collaboration and about democracy (we had to vote on different ideas throughout the process).
I loved seeing how, at PES, kids are encouraged to respectfully disagree. As we wrote our rough drafts, sometimes a statement would be made about the science by one student, and another student would challenge the accuracy of the statement. This prompted us to stop the songwriting process and do a little research to determine accuracy before we continued. Bravo!
Since this residency was a part of the science block, I also introduced a question: can we make musical instruments out of magnets? What about soil or sand? We experimented to get results. Which kind of particle of sand do you think would be the loudest in a shaker? Course or fine?
Parents, here’s what you can do at home.
- Continue the folk song tradition of taking a song you already know and changing the words. This is a great activity for car rides! As our warm-up, we took a folk song that uses math and changed the words to make it a little more challenging. Substituting new words for old words in a folk song is a great way to encourage songwriting. When you substitute words, you have to make sense and you have to remember the new ones. It takes focus and concentration!
50 bottles of juice on the shelf.
50 bottles of juice.
Take ten down and pass them around
40 bottles of juice on the shelf.
2. When you are listening to a song with your kids, ask:
- Is there rhyme?
- What’s the pattern of the song?
- What’s the rhythm of the song?
- What’s the emotion of the song?
- Does the rhythm and melody fit the emotion/meaning?
- What’s the main idea of the song?
- Is there a chorus (a part that repeats)?
- Is there repetition?
- Is there a surprise?
3. If your child writes a song for fun at home, encourage him or her. As first graders, they might write silly songs. Their songs might not even make complete sense. That is okay. Please don’t try to make your child’s song perfect. Comment on something positive about the song. Does it have rhyme? Does it have rhythm? At this age, experimentation, play, and fluidity are important.
4. Add a ritual of making up songs together or singing songs that you know before dinner, while you’re cooking, when you’re stuck in traffic.
5. Sing and play the original songs above! I’ll have a new series of chapter books out in September that is about a songwriting club in an elementary school. The books will come with songs that are perfect for elementary school students. Happy reading and keep singing!
What a great school! I loved seeing all students in third through fifth grades for an assembly and then getting the chance to do writing workshops with fourth graders. We focused on developing character and wrote monologues about an unusual day in the life of… whatever animal they wanted to be. I encouraged the writers to put clues in their work, but NOT to say outright what kind of animal they were. Every student wrote and got the chance to perform a portion of their stories. To model how students could take a piece of writing and create an audio story, we collaborated on recording one story from each class–complete with sound effects.
Great job, kids!
A huge thanks to the fourth grade team and to the PTA for coordinating this year’s creative writing residency at Rock Creek Valley Elementary School.Special thanks to parent Shauna Hill and to teacher Rebecca McNiece for all the communication and coordination. Listen to the three stories below. (If you can’t see them, your computer is blocking. Try https://soundcloud.com/mary-amato-author/sets/rock-creek-valley-2018.
Can you guess the animal who love waffles in this story?
Can you guess the animal who is learning to fly and hunt?
Can you guess the animal who is trying to impress the King of the Jungle?
Thanks to students, staff and parents who welcomed me to the Alexander Hamilton Elementary School for a busy day of author visits. I loved getting the chance to be on the AH morning news show. Another treat was the special lunch with student writers. The stories they wrote were interesting, funny, and surprising. Keep writing! Special thanks to librarian Linda Murphy for all her preparation and planning.
An enormous thank you to the PTO of TJ Elementary School in Morristown, NJ, to Mark Fluck, librarian extraordinaire, and to all the students and staff of this grades 3-5 school. I loved making up funny stories with all the grade levels and sharing the excitement of writing. Thanks also to the PTO for organizing the book sale. AND…drum roll, please… Mr. Fluck created a collaborative journal, based on my book Please Write in this Book, so now students can add their own writing! TJ students, make sure to read what I wrote in your journal and have fun writing!
As part of the Final Friday Art Walk in Hyattsville, author Mary Amato will be at an Ask-an-Author Pop-up at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center on Friday, October 27th from 5:00-7pm.
Pop in to check out PAAC and to meet an author.
At Mary Amato’s Ask-an-Author Pop-up, you can:
• Ask Mary how she writes her award-winning fiction for children and young adults
• Take a peek inside her writer’s notebook
• Learn about the publishing process
• Find out what songwriting and fiction writing have in common
• Enter for your chance to win an autographed copy of one of her books!
The Final Friday Art Walk is a community event celebrating Hyattsville artists and businesses. Start at the murals on Route 1 (between Jefferson and Hamilton) and follow a path through the alleys to see new art and meet artists all the way down to Art Works. Businesses will have goodies for adults and kids. Art spaces will have craft-making fun!
Pyramid Atlantic is a book arts/printmaking center located at 4318 Gallatin Street, Hyattsville, MD 20781.
Mary Amato has published 16 books for kids and teens and has three new books on the way. She also writes poems, plays, songs, and essays for adults. www.maryamato.com.
The Humor Writing Workout, taught by Mary Amato
Four Mondays in November, 7:30 – 9:30 pm
at the Old Parish House, 4711 Knox Road, College Park
7:30pm – 9:30pm
Fee: $70 total
Editors are always on the lookout for laughs—even in serious work—so do yourself a huge favor and develop your humor-writing muscles. Through readings, discussion, and writing exercises, we’ll explore four distinct styles of humor, analyzing what works and why. This is not a joke-writing class; it’s a class that will push us to explore different styles of humor in our own writing, whether that be in fiction, poetry, song writing play writing, screen writing, or creative non-fiction.
Please register through College Park Arts Exchange at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are an out-of-towner and you are dying for instruction, consider private Skype lessons. Contact me for more info.
For three days, I had the chance to work with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in Albemarle County, VA. We explored how to get ideas for songs and specific strategies for songwriting such as structure, metaphor, rhythm, rhyme, and prosody. We applied the same techniques for revising that poets and fiction writers use.
Each class collaborated to create one original song. We created characters and backstories for these songs and imagined that the songs were coming from each character’s point of view. Although we were focusing on process, our goal was to finish the song in just three periods. Check out the songs below.
Thanks to the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band c/o the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation for the financial support. I’m also grateful to Bobbi Snow, visionary founder/director and project grant administrator; to Bliss Webel, the wise and wonderful Language Arts teacher for all the classroom support; and to Busy Graham and Carpe Diem Arts for making the connection. Finally, thanks to the students, who I enjoyed meeting, for their enthusiasm and energy.
Topics for songs were brainstormed by each group and chosen by democratic vote. We used the “voice memo” app on the iPhone to record our songs.
Recordings to come soon!
For the second year, I had the opportunity to teach workshops at the Carpe Diem Arts Camp on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This year, the focus was on songwriting, and we wrote a collaborative song. What a great group of campers! Thanks to Busy Graham, Ale and Binta.
DREAM BIG song recording by Carpe Diem Arts…sing along!
Wow! Loved working with Karen Giacopuzzi and campers to create homemade ukuleles from cigar boxes. My role was to teach campers how to play and write their own songs. We had a blast.