5 Musical Works for the Literacy Classroom

5 Min Read  •  Literacy Connections

Today I’d like to share a list of must-have music resources for those who would like to explore integrating music into literacy classroom!

Generally speaking, music lends itself so naturally to accessing Common Core standards for ELA. We’ve explored using music as text to dig into ELA standards for reading literature. Any of these musical “texts” can be used for such a purpose! For instance,  Anchor Standard for Reading 1– “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text”. What I love about each of these pieces is how easy you can make cross-curricular connections. Even for those who feel they are out of their comfort zone with musical content.

The Planets (Holst):

Each movement of this seven-movement suite is named after a planet and its corresponding astrological character. Students read about these astrological characters. Then, they determine how the musical elements of each piece support the main idea of each theme. This piece could also be used in conjunction with the study of space in science.

Anchor Standard for Reading 2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Accompanying Music Resources: DVD – Voyage to the Outer Planets and Beyond (NASA footage accompanied by Holst’s The Planets).

The Firebird (Stravinsky):

The finale of “The Firebird Suite” features a melodic theme repeated at varying dynamics and tempi. This could be a prompt for a writing activity where students write an imagined sequence of events to accompany the music. All while developing support for these changes in musical elements in their sequence of events.

Anchor Standard for Reading 3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Accompanying Music Resources: Book – The Tale of the Firebird (Spirin/Popova); DVD: Fantasia 2000 (Disney).

The Carnival of the Animals (Saint-Saens):

Each piece of this fourteen-movement suite is composed to represent a different animal. Students analyze how musical elements  made by the composer shape the image of each accompanying animal.

 Anchor Standard for Reading 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text. Including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings. Then, analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Accompanying Music Resources: EdCloset Resource – Animal Action; Book – Carnival of the Animals by Jack Prelutsky; DVD – Carnival of the Animals (Mormon Youth Symphony at the San Diego Zoo, with the verse of Ogden Nash).

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky):

Modest Mussorgsky composed each movement of this suite to depict a tour of the art collection of his friend, Viktor Hartmann. Students might experience this piece in reverse. First by listening, then by creating artwork to accompany, and finally by creating a narrative. The narrative should integrate the musical and artistic content. 

Anchor Standard for Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Accompanying Music Resources: Book – Pictures at an Exhibition (Celenza).

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Britten):

The theme of this piece is initially played by the entire orchestra, and then by each family of the orchestra. Students can reflect on how the variation of instrumentation on the same theme may also vary the overall mood and meaning of the musical “text.”

Anchor Standard for Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the author takes.

Accompanying Musi Resources: EdCloset Resource – Art and Writing Prompt for the Music Classroom; Book – The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Ganeri).