Dyan Branstetter | January 2017

Musical STEAM with The Cricket in Times Square

Newbery Honor Musical STEAM The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is another favorite winning novel of mine that stands the test of time. While it is typically used with fourth and fifth graders, it is the perfect choice for the young reader because the content is appropriate for all ages. It tells the story of Chester the cricket, who accidentally travels from his home in Connecticut to New York City. Once he arrives, he meets new friends and adventures ensue. Through his escapades in the Times Square subway station, he discovers his true talent (instead of simply chirping, he can play full arias, matching any classical music he hears on the radio). Before finally deciding traveling back to his home in the meadow, he uses this talent to help his new friends.

The theme in this book is a great one and appeals to all students for many different reasons. The text is filled with opportunities to discuss figurative language, theme, narrative text structure, and many other ELA standards. It is a great book for a young reader, sparking conversations about hiding our talents instead of using them. One of my favorite quotes for gifted students is from this book: “Talent is something rare and beautiful and precious, and it must not be allowed to go to waste.” A great reminder for us all.

In addition, the integration extensions for this book are endless! Music is explicitly mentioned throughout the book. Not only is it an opportunity to highlight music vocabulary, but many classical pieces are mentioned as well. Most elementary-age readers don’t have enough musical STEAM background knowledge to know what the pieces are or how they support the text without listening as they read. Here are a few ways you can cross this barrier while integrating music standards.

Music Integration and Musical STEAM Ideas:

  • Have students listen to the pieces mentioned using this video clip. Have them find the music in the text that is being played. Discuss the use of viola and voice for this recording instead of other instruments. Were they the best choices for this demonstration? Why or why not?
  • Have students listen to the musical STEAM selections from this Youtube playlist instead of the soloist, or after listening to the soloist. Compare and contrast the music that the soloist played with the original piece of music. Which supported the text and your understanding more effectively?
  • Have students create Aurasmas or QR codes with the youtube clips of each song. Attach them to the page where the song is mentioned. Future readers can scan the trigger or QR code as they read the page and the song will automatically play. More on creating Aurasmas here, and QR codes here.

Engineering Extensions

In addition to music connections in The Cricket in Times Square, there are many design problems that can be identified in the story. After reading, students could identify a design challenge (or chose from a prepared list), and then use knowledge of simple machines to build a contraption to solve the challenge. For a list of challenges and lesson ideas, see Blanchard Memorial School’s resource.

More Science and Music Extensions:

  • If you’re looking to extend student learning in the area of science, it is only natural to look to the sounds of insects. Throughout the text, Chester Cricket frequently plays beautiful music using only his body. Have students listen to crickets and research how they create their unique sound. Here is a great resource for this, called Songs of Insects: A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids, & Cicadas.
  • Have students build an instrument that sounds like a cricket, called a friction drum. Find directions. Compare and contrast the way the sound of the drum is created with the way a cricket’s sound is produced.

For more advanced science extensions, here are some fascinating science articles related to music and insects:

Finally, as a paired unit, students could participate in this ready-made EducationCloset unit called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, unit connecting music, insects, poetry, fluency, and comprehension.

Have you taught The Cricket in Times Square? What have you done to deepen comprehension through music?

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.