As I wrote last week, I love to play singing games with my classes. Not only are they fun and catchy, but they offer a lot of teachable content. It’s up to you what you want to pull out, but you can use these to teach rhythm, notation, steady beat, and meter. The children love these games, and I love that I sometimes hear them out on the playground!

Now I am really big on teaching the widest variety of music possible, as long as it is high quality. For me, that means that language is never a barrier. I believe that students can learn songs in any language, and I strongly believe that songs should be taught in their original language. If you are a singer and ever tried to sing a translated lied or aria, you know what I’m talking about! So without further ado, here are some standards in my classes that are not in English. For the most part, they are still pretty quick to teach.

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Aquaqua Dela Omar

You may know this song from Israel as “Stella Ella Ola”, but whatever words you use, it’s a great one to play with upper primary classes. I find it great for social skills, because at this age, the girls and boys choose to be pretty segregated. When we sit down for this game, they aren’t so worried about whose hand is on whose knee; they just want to be that #4 at the end of the song.

This is a great one for steady beat, and I have the children be the judges about whether or not someone moved at the right time. My main focus with this one is often maintaining a beautiful singing voice amidst the excitement of the game. I play this game with Grades 3-5.

Obwisana

This song from Ghana is one of my favorites because there are so many angles to it. First of all, the students must be able keeping a very steady beat, and there is immediate aural and visual feedback if they are not. Also, it’s great for talking about collaboration. When one person isn’t doing the right movement on the beat, you get a pile-up! Thus we learn about our interdependence, and how that works for musicians.

This is also a great game for teaching about meter, because there is a clear differentiation between the strong beats and the weak beats. The children can both hear and feel the duple meter, as they set down their rock (or rhythm stick, or whatever you are using) on the strong beat, and quietly pick up the next one on a weak beat. I use this one with K-5.

Giro, Giro Tondo

This song is from Italy, and the actions resemble “Ring Around the Rosie”. The children move in a circle, holding hands, and on the last phrase “tutti giù per terra!” everyone falls to the floor (laughing uncontrollably). This song is in Feierabend’s Book of Simple Songs and Circles. This is a great one for PreK-1.

Musical Circle Games from Greece, Italy, Mexico, Ghana, and Israel

Pou’n-Do To Dachtilidi

This Greek song (“Where is the ring?”) is a bit more obscure, but it can be found in Wee Sing Around the World. The words take a bit more work, but my students really enjoyed it.

Al Citrón

This Mexican song elicits a lot of debate about meanings and origins, which is ai discussion for another time. The game is a lot like “Obwisana”, but with an added twist of the back-and-forth pass on “triqui triqui tran”. This is surprisingly challenging within the context of singing and passing, so it makes it a good one for upper elementary, Grades 3-5.

Some of you may be skeptical about teaching in different languages. Don’t be! Listen to some recordings or watch some videos, but be sure they are from native speakers. This is so important; you don’t need to be learning from someone else who learned it incorrectly and doesn’t offer the recording the mother-tongue nuances that belong in it. Share the recordings with the children, so they are able to hear the authentic version as well.

Also, don’t exoticize the songs, but present them as just another song in the repertoire. We don’t need to affirm their growing belief that there is “their” music, or mainstream English-language music, and then “world music”. Remember that children, especially at international schools, don’t struggle with new languages until someone tells them they should. And if you struggle, go ahead and struggle—show that growth mindset! Just have fun making music and playing together!!

I’m always looking for new songs to add to my list. What are your favorites?

Like this? You might also enjoy:

5 Great Circle Games from Around the World
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