What Three Little Pigs Can Teach About Reading & Writing

This post was submitted by Liz Buchanan, originally published in her blog on March 17, 2015.

In my songwriting life, I’ve become a little obsessed with characters in threes. My initial “Three Piggy Opera” was so much fun that on my next Once Upon a Tune CDalbum, Once Upon a Tune, I included my own songs about The Three Bears, Three Billy Goats Gruff and Three Little Kittens. You can find all these songs at my Songs for Teaching Page.

What’s with all the threes? Plus there are all the variations and parodies of the above stories: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, Los Tres Cerditos. How about The Three Little Tamales or The Three Little Javalinas! The three-character theme is a staple of many a kindergarten curriculum.

Why three? This is probably all explained similarly elsewhere, but here’s my take. The three somebodies are a perfect way to teach about the elements of the typical linear story. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have a protagonist who wants something. Stories have an antagonist who thwarts what the protagonist wants. Protagonist figures out in the end how to overcome antagonist.

Hey, that’s just what they taught us when I got my MFA in fiction writing (though of course there are the feminist variations that just go in circles). What makes a good story all comes down to … The Three Little Pigs!

So at my most recent kindergarten concert, I lined up three children holding their three cut-out houses, of straw, sticks and bricks. I said, “Just like these three pigs, stories have three parts: a beginning, middle and end.” The first pig is the beginning of the story, the second pig is the middle, and the third pig finally figures out how to solve the problem.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff unfolds in exactly the same way. The Three Bears gets more complicated, because Goldilocks isn’t your classic bad-wolf antagonist, she’s just a bit confused about what to do upon encountering a strange house in the woods. But in a slightly more advanced way, the story’s scenes develop with essentially the same three-part structure.

It also occurred to me that The Three Little Pigs is a perfect way to lay the groundwork for writing a simple, cohesive essay. You know: state your premise, develop your ideas in three tidy segments, and tie it all together in a conclusion.

Now, I wouldn’t go telling kindergarteners to write essays based on the three pigs structure (though in this current weird world of ‘kindergarten is the new high school’ somebody might be trying to do that). But I do think that learning the structure of the ‘story of three’ provides an effective overlay for the logical analysis, organization and presentation of ideas.

Again, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. But for me, it was an aha moment.

Do kids get the connection? Do they better understand literature and write more cohesive essays after carefully studying The Three Little Pigs? I don’t know. I’d love to hear from teachers on this topic.

I do firmly believe that giving students a chance to embody the story through singing, moving and acting deepens their understanding and might even make them better writers. Plus they’re having a lot of fun – we can still do that in education, right?

10 Best Exercise Songs and Games for Children

Today’s post comes from Songs For Teaching artist Patty Shukla

Let’s move, dance and be an active example for our kids! Before computers and cable television we played outside and spent a lot time with friends. I can remember being 8 years old riding my bike with exercise-songs-for-children-patty-shuklaneighborhood friends all day. We built forts, created home-made carnivals in our backyards, played hide-n-seek, put on our own talent shows and swam for hours.

“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”- First Lady Michelle Obama at the Let’s Move! Program launched on Feb. 9, 2010 www.letsmove.gov

Exercise was not something we thought about or planned, it was just a way of life. Some of my best childhood memories are those times.

Let’s create some lasting memories with our children today. Here are 10 of my exercise songs and 10 exercise games to get your body moving and heart rate pumpin’! Let me know which ones are your favorites. Let the fun begin!


  1. Hokey Pokey Dance – Twist
  2. Musical Freeze Game – S.T.O.P.
  3. Simon Says Game – Play with me, Sing Along!
  4. Jumping Game – Jump!
  5. PE Exercises – I Can Do It! (Jumping Jacks, Hop from side to side)
  6. Dance Off Game – Colors Dance!
  7. Move your whole body dance – Wiggle It!
  8. Move like an animal – If I Were An Animal
  9. Follow the Leader game – Follow Me
  10. Square Dance – Do Si Do

Thank you Patti Shukla for sharing this post with us. 

For more movement & action songs, click below!

Kids in Space!

Welcome guest blogger, Jim Thorne!

Kids really like to dream, and one thing they like to dream about is flying in space. I certainly dreamed about that as a youngster during the Apollo moon landings, which inspired me to become a space scientist. Recently, I combined my love of space travel with my hobby as a singer-songwriter, and recorded a CD of songs called “To Follow Apollo” about a boy and a girl named Tommy and Laura who explore space together.  I’ve played these songs at assemblies for more than 2,500 elementary school students so far and it’s really fun to watch them light up as they follow the stories in their imaginations.

To Follow Apollo CDIn the seven songs on the CD “To Follow Apollo,” Tommy and Laura learn about science and how to fly spaceships, and then leave the earth to visit many places in the solar system.  In the title song, they return to the moon to find the original Apollo landing sites and go on to visit three more places where Apollo should have landed, had it not been canceled early. This way, the kids who are listening to the song can imagine that they could finish the original mission of Apollo by doing it themselves!

In the song called “The Little Bear,” which is another name for the Little Dipper, Tommy and Laura go outside on a clear night to look at the constellations in the sky. They try to see as many animal constellations as they can, and end up finding 14 different animals during the song.  A good friend of mine used “The Little Bear” to teach English to her 4th-grade students with other primary languages.  I got to visit her class, and the kids sang my song back to me and made thank you cards with their drawings of Tommy and Laura looking up at the sky full of animals. It really touched my heart to experience this, and I believe the kids will remember the songs and the ideas.

In “The Countdown Song,” Tommy and Laura fly to the planet Mercury to look for a crashed robotic space probe called “Messenger,” which was a real NASA program. The kids find the crashed probe on the surface of Mercury, but since Tommy’s rocket accidentally landed on uneven ground, they need to fix it before it can take off safely again. The kids both work together to solve the problem, then they count down from ten to one for the takeoff. In the classroom, I teach the chorus of the song to the kids first, which is just the numbers from ten down to one, and then they sing along at the right places in the song. This is very effective for keeping their attention because the students are directly involved in the story.

Jim Thorne

My goal is to inspire elementary students to think about space and see the science in the world around them, so I wrote the songs for “To Follow Apollo” as visual stories they could follow in their own imaginations. The stories are told in plain language, but the scientific concepts and references are correct so they will at least get the right impressions and perhaps choose to study space science in the future. I was recently interviewed about this on a public access television show called “Around Space TV,” and played a few of the songs from the CD:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdXpgTpAn_o

Keep your eye on the sky!  Jim Thorne

In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Jim is a published rocket scientist who shares his enthusiasm for space exploration by performing his original story songs for science programs in elementary schools.

For all of Jim Thorne’s products on Songs for Teaching, click here! For more songs about outer space, click here!

10 Ways to Use Music in your Classroom

Due to several requests, we are republishing this blog post, originally published in March 2014.

Most teachers agree that using music can enhance learning. Yet, many teachers get stuck, not knowing what to play or how to use music to the fullest. Here are 10 ideas you can implement today in your classroom!

1. Transitions – music is a great tool when switching subjects of changing directions for your students. It has a way of resetting the stage so that children can mentally switch from one topic to another. Play a song to summarize what was just finished, or a song about what is coming next. Allow the children to stand up, march around the room or do hand movements to mark the transition. You will find your children fresh and engaged for the next subject. Click here for some great transition songs!

2. Energize – When children have been focusing on a subject for a time and begin to get fatigued (usually marked by restlessness, inattention, disruptive behavior), take a break from the class and call a music break. Play a activating song, best if related to the topic, to re-energize the children. Click here for some great suggestions!

3. Use Lyrics – display lyrics on a whiteboard, smart-board or on flip chart paper. Have the children find sight words, diagram the sentences or pull out academic vocabulary. Using the text while the song plays, gives relevance to the lyrics and allows the children to learn conventions, build vocabulary and enhance reading and literacy. Nearly all the music at Songs For Teaching is sold with lyrics.

4. Write Lyrics – Collect a few instrumental tracks of familiar songs and as an assignment have the children write their own lyrics. This can be done individually, in small groups or with the class at large. The teacher can incorporate a current theme or target information learned from a particular lesson. It might be a great project for a poetry lesson! Here are several suggestions for instrumental tracks.

5. Power of the Pause – Pausing the music at key spots in the music can increase engagement. Pause before the end of a line and ask the children to finish the line. Then think of other words you could substitute for the actual lyric. Brainstorm other words that rhyme or words that may change the meaning! Use the pause button with any song (remember musical chairs?). For rhyming songs try Jack Hartmann’s Rap, Clap, Rhyme. Also see Marla Lewis’ Rhyme Riddles!

6. Pair with Literature – There are a number of ways to pair songs with the books the children are reading. Teachers can select songs that relate directly to the book. For example, if your class is reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins, you can incorporate this song also titled Mr. Popper’s Penguins directly about the book. Or you can find songs about a related topic such as Penguin Party about the different types of penguins or Puffin’s Summer Picnic to learn about animals of the Arctic. This can be a great way to address the Common Core directive to integrate science, social studies etc into reading. Or . . . flip it! Listen to a song before going to the library and have the children find related books! Click Here for more songs inspired by Children’s Literature.

7. Make Music Video – This is a great project to integrate the sciences. Children can find photos on the internet and arrange them in a slide show to convey meaning in the song. Take the song Hibernation for example. . Children can collect photos of hibernating animals and sync them to the music. How about a song about amphibians . . . or a song about the solar system. Not only do the children enjoy the science lesson, they build their technology skills as well.

8. Coordinate with Holidays – Most teachers are used to playing songs related to the big holidays, but don’t forget the other special days of the year. For example, Earth Day is in April. It is a great time to play music related to conservation such as Music with Mar.’s Can It, Save the Planet. It also can be a great way to integrate songs about historical figures related to that holiday. For Earth Day, you could play a song about John Muir and learn the history of the day.

9. Have a Performance! This can be something simple like a performing for the classroom, perhaps across grade levels or with reading buddies. Or it can be for a school assembly or parent night. Using instrumental tracks saves the day when an accompanists cannot be found. Click here for some suggestions for performances! Make costumes and write your own scripts. Try one of our great musicals that come fully scripted complete with vocal and instrumental tracks.

10. Just plain fun! Try some silly songs for the simple joy of it. Make the classroom environment one that nurture’s children’s creativity and natural desire for learning.