Straight Line Wonder

straight line wonderA Lesson in Movement, Pitch, Rhythm…and Writing Across the Curriculum
By Camille DiTusa, Kingwood TX

The Straight Line Wonder, by Mem Fox is a book about being unique, creative, and above all, being true to yourself. It is a wonderful book to share with elementary students. This year my district implemented Writing Across the Curriculum and, in my search for authentic and creative projects that would enhance my students music learning, I came across this book. The project is designed for 3rd or 4th grade students. It should be accomplished over several class periods.

Movement: Explore different body shapes and the ways and pathways these shapes might move in space.
Pitch: Explore, create, and combine different melodic contours to make a cohesive melodic pattern.
Rhythm: Based on movement exploration, decide on rhythmic feel and create a rhythm for student composed melody.

Teaching Process:

  1.  Read The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox with your class. It is a book about a straight line and his 2 friends. One of the straight lines decides he wants to change, so he transforms his shape into a spring, a squiggle…whatever he can think of. This changes how he moves. His friends are embarrassed by him but he refuses to be ordinary. He eventually gets discovered and becomes a celebrity, and then his friends want to be seen with him. As the book is read, students interpret and make the different shapes the straight line does with their bodies and show the way he moves through space. Then, as he transforms, they copy him. To facilitate movement during the reading, I ask students to sit in a circle so we can move away and come back in 8 beats.
  2. Working in groups of 4:
  • Give each member a different color pipe cleaner
  • Student task: each member of the group creates a shape with their pipe cleaner
  • Draw all 4 shapes in journal
  • Describe in words (write in journal)
  1. Based on shape of pipe cleaner decide how it would move. While the teacher improvises, plays a recording of music with a steady beat, or accompanies student movement on a drum the students:
  • Show movement with pipe cleaner
  • Figure out how to make their body shape like their pipe cleaner then move like their pipe cleaner
  • Describe in words: write in journal
  • Explore and illustrate a possible path (for example when the line creeps in heaps students should consider what shape path he can make – probably something winding or straight rather than a zig-zag): draw and write in journal
  • Describe and record body shapes: draw and write in journal
  1. Students explore the relationship of their group’s 4 pipe cleaners to each other then relate their discoveries to body shapes and movements. Discuss the following questions in their groups:
  • How are they the same/different?
  • Could they connect? How? Or are the shapes separate from each other?
  • Could movements be consecutive or simultaneous?
  • Write a description and draw a picture in journal
  • Do the movement together with group
  1. Place pipe cleaner shapes on over-sized staff paper to create melodic contours.
  • What does the musical line look like?
  • What would it sound like?
  • Things to consider: Does the shape have sharp angles or gentle curves? Does the line go up or down? Would this move fast or slow? What kind of rhythm might work for the way this shape moves? Is this a steady rhythm…or an uneven one?
  • Explore the melodic contours, decide on a sequence and perform as a melody. An instrument set up in pentatonic works best for this. Students should decide on the resting tone.
  1. One student from the group – or the teacher – may play a bordun to accompany the student played melody while other students in the group perform the movement.

Camille DiTusa has been teaching K-5 general music for the past 12 years. Prior to that, she was a Young Audiences artist, a ballet accompanist, and taught piano and music theory.  She has degrees in piano performance, Music Education and Music Theory.  Her Orff Schulwerk  Levels I-III were completed at Eastman School of Music.