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Differentiated Instruction VI

This week we have been posting a series of blogs from NCCAT Lead Fellow Dr. Deb Teitelbaum on Differentiated Instruction. We hope to hear from you with comments, questions or observations as we go along.

Differentiation by Process: Musical Modality

My final post regarding differentiation by process involves using musical modality. If you set something to music, it becomes almost impossible to forget. We can all recite Jenny’s phone number[1], as well as that of Empire Carpet. I will never be able to erase Coach’s geography lesson on Cheers. He sang to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching in,” “Albania! Albania! You border on the A-dri-atic.” He and Sam both passed the test.

If the goal of a lesson is simple memory, there are many song mnemonics available online or on CD and DVD to. Below is a link to a video on the order of operations in mathematics.

Other websites that present or reinforce content musically include, but are most definitely not limited to,,,, and Mr. Lee’s Science Rap Channel on I highly recommend that the use of these sites be buttressed by having your students sing along, loudly and with gusto. If they merely watch the videos, they are not actively engaging with the material and will require hundreds of viewings to absorb the material.

As with the fortune tellers/cootie catchers I mentioned in an earlier post, a potentially more powerful way of harnessing musical modality is to have your students write the lyrics. On vocabulary days in my classes, I would assign each group two words and ask them to set the word and definition to an easy-to-remember song: “Old MacDonald,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” etc.

NOTE: Make sure each group uses a different song or the effectiveness of the activity is substantially lowered.

One group made up the following song for the word “mendacious,” which means “dishonest.” Sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus,” it echoes in my head lo these many years later:

If you’re mendacious, you tell lies,

You tell lies,

You tell lies.

If you’re mendacious, you tell lies,

And no one likes you.

Members of each group would then team up with new people and teach the two songs they developed. In forty minutes or less, the entire class had reviewed twenty words and definitions. As a class, we then practiced the songs together, standing up, off-key, and loud as hell.

Musical modality can also be used for its novelty to get students’ attention. Westerville South High School in Ohio has a YouTube channel to which they have uploaded numerous math raps with remarkably good production values. My personal favorite is “All I Do is Solve”— , although I can’t be certain if it’s the content I like or the way-more-handsome math teachers than I ever had doing the singing. While I would never use lyrics this complex to teach a concept, I would certainly use it to pique my students’ interest or as a review.

At NCCAT if you want someone to do a Google search, you say,“Put the Google on it!” I would suggest you put the Google on “[insert your content here] songs.” Someone somewhere has probably already written lyrics for it. Granted, they might not be very good, but you can always assign your students to write something better as a final assessment. That brings us to differentiation by product, which I will address in my next post.

[1] In the event that you’re one of the few who can’t, I refer you to Tommy Tutone’s album 2.

Thanks for joining us this week.

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