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Carnival of Animals

One of my favorite Second Grade units is Carnival of the Animals.  We learn about this music of Saint Saens and do some fun activities that focus on listening skills.  Carnival of the Animals is a set of pieces that Saint Saens, a French composer, wrote as a joke.  These pieces were all meant to sound like, imitate or make you think of various animals.   To begin this unit we listened to a few pieces and imagined what the composer might have wanted us to identify.  "Do the strings sound like chickens in this piece?"  "Why do you think Saint Saens used a low sounding instrument for the elephant?"  and "What instrument is playing the roar of the lion?" were just a few questions we discussed while listening.
Later while listening to "The Aquarium" we discovered a new note-the whole note.  This note looks a lot like a donut and gets four counts (ta-a-a-a).  We moved to the whole note and then used bottles of bubbles to blow through the whole note.  Students used their critical listening skills and stirred bubbles until they heard a whoe note in the melody and then blew four counts worth of bubbles.

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop by Dan Fee (who is AMAZING!).  The bubbles and the cup stacking in the next activity were ideas that he described in his workshop.  The kids had such a great time!  For the "Tortoise" we moved very slow, like tortoises,  and stacked cups.  Only by moving slowly like a tortoise could we get our stacks all the way up.  During this activity students got to hear this amazing music over and over, used problem solving skills to decide how to complete the task alone, with a partner and with a group. Fun!

Other Carnival of the Animals activities included using ribbon streamers to dance like birds and to identify the "cuckoo" sound made by the clarinet in the "Cuckoo" piece.
Watch the video we watched in class HERE.  This video allows students to hear Carnival of the Animals poetry, see the animals from the pieces and hear an orchestra perform the music.


  1. Love your ideas! How was the stacking cups activity different when they did it by themselves, with a partner and then as a group? I can't quite picture what would change besides taking turns stacking a cup...

  2. How many classes did this take?

  3. I spent about three class periods on Carnival of the Animals. Watching the video, doing a few activities and then listening and identifying. The bubbles didn't take long. The cup stacking change resulted in conversations about pace or tempo. It was easy to set their own pace when they did it alone. It was easy to go sloooooow like a tortoise on their own. When they added a partner, they tended to speed up because they had to wait a turn (which FELT slower! LOL). Although we weren't trying to place the cups according to the beat, we were trying to move slowly and that's tricky for this age group. :-)

  4. Love the Tortoise activity! Will give it a try this spring!