Naughty Kitty Cat – Circle Song
One of my favorite things about the Orff Schulwerk philosophy of teaching is the ability to go from something relatively simple to an experience that is complex and exciting. You start with a song, add in movement, add in new layers, add in an ostinato, include a game, move students to instruments, and on and on. The possibilities are endless once you sit down and think about all of your options.
The song Naughty Kitty Cat is a great example of this. It has a catchy little tune, involves a really fun game, and is an easy gateway to including barred percussion instruments. I recently taught this lesson with some of my youngest students and was really pleased with how it turned out, so I wanted to share my process with you. If there are any other activities or avenues that you take with this song, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share in the comments about how you use this song in YOUR classroom!
Learning the Song – The Process
After I sing through this with the kids, the cat protests and says that that story’s all wrong. And she meows as she talks with the kids about how she was “FRAMED! Framed I tell you! It wasn’t me!” even though we found her with butter on her whiskers. Then we sing the song again and on all of the quarter rests the cat breaks in with a “meow!” When finished I ask the kids if they can add in the “meow” along with Fluffly. They’re happy to meow along with Fluffy as I sing the other parts of the song. Then we usually run out of time and the kids line up to go.
In the next lesson I bring the cat back and I have the kids learn the rest of the song. We sing it phrase by phrase to learn the music. In our previous lesson, I sang the music and students added in the “meows.” For this lesson I turn the tables on them so that once the students have the song all learned, they will sing the song and I add the “meows” in with Fluffly. Finally we put it all together and kids get to sing the phrases of the song and add in the “meows” as well doing both parts at once
Chasing the Kitty – the Circle Game
The next step is to arrange kids into a circle and sing the song again. I will sit in the middle of the circle with Fluffly the cat and I’ll add in the “meows.” Then I leave the puppet on the floor and move to the outside of the circle. In this game I tell them that I’m the angry owner and Fluffy is the naughty cat and I’m trying to get in to catch her. I walk around the outside of the circle as they sing again. I tell them that I can’t get in to catch fluffy because they’re all in the way holding hands, sort of like a fence. I would need someone to raise their arms to create a gate or doorway to get through the fence.
Then the real fun begins. I choose a “cat” and an “owner.” The cat stands in the middle of the circle and the owner walks around the circle on the outside. The rest of the kids hold hands and create a fence between the cat and owner. The way the game works is that the kids all sing the song and the child in the middle gets to sing the “meows” as a solo. This fun little addition gives the kid in the middle the chance to do something on their own in front of their class. Saying “meow” isn’t nearly as intimidating as singing a solo or demonstrating a concept for all your peers, but it’s a great starter activity to get kids comfortable with doing something alone in front of others.
During the song the kids hold hands and keep the owner away from the cat. At the end of the song on the very last “meow” they raise their arms and create little gateways for the cat to get out. The kid playing the the cat runs out under one duet’s upstretched arms. At that moment all the other kids put their arms down. This means that there is only one archway to get in or out of the circle. After choosing that pathway the cat runs and the owner on the outside of the circle tries to catch them. The goal for the cat is to get all the way around the circle and back under the same open arch before the owner catches them. I cannot tell you how much fun my kids have with this!
You could also do an easier version of the circle game in a “duck, duck, goose” style where you have the cat walk around the circle as kids sing and tap someone on the shoulder at the end. The walker turns into the “naughty cat” and runs around the circle and the kid who was tapped chases them and tries to catch them.I generally let kids play the game one day/class period without adding anything new. I’ll stand on the outside accompanying on the xylophone while students sing and then chase one another as cat and owner. To rotate through students I usually have the cat choose a new cat and the owner choose a new owner.
Adding Instruments – Bass and Color
The first time that we sing this song with the “chasing game” I will leave it with only that. I play the xylophone and the kids focus on figuring out the game and singing. Usually on the first day, that’s enough to think about without adding in instruments to complicate things. When we come back to it on another day I add in instruments for the kids to play.
I pull out glockenspiels and set them in C pentatonic (just take off the F and B bars). The kids sit down and I go to the glockenspiels to demonstrate. I let them sing the Naughty Kitty Cat song and any time there should be a “meow” I play two bars on the glockenspiel. I show the kids that they can choose to play any two bars they want, but that they have to play on the word “meow.” This adds in a component that Orff people sometimes call the “color.” Since the instrument is set in C pentatonic, any notes that the kids play will sound fine in the key of the song.
To get kids onto the instruments I have them move back into their circle to play the game. Since they’ve played this game before, they know the expectation that anyone in the circle becomes the fence, the kid in the middle is the cat, and the person on the outside is the owner/chaser. After we finish the song I have the old cat choose a new cat and the old owner choose a new owner and then the old cat/owner kids head over to the glockenspiels. They sit down and play on the “meows” while the rest of the circle does the game again and the newly chosen cat/owner race at the end.
If you do this process with two glockenspiels then the cat/owner would choose two new kids to race and then rotate over to the glockenspiels. This means you’d have two new kids racing each time and two new kids playing glockenspiels each time. That sort of rotation works well, but I wanted kids to have more experience on the instruments, so I pulled out four glockenspiels for them to play instead of two. The only problem becomes, who do the cat/owner replace when the go over to the instruments? If you don’t put some sort of procedure in place you could end up with one kid playing over and over again and not returning to the circle.To make transitions a little more smooth, I added in one more thing, a “cat scratch.” After a kid races in the circle as a cat or owner they come to me to get a cat scratch. I mark their hand with a little “scratch” and then they go over to play the glockenspiels. I keep two different colored markers with me so that I can alternate blue/red or whatever. That way when I “scratch” the kids with a red marker I can say “now go to the instruments and replace someone with a red cat scratch” and when I “scratch” them with blue I can say ”
now go to the instruments and replace someone with a blue cat scratch.” As long as I remember to alternate colors after each time the kids sing the song, then a student who plays the instruments should get two times through the song before they have to go back to the circle. This means a little more playing time and makes rotation a little easier.
This song is a great jumping-off point for lots of other lessons. You could spend some time talking about the interval sol-la in this song and use the song to introduce la. You could use this song with an older grade level and have students play the chord bordun on the bass xylophone. You could take time and write out the notation or create it with popsicle sticks. Or you could use any number of books with the song and connect the song to literature. I was introduced to the book “Bad Kitty” by Nick Bruel this year and had a lot of fun reading this with kiddos after playing/singing with them.
You could also take this song and then move into instrument technique. Take what you learned on the glockenspiels and transfer that knowledge to the other instruments like the xylophone or metallophone. There are some really easy and wonderful mallet exploration games for younger kids (I love the conductor game!) in Artie Almeida’s “Mallet Maddness” books.
That said, don’t try and shove all of this into one lesson on one day. Kids will get overhwhelmed or bored. Give them a chance at pieces of this lesson on different days. Let them master the song before you attempt the game. Learn the game before you add instruments. Bring the game/song back again any time you want as a refresher. With so many options, you don’t have to feel rushed to get it all compacted in one day.
Need a little inspiration to jazz up your old lessons? Do you have a long commute and want a friend along in the car to bounce around lesson ideas? Check out my new podcast! My goal is to focus on a new song or game in every episode. I also plan to share how I teach the lesson, activities to include, resources to try out, and more! It’s available in the iTunes store and on other Podcasting apps. Just look for “Make Moments Matter: A Music Education Podcast” or search for my name “David Row.”