O Tannenbaum! Teaching about a Tree!
Holiday carols are so much fun! I love introducing my students to carols because they give you a chance to spark the kids’ interest and teach them about other countries, time periods, and (in some cases) different languages. In that regard they are much like folks songs because they open up so many possibilities for connections to content outside of music. In fact some carols ARE folks songs (which is fun to teach the kids).
One underrated but totally fun carol to teach about is “O Tannenbaum” from the German holiday carol tradition. Below you can find some of the fun things that I do with this carol (usually with my 3rd graders) and some extension ideas I had while planning for next week.
Long and Changing History
I also love this about O Tannenbaum: it was not originally a Christmas song. The tune originally comes from a traditional folk song (and my kiddos spend lots of time talking about, defining, and using folk songs) that merely talked about the beautiful fir trees that glowed green all through the winter. This is great for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me a chance to make connections yet again with folk songs, folk tunes, folk stories, folk dances, etc. It also means that it’s a little more palatable for all kids from all cultures. I think that many of us have had those parents who don’t want their kids exposed to “Christmas Music.” Well, this wasn’t originally about that, and if you sing it in the German it won’t be about it now. The thing is that the tune is so recognizable and the song so iconic. Kids should know it!
If you do want to talk about the transition to English and even sing the words “O Christmas Tree,” you definitely can do so if you talk about how the tradition of the Christmas tree evolved. Giving historical context to this songs highlights its connection to people and culture. This song and the tradition of bringing evergreen trees into the home is a wonderful example of cross-cultural adaptations as the English took on the traditions of the Germans and even began to sing some of their music.
Is this a Christmas song? What do these words mean?
Possible extensions and activities
Syncopation – The A section has lots of syncopation through the phrases and is a great contrast to the smoother B section. It would even be a great time to show them the notation (providing they’re ready for it) to have them identify the dotted eighth and sixteenth pairing.
Form – This is a fantastic, clear example of an ABA form. A friend in my district calls this the “Oreo Cookie” form with an obvious beginning (A), differing middle section (B), and repeat of the first section (A). If you ended up talking about form, you can break out the FREE form letters that I offer in my TpT store. Get them for free HERE.
Movement and Dancing – Create your own form!
One new thing I tried this year was to have students add their own actions to the song. We went through the first verse and I asked them to come up with some actions that made them look like an evergreen tree. We went through some possible options and then settled on our favorite. We stood like an evergreen for the words, “O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, how lovely are your branches.” Then we called that first part of the song the A section. Moving on, we came up for “growing” actions for the words, “In lovely green you always grow,” and then some more movement for “through summer sun and winter snow.”
Once we had all those actions down we talked about the form of the song and decided that it was an AABA form: A- O Tannenbaum and B- In lovely green… We went through the song once or twice with all our actions and then we moved on to make it even more fun.
I stood at the white board and said that our BIG A section would be the singing of the first verse. Everything we had just done was our “BIG A section” and we were about to add something new. I told half of the class to stand and do their best evergreen tree impression and the rest of the class was supposed to walk around and admire them. I mean, this song was originally about the Germans and how much they loved and admired evergreen trees. So, I played a little interlude music while half the class stood like trees and the other half admired. We called this part BIG B.
So far, we have ABA (A- sing, B- stand like trees, A- sing). Then we got really creative and came up with PART C! In this part of the song half of the class stands like evergreen trees and then other half of the class goes to cut them down and take them inside to decorate. The kid thought this was HILARIOUS. We finished off the song with another singing A section. So in the end we had ABACA: A-sing, B- stand/admire, C- tree/cut them down.
Crafting Activity for you and/or your Students
I got this paper tree from a friend a few years ago but I could totally see it being adapted to use in for a music classroom. She took old train ticket images and printed them onto about three different colors of green paper. Then she cut them up and put them onto one of those foam cones that you can get at virtually any craft store. Viola! A paper Christmas tree.
Here are my thoughts/modifications for a musical paper Tannenbaum! You could take old musical scores with lots of different sizes and shapes of notes to create the green needles for your tree. Or grab your music textbooks and make copies of the kids’ favorite songs from the first semester and copy them off in different colors. You could even use different shades of green like this or you could do them in any color. I imagine green trees and red trees in my room in varying shades of color. And don’t let the colored copy paper dilemma stop you. You can easily copy onto construction paper which gives you a ton of options for color shades (learn about copying onto construction paper in this post). Then you can cut the paper up and paste it to your tree.
If you like the visuals that you saw above and want to use them when YOU teach “O Tannenbaum” you can get them at my TpT store. Click HERE or on the picture to go to TpT and see a more extensive preview and description.