The Green Grass Grew All Around
“Green Grass Grew All Around” never fails to excite and delight my students. No matter their mood when they walk in, this song bring out big smiles and gets kids excited about class. What’s more, this song is especially great for English Language Learners (abbreviated to ESL/ELL in many places) as it involves some really great science vocabulary. There are a ton of variations of this little ditty and lots of great resources that you can use to teach it and I wanted to share.
First of all, I officially teach this song to fulfill a requirement about teaching my students cumulative form (though I would teach it anyway, it’s a really fun song!). A cumulative song is one where you keep adding elements/words every time you repeat the song. There are a lot of songs that teach this concept like the Court of King Caractacus, Twelve Days of Christmas, Rattlin Bog, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, etc. Let me quickly steal the unofficial definition of a cumulative song from Wikipedia:
A cumulative song is a song with a simple verse structure modified by progressive addition so that each verse is longer than the verse before.
Cumulative songs are popular for group singing, in part because they require relatively little memorization of lyrics, and because remembering the previous verse to concatenate it to form the current verse can become a kind of game.
Start at the beginning! The Process
This song progressively tells the story of a tree that lives in the middle of a wood. I tell them right away that they should stand by a partner but don’t give them an action to do with the partner immediately. Once we’re partnered up, we’re ready to go. Now, you’ve gotta work from the ground up with this song (my dad would be so pleased with that pun) and start with the basics. I start by having my students echo sing the first few phrases. This part of the song is actually an echo so it works out really well that they learn it by echoing.
“There was a hole (There was a hole)
In the middle of the ground (In the middle of the ground)
The prettiest little hole (The prettiest little hole)
That you ever did see! (That you ever did see!)”
After that comes a section that is sung with leader and group in unison. The very first time I teach this through echo/by rote but every time after that we sing this phrase together..
“And the hole’s in the ground… and the green grass grew all around, all around, and the green grass grew all around.”
Before moving on I have kids try this whole thing again and we add an action of making a circle with their arms (like showing you’ve got a sumo wrestler belly or miming holding a beach ball) to create a “hole.” With the words and action in place we move on to the next verse in the song. This second time around you add the first object that goes in the hole. It’s a root!
“And in that hole (and in that hole)
There was a root (there was a root)
The prettiest little root (the prettiest little root)
That you ever did see (that you ever did see)
And the root in the hole, and the hole in the ground… and the green grass grew…”
And you sing the whole bit. For the root I do the actions of “digging roots into the ground.” Hands open with fingers pointing down pushing down (kinda like piano hands on a keyboard).
The next time round you add the next object: a tree on the root. It becomes apparent to the students on this object that you’re going to keep adding and adding over and over. You can even bring this up and say “Remember that vocabulary word for today, cumulative. Well this song is accumulating more and more words.”
“And on that root (and on that root)
There was a tree (there was a tree)
The prettiest little tree (the prettiest little tree)
That you ever did see (that you ever did see)
And the tree on the root and the root in the hole and the hole in the ground…”
Each new word and addition to the song gets its own action so that you’re not only accumulating words but actions too. I usually add the movement of doing a little heel raise and dropping myself with arms down at my sides like the trunk of a tree plopping into the hole for this new word and then of course show the piano hands for roots and then the circle arms again for the action of the “hole.”
Add in a Partner Action
About this time I add one more element. I tell them to “swing your partner” every verse when you get to the words “the green grass grew all around…” I tell students that they can skip and turn around one another in “swing your partner” fashion with linked arms. My kiddos LOVE the swinging action. If they get too out of hand or if a partner looses their grip on one another and someone goes flying away then they don’t get to do the new “spinning” action anymore. You could absolutely teach this action at the beginning of the song but I didn’t want to add too much at once. That’s why I wait until the third or fourth verse to make sure they really understand the singing and the cumulative process before I add this fun element with their partner.
The song goes on but the process remains the same after this. To save time I’m going to just post the other object and my actions and then move on to other things I love about this song. So, it goes…
Hole – circle arms
Root – roots digging in ground (piano hands moving down)
Tree – hands at side, hop in the hole
Branch – arm outstretched with fist on end
Twig – open hand or one finger on outstretched arm
Nest – cupped hands in front of me
Egg – hands over head in “tornado position” like kids do for drills
Bird – chicken wings
Wing – one arm as wing and raise as high as you can
Feather – “sneeze” the word “Pffffffff-EATHER”
Bug – Scream the word as if you’re freaked out by it
Virus – sweet and soft with hands folded
ESL/ELL Strategies to Embed in the Lesson
There are lots of opportunities with this song to give help to English Language Learners. First of all, you have a huge sequence flowing through that song that you reinforce over and over again. First there’s the hole. Then the tree goes in the hole. Then the branch goes on the tree in the hole. Then the twig goes on the branch on the tree in the hole. The sequence is cemented in their head because they repeat it over and over again. The repeat is easy to learn because you only add one new element at a time, making it a little easier to master. This is the magic of a cumulative song.
My principal loves to say, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and while I think that mental picture is a little gross, I get the meaning. Building this song from one small element to a larger story with lots of pieces makes the learning easier. Start with the small and easy, “a hole in the ground” and build out. They don’t have to learn it all at once but one small piece at a time. This is the perfect strategy for ELL students, and all students for that matter.
Another great thing about this song is that you keep using words and actions and can even use pictures that put the story in context and reinforce their learning outside your classroom. When you continually use words like “on” and “in” you help students place where the new object goes and help reinforce which word you would use for each context. A story about a bird in a nest on a tree is something that almost all students can understand. And good lord the life science concepts/connections! You have a tree in a hole. What goes on the tree, the longer part of the tree that reaches out is called a branch (you could even through out “limb” for a vocab word here) and then when it gets much smaller it’s called a twig. Birds build their nests in trees out in the twigs and…
I also love using duets as a learning strategy because it gives students a little more help and individual attention (sidebar: I call partners either duets or trios, etc. I never just call it “find a partner,” but “find a duet!” Hooray for constant content reinforcement!). I’ve learned with my high ELL population that often students will help one another without my prompting. For instance, a student who is new to the country who only speaks Spanish will often find a friend/helper who will translate important words or commands for them. Putting kids into duets allows those natural pairings to happen and for the newer students the duet partner becomes their personal helper. The helper student reinforces, explains, and makes the process smoother and also helps the new student gain confidence and feel more comfortable.
The vocabulary in this song is great too, because you can mess with them when you get close to the end. I add on “a pretty little virus” at the very end and I ask, “Is a virus pretty? Would we normally sing ‘pretty little virus?'” and I let them think through it. You can add in any sort of vocabulary you want. Don’t fee limited to what’s traditional. One time right before a holiday break I had an “extra” day with a class, a day that fell out of our normal rotation, and because they were quite familiar with the song I taught a variation. In the new version the animal in the egg wasn’t a bird but a lizard. We had so much fun coming up with other lyrics that could work if the animal in the egg really was a lizard, or a dragon, or specific kind of bird like a buzzard. There are so many places you could take this!
Resources to Use
I love using this book (and large books like this) with the kids. It’s from an era before PowerPoint where you had to make your own visuals, but I still think it’s pretty valuable. I found this book/set of cards in my school resources when I got there and have used it several times. This specific book is by Shirley Handy and can be purchased on her website for bout $10 I think. She’s done lots of workshops and her work has been around for a while (so I’m sure this info isn’t new for many of you). You get the book in black and white and have to color it all in yourself, but once it’s done you’re able to use these cards forever! This specific set of cards comes on 11×17 heavy card stock, comes ready to color, and is easy to laminate and use over and over again. Really a fun and great resource! GET IT HERE!
The visual helps kids understand the connection between the words and the actions and what’s happening with the song. The book allows them to see what’s happening while they actually feel and make the movements in their body. Then singing cements the story as they retell it themselves. This process is wonderful for ELL (and really, all learners) students because they have so much reinforcement and so many chances to internalize what they’re doing.
Here are some other things you might find helpful if you’re wanting to teach this song. First of all, there’s a video of Miss Nina singing the song with Joanie Leeds. It’s a little easier and maybe shoots for a younger age than I would use it with, but it’s a great video!
I’ve also recorded myself playing the piano accompaniment version that I use with my students. As you can probably hear when you listen to it, I love to throw in an accelerando with my kids. It keeps them on their toes, keeps up the pace, and adds even more fun to a crazy fun song. I hope this helps too! The recording is a little “tinny” because I had to set my laptop next to my digital piano and let it record the sound. Download the recording for FREE here!