Play and Sing Around the Ring

Grade Level
K-2; 3-5

Selections: Young Speckled LadyRosie Baby (II)
Recorded: New York, NY; May 1948
Performers: Vera Hall

Activity 1: Musical

  1. Listen to Young Speckled Lady: ask students to raise their hands when they hear the response (Answer: “Shoo Do”)
  2. Practice singing the response; listen to the recording again and ask the students to sing the response with the recording.
  3. Ask: What do you think is happening when the singer calls someone’s name and then sings “fly away over yonder?” (Answer: this is a game song; when a person’s name is called they are to “fly” to the other side of the circle; Vera Hall gives a brief explanation of the game in her commentary on Young Speckled Lady in the Lomax Digital Archive – this could be played to answer the question after the students have had a chance to respond to the question themselves)
  4. Practice singing the song with the recording a couple more times, until the students can sing the “shoo do” responses confidently.
  5. Play the game without the recording (teacher singing the call), singing the names of individual students to “fly” across the circle to a new position in the circle.
  6. Tell students they are going to listen to another song. Ask: Does this song also have a call and response or is it structured a different way? (Answer: call and response; response is “Ha ha, Rosie”)
  7. Direct students’ attention to the clapping; ask them to clap the rhythm of the response each time they hear it (play recording again and clap with response).
  8. Ask: Do you only hear clapping during the call, or do you hear clapping during the response as well (Answer: clapping during call and response). To follow up, ask: Is this clapping on the strong beats or on the weak beats? (Answer: the claps are on the weak beats, beats 2 & 4)
  9. Ask students to sing and clap the response while you listen to the recording again. For a challenge, invite them to also clap on the off-beats while Vera Hall sings the call.
  10. Ask: What do you think is happening during this game? (Answer: Vera Hall doesn’t tell us exactly how to play this game; she sings multiple versions of the song and all she says is that they are dancing during the song. In another source from Vera Hall’s hometown of Livingston, AL the game is described as being played in two concentric circles. These instructions dictate that the leader and a partner skip around the circles, not dance, so there are clearly multiple ways this game could be played). Answer: accept all student responses. Share that there are many ways to play this game. Choose one of the student suggestions or one of the descriptions given above and play a couple rounds of “Rosie.”
  11. Ask: What do both of these songs have in common? (Answer: call and response structure; games played in a ring; roles for a leader and group in both the singing and playing of the game)
  12. Ask students to share any ring game songs they might know (Ring around the Rosy, etc.)

Activity 2: (focus = cultural context)

  1. Review the two ring game songs from the previous lesson: “Young Speckled Lady” and “Rosie Baby.”
  2. Ask: Whose beautiful, rich voice are we listening to on these recordings? (Answer: Vera Hall, from Livingston, AL. Her mother had been a slave, and Vera’s date of birth was not recorded, though it is estimated to be around 1902. John Lomax described her as having “the loveliest voice I had ever recorded.” After her death in 1964, Alan Lomax said, “It is from singers like Vera Hall that all of us who love folk music in America have everything to learn. Her performances were all graced with dignity and with love. Her sense of timing and beat were perfection itself….” Her song “Trouble So Hard” (From Alan Lomax's 1959 Sounds of the South) was sampled by Moby in his song “Natural Blues” (1999), which also appeared in one of the James Bond films. In 2005 Vera Hall was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. For more information: See here)
  3. Ask: Why would children growing up during the early 20th century when Vera was a little girl play these games? (A: no TV, video games, iphones, etc.; for socialization – play with friends and learn how to cooperate with others in a group; to pass down traditions and stories – “fly away” is a common image used in songs of African American heritage and refers to a legend of people flying away east over the ocean, back to Africa, during slave times; to blow off steam and energy – sometimes game songs included dancing in the middle of the ring, or flying across; to demonstrate creativity through movement; etc.) For more information about the nuance, style, and function of African American singing games, see “Step It Down” by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes.
  4. Share with students that ring games are played by children from many parts of the world. These particular ring games have been preserved and passed down through the African American singing game tradition, but were likely influenced by the songs and ring games of other ethnic and cultural groups as well (recall familiar ring games they might know – ex. Ring Around the Rosy is a ring song and play from Europe)
  5. In small groups of 4-6, have students make up their own ring game with a simple call and response, including rules/conventions for playing the game (using no instruments or props, just like the children who played Young Speckled Lady and Rosie Baby generations ago). Have each group demonstrate their new song & game for the class. For younger children, or to help fit this activity into a condensed time frame, consider making up a simple 4 line chorus as a class (with or without a sung melody) and then have the students invent the melody and the rules to the game in small groups. For very young children, this activity might best be undertaken as a complete class with the teacher helping to facilitate the sharing of ideas and the negotiation of the rules of the game amongst the students.

Lesson plan designed by Bethany Grant-Rodriguez