Ms Donoghue’s class was studying the American Revolution and reading a book called My Brother Sam Is Dead.  She wanted her students to think about cause and effect, and her literacy goal was to help her students use relevant details to back up a main idea in writing.  We thought about what kinds of things might be worth fighting for.  Students thought of an injustice in their own lives, something they truly believe in, and considered the consequences of standing up for their beliefs.  Listening to examples of contemporary songs with a social message, they wrote protest chants of their own, discovering the tools musicians use to get their messages across (rhyme, imagery, rhythm).

Student #1

First, the students were invited to choose a topic they felt strongly about, and imagine shouting their message out loud in the lunchroom.  What would the consequences be?  When the effects became no longer worth it, they abandoned their protest.  Here is a student reflection on the exercise.

Student #2

With the remaining protests, the students worked in small groups to develop imagery and ideas to back up their thesis statement.  Here one student reflects on the group process and class behavior.

On the difficulty of raising your hand when you have a burning comment to make

Student #3

A student reflects on the joy of rhyming and creating imagery- while keeping it relevant to the theme at hand.

Click play to see Ms Donoghue giving examples to help the students distinguish good support statements for their theses from bad.


In music, we explored one culture’s way of using music as a tool for sending messages.  Ms Donoghue’s class worked on basic technique on the frame drums in the Puerto Rican tradition of Plena, sometimes called the ‘people’s musical newspaper.’  They listened to sample plena music, learned the names of the drums, how to produce the sounds, practiced keeping time and playing together in time.

Student #1

Here is a student’s notes on the different drums used in Plena music.

notes on the family of Plena drums


Student #2

Here students demonstrate how to get a good bass sound on the frame drum.

Student #3

Journal notes on what she’s learned so far.

Frame drum technique



Their skills growing, the students learned to play the polyrhythmic patterns used in Plena and wrote their own verses on the theme of a traditional Plena song called “Cuando el Gallo Canta.”

Cuando el Gallo Canta 2

Student #1

We brought in two local pleneros, Ivelisse Diaz and Angel Fuentes, who along with Ms Jamie demonstrated the true sound of Plena when all the parts are present- the 3 interlocking drum parts, the guiro, and call and response singing.  We discussed improvisation as well.

Here is one student’s reflection and his choice for the part he’d like to play.

Student #2

Here is one student’s brainstorm on the theme of morning and new beginnings, and trying to fit his lyrics into a rhythm that would fit the cadence of the song.  We drew underline for each syllable and noted which should be accented.  You can see he had some trouble fitting the syllables in right, but his expansion of the theme is spot on.

Writing lyrics for a plena song

Student #3

After learning and practicing each of the parts individually and in polyrhythm, and writing original verses, here is our final performance of ‘Cuando el Gallo Canta.’

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