Issue 22: The Great Wall of China

A lesson I taught last year….

If I was an organised, thinking-ahead sort of person, I would have planned suitable lessons for Chinese New Year well in advance, and have a selection of suitable resources all ready. However, I am more of a thinking-on-my-feet sort of person, which is why Chinese New Year came as a bolt from the blue – again!

So, I turned up at school with my usual ideas ready to go, and discovered that the schedule would be different; did I mind taking the whole of keystage1 en masse for music this afternoon and doing something Chinese with them? Err, sure, fine, no problem.

And this is what happened.

“Great Wall of China”, I exclaimed.

“What?” asked startled member of staff sweating over a hot laptop on the table next to me in the staff room.

I raided the store cupboard for every single chime bar I could find. This is one of the best equipped schools that I work in, and has five complete sets of chime bars, plus sharps and flats and a few extra lower and higher bars. It also has a box of about 50 identical beaters to go with the chime bars – imagine that! Such lavish resources in such a small school! I piled all the chime bars and beaters, and a drum, a cymbal and a soft beater into a couple of crates and I was ready for business.

A teacher, two TAs and I set off to the hall staggering under the weight of chime bars, herding around 45 children from Reception to year 2 in a reasonably straight-ish kind of snaky line.

Once there, we used the chime bars to recreate the Great Wall of China, lining them up from one side of the hall to the other. One child was designated the Emperor, and another was a Scout who carried a cymbal. All the other children were armed with a beater and allocated a place along the chime bar wall. (“No-no-no-no, don’t play it yet, listen to the story to know when to play”). So they listened as I began to tell a story about a scout returning from his
travels to far away dangerous places beyond the mountains (I was making this up as I went along) and needed to send a message to the Emperor to warn him of a fierce and terrible army coming to invade the land. The Scout was directed to stop at one end of the line of chime bars and play his cymbal with the soft beater,
and then each child played their chime bar in turn to carry the message all the way to the Emperor’s palace. The Emperor thought about the message (for a nanosecond or two) before summoning the soldiers with a sharp couple of taps on the drum. A message was sent back down the line to reassure the Scout that the soldiers were coming. It took a couple of goes to get the messaging system working properly – there was a tendency for the message to get stuck at various points, or leapfrog over great sections of the wall, but eventually it was working pretty well, all things considered. Once we had sent some messages back and forwards along the wall, we made the soldiers march along, by passing the drum along the wall from the Emperor to the Scout with everyone having a play in turn.

We then did the whole story again, with suggestions from the children being incorporated (dragons, fireworks) o extend and improve upon the original version.

For a lesson-plan-in-a-hurry, it went very well. I and thinking of doing the same lesson, but on purpose, this year.

If you wanted to do something similar, then I think it would work perfectly well with any kinds of instruments. For a Wider Opportunities class, you could line up the children and their clarinets and recorders or whatever they are learning. Otherise, a random selection of school percussion instruments would work just as well. The skill is in being ready to play at the right time, and being silent the rest of the time. To extend the activity, you could ask the children to maintain a steady pulse, mimicking the tramp of the soldier’s feet as they march along the wall.


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