book of music

Creating a Sound Story – Lesson Plan

Students communicate through music by creating sounds to accompany a children’s story.

  • Length: about 45-50 minutes
  • Grades: K-3

Students understand that the musical elements of rhythm, dynamics, and tempo can be used with classroom instruments to represent characters that can tell a story.

Resource Used:
“Sunrise” by Edvard Grieg and “Storm Movement” by Ludwig van Beethoven
From: Creating Stories and Music Programs 2 and 3, respectively

Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts

dynamics; pitch (high and low); rhythm; rhythmic durations (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes); timbre

TV/VCR or DVD player, variety of rhythm instruments, Goldilocks and the Three Bears storybook with illustrations


  • Multiple-Choice Questions
  • Answer Key

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Instructional Strategies and Activities

Creating a sunrise and a storm through music
Briefly introduce the class to the two excerpts they will hear: “Sunrise” by Edvard Grieg and the “Storm” movement from Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Ask the class to pay attention to different instruments being used and to how the musicians are playing them. Now play the excerpts.

Ask if the class could have figured out what the two pieces were about without knowing the titles. Ask how the composers created a sunset and storm. Point out that the same instruments were used in both excerpts. The listener could tell what each piece was about not only from the distinctive sound of each instrument (timbre), but also from the other elements of rhythm (active rhythm or less active rhythm, fast-moving notes as opposed to slow-moving notes), tempo (how fast or slow the beat of the music is), and dynamics (how loud or soft the musicians are playing their instruments).

The Orchestra

Creating Stories and Music, a project of the Louisville Orchestra, was designed to take some of the mystery out of composing music by comparing it to writing stories. The three-part series features a composer and a writer comparing their creative processes for an audience of young people. The associate conductor of the Louisville Orchestra, Robert Franz, is the series host—and the person students will meet if they attend a live young people’s concert by the orchestra.

What really makes the project special is the appearance of student musicians in the two featured orchestras. “Sunrise” is performed by students in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra; “Storm Movement” is performed by the Louisville Youth Orchestra. These performances make excellent introductions to orchestral music, to two important composers, and to the notion that every student has the capacity to play a musical instrument—just like the young people seen in the programs.

It may help to replay the excerpts to help students better hear and identify the elements of music. Feel free to stop the tape and point out elements or ask students to describe what they hear.

Creating sound effects with simple instruments
Discuss the elements of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. Explain that by using simple classroom instruments, we can create the sound of actions. Some examples are using castanets to make the sound of a horse walking on pavement or a glockenspiel to imitate raindrops slowly falling into a puddle of water. Demonstrate how to use simple classroom instruments to musically express a thought or image.

Telling a story through music
Tell the class that they are going to express musically the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Show pictures of Goldilocks and the three bears and ask the students to name each character. Write the following words on the board next to the appropriate pictures: Baby Bear, Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Goldilocks.

Discuss characteristics of each. For example, Papa Bear would be a big, slow-moving individual. Demonstrate how to use a musical instrument to represent this trait.

Goldilocks would be a little girl with a high-pitched voice, etc. Demonstrate this idea on an instrument.

Divide the class into groups of four. Give each child a rhythm instrument. Tell them that their job is to experiment and, working as a group, assign one instrument to each character listed on the board (one instrument represents Baby Bear, a different instrument represents Mama Bear, etc.).

NOTE: If you have an odd number of children, you can select one to play an instrument to indicate Goldilocks going up the stairs, one for the chair breaking, and one for Goldilocks running away from the bears.

After ample time (five minutes or so), have each group explain which character each member will portray. At this point, put all the Mama Bears together, all the Papa Bears together, and so on.

Teach the entire class a rhythm (the rhythm can mirror the rhythm in words such as “I am Papa Bear,” “I am little Goldilocks,” etc.). Have students play the rhythm on their instruments at slow and fast tempos, as well as at soft and loud dynamic levels. Work with them to find a tempo and dynamic level that best represents each character.

Explain that as the story is told, each student must listen for his or her character’s name to be mentioned. When they hear their character’s name, they play that rhythm on their instruments at the appropriate time.

Read the story.

After the story, ask the students whether they thought a different instrument in their group would be more appropriate for a different character and why.

Extending the lesson
For a related activity, prepare a variety of pictures on slips of paper. The pictures might include galloping horses, leaves falling to the ground, whales swimming in the ocean, dogs playing in the field, etc. Students will create various sounds to represent these various images. One way to do this is to divide the class into groups of four or five. Each group would select a picture from a bag. After discussing it as a group and using the provided instruments, the students would express the picture musically by creating a rhythm and playing it in time at a tempo and dynamic level that matches the picture. After the performance, the students would tell why they chose the instruments, rhythms, tempos, and dynamic levels that they did to represent the picture. This activity would make a nice performance event.

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Applications Across the Curriculum

Language Arts

  • Write a story with animal characters. Make sure the characters are strong characters—ones that could be represented by classroom instruments and elements of music.


  • Explore how sound is created and how we hear.


  • Have students choose stories they’ve written that have strong characters, either from the language arts connection above or from their portfolios, and ask them to create sounds using classroom instruments and the elements of music to represent each of the characters in their stories.
  • Research the possibility of taking your class to an orchestral performance designed specifically for young people (see the Kentucky Arts Council’s “Arts Resources for Teachers and Schools” in the toolkit for suggestions). Use this lesson as a pre-performance activity, then organize a field trip to the orchestra. Many orchestras provide educational materials to enhance the visit.
  • Arrange a field trip to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Renfro Valley and explore the interactive displays in the Music Room that address the elements of music.

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Performance Assessment

Performance Event:
Read or tell the story “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop, then review it to make sure that the students understand the plot. Plot summary: The hare challenges the tortoise to a race. Because the hare is such a fast animal, he thinks for sure he can beat the tortoise. But, even though the tortoise is a slow-moving creature, he keeps a steady pace while the hare runs fast to get ahead but then stops, thinking he can easily win at any time he wants to. The hare falls asleep, and the tortoise wins the race.

Choose and name a classroom instrument to represent the tortoise and another instrument to represent the hare. Show how you would play rhythms to express the story of the hare and the tortoise. Why did you choose to play the rhythms that way?

Performance Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
The student completes the assignment effectively, showing an understanding of the musical elements of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. The student demonstrates critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment and communicates effectively, using insightful examples and supporting details to justify choices. The student completes the assignment effectively, showing broad understanding of the musical elements of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. The student demonstrates critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment and communicates effectively, using some examples or supporting details to justify choices. The student completes the assignment, showing basic understanding of the musical elements of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. The student demonstrates basic critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment and communicates ineffectively, using few or no examples or supporting details to justify choices. The student addresses the assignment, showing minimal understanding of the musical elements of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. The student demonstrates little or no critical thinking and creativity in completing the assignment and communicates ineffectively, using no examples or supporting details to justify choices. Student shows little or no effort of having attempted to complete the task.

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Tim Lawson, Waco Elementary

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