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This is a round-up of a bunch of lessons and resources all about teaching opera!
I love teaching kids about different styles of music, and opera is one of my favorites! It is a great way to incorporate geography, history, and culture into your lessons, because you can talk about German, Italy, France, etc. A lot of countries have opera but those are the three big ones.
I know a lot of you are thinking, “There is no way my kids will ever like opera!”
But it is really all about how you present it.
I recommend starting teaching the kids about different styles of music from kindergarten on up. When you introduce something new, approach it as, “This may be different than what you are used to, and that’s ok. We are going to be smart musicians and learn about it, even if it is not what we are used to.” Then talk about being respectful.
It works. I teach in an inner city, urban school where I can assure you, none of my kids are listening to classical music at home. But after an opera unit, we had this conversation:
“Did you know, that some people think that opera is boring?” –Me
“WHAT?! But opera is so fun!”-A bunch of first graders staring at me like I told them some people don’t like puppies.
And now they seriously ask if we are going to listen to opera.
So, here are some things that we did, along with some things we did not, but I wish we had.
If you have read my blog, you know that scarves are my favorite material in the music room. I love them. And with opera, it was so much fun.
We used creative movement with scarves (check out the full lesson here) to learn about using movement to show how the music sounds. We talked about using the scarves to show fast and slow passages, as well as high and low. They loved it. I loved it.
You can listen to and purchase each of those songs here: Sempre Libera and Les Toreadores No. 1.
And get your scarves here! You need them!
Coloring sheets and Drawing
Coloring is always a good way to teach kids to like different styles of music.
We used a theater style coloring sheet to talk about the plot of The Magic Flute (you can check out the lesson here. It also has the link to the coloring sheet, which is a free download). We broke it down into three really simple things that they could draw.
Another favorite (which works with any kind of music) is to have students listen to a song and draw a picture of that is makes them think of. I have used this activity with K-5 (it is especially great for subs!). You just play the piece a few times, and have them draw whatever comes to mind. I usually do this with blank paper, but there are templates on TPT like this one.
You can also have them write a few sentences about it to incorporate writing across the curriculum. Win win!
There are also some coloring sheets on TPT of operas that you can get.
Opera Activity Books
I have a few of these opera activity books. They were at the school when I got here, but they are available on Amazon. They are awesome. They are full of information and games. They talk about the composers and the music. There are mini-skits that students can act out as well as word searches and coloring pages. I definitely recommend them (they are also pretty cheap, which also helps).
Click on the picture to view in the Amazon browser:
Make Your Own Opera
Have students make their own opera in groups. Give them a topic and have them write the story. So they don’t feel weird singing their own opera, you could have them include YouTube videos of songs in it.
For example, if they are doing Cinderella, then they could have “Let it Go” on the way to the ball, or something to that effect. You don’t even have to listen to it, just have them say what it is.
This is another example of writing across the curriculum, and really great if you have technology. They could do the whole story on power point with the videos in it.
Also read: Tips for Keeping on Top of Lesson Planning
Act it Out
Have students act out key points from operas. So that no one has to sing Queen of the Night, you could play the arias, and have the students lip sync to it. You could do this as a whole class or in groups. Each group could have a scene.
One of my favorite ways to do this (especially with little kids) is to be the narrator. This way, I tell the students where to go and what to do. For example, I may say “The three ladies walk away. Then Prince Tamino wakes up and sees Papageno and thanks him for saving his life.” The students will act out these actions. It also means that I can add in comprehension questions throughout.
Now, of course, the best way to teach about an opera is to watch one. This said, however, my kindergarteners are not going to sit through an opera.
You can watch clips from operas. I did this a lot in our opera unit. I would have the students watch an aria, and then I would tell them what was going on in the scene. This was a good way to have them watch opera without having to sit through everything.
We also watched this episode of Arthur, which is all about Carmen. It even uses real music from Carmen in the video (with original words and with different words).
Additional Opera Resources
Here are some other resources in case you want to learn more:
- Musical Explorers Curriculum This is a curriculum in NYC and Savannah, Georgia where students learn about styles of music and then go to concerts. Even if you don’t live in these places, you can get the curriculum online for free.
- Minnesota Opera has a bunch of ideas, although I would only use them for my older students.
- Hansel and Gretel Learning about Opera this is an activity online where students can make their own opera.
How do you teach opera? Have you done any of these? Let us know in the comments!