Playing with Sally

by Kylie Decker

August 2023

“Sally Go ‘Round the Sun” is a classic game to play with younger elementary students! You may have read many variations of how to play the game, add partner songs, and more in the Sturdy Songs Collection on the SongWorks website. I have used this song with grades K–2 and found that with each grade I use a slightly different adaptation to introduce or extend the song, including a name game that I love to use at the beginning of the school year!

Introducing Sally

For my youngest learners in Kindergarten, we start with a fine motor movement—circling around our fingers! The process looks like this:

  • Teacher asks, Who is this song about? Sing the song. Students share ideas.
  • What is Sally doing? Sing the song. Students share ideas.
  • Teacher points to one finger at a time for each word: “sun, moon, chimney pot.” Teacher sings the song, demonstrating circling around each finger as each object is mentioned, starting with the pinky finger and landing on the pointer finger on the word, “boom!” Try it with me!

A few students might start singing with you, but I have found that this movement takes a lot of concentration for Kindergarteners! I sing it for them a couple times to let them practice. It draws them right in and then I have their attention. If a few of them do start singing with you, notice that someone joined you (I heard a few singers that time!) and keep going. This could be the end of Day 1.

The next week I bring it back as a secret song, using the finger circles as their clue. I use this as their first secret song at the beginning of the school year.

  • I have a secret song. Any ideas? Teacher points to eyes and ears to signal for students to listen and watch, and gives a starting pitch, then audiates the song while doing the actions. What do you think? Students share ideas.
  • Let’s check! Sing each of their song ideas while doing the actions.

If the students guess a song they already know, have them sing it with the actions to see if they match! If they guess “Sally,” sing it with them. Sometimes this goes for a few songs before we land on “Sally Go ‘Round the Sun.” After each idea, ask the students, “Did it match?” If the students need a clue you might say the word, “Boom!” at the end when you land on your last finger. That almost always jogs their memory!

At this point we leave the finger movements behind for a moment to antiphon the song. Antiphonning grabs the students’ attention because it requires them to be engaged listeners to keep the flow of the song going. Singing the song this way informs the teacher where the students are confident and where in the song they need to review. Be strategic about which sections of the song you sing and which sections you give to the students. Take the trickier phrases at first to give them a few more times to hear it sung in context. Then switch it up! This can be a game all on its own. Change which phrases you sing, let the students sing the first phrase, or even ask for a student leader.

After these experiences playing with the song, move to gross motor movements and games! This might happen the next week, later in the school year, or in first grade! You can find many ideas for “Sally Go ‘Round the Sun” games in the Sturdy Songs Collection on the SongWorks website.

Learning Form with Sally

In first grade I start to introduce forms as part of our song study (short-short-long and balanced, sometimes echo, too). This particular activity would come later in the year after they’ve had experience with other song maps and have had a review of “Sally Go ‘Round the Sun.” The Sally review is similar to the Kindergarten activities described previously.

I use this music map as a type of secret song—the mystery map!

  • This is a map for a song we have sung together. Take a minute to trace it and see if you can solve the puzzle. Give them at least 30 seconds, maybe longer if they are engaged, to trace the map in the air.
  • What do you notice about the map?
  • What song could this be?
  • Why do you think the last check mark has an extra curl on it?

Just like with the Kindergarteners, take the time to try their ideas. You can even invite a student up to trace the map to see if their idea fits! The way the questions are phrased gives room for students to share their ideas and discover patterns in the music without the teacher giving all the answers. The last question, “Why do you think the last check mark has an extra curl on it?” leads to a discussion about syllables, which first graders are learning about in their reading lessons! They love to find the words “sun,” “moon,” and “chimney pot” on the map and notice the extra curl on the last phrase. 

Once the mystery has been solved, we discover the form together.

  • Are there any parts of this song that repeat? Notice repeating patterns, the first one happens twice, a little different the third time.
  • Follow my hand. Move your hand through the air, drawing a short-short-long map as you sing the song. 
  • What did you notice? What describing words would you use?

The students may give a wide variety of answers, but when I have taught it this way there has always been at least one student who notices the short-short-long pattern, though they might not use that vocabulary. From there I invite a student to try drawing the pattern on the board, and then we label it as a short-short-long song. 

Singing in a Round with Sally

By second grade these kids know “Sally Go ‘Round the Sun” by heart! They’re ready for an extra challenge—singing in a round. In this case I use movement to teach singing two different parts. 

  • Watch how I move. Walk in a circle around the room while singing, jump and stop on “Boom!” What word did I stop on?
  • Join me! Everyone stands in a circle and joins hands, walks around the circle while singing, and jumps and stops on “Boom!” 
  • Notice how everyone started and stopped together, or if they didn’t stop together, ask, How do you know when to start and stop?
  • This time, watch for the new challenge. Change directions on “Boom!” instead of stopping, and instead, sing the song again walking in the new direction. If students don’t catch on immediately, keep singing, walking, and pulling them behind you. They’ll figure it out!
  • What was different this time?
  • Invite a couple students to help you in the middle of the circle. Whisper to them, “Watch me to know when to start.” Start the outside circle singing just like they have been. When the outside circle starts the second phrase, start the middle circle singing at the beginning of the song while walking the opposite direction. Let the song continue a couple times, change directions after each “Boom!”

Children love discovering that they can sing in a round! At this point I have them sit down right where they are, then draw this picture on the board and ask them, “What does this remind you of?” Have a quick discussion about what happened and how the picture represents it. Let the students be the ones to explain it! They will be so excited to tell you what they figured out. 

From here, divide the class into two groups—an inner and outer circle—and guide them as needed to sing it in a round without the teacher. Usually this looks like me giving a starting pitch and pointing at each group when it is their turn to start. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly they caught on and were able to do it without any help from me.

This process of scaffolding from walking in a circle and jumping on the point of closure (“Boom!”), to changing directions, to adding a second circle gradually introduces singing in a round and the students are able to understand it quickly!

Other Ideas for Playing with Sally

Finger Play: Try the finger play described previously, but this time on a partner’s hand! One person holds up their hand to be the sun, moon, and chimney pot, and the other person circles around their fingers. For an extra challenge, both partners can try it at the same time! 

Change the Nouns: What else can Sally go around? Depending on what your focus is you can choose to specify that you would like them to find words that are one and three syllables to practice identifying syllables, or you can ask the students to figure out how they can fit the nouns they chose in the song. I have also used this to integrate animals the students are learning about: “Sally go ‘round the shrimp. Sally go ‘round the whale. Sally go ‘round the jellyfish every afternoon. Boom!” When you add this to the game it also adds a new layer of playfulness! Think about how silly it might look to change from going ‘round a little fish to a GIANT WHALE, and how carefully you’d have to move around a jellyfish! How might you add that playfulness with your students?

Name Game: Have three people stand around the room. As a student goes around them sing their name in the song and wave! Use the student’s name that is moving as well instead of Sally. “Kylie go ‘round Jake. Kylie go ‘round Betty. Kylie go ‘round Debanhi every afternoon. Boom!” You do have to change “round” to have two notes (Pitches A and B in the score above) instead of one for it to work since we are removing “the.” But the students catch on quickly and always giggle when they hear their names in the song! Make sure when singing students’ names you keep the stress pattern and pronunciation the same. And keep it musical! When in doubt, adjust the song, not their name. You can read more about stress patterns in the English language here

Become a SongWorks member today and visit the Sturdy Songs collection to read more ideas for how to play and learn with Sally!

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