Teaching Sign Language to Learn a Song

Primary Subject and Grade Level: 3rd Grade

Interdisciplinary Connections: In addition to music, this lesson incorporates sign language.

Lesson Duration: 1 thirty minute period

Relevance/Rationale: This lesson is designed to, not only teach students the lyrics to a new song, but to teach sign language. There is the obvious benefit of including movement to keep kids actively engaged and involve kinesthetic learning. However,  using sign language, as opposed to generic motions, provides students with an opportunity to learn a new language and make deeper connections with each unique gesture. Doing so can help students better remember the music and better understand new songs when they recognize a familiar sign.  

Outcomes/Objectives:  Students will be able to learn the lyrics to Tom Chapin’s song, Family Tree.  Students will learn to use sign language on some key words in the chorus of the song.  

Standards: Based on the following updated 2014 Music Standards by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME):

MU:Pr4.2.3a Demonstrate understanding of the structure in music selected for performance.

MU:Pr5.1.3a - Apply teacher provided and collaboratively developed criteria and feedback to evaluate accuracy of ensemble performances.

MU:Pr5.1.3b Rehearse to refine technical accuracy, expressive qualities, and identified performance challenges.

MU:Pr6.1.3a Perform music with expression and technical accuracy.  


Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms and melodies) within a given tonality and/or meter.

Lesson Procedures:

  1. 1.Do Now: Ask students: “What is a family tree?”

  2. 2.Draw a picture of your own family tree.  Only include parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.  Do not include siblings, cousins, etc.  This simplified family tree is shared by everyone.  We all have/had parents, they had parents, their grandparents, and so on.

  3. 3.After discussing and illustrating what a family tree is, show students the recording of Tom Chapin’s, “Family Tree”.

  4. 4.After listening, teach the students the sign language for the chorus to Family Tree.

  5. 5.Students should sign the chorus the following way:

  6. Sign the words family and tree

  7. Then sign the roots and history

  8. Sign phrase, great, great grandaddy reaching up to me

  9. Lastly, sign the words green and growing before signing family tree again

  10. 6.Students sing and sign the chorus to Family Tree.

Assessment: Students will be given informal assessments throughout the lesson to determine student understanding.