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"Down By The Bay" Part I

by Eric Ode  

Kids love taking familiar songs and making them their own. (How many versions of Jingle Bells or Happy Birthday have you heard over the years?) Here’s a musical activity that I have used many times in the classroom with both primary and intermediate students. It takes very little planning, but it’s a lot of fun, leads to a high level of student success, and works on some important poetry-writing skills.

If you enjoy the first part of this activity, consider taking it a step further with Part II. And, of course, feel free to vary the project as you would like.

"Down by the Bay" is a children's song ripe for rewriting. Why? Because it makes almost no sense! So let’s carry it into the poetry lab, throw it into a test tube, and run some experiments. If you’re not completely familiar with the song, here it is with a handful of traditional verses. I threw in some accompaniment chords for you guitar players, but don’t be afraid to sing unaccompanied. The students won’t care!

Down by the Bay
Author unknown

Down by the bay (D)
Where the watermelons grow (A)
Back to my home (A7)
I dare not go (D)
For if I do (G)
My mother will say (D)
"Did you ever see a bear
Combing his hair
Down by the bay?" (A)(D)

Down by the bay
Where the watermelons grow
Back to my home
I dare not go
For if I do
My mother will say
“Did you ever see a fly
Wearing a tie
Down by the bay?”

Down by the bay
Where the watermelons grow
Back to my home
I dare not go
For if I do
My mother will say
"Did you ever see llamas
Wearing pajamas
Down by the bay?"

Down by the bay
Where the watermelons grow
Back to my home
I dare not go
For if I do
My mother will say
"Did you ever see a whale
With a polka-dot tail
Down by the bay?"

The rhyme scheme (rhyme pattern) of the song is confusing at first. I suppose we could call it ABCBDAEEA, but that’s a lot more complicated than we need to make it. Instead, let’s just pay attention to the internal rhyme which makes the song so much fun—the "Did you ever see a whale with a polka-dot tail" part of the song. We will, for Part I of this lesson, leave everything else alone.

Begin by singing the song straight with the students—using the verses with which they are already familiar. Next, have the students generate a new list of animals. We might include critters like,

  • seal
  • skunk
  • elk
  • trout
  • monkey
  • eagle

The more the merrier!

For intermediate students, I would go no further than that list. The next time you sing the song through as a group, when you get to "My mother will say," stop and call on a volunteer to choose an animal and finish the verse. They might sing, "Did you ever see a seal cooking a meal?" or "Did you ever see a skunk packing a trunk?" Anything goes as long as it’s appropriate language and rhymes.

For primary students, give them a little extra help by first partnering the animals on the list with rhyming words. For example,

  • seal–peel
  • skunk–junk
  • elk–(Hmm. Okay, I’m stumped. And that will happen now and again.)
  • trout–snout
  • monkey–funky
  • eagle–beagle

With this extra bit of help, the younger students will have an easier time creating their verse when you call on them after, "My mother will say."

These verses are a lot of fun to illustrate, and they can make a terrific class book. Once each student has created, neatly rewritten, and illustrated his or her own verse, bind them together. You can bet that, during silent reading, this book won’t collect dust.

But before you do that, consider taking this writing activity one step further by looking at "Down by the Bay" Part II.

Happy singing!

 

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