alien cows

Lesson: Aliens and Cows and Questions – Oh My!

While taking Level 1 Orff training Tim Purdum introduced me to this fun lesson with aliens and cows and the silly song “Ama Llama.” I have been playing around with this lesson for a LONG time. The “Alien Cow” story is a fourth grade LEGEND in our school. I have modified the lesson a bit so we can keep having fun with this story and lesson while we move from all virtual to hybrid learning. If you are “all in” or able to go outside this will work for you too!

I have taken to calling the children “musicians” instead of “students.” You will see me refer to them as musicians throughout this post.

The song has many variations, and the lesson will work with any of them. This is the one I know:

Lesson 1

1. Learn or Listen to the song and review ECHO.
I begin teaching the song by breaking up the last phrase into two parts. When the kids are comfortable (usually by lesson 3) we perform the last phrase as written. Before I sing, we review what an echo is, (like when you “copy-cat” a sibling or adult.) Sing or play EXACTLY the same thing as the leader.

For online learning, I made a video of me singing with time for them to ECHO. Now that we are in hybrid, I will have our musicians learn the song on one of their asynchronous days. On days that we are in-person hybrid, I will play the video of me singing and we will practice our audiation skills by “singing” the echo “in our heads.” If you are able to go outside and distance, you may be able to sing outside.

2. Listen to the story.
I have included my version of the story below. Be playful, have fun and create your own telling of the story. The kids will dig it, as long as you INSIST that it is 100% true.

3. Teach them to speak Alien
Make up 4-beat “alien” phrases and have the whole class copy you. For example: “beep, beep, noodle-doot, doot”. Use slides, and any odd sounds you can think of, while the children echo your “alien talk.” I use two untuned percussion instruments that have a low and high pitch during this exercise. It is my turn when I play the low pitch and their turn when I play the high pitch.

4. Formative Assessment
In person, I can ask our musicians to echo four beat alien phrases alone or in small groups. For online learning, I used the Vocaroo online voice recorder and recorded a track with four beat alien phrases and four empty beats for the kids to echo. The children played the track in one tab while recording their echo’s in Flipgrid.

Lesson 2

1. Review the song, and performing echo’s in their emerging “alien” speak.

2. Explain “Musical Questions and Answers” to the musicians. Here is how I explain to our musicians:

  1. The answer is NOT an echo
  2. The answer is related to the question
    • Start the same and end differently
    • Start differently and end the same
  3. The answer is related to the beat
  4. The answer is the same length as the question
    (I let them know this is just to keep things manageable, and this will not always be the case with musical questions and answers.)

I ask a child to ask me “What did you have for breakfast?” The first time I just repeat the question and we talk about how that does not make sense. The second time I answer with something crazy like “My uncle went to Sonoma and ate a watermelon in a canoe.” The third time I say “For breakfast I had oatmeal.” We then talk about how I used a “quanser” (putting part of the question in the answer) and my response finally made sense! I have a student teacher, so we made a video of these questions together. If I were alone, I would do it “Tick Tock Style” with a hat or sunglasses for person two.

3. Model many examples of “alien” questions and answers. For example: Q: “beep, beep, beep, noodle-doot, doot” A: “beep, beep, beep, wop wop.”

In person, I would ask the whole class or groups of musicians to attempt alien questions and answers at the same time, so they don’t feel so exposed.
For online learning, I used the same echo track and asked the musicians to give improvised answers a along with the track, even if the folks around then think they are crazy.

Lesson 3

1. Review all of the musical question and answer information and model again.

2. In person after a bit more group practice, I would ask for volunteers to try answering alien questions alone. For online learning, I recycled that echo track again and had the kids try giving four alien answers in a Flipgrid video. I did not assess the videos, just gave encouragement and feedback. I let them know they could practice with the track as many times as they liked and mistakes were welcome and encouraged, because that is how we learn!

Lesson 4

1. For our last lesson, we had one final review and modeled alien language questions and answers in person, and with a new Vocaroo track online.

2. In person, musicians have the choice to answer the questions alone or with a partner to assess progress. Online the children use the new Vocaroo track to record four musical answers in Flipgrid.

All of my students are online on Friday. I asked the children if I could share their Flipgrid videos with the other musicians in a Friday mixtape using the “mixtape” feature in Flipgrid. They all watch the mixtape and choose two performances they liked to write about in a Google form using “I notice….. I value…… I wonder…..” The mixtapes could be projected for in person learning.

As an extension activity, you might ask the musicians to compose two musical questions and answers in Chrome Music Lab Song Maker. If you can’t do the “alien talking”, the whole lesson could be adapted to body percussion or pencil tapping, (because that is how the aliens communicate in YOUR version of the story.)

My musicians are comfortable with this type of activity if yours are hesitant, you may want to spread the practice over a longer period of time. Modify for your musicians and your teaching and learning situation.

We have been enjoying being silly and lighthearted in music class. It is a nice break. I would LOVE to hear how your musicians enjoy speaking alien with you.

Don’t forget to breathe …


LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Kendall Clark on October 15, 2020 at 9:38 am

    This is wonderful LeslieAnne! Thanks so much for sharing. I haven’t done Ama Lama in years, had forgotten about it. Your video is delightful. so much fun! You are a great storyteller! I will use this in my asynchronous lessons the week of halloween.

    Here’s a song I did last week you might enjoy, “Five Little Ladies”. I knew the poem and finger play from First Steps but just discovered the song. I transcribed it for piano and just love it, so do the kids! Chords are C, F/C, G7, C, F, Em, Dm, C/G, G, Csus4,, C. The interlude also has an A chord.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on October 17, 2020 at 7:26 am

      Thank you! Always looking for new songs and resources.

  2. Mary Alice Balderrama on October 15, 2020 at 10:01 am

    You must have stopped near my town that summer – cows, nothing for miles around, flat land, oh and aliens! Did I mention I’m from Roswell, NM? Thanks for a fun story and lesson idea! I can see so many possibilities.

  3. Tonya S McKenna on October 15, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    What a wonderful lesson! Thank you.

  4. Jen Purdy on October 16, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    You are so charming! What a fun story and application of the song. Made me smile all day long.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on October 21, 2020 at 4:21 am

      Your comments make me feel warm and fuzzy. Thank you.

  5. Hayley Vivian on January 5, 2021 at 10:00 am

    This is absolutely fantastic!! Thank you so much for a fun and engaging lesson for a crazy year!!!

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