Sarah Pirtle and the Discovery Center

Reading with Songs and Other Lesson Plans

You can find more lesson plans in the Talk It Out page, and in Partnership Education in Action.


By Nettie and Sequoia Pullella-Barca and Janine Carr

Sprouting Seeds School

Sequoia Pullella-Barca: When I was six years old and just learning to read, my teacher Janine wrote Sarah Pirtle’s songs on big white pieces of paper so we could read the lyrics and she put the music on to go with it. And now at age 10 we still are singing Sarah’s songs and enjoy them just as much. We like to sing different songs to go with different studies and seasons. Our school quote is “We are teachers to each other, and we love to learn.” And that is every bit true.

Nettie Pullella-Barca: The children at Sprouting Seeds School in Battle Ground, Washington have learned to read with many of Sarah’s songs written on a big pad. When we did a unit of study on emotions and the self, the children sang, “The Colors of Earth.”

These photos are from our unit on the Monarch Migration and Dio de los Muertos. We used two songs for the unit from the “Heart of the World” recording– “Butterfly Wishes” and “Magic Wings.” Below there’s a picture of a diorama by my daughter Sequoia in fourth grade for Dio de los Muertos.

Since the first day our school opened, we’ve used “My Roots Go Down” as our beginning circle song. Our teacher, Janine Carr, tracks each word with her magic wand stick.We add sign language, and we also make up new verses, like “I am a child of Sprouting Seeds. My roots go down.” I’ve been wanting to writefor a long time to say how much your music impacts my family’s life, my daughter’s, and her community at school. We love your voice and your messages.

Janine Chappell Carr is the author of A Child Went Forth: Reflective Teaching with Young Readers and Writers.


by Sarah Pirtle:
from Partnership Education in Action 

Chapter Six: Partnership Education: A Place to Begin

Activity Six: Looking at Recess

Grade Level: K-6th

Goal: to help students discern which recess activities further partnership and which activities are unproductive or hurtful.

Overview: Recess is a unique time of day. Young people develop their own culture. Adults are general supervisors, yet many games and events are not led by adults. Many conversations and exchanges happen out of the earshot of adults. It can be a time where creative play flourishes. It can also be a time where exclusion, racist or sexist remarks and other put-down’s occur without anyone intervening.


1. Observe recess as a class from a new perspective. To prepare, build a common vocabulary by introducing these two contrasting ways of being together–in partnership or in domination. Find phrases that speak most effectively to your students. Start two columns with one or two phrases heading up each so that the basic idea is clear.

a. What it looks like when people are cooperating: partnership, everyone counts, working together, fun for everyone, connecting.

b. What domination looks like: not fair for everyone, fighting, putting people down, or hurting.

Ask your students to add more words to the headings. For example, on the partnership side, students might suggest “taking turns,” or “keeping things fair.” On the domination side, students might say “bullying” or “getting rough.” Notice the nuances, like the difference between “cooperating for connecting” and “cooperating to exclude someone.” As a class select the two words that you like best to describe the two states.

2. Ask them to watch what happens at recess from these two perspectives. How did you see people working together at recess? Did you see any hurting or harming at recess? As you collect observations, it’s important to make an agreement to list situations but not give people’s names.

e.g. Hurting or harming: “Someone shoved going out the door,” instead of “Lee was shoving people.”

e.g. Working together: “Someone helped push people on the swing,” instead of “George gave us pushes on the swing.”

You can use different times during the day to collect observations. Responses may be different if you do the activity before recess has occurred, recalling experiences from that week or from any time during the year, and if you do the activity right after recess when memories are fresh and more details can emerge. Both can be valuable.

Examples of Partnership: someone taught a game, people talked about how to share a ball, people got help from a peer mediator, the teams for kickball were made fairly because we let new people pick teams today.

Examples of Domination/Not Helping: someone hit, a group chased kids who didn’t want to be chased, someone was told it was too late to join a game but then the players let someone else in later.

3. Give students a piece of paper where they can write down anything that has happened to them or other students which they felt was unfair or hurtful. They can sign the paper or they can leave it anonymous. Here is a chance for a hidden harmful event to be shared with a caring adult.

Making Partnership Interventions
How to Work with the Information You Gather

Use the lists that you have brainstormed. Select a situation where there is hurting or harming. “Now we are going to use the partnership side of thinking. Let’s imagine ways that this unfair situation could change.” Here are ways to work with the list the group has created.

(a) Partnership contributions: Think of activities and interactions that could happen which would increase partnership at recess. Pick one to try and brainstorm how to do it.

Example: Older Students Teach Games

The class notices that a group of younger students get habitually involved in chase games which often lead to fights. They deduce that one of the problems is that this group can’t think of other activities they would enjoy. The class decides they will become partners to the younger students and teach them some new games.

(b) Examine what’s not working: Think of ways to reduce the dominator events. Pick one to try to change and get very specific about where communication is breaking down. Emphasize what is the intention of each participant and learn how to assist them.

Example: Kickball communication

The class notices that their kickball games frequently end in name-calling and hard feelings. They dissect what contributes to the problems and how to turn these around. One child reveals that they feel criticized and pressured, and when they feel under pressure they lash out. The others examine what things they are doing that may feel like pressure and look for other ways to talk to each other during the game.

Example: Turn taking

The class watches younger children argue each day over the same valued game or item (such as swings, balls). They realize that the children need a way to ask for turns and keep track of who will be first the next day. They come up with the solution of writing the names of the children who usually want the item on clothespins and suggest that all the labeled clothespins be kept in a can. They introduce a method of attaching the clothespins to a piece of cloth or felt to represent the order in which they will take turns.

(c) Gender: Discuss the ways that gender issues come into play at recess.

Example: Examine Chase Games

At many schools small groups of girls and of boys chase each other. Look at this. Do the boys chase girls in a manner where the girls don’t feel they have the power to stop them or put limits on the game? Address the specific events and also talk about the larger picture. As appropriate to your age group, engage them in being part of a world-wide effort to make sure that boys and men don’t dominate women and girls.

(d) Expressing personal boundaries: Make sure that students have a chance to set their own boundaries and speak up for their needs during recess. Talk more specifically about what domination means.

Example: Don’t Just Put Up With It

There may be instances of domination which students have become inured to so that they now accept them. Spell out what kind of fair treatment each person deserves.

(e) Frame goals for recess in partnership language, such as, “we want everyone to feel nurtured and safe at recess.” Then when students are called to line up after recess, take a moment before going inside to name one of these goals and ask if it was met.

Example: Check-in on Rules During Line Up

Address the children in the recess line, “It matters to me that everyone felt safe today at recess. If anything happened to you that didn’t feel safe, be sure to mention it to me and I’ll help with the situation.”

Bring Your Ideas to Your Whole School: School Sharing: Create a skit to share at a school assembly that shows partnership and domination events at recess.

Next, report on your new ideas for increasing partnership at recess.


 * Ask your students to help identify other times during the day when they wish there could be more partnership interactions, such as waiting in line for the bus, the lunch room, or during the bus ride. Use the same procedure to diagnosis what is and what is not working and plan interventions which can help.