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Teaching grammar through music in Gainesville

Melissa Corbett and her students at Healthy Learning Academy in Gainesville prepare to sing their grammar lessons.

Associated Press

Melissa Corbett and her students at Healthy Learning Academy in Gainesville prepare to sing their grammar lessons.

GAINESVILLE — When Melissa Corbett picks up her guitar to play, she sometimes doesn't know what chords she's using. It's as if God places her fingers where they need to go, she says.

Corbett, a fifth-grade teacher at the Healthy Learning Academy charter school, uses that gift to help her students learn and retain complicated grammar rules with ease.

To date, she has written about 50 songs designed to help children remember everything from nouns to idioms to subordinating conjunctions.

And seeing the success students have had with her educational jingles, Corbett and her husband launched a website and a YouTube channel to share the lessons with others.

"I can be teaching my class all day, but when I'm sleeping, I can be helping someone on the other side of the world," Corbett said.

Corbett has taught since the 1990s, although she took several years off from teaching to raise a family. She has spent most of her career teaching first grade.

Two years ago when she was looking for a new job, Corbett came across Healthy Learning Academy's advertisement: Searching for a teacher who isn't afraid to sing and dance with students.

Corbett brought her guitar to her interview with HLA and sang a song about short vowel sounds to principal Anni Egan.

"And I said, 'I'm throwing away every other application,' " Egan said. " 'You've got the job.' "

Corbett bought a cheap Yamaha guitar and a book of chords in the mid-1990s, when she was just starting out in teaching. She knew how to play the flute, but she wanted to be able to play an instrument and sing at the same time for her students, she said.

She wrote songs from time to time, about science or colors, but it wasn't until 2011 that Corbett said she started to supplement whole lessons with music.

Corbett started teaching a class of third- and fourth-graders in the fall of 2011. It was the first time she'd taught third grade since 1994, she said, and looking at her book of standards — everything her students would be required to know for standardized tests — she wondered how she could possibly get them to retain it all.

So, she started writing songs.

Basic parts of speech, comprehension and writing skills, punctuation, metaphors, simile, hyperbole and songs about math — "Just all of it," she said.

And they're not dinky little mnemonic devices set to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb. Corbett's jingles are full-blown songs, with multiple verses, a chorus and chord progressions. Soon, Corbett said she'd amassed 50 songs. She even took requests from other teachers at HLA, she said.

Seeing that the songs were helping her students, Corbett started to wonder how she could help others.

Over the summer, she and her husband started uploading videos to YouTube and building a website at grammarsongs.com.

Corbett's most popular video, about subjects and predicates, gathered almost 12,000 views in three months. Recently, on the busiest day to date for the Corbetts' YouTube channel — GrammarSongs by Melissa — the channel received 2,000 hits, from as far away as Alaska, Egypt and the Philippines.

Teaching grammar through music in Gainesville 11/17/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 18, 2013 8:59am]
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