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Old Brass Wagon & Directionality Lesson Plan

Author: Loretta Walker

Year: 2015

Artform: Music

Subjects: Social Studies

Grade: Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd

Duration: 10 - 20 minutes

Overview: Students practice moving in specific directions (left, right, in, out, north, south, east, west) while singing the traditional American song, Old Brass Wagon.

Standards and Objectives

Sing in a natural voice free from strain, Use the body to internalize the beat
Directions and Cardinal directions
Students will sing the song Old Brass Wagon and move in accordance with the directions sung in the song.



Sing or play a recording (Play 1) of the song, Old Brass Wagon. Help the children find patterns in the lyrics and melody as you repeat the song for them. Invite them to join you in singing as soon as they are comfortable. Have the children lightly pat the beat on their knees while you sing the song and as they learn it.

As described in the lesson ideas on the notation PDF file, whenever you sing “You’re the one my darling” pat the rhythm of the words “You’re the one my” on the knees and then clap on each syllable of “darling.” This makes a fun, uniform closing phrase for the children to anticipate at the end of each verse.


When children are comfortable singing the song, add the play party movements suggested by the song. Feel free to adapt the movements in any way that will make your students successful. Whenever possible, model and reinforce having the students move with the beat of the music, rather than at random times. Do not lose the joy of the song by being overbearing about moving with the beat, but do use this as an opportunity for students to practice steady beat.

Traditionally, singers would join hands in a circle (one large circle or several small ones, or perhaps a left hand star) and circle to the left on the first verse and then perform the other verses as directed by the lyrics. However, movements performed in circle formations are often difficult for young children because the child perceives people on the opposite side of the circle to be going the opposite direction. Very young children have trouble forming a group circle at all. Some variations that might be more successful for young children might include:

  • Individually twirling left or right.
  • Walking in their own, individual small circle patterns left or right
  • Tracing around an imaginary circle on the floor or in the air, left or right.
  • Changing the words to “step to the left,” having the children all face the same direction (e.g. stand by their desks facing the teacher) and all stepping left at the same time as they mirror the teacher’s movement.
  • Walk around the perimeter of the room counterclockwise or clockwise while singing.

Often I teach these simpler movements to young children while they all face me as a class, and then when they have mastered these moves we try the challenge of joining hands in a circle and trying the moves in the much more difficult circle formation. Once they master the basic kinesthetic moves in the song it is much easier to translate those movements to a circle formation.



After students have mastered the first verses to whatever degree of difficulty you feel is appropriate, change the words to explore additional directional language and move accordingly. (Use the Play 2 recording, which is accompaniment only, so there is no interference with your new words.)

For example:

Step to the north, Old Brass Wagon
Step to the north, Old Brass Wagon,
Step to the north, Old Brass Wagon,
You’re the one my darling (Always use the same pat and clap movements on the last phrase)

For younger children it might be appropriate to tell them the direction ahead of time and then continue to model the direction during the singing. A challenge for older students might include listening to whatever the teacher may sing and responding in real time without previous instruction. In this case, the children will not know what the move is supposed to be until the end of the phrase, so they will need to listen to the teacher sing “Three steps to the north” and then take those three steps on the words “Old Brass Wagon.” The teacher could then change the direction on every new phrase if desired.


Repeat a favorite version of the game. When asking the children to return to their seats, continue to use directional words in your transition instructions, such as, “Return to your desk with your nose always pointing north.”

Physically moving the body is an especially effective way to learn directionality because of the way the brain processes this kind of information. Exploring multiple ways to move a given direction reinforces that it is the direction, not the specific movement, that is at the heart of the concept.
How can we communicate which direction we want someone to go?
Children who have difficulty with locomotor movement can walk their fingers or move manipulatives on their desks.

The lyrics of this song are simple and repetitive enough of allow ELL’s and children who are developing vocabulary to practice responding to new vocabulary in a safe, enjoyable, and repetitive setting.
  • Left
  • Right
  • North
  • South
  • East
  • West
  • In
  • Out
Old Brass Wagon is a “Play Party.” Play Parties were popular at gatherings in America during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, especially in communities where dancing was considered improper. Today they function primarily as singing games.
Listen for students to use a natural singing voice, free from strain. Observe that students move with the beat.

Observe that students move in the directions indicated.
When changing lyrics of the song to teach various concepts, practice the lyrics on your own first to be sure you are confident about how they fit into the melody.


  • Notation and recording of Old Brass Wagon
    • Click on the title for notation and lesson ideas
    • Play 1 for a recording with vocals
    • Play 2 for a recording without vocals (accompaniment only)
  • Sound system to play digital music recording of Old Brass Wagon
  • Space for students to move