What Counting Elephants Taught Me

“Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de una araña…” is the first line of a very popular Spanish folk song. I recall playing a hand game with three other friends while singing the song when I was a child. I spent many afternoons in the front yard of the elementary school I used to attend playing the game. Now that I started teaching at an elementary school I get many flashbacks of those years. The songs and games randomly pop in my mind. So, I decided to teach my students the elephant game and see what happened.

At first it was difficult for them, as they had to learn the lyrics of the song, the procedures of the game, and remember the numbers in Spanish. Even I had trouble keeping up as I joined each group. It can be quite a workout to sing, clap hands and move up and down at the same time. But not only did they learned it, they’re obsessed with it!

I gave each group three main goals: to memorize the song, sing along while playing the game, and count as many elephants as possible in one game. The students have the opportunity to play the game once a week at the end of a class period. Each time a group sets a new record it’s posted on the classroom door for everyone to see.

Last week one of those magical teaching moments happened. A group of fourth graders gave me one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. This particular group of students had some differences in the past. They’ve practiced briefly a couple of times yet the lack of concentration of one of the team members was affecting their performance, and had barely gotten over ten elephants. This time, though, they were determined to beat the record set by another group at 33 elephants.

They started at a good, relaxed pace and quickly made it to 10, then 20, then 35 elephants! At this point the whole class was engaged singing along and counting. Because some students still didn’t know the numbers past 30, they gathered around a poster with the numbers posted on the wall to make sure they knew what number was next. The group of students playing the game continued on to 50, 60, 70 elephants! They were tired but their faces lit up with excitement every time they reached a new multiple of ten. “Let’s make it to 100!” they whispered to each other in between the lines of the song. And they did!! They screamed, cheered and hugged each other, and I never felt so much pride.

What did the students learn? They learned a cultural song, game, and new numbers in Spanish. What did I (the teacher) learn? I learned that in order to be successful (individually or as a team) one must put any conflicts aside, focus, and move on without giving up until the goal has been reached.

This is why I love teaching! Each day I’m a better person because of my students.

Below are the song and game procedures for those of you who wish to give it a try.

Song: “Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de una araña, como veían que resistía fueron a buscar otro elefante. Dos elefantes…” (add a higher number in each new verse).

Game procedure: In groups of four, students will clap their hands at the same time they sing the song. Students A and B will clap their hands up, down, right, left and repeat. Students C and D will clap their hands down, up, left, right and repeat. All four students should continuously clap one of the team member’s hands while signing the song in order to continue playing.

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Copyright © 2015 Ericka Collado
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