Grandma Bird / After Reading / /

Calm and Stormy

Listening to and appreciating music.

Lesson from Grandma Bird series

Text potential

  • Wider learning opportunities: Music: listening and understanding


  • Music


In the story, the sea changes it’s mood from calm to stormy. The sea, in its varied moods, has inspired many composers. This lesson provides an opportunity for children to respond to musical elements and the changing character and mood of the music. Exploring through movement allows them to experience the contrasts in the music, using aural, kinaesthetic, and visual senses.


You will need a space for children to move around in.

Select two contrasting pieces of music, one calm and the other stormy. Here are some suggestions:


  • Ravel La Mer (The Sea)
  • Ravel Une Barque Sur L’Ocean


  • Benjamin Britten Peter Grimes
  • Beethoven Pastoral Symphony ‘Thunderstorm
  • Khachaturian Gayaneh: Storm



Organise a space to work in that allows children to move freely.

Play the calm piece of music. As the children listen, encourage them to think about the qualities of the music.

  • Is it loud? Is it quiet?
  • Is it fast? Is it slow?
  • How does music make you feel?
  • Does it make you want to walk around slowly, or does it make you feel as though you are bursting with energy?

Imagine you are aboard Grandma Bird’s sailing boat. What sorts of tasks need to be done? E.g., hoist the sails, steering the boat, looking out to sea to make sure you are travelling in the right direction, fishes with a line, drops lobster pots into the water. Discuss what these tasks are. Demonstrate or ask for volunteers and then copy the movement. You could practise the tasks using the Simon Says game: e.g., ‘Simon says hoist the sails’. ‘Simon says look out to sea.’ etc.

In pairs, find a space and carry out the tasks while the calm music is playing. You might like to provide a narrative voice-over, e.g., ‘One day Grandma Bird was getting ready to sail out to sea to catch some fish for her tea. She climbed aboard the boat and hoist the sail. The sail was very heavy, and she had to pull hard with all her strength…’ etc.

Now play the stormy music and ask similar questions encouraging the children to think about the qualities of the music and how it makes them feel.

Ask the children to imagine the storm clouds are starting to gather, blocking out the sun, and making the skies dark and threatening. The waves start to build. The swell gets higher and higher.

  • Grandma Bird has to lower the sail to stop the boat crashing into the rocks.
  • She needs to bail out the water, so the boat doesn’t sink.
  • She has to steer the boat away from the rocks.
  • Practise these actions.

Now play the stormy music and ask the children to imagine they are sailing Grandma Bird’s boat in a storm.

Alternatively, you could use the movements of the clouds and waves to inspire your movement.

  • Storm clouds gathering, swirling (twirling movements)
  • Waves (growing and crashing movements)
  • Lightning forking (sharp pointing movements)

Divide the class into four groups and create a sequence

  • group 1  moves like a calm sea gently lapping at the shore
  • group 2 Grandma Bird setting off for a day at sea fishing
  • group 3 storm clouds brewing and the waves growing higher
  • group 4 Grandma Bird on board her boat working to make sure it doesn’t capsize, and she gets to safety so that she can rescue Noi.

Final reflection

Introduce the names of the composers of the pieces of music that you have chosen. Find appropriate moments in the school day to play the music in the background to develop familiarity. For instance, the calming sea music could be played quietly during independent work.

Extension: You could show the Beethoven pastoral symphony Thunderstorm sequence from Disney’s Fantasia to show how the music is interpreted through animation.

Key vocabulary

stormy, blustery, fierce, hurricane, strong, light, calm, wild, swell


Nikki Gamble

Nikki Gamble
Director, Just Imagine
Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature (4th edit) (2019) and co-author of Guiding Readers (2016) which was awarded the UKLA Academic Book of the Year Award 2017. Nikki is KS2 reading advisor and series consultant for Oxford University Press and content creator for the Oxford School Improvement and Oxford Owl websites. Nikki is Associate Consultant at the University of London, Institute of Education and Honorary Fellow at the University of Winchester

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Sam Keeley

Formerly a teacher and local authority advisory teacher, Sam now works with Just Imagine as an English consultant and manager of the year 6 Reading Gladiators programme.

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