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Turkey in the Straw

Lesson Summary

  • Listen to, sing, create, play rhythms from, and move to a traditional American folk song.
  • Relive history by dancing the Virginia Reel.

Lesson Plan and Procedure


Lesson Key Facts

  • Grade(s): 4, 5
  • Subject(s): Music, Social Studies
  • Duration of lesson: 15 minutes for each activity
  • Author(s): Jennifer Purdy

Activity 1: Listen, Sing, Create, Play, and Move

Teach the chorus and actions to the folk song “Turkey in the Straw.”

“Turkey in the haystack, turkey in the straw.” (Flap wings and peck beak like a turkey.)
“Turkey in the barnyard chasing after Ma.” (Pump arms in a running motion.)
“A-roll ‘em up, a-twist ‘em up, a-high tuck-a-haw.” (Roll arms, twist hands around, and raise arms.)
“And hit ‘em up a tune called ‘Turkey in the Straw.’” (Clap hands on the word hit.)

Have students listen to the song “Turkey in the Straw” and determine the form. Students may keep the beat as they listen.

Identify what they hear as A, B, or C:

  • A = verse
  • B = chorus (“Turkey in the haystack, turkey in the straw. . . .”)
  • C = instrumental

Write each part on the board as it is identified. The form of the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) version (after the short instrumental introduction) is A, B, C, A, B, C, A, and B.

Create and practice movements or rhythms for each part.

Part A: Students play a steady beat by clapping or patting.

Part B: Sing the chorus while doing the actions.

Part C: Create a 16-beat sequence of rhythms using a combination of one or two sounds per beat. Use rhythm cards (see Equipment and Materials Needed section) or notate using one of the following for 16 beats:

Stick notation: Turkey in the Straw Stick Notation

Traditional notation: Turkey in the Straw Traditional Notation

Students will clap their rhythm sequence during the instrumental part of the song. Play the 16-beat pattern twice through at tempo. Have the song form and cues for each part written so students can successfully sing, play, and do the actions throughout the song.

Turkey in the Straw Part C

Part C Variation: Another option is to have students create a 16-beat sequence of pie rhythms using a set of pie cards instead. Students will play or say the pie rhythms during the instrumental part of the song. Do a 16-beat pattern twice through at tempo, playing one card per beat. (See “Pie Rhythms” lesson for details.)

Turkey in the Straw Part C Variation

Play the song again and have students follow the form and do the following for each part.

Part A: Students play a steady beat by clapping or patting.

Part B: Students sing the chorus while doing the actions.

Part C: Students clap the 16-beat sequence of rhythms they created. Play the sequence twice through at tempo.

Activity 2: Relive History

For almost 200 years, people have sung, played, and danced to the song “Turkey in the Straw.” It was commonly used at community gatherings that included group dancing, where all ages participated. Pioneers and immigrants traveling west would have been familiar with the song; they would have learned it as they danced and sang on the open prairie to the sounds of instruments like the fiddle and banjo. Like other folk songs, “Turkey in the Straw” has many variations.

Teacher: How did music contribute to a sense of community for early settlers and pioneers? In what ways do folk songs reflect the time period in which they were written?

Teacher: Does music provide a sense of community today? How? How are people today the same but also different from a century ago?

Teach a simplified Virginia Reel style dance using the USBE “Turkey in the Straw” dance track.

Teacher tip: The Utah State Board of Education Elementary Songbook is a resource with almost 100 folk songs that can be downloaded and used in the classroom. It also has lesson plans, written music, and activities.

Have students form two parallel lines facing one other, standing about four feet apart.

To the beat of the music, have students walk forward three counts toward each other, clap hands with the person across, walk back three counts, and then clap their own hands. Have the head couple slide “down the alley,” doing their best turkey (or dance) moves for eight beats while all others clap to the beat. There is no need for the couple to join hands going down the alley unless you choose to have them do so. 

Encourage creativity! Students need to get down the alley quickly before the next set begins.

Turkey in the Straw Activity2 Students1   Turkey in the Straw Activity2 Students2

Standards Summary



  • Experience a traditional American folk song.
  • Discover and identify form by listening.
  • Follow musical form, patterns, and sequences.
  • Create and play rhythmic sequences using traditional or iconic notation.
  • Perform actions and traditional dance movements.

Social Studies

  • Explore the historical and cultural connections between a traditional folk song and American westward expansion.

Utah State Board of Education Standards


Grade 5 Music

  • Standard 5.M.CR.2: Explain the connection to specific purpose or context.
  • Standard 5.M.CR.5: Organize personal musical ideas using iconic notation to combine or sequence personal rhythmic ideas.
  • Standard 5.M.P.4: Sing folk and traditional songs in tune with good vocal tone and clear diction.
  • Standard 5.M.P.7: Perform and identify rhythm patterns using body percussion, voice, and simple instruments.
  • Standard 5.M.P.8: Respond with body percussion, voice, or simple instruments to visual representations of rhythm patterns.
  • Standard 5.M.P.10: Demonstrate persistence and cooperation in refining performance pieces.
  • Standard 5.M.R.8: Describe the reason for selecting certain music, including reference to cultural or historical connections.
  • Standard 5.M.CO.1: Describe how music relates to personal and social development.
  • Standard 5.M.CO.3: Deepen understanding of another content area through music.
  • Standard 5.M.CO.4: Experience and explore music that connects us to history, culture, heritage, and community.

Grade 4 Social Studies

  • Standard 4.2.1.c: Understand how Utah’s history has been shaped by many diverse people, events, and ideas. Explore cultural influences from various groups found in Utah today (food, music, religion, dress, festivals, and so on).

Grade 5 Social Studies

  • Standard 5.1.1: Understand how the exploration and colonization of North America transformed human history.
  • Standard 5.4.1: Understand that the nineteenth century was a time of incredible change for the United States, including geographic expansion. Investigate the significant events during America’s expansion and the roles people played.

Equipment and Materials Needed


Additional Resources



Reference List


Image 1: James Huston.

Image 2: Public Domain Pictures (

Image 3: Public Domain Pictures (

Image 4–5: James Huston.