Charlie Over The Ocean Game And Lesson Plan

image charlie over the ocean banner

Are you looking for a fun echo song to play with young students? 

Do you want to engage your students while learning a little more about them? 

I’m always on the lookout for fun folk songs to include in my teaching, and when I stumbled on this song years ago, I knew it was a winner! 

If you haven’t yet heard of or tried the Charlie Over The Ocean game I strongly encourage you to do so. 

Charlie Over The Ocean was most likely from African American communities in rural Alabama from the early-mid 1950s. The song is an echo song with a traditional chase game similar to Duck, Duck, Goose. With this song, lessons may include melodic contour and head voice singing. 

Look ahead for more information on the song including a couple of ways to play the game and some lesson plan ideas. 

Charlie Over The Ocean Breakdown

Charlie Over The Ocean may be played by any age level, but I usually save this game for the second half of Kindergarten and First grade. Though, to be honest, even my second and third graders will ask to play it on occasion. 

This section goes over the important information in breaking down the song. 

Grade: Kindergarten, First Grade

Lyrics: 

This song had one leader sing while the rest of the class echoed. 

Charlie over the ocean (Charlie over the ocean)

Charlie over the sea (Charlie over the sea)

Charlie caught a big fish (Charlie caught a big fish)

He can’t catch me! (He can’t catch me!) 

Pitches: low sol, low la, do, re, mi 

Rhythms: In triple: eighth-quarter, three eighth notes, quarter-eighth, dotted quarter 

Origin: 

The origin of this song is quite interesting. It was in its earliest mention collected by Harold Courlander from rural Alabama in the 1950s. 

The words “big fish” from the modern lyrics were commonly sung as “blackfish’ or “blackbird” in the collected songs from children in the 1950s. This is thought to be in response to the common use of the phrase “black” used negatively at the time. 

This information is taken from Pan Coco Jams, a website dedicated to showcasing the music, dances, language practices, and customs of African Americans.

I strongly encourage you to check out the article; the information makes for an interesting read. 

How To Play The Charlie Over The Ocean Game

Charlie Over The Ocean is a chase or drop-the-handkerchief game. I’ve seen two main variations of the game over the years. Either of them work well, though I tend to use the name replacing one to help me remember names after the Winter Break. 

Both versions of the game will provide a way for you to get to know your students better and allow them the chance to feel individually known a little more. 

Name Replacing Game

For this game, students are seated in a circle. One student is the leader outside the circle.

As the teacher (or other songleader) sings the song the class echoes. The leader goes around the circle. 

When the teacher and class sing, they replace the name “Charlie” to match the leader student. 

At the end of the song, the leader taps someone on the head or hands an object to a seated student. Then, the chosen student must chase the leader around the circle and try to tag them. 

If the leader makes it back to the vacated spot before getting tagged, they’re safe. If not, they spend one round sitting in the middle. 

The chosen student is now the leader. 

Object Replacing Game

This game is almost exactly the same with two changes. 

For this game, students are seated in a circle. One student is the leader outside the circle.

The leader sings the song, and the class echoes. The leader goes around the circle. 

When the leader reaches the “big fish” part, they replace the words with something else they like. 

Examples: 

  1. Charlie caught a Nintendo Switch
  2. Charlie caught a pizza pie
  3. Charlie caught a football

At the end of the song, the leader taps someone on the head or hands an object to a seated student. Then, the chosen student must chase the leader around the circle and try to tag them. 

If the leader makes it back to the vacated spot before getting tagged, they’re safe. If not, they spend one round sitting in the middle. 

The chosen student is now the leader. 

image charlie over the ocean games and lesson plans pin

Charlie Over The Ocean Lesson Plans

Charlie Over The Ocean is a song you may want to bring back with older students to teach melodic and rhythm concepts, but I like to save it for younger student ideas. 

Here are 2 of my favorite Kindergarten lesson plan ideas. 

Melodic Contour Lesson Plan

Grade: Kindergarten

Concept: Melodic Contour

Behavioral Objectives: 

  • Students will be able to move to show melodic direction with 80% accuracy.
  • Students will be able to arrange pictures to match the contour of Charlie Over The Ocean in small groups with 80% accuracy. 

Materials Needed: A white board or other surface to write on for the class to see, cut out images showing the melodic contour of the song

Assessment: 

The teacher will watch for hand motions matching the direction of the song. They will offer feedback to students and/or notate how students do with a 3 point rubric (1 = not even close, 2 = Performs accurately some of the time, 3 = Performs accurately consistently). 

The teacher will circulate during the arranging activity and assess whether groups are placing the images in the correct order. 

Procedure: This lesson may be broken up to different days in order to avoid overwhelming the kids. 

The actual game may be played before the learning or after.  

  1. Class sings the song echoing the teacher and copying their hand motions. 
  2. Teacher asks: How did the hand motions match the song? 
  3. Guide them towards the idea of the hands matching the pitch or how your voice goes. 
  4. Echo sing some random pentatonic patterns going up and down with hands matching the contour. Do this 3-5 times. 
  5. Challenge the students to echo sing, but now they must show their hands without the teacher showing theirs. 
  6. Echo 3-5 more patterns and assess with feedback how they’re doing. 
  7. Ask the class to sing and show Charlie Over The Ocean without your help. 
  8. Praise the class, and then connect the singing patterns to lines you draw on the board. 
    1. Nicely done class. I could see the focus and thinking in your heads. Even if you were wrong, you stuck with it! 
    2. If I were to take the opening line and draw it in a line on the board, it may look like this. Why does this match the first part of the song? 
  9. Discuss the lines and shapes (or images) and how they match the contour.
    1. Yes, they match the shape of your voice. In music, we call this contour. 
  10. Erase the shapes on the board and get out the cards/ cut-outs. 
  11. Whole-class rearrange the cards to match the contour. 
    1. Here are some cards with these shapes. Listen to me sing following the cards.
    2. Sing it wrong. 
    3. Whoops! That wasn’t right at all. Can you help me put them back in the right order?
    4. Class votes on which ones go where. 
    5. Check work to see if it’s correct. 
  12. Review or teach small group procedures. 
  13. Split class into groups of 3 and hand out shape cards. 
  14. Ask them to arrange the cards to match Charlie Over The Ocean and check their work by singing it. 
  15. Teacher circulates and offers feedback. 

Head Voice Lesson Plan 

Grade: Kindergarten 

Concept: Head voice/singing voice 

Behavioral Objectives: 

  • Students will be able to identify singing voice and talking voice with 80% accuracy. 
  • Students will be able to sing with their head voice on their own or with the class with 80% accuracy. 

Materials Needed: An object to use as a microphone

Assessment: 

  1. Teacher sings with either singing voice or talking voice, and students identify the voice type by either putting hands up to signify head voice or putting hands down to signify talking voice. 
  2. Students sing on their own as leaders in the game, and the teacher assesses for head voice on a 4 point rubric (1 = talking voice/chest voice, 2 = occasional head voice without matching contour, 3 = head voice matching general contour, 4 = head voice and matching pitches). 

Procedure: 

  1. Teacher warms up the class and echo sings with class the Charlie Over The Ocean song. 
  2. Teacher draws attention to the quality of the voice. 
    1. Hm… I love your light singing class, but you know, sometimes even I get confused. 
    2. I usually sing with my singing voice or head voice. Demonstrate. When I do, please let me know what I’m doing by putting your hands up. 
    3. Sometimes I accidentally sing with my lazy, talking voice. Demonstrate. Hear the difference? When I do, please let me know what I’m doing by putting your hands down. 
  3. Teacher sings through the song several times choosing either a singing voice or talking voice. Students show which it is by moving hands. 
    1. For a challenge, ask the students to close their eyes, so they don’t inform each other’s answers. 
  4. Wow! I love how you calmed your own voice enough to let your ears listen to the type of voice I was singing with. Let’s play the game! 
  5. As the leader sings, I’m listening for kids who use the singing voice or head voice we just talked about. Remember to think light! 
  6. Play the Object Replacing variation (see above) game with different leaders*. 
  7. Teacher assesses how each students does and offers discrete feedback**.

*If a student is reluctant to sing on their own, I don’t think it’s appropriate to force them. I’ll take over as leader and listen to them as they walk around and assess them as they sing with the rest of the class. 

**Be careful with your feedback. Keep it obnoxiously positive while still being constructive. If you hurt a students’ feelings in regard to their singing voice, they may never wish to sing again. 

Also, don’t do it in front of the other students at all.  

Augment and streamline your lesson planning with MyLessonPlanner.com. It’s easy-to-use and adapt for our music lessons.

I am an affiliate for them, but I’ve used this program before with success.

Conclusion

I hope you learn to love Charlie Over The Ocean as much as I do! The song is perfect for younger students and has many concepts for several grade levels. 

Have you played this song before? Did its origin surprise you?

Hop down to the comments and let us know!

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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