How to Write a "On Top of Old Smokey" Poem

by Bruce Lansky

Everyone knows "On Top of Old Smokey." It's a folk song that's fun to sing around a campfire when you can't remember the words to any other song. And, when you get bored with the original version, you probably can remember another version: On Top of Spaghetti.

If memory serves me right, it goes something like this.

On Top of Spaghetti

On top of spaghetti
all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
when somebody sneezed.

(Of course, it goes on and on and on, but luckily I've forgotten the next stanza.)

As soon as you can figure out the rhythm and rhyme scheme, your students ought to be able to come up with their own versions.

da DUM da da DUM da (A)
da DUM da da DUM (B)
da DUM da da DUM da (C)
da DUM da da DUM (B)

As a TV chef once said, "Very simple. Very Easy." What makes it so easy is you can "hear" the rhythm and so can your students. So, the main trick in writing a new version is what your students want to be on top of.

You know they're going to be on top of da DUM da (whatever that is). Let's see, what could work?

-My bald spot

As you can imagine, that last idea is the one that intrigued me. So, here's where I went with it:

On top of my bald spot
all shiny and bare
I wear a sombrero
cause I have no hair.

By Bruce Lansky (and that's the truth). Copyright 1999 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted with permission of the author.

So, once they pick a da DUM da to be on top of, they need to make a list of what's up there. For example, there'd probably be pepper and provolone cheese, and tomato sauce, and garlic powder on top of linguini. Needless to say, it will help them to make a list. Once they've got the list of stuff, they need to write it in the rhythm and rhyme pattern we've established above.

Because your student's can hear the rhythm and rhyme pattern, tell them to sing whatever they came up with. If they can't sing it, then it needs work. Working on this poem may make your students hungry, so I suggest you do it just before lunch.

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