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A Ship A-Sailing

Animation of the Dance

Song Cards Demonstration

Materials Needed:

  • Song Cards: Download from this page (in the box to the right.)
  • Unpitched percussion instruments.


I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea
And it was deeply laden with pretty things for me.
There were comfits* in the cabin and almonds in the hold*
The sails were made of satin and the mast, it was of gold

The four and twenty sailors that stood between the decks
Were four and twenty white mice with rings around their necks
The captain was a duck, a duck, with a jacket on his back
And when this fairy ship set sail,
The captain said quack quack

*Comfits are dried fruits, nuts or spices coated with sugar candy.
* A ship’s “hold” is a storage area for holding cargo

Suggested Grades:


Teaching Suggestions:

This song is a good one for ending class by using the song cards.  The melody is lilting, the words are a delight to the kids, and the pictures provide something for them to focus on.   The melodic range may be challenging for younger children, but it’s a great “listening” song.  It will also help you discover your stellar singers! 

  • After singing the song once and showing the pictures, explain what some of the more obscure words mean (satin, comfits, hold, mast.)  Then sing it through a second time.
  • Sing through a third time, but this time, have the children sing the last word of each phrase while you pause.  (Tell them:  “this time, you fill in the word when I stop singing.”) This gets all the kids involved in learning the song even though the words and melody are challenging at first. 
  • Lastly, have the kids echo-sing each phrase after you.  You may also want to select a child to hold the cards instead of you.

For kindergarten, just continue singing the song with the cards at future classes and the children will become better and better at singing the song.  With grades 1 and 2, (and some advanced kindergarten classes--you be the judge) try continuing on with this activity at future classes:

  • Run through the song again saying you want to see how much of the song they remember.  It’s amazing how more complex songs “sink in” with time.  Some may be able to sing the song in its entirety.
  • To help teach phrasing (and for fun) stand in a circle holding hands.  Walk or skip to the right.  Then, change direction at the end of each phrase—that is, after “sea,” “me,” and “hold.”  In other words, switch directions every time there is a rest (see animation.)
  • On “the mast it was of gold,” end the first verse by stopping and holding arms straight in the air pretending to be a mast.
  • Continue with the next verse skipping or walking around, alternating directions at the end of each phrase until the end: "quack quack."  Stop and use both hands to mimic a duck's bill.
  • Next, sit down and have the kids play an unpitched percussion instrument at the end of each phrase.  You can also have them play an open fifth on the tonic of a barred instrument--for example, G and D if you sing the song in the key of the score.  See how perfectly "together" the class can play.  You may notice that they anticipate the beat a little.  If that happens, you can try counting the beats of each measure out loud (one, two, three four, one two three, beat!).
  • Try combining the two activities by having some kids do the circle “dance” while others play instruments at the moment the dancers change direction.  Allow the kids to select the instruments that sound the best together, or play them one at a time.

Add-On Activities:

If you're very brave of heart, try doing this song (or any other songs with ducks in them, like One Day Turkey Went for Walk or Five Little Ducks) in conjuction with a straw-reed instrument making activity.  The straws sound just like ducks!  Get all the information at  Just make sure to let the classroom teachers know what you're doing so they are prepared to confiscate the straws during silent reading time--or maybe right after music class until the end of the day!

Solo Vocal