Making Music

The story of a girl, a paper piano, and a song that sends her soaring to the moon

Lexile Level: 560L / Guided Reading: R / DRA Level: 40

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On Level

Learning Objective

In this relatable short story, a girl must convince her mother that her newest passion isn’t just the latest in a long series of discarded hobbies. The story’s many colorful similes offer an opportunity to focus on this literary device.

Featured Skill


Key Skills

Explanatory writing, plot, similes, figurative language, character, key details

Standards Correlations

This article and lesson support the following standards:

Common Core anchor standards: R.1, R.3, R.4, W.2, SL.1, L.4, L.5, L.6

TEKS: 3.2, 3.4, 3.8, 3.10, 3.20, 3.29, 3.30

Teaching Materials

Activity Sheets

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Close Reading Questions
Pause and Think
Quiz - On Level
Quiz - Higher Level
Reading Kit: Simile
Reading Kit: Plot
Reading Kit: Character

Lesson plan

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Preview Text Features (10 minutes)
•  Direct students to examine the illustration on page 14. Ask: What do you think is happening in this picture? What do the title and the illustration tell you about what the story will be about? Point out the subheads and the Pause and Think boxes at the end of each section. Explain that the questions in these boxes will help the students better understand the story.


Set a Purpose for Reading
• The tasks in the Think and Read and Think and Write boxes on pages 15 and 19 work together to support the skill focus. Have one student read the task in each box.
• Read aloud the first Pause and Think box on page 16. These questions will check basic comprehension. (Students will delve into higher-level work with the close-reading questions, available here and online.)


Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)
• This story includes seven vocabulary words highlighted in bold: cringing, halting, gavotte, recital, metronome, petrified, and curtsy.
• The words are defined at the bottom of the column in which they appear. Discuss the meanings of the words, looking at how they are used in the story to help students further understand them.
• Distribute our vocabulary activity for more practice with these words.

Reading and Unpacking the Text
First read: Students should read the story through one time for general comprehension. Whether your students read as a class, in small groups, or independently, ask them to answer the Pause and Think questions along the way.
Second read: Distribute the close-reading and critical-thinking questions. (For struggling readers, you can distribute the sheet of Pause and Think questions.) Preview them as a class.
• Have students read the story again, pausing to answer the questions.



Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)
•What do you learn about Sabrina in the first section of the story? What does she keep doing that isn’t good? (character) Sabrina keeps picking up hobbies and then losing interest in them.
• How does Sabrina feel about the first song Mr. Wong has her play? (character) At first, she is excited to finally get to play a song. But she thinks the song is boring, and she is disappointed.
• In the section “The Lessons Begin,” what happens to make Sabrina more excited about playing the piano? (plot) Sabrina hears Mrs. Donovan playing “Fly Me to the Moon” and wants to learn how to play it.
• In “A Daring New Plan,” Sabrina makes a paper piano. What does this tell you about how she has changed? (how character changes) It shows she is determined to learn how to make music, and she doesn’t give up on it like she did with other hobbies.
• What risk does Sabrina take at the recital? Why? Do you think she did the right thing? (key details) Answers will vary but should be similar to: She decides to play “Fly Me to the Moon” instead of “Gavotte in G.” Mr. Wong told her to play the gavotte, so she is disobeying him. She does this because she wants to play the music that she loves.



Critical-Thinking Question (7 minutes)
• The author uses many similes in the story. On page 16, Sabrina says she plays “like a robot.” On page 18, she says her heart is “thumping like a drum.” What do these similes mean? How do they help you understand Sabrina? (simile) When she says she plays the song “like a robot,” you can tell she thinks it’s boring. When she says her heart was “thumping like a drum,” you can tell she is very nervous. The similes help you understand how Sabrina is feeling.

• Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Think and Write box at the bottom of page 11.  
• Distribute our Fiction Reading Kit, which focuses on key reading skills, including our featured skill, similes. Have students work in small groups to complete it.
• For an extra challenge, have students race to see who can be the first to find five similes in the story. Discuss what they find as a class. How do the similes they found enhance the story?

Teaching Extras

The Inspiration

Fun fact: This story was inspired by the author’s mother, who grew up in Taiwan. Grace Lin’s mom—her name is Lin-Lin Lin—didn’t have a piano because her parents couldn’t afford one. So she made her own paper keyboard and practiced on it, just like Sabrina.

Sharing Personal Experiences

Ask your students whether they can relate to Sabrina, who was famous for starting and then quitting lots of activities. Are there any activities they’ve given up right away? Have they loved one enough to work hard and stick with it? Maybe you can share your own experiences, whether as a child or a parent.

Frank Sinatra Performance

Show your students this video of Frank Sinatra performing Fly Me to the Moon—even though there’s not much piano in this version, we think it’s too good not to show! Be sure to fill your students in on how famous Frank Sinatra was and is for added context.

Gavotte in G

You can also show your students this video of a pianist playing Gavotte in G. Ask them what they think of Fly Me to the Moon versus the gavotte: Do they find one more interesting than the other? Can they understand Sabrina’s reaction to each song or do they feel differently?

Can't Get Enough of Grace Lin

Grace Lin is a prolific author with many wonderful books. Check them out here and consider adding some to your classroom library!