This song has potential issues involving religious insults and sexual content. Please consider what you read here and do your own research to determine if it is appropriate for your students.
During my first year of teaching, I used Acka Backa as an elimination game with a particularly rowdy group of 3rd grade students. We sat in a circle and passed a bean bag to the beat. Whoever was out at the end transitioned to playing a steady beat on a hand drum. They loved it! The classroom evolved from a tense environment to one filled with chanting, drumming, and friendly competition. The winner(s) received 5 Dojo points. As soon as we finished a full round, the kids immediately jumped back into the circle to start again.
With that being said, I did not know anything about the murky history and rumors surrounding Acka Backa at that point in time. From what I have found, it seems to me that these proposals on the origins of the song may be just that…proposals.
Suggested Grade Levels: Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade
***Note: There is a melodic version of this chant/song. You can find that along with lesson ideas here.
Similar to a previous song post on Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, Acka Backa appears to be a song/chant that children would use for counting or choosing. It is believed to have roots in British children’s song literature. This chant is widespread around the world and has different variations on the lyrics.
A post by Wilson Gray (2005) referred to using the song during their childhood. In this version, the lyrics were as follows:
“Acka back, soda cracker
If your daddy chews tabacco
He’s a dirty J**
1-2-3 means out goes you.”
Wilson stated that they and their peers would use this between 1940-1950. Adults who heard them would tell them not to use such language, but Wilson remarked that they did not understand why. My theory on the derogatory nature of this version is that as a marginalized religious group during this time period, Jewish people were unfortunately the subject of anti-Semitism in culture and music. This bled over into some of the children’s repertoire of the time, whether the children were cognizant of the harmful meanings or not.
Another alleged history of this song comes from testimony by Judy Henske in 1963 (click here to listen). Children would be used as “spies” in the red-light district of Chicago. Any time police came around, the children would sing this and alert their mothers and/or other people who may not be doing something legal (like prostitution). This would give them time to “straighten up” and switch to an activity that would not get them arrested.
Azizi Powell from Pancocojams speculated that this was a story that Henske made up due to the fact that the words to the song were similar to, but not the same as the lyrics in Acka Backa. Powell also stated that Henske incorporated another folk song, Green Green Rocky Road, into her song Hooka Tooka Soda Cracker.
Whether or not these histories are true, many teachers have decided against using the chant/song in their classrooms. Acka Back was even removed from Quaver Education’s online music curriculum and replaced with Bounce High and Snail, Snail.
Option 1: Students sit in a circle and pass a bean bag while reciting the chant. Any time a student gets “out,” have them move to playing an unpitched percussion instrument.
Option 2: Students stand in a circle and pass a playground ball to the steady beat. When a student is out, they must back up and sit down out of the circle. Students who are still in must toss the ball to the next student. If they drop it or purposely throw it while making it too difficult to catch, they are also out and must sit down. Do not make the circle smaller as you go.
–Good for aural dictations of eighth/quarter notes and quarter rests
–Great steady beat exercise
–Quarter rest identification and performance
–Abbott, A. (2013, February 10). Acka backa. Music a la Abbott. https://www.musicalaabbott.com/2013/02/acka-backa.html
–Colchester School District. (2019, December 9). Acka Backa [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9TZ6usCAVU
—Diversity, equity, and inclusion. (n.d.). Quaver Ed. https://www.quavered.com/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/
–Gray, W. (2005, January 28). Acka-backa, soda cracker. Listserv.linguistlist.org Mailing Lists. http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-January/045365.html
–Holy Names University. (n.d.). Acka backa. Kodály Center: The American Folk Song Collection. https://kodaly.hnu.edu/song.cfm?id=853
Judy Henske – the “beatnik queen”. (2017, January 11). Wild Hare Club Blog. https://www.wildhareclub.com/blog/11-judy-henske-the-beatnik-queen
–Judy Henske – Topic. (2017, January 23). Hooka tooka [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdncoAyiaI0
–Powell, A. (2013, May 4). Debunking the urban myth about “hooka tooka soda cracka”. Pancocojams. http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/05/debunking-urban-myth-about-hooka-tooka.html