Archive for the ‘manipulatives’ Category


2 Meter

April 4, 2014

I make two-meter conscious in the latter part of 2nd grade with my students. By that point, they have a very solid grasp of the steady beat, tempo, and have learned half note. Since Kindergarten, they have been tapping, moving to, and stepping the beat.  This type of kinesthetic activity is vital to truly understanding and internalizing the beat. Now I want them to understand that “not all beats are created equal.”  They are ready to “measure” the music and organize the beats!

There are many songs that can be used to focus on two-meter. This year I have primarily been using Rocky Mountain and Deedle Deedle Dumpling. Deedle Deedle Dumpling lends itself perfectly to the first step in my process: feeling the beat “differently” in each foot.

Deedle Deedle Dumpling

Because the song is so silly, the kids are eager to have one shoe off and one shoe on, just like the character John. In a circle, the students remove one shoe. While singing the song, we step to the beat, making sure we all start with the foot wearing the shoe. This creates clear sensory input that is easily discernible by all of the students. It just feels different to step with a clad or unclad foot. We identify that the beats feel different. I tell the children, “I have a music secret to share…not all beats are created equal!  Some are strong and some are weak!”

We tap strong and weak beats (strong= pat on lap, weak= touch shoulders). We try out a strong-weak pattern, then try a weak-strong pattern. The students identify that it “fits better” when we start with a strong beat.

Over the course of a few classes (this is Kodaly-based after all) we label beats on the board with “S” and “w” to denote which beats are strong/weak, and we add an accent over the strong beats. The students immediately notice that it looks like a less-than symbol from Math class. I like to tell them that it looks like an arrow that lost it’s stick. The arrow is pointing in front of the beat. It is showing us where to draw the bar line. We add in bar lines to “organize the music.”


In pairs, the students use the dictation bags to set up 8 beats. We say “strong-weak” as we tap our hands across the beats. The pairs use yarn to create accents over the beats, then place popsicle stick bar lines in front of the strong beats.

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Now it is time for the kids to try this on their own! I bought these fabulous dry erase sleeves from Oriental Trading Company. They come in sets of 12 and are really easy to clean off. They are big enough to fit a 9×12 piece of construction paper, so the regular copy paper fits with no problem.  I guide the students through each step of labeling the beats, adding the accents, and placing the bar lines. We learn that we add two bar line (DOUBLE BAR LINE!) at the end. I call it a musical stop sign. We “measure” the music by counting how many beats are between the bar lines, and marked it at the beginning of the song. I have the student write the number 2 over a heart. I have seen other teachers use a 2 over a quarter note, or just use 2/4.

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I pulled these out again after Spring Break and asked the kids to draw in the bar line for 2 Meter all by themselves. It was a good way to see who got it and who didn’t.

One thing that I always do is teach the students how to conduct in the new meter we have learned. They love it! First we just conduct with out hands, then we add a baton. I found clear, colored plastic cocktail stirring sticks at the dollar store. Cheap and pretty strong, the kids think they are magical! We are just about ready for the students to be the leaders and conduct the class as we sing Rocky Mountain or Deedle Dumpling. They feel SO important when they are chosen!


Reflections on Valentine’s Day

February 21, 2014

I am not a big Holiday In the Music Room person. Most of my career has been in schools where I only saw the kids once per week. To teach holiday themed songs and activities, I would spend the entirety of the month living Halloween or Thanksgiving.  While I adore the holidays, I never found a way to make this work without having it impact my curriculum in a negative way.

I am now teaching in a school where I see the students twice a week. I have been slowly, and judiciously, adding in holiday themed activities. With Valentine’s Day now a week behind us, I thought it was a good time to reflect on what worked (despite too many snow days to count.)

Last year I wrote a short little Valentine’s Day song that would work with a solfege identification activity I was planning to implement. It is very adaptable and can be used at just about any grade level, for both rhythmic and melodic assessment. Click on the image to see a larger, easily readable version of the song.

Hello, Valentine!

Melodic Identification:  The students enter the room to find hearts scattered around the floor. The hearts are about 6-12″ wide and have four beat phrases written on them with stick notation. Below the rhythms are the solfege pitches. The students take a seat and sing the song. When the song ends, I either sing or play a four beat melody that matches one of the hearts. The students must stay on their rug spot and try to find the matching heart. If it is located near them (their bottom does not have to leave the floor in order to reach the heart) then they can hold it up.   The song is in do-pentatonic, so any pattern with those pitches works well.

Rhythm Reading: I found a really cute “musical hearts” activity on Pintrest. It was basically just musical chairs while stepping on heart shapes, but I knew there had to be a way to make it educational. I found packs of 35 foam hearts at Target about a week before the holiday. On each heart I wrote a four beat rhythm pattern. Each pack came with four different colored hearts. This worked out great, as I color coded the patterns: aqua (quarter note, quarter rest, eighth notes, half note, and sixteenth notes); yellow (added ti-tika, eighth-two sixteenth); pink (added tike-ti, two sixteenth-one eighth); and purple (added syncopa.) My third graders each stood on a heart. As we sang the song, the kids walk around the circle, stepping the beat. When the song ended, they all read the rhythm pattern on which they stood. We did a few rounds where all kids read their pattern at the same time, then we did rounds where I called on specific students. This was a great way to very quickly assess their rhythm reading!

Rhythm ID: I created a rhythm clip chart with some super cute clip art I found on TpT. There are four patterns on the page, with a different color background behind each pattern. We first practiced each pattern. I would chant, “Read the yellow pattern please!” (or whichever color I wanted them to read.) Then the challenge began. We sang the song. I then sang, “Which pattern do you hear?” on so and mi. I performed one of the patterns from the card on my recorder. The students had to identify which pattern I performed and clip a clothes pin next to it. I was easily able to look around and assess who was correct.

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None of these ideas are terribly original or revolutionary, but I wanted to show how adaptable one song can be. Since the children learned the song this year I will really only need to review it next year. I did each of the activities with a different grade level, so the students will have a new musical challenge next February.

How have you made a song work for multiple activities and/or grade levels? How have you managed to fit in the holiday festivities without sacrificing concentrated curriculum?


Monday (but really Tuesday) Manipulatives

September 10, 2013

Yesterday was our first day of school. We all know how crazy that can be. I meant to share this yesterday so that I could be part of the Monday Music Manipulatives Linkup at Pursuit of Joyfulness.  Alas, it is now Tuesday.  Better late than never?

There are so many rhythm and pitch manipulative ideas out there. I thought I would share one I use for pre-rhythm. My Kindergarteners label ta and ti-ti- (or ta-ti, as I say it) near the end of the school year. However, just because we haven’t labels one and two sounds with their proper names and syllables, it doesn’t mean we aren’t working on the concept.


If you have a SmartBoard, there is a wonderful product called Interactive NOW. Each CD-ROM contains at least six different activities at all different ability levels.  On volume 2 you can find an activity called Beat Box (Set 1).  There are four beat boxes into which you drag colored circles.  The students “read” the colors from left to right. The colors come in pairs: red/yellow and pink/purple.  I have the students say and clap the color names, identifying how many sounds each color makes.


Now here comes the manipulative.  While it is good for the students to read the pattens I create, or for individuals to come up and create a pattern, I want every single student to create their own pattern.  Enter the Math teacher.  I had an amazing Math coach at my old school who gave me an bag full of counting chips.  20130910_154928One side is red, the other is yellow. I give each student four chips. They get to “compose” (it is a great opportunity to start working in this vocab!) their own red/yellow pattern.  They must practice it, speaking and clapping.  We share our patterns with our neighbors, almost like a Music Think-Pair-Share. In later lessons I might give the students eight chips to compose longer pieces. The students can perform them on rhythm sticks or even on a glockenspiel set up in a pentatonic scale.20130910_154913

The great thing about this activity is that, once you have done it together as a class, it is a perfect activity if you do music centers. Provide a selection of instruments and see what the kids create!


Dictation: Checking What Your Students Are Hearing

April 12, 2013

I am a huge fan of technology. HUGE! When I was hired at my new school I was in raptures over the fact that I would have a SmartBoard in my room. Well, really I was in raptures that I would finally have an actual classroom and not a desk shoved in the corner of some poor teacher’s classroom. But I digress. I love tech. I use the SmartBoard, I borrow the cart of iPads and laptops. The kids love it and it can make assessment a breeze.

That being said, there is absolutely nothing that can replace a good set of manipulatives.  Give the kids something to hold or move around with their hands and their level of engagement goes through the roof. I find this to be especially true with activities such as dictation. Paper and pencil works, but can challenge younger students or those with fine motor issues. Provide a pile of popsicle sticks or coffee stirrers and they can easily manipulate them into quarter notes and eighth notes.

During a recent visit to my local dollar store I found a few packs of foam hearts. They are about four inches across, so quite a good size. I knew immediately they were going to be perfect for my classroom.  I had created staff dictation sets a couple of years ago, but wanted something separate to give the kids for when I just want to work on rhythms. Over Spring Break I redistributed some of my classroom materials (because what else would I possibly want to do on vacation??!?!) Into each bag I included eight hearts, three pieces of yarn about six inches long, eight popsicle/craft sticks, twenty coffee stirrers, and four coffee stirrers that I had cut in half (eight halves in all.)

What to do with these new rhythmic goldmines?  Why not work on placing barlines between the appropriate beats for music in 2 meter?

Bar lines

Perform a pattern using rhythm syllables or by playing on an instrument. The students use the hearts to keep track of the beats and use the coffee stirrers to “write” the pattern they heard . The long stirrers are good for stems and the short “half sticks” are perfect for the beams connecting rhythms such as eighth notes or for making a quarter rest.


The yarn is a new addition to my manipulative repertoire. In one of those “oh, duh!” moments, I heard a teacher mention using yarn or pipe cleaners so that students could create half notes during dictation. This has opened up a whole new world of dictation possibilities for 2nd grade!


If you are working on a particular song your students can recreate an entire phrase of a song.  Here are my 2nd graders recreating the first phrase of Rocky Mountain with the correct number of beats, bar lines, and rhythms. They were so excited to get to “play” with the materials and show off how to create their new long rhythm.  I was thrilled to be able to look around the room and get an instant snapshot of how well my students are understanding the concepts. I now know for which students I need to provide a bigger challenge and which students need some more practice when next we do learning centers in class.


If you have dictation materials such as these, how do you use them?  Do you have any different ideas you could share? Any unique materials you have used in the past?



Folk Song Arranging (and my first TPT upload)

April 8, 2013

When you look at the cognitive domain of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy the most complex level of critical thinking involves the creation of something new, utilizing the recently acquired  knowledge. In Music, the learning activities that best allow students to engage in this mode of thinking are those that involve improvisation, composition and arranging.  Improvisation is often overlooked as too difficult or set to the side in the interest of time. (There are already so many concepts and performances to squeeze into the curriculum!) It is vitally important that we give our students opportunities to improvise…but that is for another post.

Composition activities are more often completed in class. They can be as simple as writing a four beat rhythm pattern to play on a hand drum, or as complex as writing a song in Rondo form in la pentatonic on the music staff with lyrics based on the current Social Studies unit.

Song arranging falls through the cracks so often that, when I mention doing an arranging project at my school, many music educators look at me with surprise. Why is this?  Arranging a know song or songs into a unique performance is a wonderful way to get your students’ creative juices flowing and gives you a chance to see how well they are synthesizing the elements you have recently worked into the curriculum.  An arranging project can highlight and enable you to assess a multitude of musical elements:

  • form
  • texture
  • the use of the singing voice
  • the ability to sing and play simultaneously
  • effective use of dynamics
  • the ability to write and perform a specific rhythm through the creation of ostinati
  • steady beat (while performing the arrangement)
  • ensemble skills
  • part singing…

The list could continue on and on.

Recently in my own classroom I have had my 3rd graders working on a group project arranging three known folk songs into a new performance. They will be performing the three songs (Rocky Mountain, Dinah, and Great Big House in New Orleans) in the Spring Concert. What better way for the kids to become deeply acquainted with the songs? Each group consists of three or four students. Their goal is to create and perform the three folk songs in a new and different way.  They must have a bordun and an ostinato in their performance, and all group members must sing. They can sing in unison or layer the songs to create harmony. The beauty of using do-pentatonic folk songs is that when sung simultaneously they create a lovely sound. To help the students to achieve their musical goals as smoothly and successfully as possible, I created a packet.  Each group would receive these materials at the beginning of the project when I explain what they need to accomplish. Each step is laid out for the students so that they know exactly what to do and in which order.  I have created manipulatives to assist the students in developing the form of their piece.  There is a graphic organizer to use in the planning phase, and which will act as a map of their arrangement.


I have led students through projects like this in the past, but this year is the first time I am using these materials. The students have a much clearer understanding of what they need to do in class and I am freed up to assist more with the creation process.  While I am using those three particular folk songs, the forms I created do not specify the repertoire, leaving it open for use with different grade levels and selections of repertoire.

If you are interested in downloading these materials, please visit my new TeachersPayTeachers store. Since this is my first item posted on the site it is FREE! Check it out and please let me know what you think.


The manipulatives were made using graphics from My Journey to 5th Grade.


We start with some eggs

March 26, 2013

Having just returned from the OAKE National Conference, I am filled with a renewed excitement for my craft. It is a feeling that these sort of events engender in me every time I attend. I come home energized and filled with more ideas than I could possibly put into practice before the school year ends. I run out to scour the stores for materials and feverishly work to create manipulatives, worksheets, and new curriculum.

This year, one of the things I walked away excited to try was a professional blog. I have a blog for my classroom that is targeted at my students and their parents.  I share student work, concert repertoire, and information about events happening at the school.  Instead, I wanted to try writing and sharing for my colleagues. So this is it, the start of it all.  Today, we start with eggs.

imagesIt is the end of March and despite experiencing a late season chill, Spring has actually sprung. Mother Nature is just a bit confused.  Many of us are on Spring Break celebrating Passover, while others are preparing for Easter. When you walk into the grocery store or craft store you can’t miss the display of colorful baskets, candy and eggs.  Bunnies and chicks peek out at you from shelves and bins. It is those colorful plastic eggs that have me all excited. Denise Gagne presented a workshop at the conference called “Dimestore Diva.” She was showing off all of the great manipulatives that she has discovered at her local dollar store. As one participant expressed, “Man, I want to live by her dollar store!” Puppets, glittery hearts, chopsticks, baking pan music staves…she had so many fun items with which to play.  So inspired, I set my skepticism at the local offerings aside and ventured forth to the $1 Mart.  I entered through the doors with an open mind. I immediately gravitated to the Easter aisle. I’m not sure I have ever seen such a selection of plastic eggs.  The variety of colors and sizes was impressive enough, but then you notice the less traditional eggs: soccer ball, baseball, carrots, animal print… I snatched up four dozen tradition eggs and two dozen of the carrot shaped eggs.  The carrot eggs I need to mull over. I have an idea, but it needs a bit more time to devel

What to do with four dozen traditional Easter eggs?  I have two ideas for you today.

Idea #1: Rhythm Egg Hunt

This can be done with any grade level that you feel will still enjoy the hunt.  Instead of filling the eggs with candy or pennies, write a four beat rhythm pattern on a slip of paper.  You can either fold or roll the paper and stuff one into each egg. All of the slips can be different or you can have two of each pattern.  Hide the eggs around your room. When the students arrive for class greet them at the door.  Explain that you are having an egg hunt. You can play music while they hunt.  You can either tell the students to continue to hunt until the music ends or to sit at the ________ (rug, chairs, desks, etc.) after they have found a set number of eggs. That number would depend on how many eggs you made. You want to make sure every student get to find an egg.

From there the possibilities are many. You can have each student read their patterns aloud.  You could have all students with the same color egg work together to arrange their rhythm patterns into a song. Perhaps all of the patterns combine to create a known song.  Maybe they are random patterns with which the groups can create an original rhythm composition.  If you have a small class and a ton of eggs, you can have the students collect two to four eggs and arrange their own slips into a song.  If you made two copies of each pattern so that two eggs have the same rhythm, have the students find their “rhythm twin” who will then be their partner for the next activity.

Idea #2: Passing Game


Each egg has two halves, top and bottom. Using a permanent marker, write a four beat pattern on each half of the egg.  Since my 4th and 5th graders are practicing syncopation right now I made sure to include it on my eggs.  Take the eggs apart and put all of the tops in one bag and all of the bottoms in another bag.  When the students enter the class or you are ready to start this activity, allow them to reach in an randomly choose one half from each bag. It does not matter if their halves are the same color. Seated in a circle, sing the song “Epo E Tai Tai E.”

For the passing game, the students hold the bottom half of the egg in their left hand.  They will pass the top half of the egg with their right hand.  The passing pattern I use is a four beat pattern that goes, “pick up, tap, tap, put down.” All of the top halves should be placed on the floor in front the students. On beat one they pick of the top half with their right hand. Beat two: tap the egg on their left knee. Beat three: tap the egg on their right knee.  Beat four: put down the egg half on the floor in front of the person to their right, usually in front of their knee. To start the pattern over, the student will reach across their body and pick up the egg their neighbor placed in front of them. Ultimately, the pattern travels across the body from left to right. For the “Epo E Tai Tai E” the passing pattern will be repeated eight times.  On the last pattern at the end of the song, beat four is changed. Instead of placing the top half on the floor, they will snap the top half onto the bottom half they have been holding in their left hand. Any student whose top and bottom match colors gets to read their pattern out loud. This is a fun activity to do when you need to assess rhythm reading. It keeps the students engaged and gives you a chance to hear the students read an eight beat rhythm pattern.

If you are not familiar with the song you can hear it and see the music on the staff in this video. It indicates that the song if from Hawaii (which is what I had learned) but I am seeing many posts listing it as a song from the Maori peoples of New Zealand.

This activity could be done with any song and any set of known rhythms. In fact, I will likely be heading back to the $1 Mart to buy up a few dozen more eggs. I don’t want the 2nd and 3rd grade classes to feel left out!

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