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One of the most common questions that I get is, “What do I do with older elementary students?” I get it. Fourth and fifth grade students can be tough to teach elementary music. They may deem activities too childish, they are more self conscious about singing, and a million other things all contribute to them being more difficult. One thing that I like to to with all of my students is movement activities. Movement activities get kids out of their heads and into the music. It also distracts them from singing or reading flashcards, so they may not notice that they are doing it. Today, we are going to talk all about movement activities for upper elementary.
Some of these lessons include singing, some include rhythm review, some include games…. It’s a combination of everything.
Before you freak out, YES older kids still want to move. They need to move– they sit so much of the day.
They may be reluctant at first, but keep trying, and they will love it. Even though they are upper elementary– they are still kids. I sometimes forget this, because my students seem so grown up by the time they hit fifth grade.
My kids, in particular, grow up quickly. A lot of them are taking care of themselves and taking care of siblings during the day. They are often treated like adults, even if they are only 11.
But trust me, they are still kids. And they will have fun.
Story time: One year, I had a lot of 5th grade students who were older than their classmates– some by more than a year. They were particularly difficult, and never seemed to enjoy anything.
So I decided to pull out the parachute.
We were doing the routine from Artie Almieda’s book Scarves and Ribbons and Parachutes, Oh My! for March from The Nutcracker. I looked across the parachute at this student who came across as super tough and cool and he was also a bit older.
That boy was smiling from ear to ear. I had never seen him look that excited before.
That was the moment that I remembered– even these “big tough fifth graders” are really just little kids.
If you can tap into that for a moment, it will be so good for them. And for you!
Now, be warned, the last one is one of my all time favorites– so you’re going to want to read all the way to the end.
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Basically, you assign a body percussion movement for each rhythm. So you could stomp on quarter notes, slide on half notes, clap on eighth notes, and snap on sixteenth notes.
Then you read a piece of music doing these body percussion movements.
It’s really simple but really fun, and a great way to get kids reading!
You could use any folk song or rhythm cards for this. We did it with the song Scotland’s Burning, and then we used this rhythm play along video on YouTube that goes with the song Uptown Funk. I like it because the rhythms are different colors, and also because it uses popular music to teach rhythm.
Stick Figure Movement
One super easy movement activity for fourth and fifth grade is the stick figure movement activity. Basically, you hold up posters with stick figures in different positions. They match the poster.
You can switch every few beats, change the pattern, add music, add a backing track… Pretty much anything that you want.
You can draw your stick figures, or you can purchase a set here. They are really inexpensive.
More body percussion.
For this activity, show students a picture of a drum set. Talk about the different sounds that the drums make. Then tell them they are going to use their bodies to be the drumsets.
You’ll need to find a drum part to a popular song. I use Little Kids Rock, which is a free website that has lessons for kids and lesson plans for teachers that center on making kids musical through popular music, because again, meet them where they are.
Counting Stars is a really simple one, that you can find here, but you can look up any of the songs and look at the drum parts.
Use your foot to be the bass drum, pat you leg for snare drum, and put a hand across your chest to your shoulder for the hihat.
I definitely recommend doing each drum part separately before you do them together.
Then play it with the song!
One Bottle of Pop
As far as songs go, this is one of my favorite warm ups. It is so silly that your students will love it. I often use it at the beginning of class, or the beginning of the year. I find when it’s silly, it’s easy to buy into.
I also use this as one of our first rounds of the year. Having actions and completely different words help the kids to stay on track.
Star Wars Parachute Activity
I wish I could adequately explain to you how much I love the parachute. It is just so much fun. Especially for movement activities for 4 and 5 grade– it’s just so perfect!
You can watch the Youtube video below!
Pizza, Pizza, Daddy O
This song is so silly, but so much fun. At first, your kids will look at you like you’re crazy. But they will get on board and be all about it.
Basically, there’s an A and a B section. One student goes to the middle of the circle (or up to the front of the class), and you use their name in the song. Every time you say “pizza, pizza, daddy o”, you do a little dance move– your feet go out, cross, out cross, together.
It’s easier than it sounds.
Then, on the B section, the person in the middle gets to choose the actions that everyone will do. So they may say, “Let’s snap it,” or “Let’s stomp it,” or “Let’s floss it”– because you know it will happen.
After choosing two actions, then the student will say “Let’s end it.” They are supposed to close their eyes, spin around, and whoever they point to on Daddy OH is the next person.
But with upper elementary, I often find it’s smarter to let them choose to participate, so I usually have them raise their hands and the student at the front picks someone with a hand up.
Beat and Freeze
This is one of the easiest of all of my movement activities for 4 and 5 grade. I like to use this as a warm up, especially at the beginning of the year.
Get a drum. On the drum, you will play eight beats, with beat 1 being louder than the rest. We start out with tip toeing to the beat, and jumping on the loud beat.
Then, we make it more fun. I continue what I’m playing, but students instead make a statue on beat one, and hold it for the rest. The next time that we have a loud beat, they make a new statue.
I like to make it harder by changing the tempo, or by getting rid of the quiet beats and just doing one loud one every eighth beats.
This warms up our bodies, as well as helps students to learn to count beats in their head.
A Qua Qua
Did I save the best for last? Maybe.
This is a Jewish folk song, and it is so much fun! Admittedly, it’s a bit less movement and more of a game.
Students sit in a circle, and they put their hands out so that their right hand is below the person to their right’s hand. Their left hand is on top of the person to their left.
This sometimes takes a few minutes to figure out.
Once you’ve got that, students pass the beat by moving their left hand across their bodies to TAP the hand of the person on the right while singing the song. Whoever is tapped last is out!
Ok, this doesn’t require a lot of movement but… It’s just so much fun!
Alright, there are a few of my favorite simple movement activities for 4 and 5 grade music class. There are more, of course, but we can save some of those for another day– these will get you started.
The trick with older students is to always approach the lesson like it will be fun. Make sure your attitude is positive. And if what you’re doing is a little bit weird, then tell them that. Say “This is kind of silly, but let’s just try it.”
You’ll be surprised.
What are your favorite movement activities for 4 and 5 grade music? Let me know in the comments!