Last week, we talked all about the ins and outs of centers in the elementary music room (Check it out here!) This week, I am sharing some fun (and easy!) centers activities that are all Fall music center activities– because themes make everything better, right?
These are just a couple of ideas, definitely not an extensive list, so leave any suggestions in the comments!
Feed the Monster
First and foremost, Feed the Monster. This is a super fun fall centers activity for primary students (think K-2). Basically, you make a “monster”. Students take turns reading rhythm or melody cards, and if they get them right, they get to feed them to the monster.
Who doesn’t love mini erasers? That is the question.
Get some Fall mini erasers, and have students practice putting them the treble clef or making rhythms with them (one sound v. two). If you are going the rhythm route, you can get FREE beat charts in my free resource library!
Not a part of the free resource library? Sign up here! You get access to free resources– more coming out monthly– as well as exclusive emails where I send you ideas for teaching your elementary music class straight to your inbox!
Talk about easy! For this activity, all you need it cut outs of fall things– pumpkins, ghosts, pie, bats, etc. This could be pictures from the internet, Ellison Press cut outs, Cricut cut outs, foam, whatever. Have students arrange them to make compositions and play them on small percussion instruments (if they can be trusted!). You could also do this with partner dictation or pretty much anything.
If students are reading, you can write the notation on the manipulative, or have students figure it out themselves!
If you have seen my TPT shop or my Instagram, you know I am ALL about the matching games!
I have matching games for recorder, piano, treble clef, treble clef sharps and flats, bass clef, rhythm, solfege, instruments of the orchestra, and more. Yup. That’s a lot. And I have them all in pumpkins and in candy corn! (Does anyone else like candy corn? Because I do….)
Another go-to station is to have students listen to a piece of music and either write or draw something to go along with it. This can work for any time of the year, and any concept. Students could figure out the form, write words to talk about the timbre, draw the instruments they hear, draw what picture comes to their brain when they hear it, etc. Whatever you are talking about that week, you can have them do it in stations.
My top picks for Fall music centers activities would be:
Im Herbst by Robert Franz (I have a TPT product that goes with this one and has writing and drawing components!)
Have students sort candy names into rhythms! You can print out picture of candy bars and have them sort the candies into buckets with the correct rhythm (so Hershey’s would be two quarter notes or two eighth notes depending on how you do it), or you could have them write the rhythm down.
In the Hall on Rhythm Instruments or Boomwhackers
We are actually doing both of these activities.
On Youtube, there are rhythm play along videos and boomwhacker play along videos for In the Hall of the Mountain King. You can have students watch the videos and play along on the board, on iPads if you have them, or you could screenshot the videos and print them out!
Centers are definitely the trend in education right now. There are a ton of benefits to having centers– they can be easily differentiated, you can work with students in smaller groups, which means they get more attention, and hypothetically students should be engaged because there are many different things that they get to do.
That’s all good, but when you teach music, and you have 500 or 600 or 1300 students who you only see for 45 minutes a week, it can be a different story.
Is it still possible to do centers? Yes! I do centers on a regular basis in my elementary music room, and it is always very productive– and I even differentiate.
Not because I am amazing, just because I put in a little bit of effort at the beginning of the year to get centers figured out. Once they are figured out, it is so easy to implement them on a regular basis.
How do you figure out centers? There are a few decisions that need to be made:
Number of groups
Who will be in each groups
Setting up boundaries
Number of activities
What the activities will be
Want some more centers help? You can check out some of my other center blog posts down below!
The first thing you want to decide is how many groups there will be. This helps you determine who will be in each groups, how many activities there will be, etc.
This is definitely a personal preference, but I like to have groups as small as possible. I find when there are more than 5 students at a group, it gets chaotic. I always have 6 groups (unless a class is super small, and I will do 5). Most of my classes are sitting around 24ish kids, so that puts 4 in a group. I find this is be a good number of students, but again, personal preference.
Who will be in each group
Now that you have determined a number of groups, you can start putting kids into groups. The most important thing here is that YOU DECIDE ON GROUPS AHEAD OF TIME. Seriously. Deciding in the moment takes way too much time, kids get disappointed or mad that they have to go to that center first or be with that person… it’s not worth it. Take 5 minutes before class starts and decide on your own. That way when you call students into groups, you can do so quickly and they don’t have time to be upset.
You can determine groups however you want, but I highly recommend using centers to differentiate. In order to do that, you need to group students by their performance on some sort of work or quiz or something. You can read (or watch!) all about this in my post But how do I actually differentiate in the music room?
Rotating through Centers
One of the trickiest parts of centers is the rotation.
How do kids know it is time to clean up? How do you know they are ready to switch? Where do they go?
These are all questions you need to know the answer to. Before the kids are in your room.
I have recently started using timers for centers, and I have to say, it has CHANGED my life. I pull up two tabs on Class Dojo (you could also do YouTube videos). One of them I set for 5 minutes, and the other for 1 minute. The 5 minute timer is for the centers. As soon as it goes off, the kids know to clean up their station. I set the 1 minute timer. If they are done cleaning before the cleaning timer goes off, then the class gets a point.
This has seriously made the biggest difference in the world. I don’t have to try to talk over them to be heard, I am not standing around waiting for them to clean up, and they know exactly how long they have.
I used to ring my chimes and say, “1, 2, 3, 4, put everything down, get off the floor, and FREEZE.”, which I still do sometimes, even with the timer.
Once everyone is cleaned up and frozen, I show each group where they are going and have them POINT to it. This way I know they know where to go and no one is moving while I am giving directions. When I say, “5, 6, 7, 8, hurry don’t be late”, they know to go to the next station and start.
So make sure you know which way you want them to rotate. (clock wise, counter-clockwise, etc.)
Sidenote: I do the pointing thing the first time, and usually the second time they will stand and point without me having to say anything about it.
Setting up Boundaries in Centers
My school is not considered a “good school”. That is, of course, very subjective, but it is still the truth. People who are local are always very impressed when they hear that I do centers with my students…. or they look at me like I am completely crazy.
Getting students to behave in centers can be difficult no matter what population you serve. The magic is to make sure you set up the boundaries very well.
What do I mean by boundaries? Basically the expectation. Where should students be? What are they doing? What are they not doing? We talk about these things every. single. time. Seriously. We talk about the boundaries for a good 5-10 minutes depending on the class.
The conversation looks a little bit like this:
I tell them what each station is.
Then I say: Just like everyday in music, we are going to follow directions, be respectful, be responsible, and be a participant (These are our music class expectations and we go over them nearly every day, so they are veeeery familiar!). This may look a little bit different in centers.
In centers, responsible students stay with their groups– that means you are sitting around the hula hoop– not in it. Do responsible people break things? (No!) Do they throw anything? (No!) Do they wander around the room? (No!) [At this point I will insert anything specific about the items we are using, like not dumping crayons on the floor or whatever] Great! So I will see responsible students sitting next to the hula hoops, whispering to their partners, and taking care of materials. Awesome!
Being respectful in centers is all about being kind to people in your group. I’ve already made the groups. You may not be with your best friends in the world, but that’s ok. You don’t have to say anything to them. Just make sure you are not saying anything rude. You are professionals today. Can you say professionals? (Professionals!) That means that being a student is your job, just like my job is to be a teacher. Can I tell my boss that I don’t want to work with someone? (No!) Can I say something rude to [insert the homeroom teacher’s name here] (No!) Great. So If I cannot say it to your teacher, then you should not say it to each other.
Yeah. That seems like a lot when I type it. And yes, we do this pretty much every time. If I have a class that’s rocking it and we have had centers before, then I will leave some of that out. But for the most part, I have very few problems with people messing with over people in centers.
And if they do? I have packets of worksheets on stand by, so if they are yelling or hitting or whatever, they sit out the rest of class and do worksheets.
You can read more about classroom management with centers here.
Number of Activities
Next, you need to figure out how many activities you need. Obviously, every group needs to have something to do, but you may repeat or combine your groups depending on the type of activity.
So if you have six groups, you could have six activities. But will you have time for six activities? My guess is no, unless you have really long classes or students who don’t need any explanation of anything.
I have six groups, but I only have three activities. I have found that three is the most successful amount– we can pretty much always get to three.
So I put out two of the same groups. Then I have half of the class rotate on the left side of the room and half of the class rotate on the right side. Everyone still does everything, but we are able to have smaller groups.
I also run one of the groups, and it combines students from both sides. I’ll pop in a picture of my anchor chart to show how I rotate kids through centers. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.
What will your activities be?
Now, FINALLY comes the fun part! Planning what activities your students will be doing.
I have done tons and tons of centers activities in the past (If you watch any of my lesson videos on YouTube, it will give you quite a few ideas), so here I am just going to write a few of the greatest:
Composing or dictating rhythms (You can get beat charts FREE in the free resource library (more on that below) and get rhythm cards free here!)
Using bingo chips or mini erasers to put notes on the staff
Feed the Monster (for little people! Use it for rhythm, melody or anything that involves flashcards. Also a FREE download!)
Matching games (I have matching games for recorder, piano, treble clef, rhythm, instruments of the orchestra, etc in my TPT shop!)
There are a lot more, these are just a few general ones.
If you need to get started, you can check out my FREE resource library. It has lots of resources that can work for centers, like beat charts (in tons of different key signatures!) and rhythm composition cards and more! More resources are added monthly. You can sign up here, and not only will you get access to all of the resources, but you will also get 2 emails per week with useful, practical tips and lessons to take to your classroom!
Have you used centers in your classroom? What would you add to my list of things to think about? Let us know in the comments!
Rhythms centers can be really fun.. or really boring, depending on how you handle them. My kids always love them, because I try to include at least one game. Now, I love to stick to crowd favorites, like Kaboom! (seriously, they are disappointed it we don’t play this one!) or Go Fish (yes, even my fifth graders seem to enjoy this one), but it is nice to switch it up sometimes. What is a good way to switch it up? Well, Feed the Monster generally does the trick.
Feed the Monster is a game that I found on Pinterest. I looked and looked but cannot find the original post that I saw, however, if you type Feed the Monster into the search bar, you can find a ton of differs monster styles. In the post I read, they used it to teach sight words, but obviously, I am not going to do that. I generally use it with rhythms (although we are trying with melody soon…. wish me luck!). It does work best with younger students, and I have had success with students K-2.
Feed the Monster Rhythm Game
Grocery store paper bags (or a cereal box would also work)
For this game, you will need to set a few things up.
Monster: The monster is a brown paper bag or a cereal box. Cut a hole in it to be the mouth. I also like to have the top part open so that you can dump the cards out easily when finished. Add some eyes and hands and so forth to the bag to make it more fun.
First off, put students into groups. I find groups of 4-5 usually work pretty well.
Each group sits at a station with a Monster bag. Cards can be stacked up or just on the floor. I like to use a hula hoop to contain the chaos.
The first person picks up a card and reads it. If they get it right, they feed it to the monster. If it’s wrong, it goes back in the pile.
Next person goes next.
Keep going until you are out of cards!
It really is that simple.
I usually walk around while this is going on and assess whether students are reading the rhythms correctly or not. This allows me to assess their skills without them knowing that they are being tested– which is a win in my book (I even have a whole blog post on assessment without “assessment” in the music room!).
This game works really well in October, but I have done is in all different seasons– the kids do not mind!
What rhythm games work well with your little people? Let us know in the comments!
I know, I know, differentiation is a nasty word. And centers– depending on your view– can be right up there with it.
I hear about centers and differentiation in meetings all the time, so you probably do too. And you either think 1.) That’s not for me, I’m the music teacher OR 2.) Cool! Let’s try it.
Thankfully for you, I am the second kind of person.
And through some serious trial and error, I have figured out ways to differentiate while using centers in my elementary music classroom in super easy ways. Because when we teach 650 students or more, we don’t need to make things more complicated than they already are.
If you missed my previous differentiation posts, be sure to go back and check them out! In this one, we talk all about differentiation that music teachers naturally do, and how to be more intentional with those things to help your students succeed. In the more recent one, we talked about how to separate students into groups (which is super relevant here!) and the three types of differentiation.
You can also watch the video below of how to differentiate students.
There are four main ways that you can differentiate with centers– make it harder, provide scaffolding, tiered activities, and teacher led groups. And no, these are not official terms. They are Becca terms.
Make it Harder
This is not an official term, since I am pretty sure that I just came up with that. I do not know of an official term, but if you know of one, please let me know.
Sometimes in centers, I will use progressive tasks– they start easy and get harder. Students who are struggling can focus stay on the easy task as long as they want, an students who are ahead can breeze through the first task and go into the second one.
This is really great for you, because you don’t have to sort out different activities for different students– they will be able to do what is best for them.
Ideas for Make it Harder:
Task cards with increasing difficulty
Playing rhythms from rhythm cards— start with an easier set or cards and get harder
Treble Clef dice activity— students start with one of the easier version and go to a harder one (my kids love these activities!)
Have students pull slips of paper with letters on it out of a cup and put bingo chips onto a treble clef. The first set can be just one letter, and the second set could be words or measures that go with a song you are working on.
Have students play melodies on xylophones. They can go through cards with just letters first, then notes on the treble clef. They can use melody cards like these.
Scaffolding encompasses many different things. We as music teachers tend to think of scaffolding mostly as spiraling curriculum so that students have an easy transition from one concept to another. But it also means providing supports to help students with an activity– think graphic organizers or extra tools.
Of all the differentiation, I am probably the worst at this one, even though it is probably the easiest one.
Some ideas of scaffolds or extra help include:
Providing heartbeat charts for students creating rhythms instead of a measure card (There are heartbeat charts in the free resource library– sign up for access to it here! If you already have access, then you can click the tab at the top of the page and download them!)
If students are researching, you could give a graphic organizer with some of the parts already filled in.
Providing answer keys in an envelope so students can check their work (more about that below…)
Providing pictures along with words on matching cards or activities like these.
Providing extra help from the teacher
A word about answer keys… I got this suggestion from a training. As soon as the lady said to provide answer keys, we all lost a little bit of respect. “But they will just look at the answers!” Someone said. Her response? “When you have the students do another activity or have them come for small group time, you will see if they know the material or not. If they cheat but they learn the material, who really wins?”
Since then, I’ve been providing treble clefs and rhythm value charts and things like that inside of envelopes for students to reference. I want them to be able to get to work quickly– and also get it right. If they are just matching random things (especially with my matching games!) that don’t go together– they are not learning. I’d rather them use the answer key to help them learn it correctly.
I see it like when I am doing a puzzle, and I look at the picture on the box as I am doing it. It’s not telling me how to do it, it’s just helping me out.
We talked a lot about tiered activities in the last differentiation post, and also in this post about my favorite treble clef activity.
Tiered activities basically means that some activities are harder than others. This is really great in centers because you have students in different groups, so you are able to split up the activities in different stations.
A few ideas for tiered activities in centers:
Have one set of students play rhythms from flashcards and have the other set make up their own rhythms to play. (You could use these and these.)
If working on treble clef, one set of students can identify one note while the others find words (such as egg) on the treble clef. You can check that out in my TPT product here.
Have some students matching notes on the staff while others match notes and staff and recorder fingerings. Or have the second group write notes onto the staff because that is more difficult than matching.
Have both groups play a game like Kaboom!, but give one group more difficult rhythms. (You can get levels 1 and 2 in my TPT)
Have students create measures of rhythms with words. (Kind of like in this or this) You can give the lower group only one beat rhythms to manipulate and the higher group one beat and two or three beat rhythms. They will have to work harder to make sure they have the correct amount of beats in the measure.
When playing instruments, you can tier up by having staff notation and tier down by having just the letters or the letters inside of the note heads.
Have one group finding all of the letters in words on the treble clef and the other group coming up with their own words (like BAG or EGG or FADE) to put onto the treble clef like on this.
Have students play hands together instead of alternating hands on the xylophones.
The possibilities are truly endless once you start thinking through it. Remember, you do not have to come up with 50 different activities. You just have to find a way to make one activity more simple or more complex.
Teacher Led Groups
This is my person favorite way to do my differentiation– through groups led by me.
If you have read my post about setting up centers, you will know that I have six groups and three activities. One of those activities is always at the “teacher station” AKA my front carpet.
What we do changes every time. This is usually the instrument group (I do not trust my students enough to put instruments in any other station!). At this station, I usually have two or three different tiered activities we can do that are easy. The group that needs the most help gets the most help. The highest group gets almost no help at all.
Having these groups has truly changed my life. I love it. I love it because you can be really hands on with the kids, and you get to know them better because of it. I always take an observation grade during this time, and it is so much easier to grade 6 kids at a time than 32. And the kids always tell me that that was their favorite station.
As far as differentiation, sometimes we do different activities, but most of the time I just give different amounts of help/structure to each group. And yes, more or less help does count as differentiation.
Also, the teacher group is usually my instrument group, because I want them to play instruments but don’t trust the kids to use instruments in other stations.
Some ideas for teacher-led station:
Rhythm review: low group can review each rhythm, medium group can play rhythms or do dictation, and the high group can use rhythms cards to create their own rhythms
Recorder practice: Allow students to practice on their own while you assist and assess.
Xylophones: I like to give students cards with letters to play first, and if they finish that, they continue with cards that have notes on the staff.
So those are the main ways to differentiate through centers! I promise, it sounds like more work than it actually is. If you can get students pretest and sorted into groups, you have done almost all of the work. Just add in one or two of these differentiating techniques, and you will see a difference.
How do you differentiate during centers? Let us know in the comments!
Want to get access to exclusive FREE content? Sign up for the free resource library! Once you sign up, you’ll receive the password to the library, and you will be able to download monthly freebies to help you teach elementary music! Sign up here!