Since I started teaching, I have wanted to incorporate more books into my lessons, but I had two problems: 1. I didn’t have many books and 2. I didn’t know what to do with them.
Over the past few months, I have been working to remedy #1, and not I am working on #2– figuring out what to do with these books.
Now, of course, you can read a book just to read it. You can also read a book that has a similar theme to a song that you are learning. Even though both of those ideas are valid, I wanted more meaningful, musical ways to read books. These different ways are coming along (slowly but surely!) as I try to incorporate one to three books in each set of lessons.
This lesson was a huge hit.
This lesson is based off of the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. It includes beat, rhythm, instruments, and more!
I also have a Teachers Pay Teachers product that has some helpful resources in it. You can do this lesson without it, but it has a printable lesson plan, powerpoint, and a bunch of printables to go along with it! You can get it here!
So without further ado, let’s get into the lesson!
Prefer to watch or listen? You can see this lesson on YouTube!
Go to the piano (or grab a guitar or ukulele) and play along with the students while reviewing a previous song. Allow students to keep the steady beat.
Say, “I wonder who can keep the steady beat to this song” and start to sing the alphabet song.
Next, say, “Great! That reminds me of a super fun book that we can read today! And we can keep the steady beat to it.”
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Lesson:
Read the book and have students keep the beat (quietly) on their bodies. It helps if you keep the beat on a drum– I have this djembe and use it all of the time.
After reading the book, tell the students you are going to play the instruments– but first you have to figure out what to play. Write the words to some of the lines that repeat themselves on the board with heartbeats on top (or use the cards that come in my TPT product, which will make this part much easier!) and have students help you figure out the rhythms. We do this one beat at a time and I ask if there is one sound or two on the beat. Then I ask if that is ta or titi.
Practice reading the rhythms with both the words and the rhythm syllables.
Then, pass out small percussion instruments. I used castanets, which are my favorite.
Have students practice the rhythms with the instruments.
Once the students know the parts they are playing, read the book again. When you get to the parts you pulled out (Chicka chicka boom boom, Will there be enough room?, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree, etc), pick up your instrument and play the rhythm. Have the students repeat it back to you and play their instrument.
*Note: I have students put their instrument on the floor and hands on their shoulders when they are not playing, and I do the same so they have a visual reminder of what they are doing.
To close, you can do something that practices ta and titi. Here are a few suggestions:
Have students work in small groups to figure out the rhythm of a different line in the book
Have students write the rhythms to one of the lines. I have pages in my product pack where students can write the rhythms and color in a picture of that scene.
Give every student a card with a word on it and have them sort the words into ta or titi. (This is a good example of an exit ticket that does not require any writing– which is helpful if you don’t have tables!)
Give students a heartbeat chart and have them write rhythms or use manipulatives to make rhythms.
Need some heartbeat charts? There are a ton of different ones in my FREE resource library! Not a member yet? Sign up here! You will get access to all of my free resources– and I add new ones every month! You will also get one email a week with tips and tricks that you can use in your classroom tomorrow.
Alright friends, that is my Chicka Chicka Boom Boom lesson. It was a huge hit with my first graders at the beginning of the year (and you know 1st grade needs some alphabet reminders at the beginning of the year).
I don’t quite remember when it hit me, but for a long time I have thought that I wanted to do the game 4 Corners with the instruments of the orchestra. I even put it in my lesson plans a few times and took it out.
Why? Because I couldn’t figure out how to make it academic. If the person is just saying “Woodwind” and all the people in the woodwind section go sit out…. it that actually helping anyone?
The person in the front counts (loudly) to ten with their eyes closed.
While they count, all of the other students need to get into one of the corners. THEY MUST BE IN A CORNER BY 10. If they switch or are still in the middle of the room when the count is finished, they are out.
Everyone in that instrument family sits down. So if they pulled out trombone, they say trombone, and all of the people in the brass section sit down.
This continues until you have a winner, and then that person is the next counter.
It is seriously so. much. fun.
Now, the first time I played it, I had not thought through all of the best things to do. So I present to you the no-material no-prep-at-all version of this:
Write the names of the families on the board to correspond with the corners (so the front left corner will match the family written on the board on the front left.
Have a student choose an instrument to say instead of pulling a card out of the bucket.
The biggest reason I added the other parts is time. I found that the student calling the instruments just took sooooo long to come up with one. I don’t know if it is because they couldn’t think of the names or couldn’t decide or what. But. I do know that once I added in the bucket with the pictures of instruments, it went so much smoother.
Also, there was less talk about the person in the front cheating because it was more random– they weren’t picking anymore.
Want to get free resources? Sign up for the FREE resource library– all you do is put your email in, and you have access to all of the resources in the library (including quizzes, powerpoint, beat charts, rhythm cards, lyric sheets, and more!)– and new resources are added monthly! Sign up here!
Have you ever tried anything like four corners? Let me know how it went in the comments!
Have you heard of the song Ickle Ockle? It is a really fun folk song… with like 20 different versions of it in cyberspace. I have seen it as Bickle Bockle, with do, without do, different wording…. yeah.
But, no matter how you sing it, it is a really fun folk song and my students really liked it.
I used it with second and third grade to introduce do. If you do it without do, you can use it with even younger students…. It’s really up to you!
Here is the most reliable version that I have found.
In my TPT product, I have slightly different wording, because I went with what was in my textbook series.
However you sing it, it is really fun. And thanks to testing, I have now been able to do about a million different activities with this one song… So, I hope you enjoy the ones down below:
Ickle Ockle Game
First and foremost, we have to talk about the game. Full disclosure, I have not had a chance to play the game (yet!) because I have been in classrooms without enough space… but I have hopes for next week!
To play the game, everyone gets with a partner (except the person in the middle, who I call the shark). They walk with their partner in a circle. Everyone sings. At the end of the song, Everyone has to find a new partner, and whoever is without a partner goes to the middle.
So. Much. Fun.
I use Ickle Ockle to review sol, la, and mi and also introduce do. So we do this activity twice– first for sol, la, and mi, and second to include do.
I put flashcards all over the floor (I use the fish shaped ones from the Ickle Ockle pack on TPT). Students sing and walk to the steady beat. When the song stops, they stop. Whatever fish the are closest to, they sing. Then they go back to singing and walking.
Students hold a flashcard. As they sing the song, they walk around the room. When the song stops, they turn to the closest person and sing their flashcard. Then they go back to singing and walking.
Side note: To avoid having anyone crying because they didn’t have a partner, I tell them that if they are really far away from the other students, they can just read their own– but only once. This makes the activity waaaay less stressful.
Write the rhythm or the melody on cards. Have students get into small groups and arrange the cards in the correct order!
(PS– Melody cards that match the music are included in my product!)
Wow, writing that feels like the fun is going away. Activity sheet? Does that sound less taboo?
Anyway, I promise, worksheets can be fun. No matter what people say.
I used three different ones with my students this week. First, we wrote the rhythm to the song under the words. Then we did a coloring sheet, where they had to match the solfege pattern to the notes on the staff (it was really a quiz, but they didn’t know that…), and then we created our own pattern and created a fish habitat with crayons!
Does that seem boring? No.
Annnnd…. You could just do a fish themed coloring sheet or have students draw fish scenes. This is extra great if you are in their classrooms one day or if you have a sub.
Ever since the huge push on teachers having data based instruction, I have felt the pressure of pretests. I am pretty good with grouping students (see here!) based on data from assignments, but I still have a hard time giving kids true pretests– I mean, giving them a test they are basically supposed to fail? How is that fair? Or good for their self esteem?
Most of the time I cheat, and I wait until I have taught for a day before I give them the pretest. That way it gives me a more accurate view of what’s going on, and not everyone fails.
But I also hate giving assessments all. the. time. So I have gotten very creative with ways to do assessments without the kids realizing they are being assessed (you can read all about that here!).
I had read about write the room activities, but I was much too terrified to try them (my kids are not the most well behaved…), but I decided to try anyway. I decided to use it as a pretest for instruments of the orchestra– because that is something I knew students had talked about the previous year, so it wasn’t completely new, but I didn’t know how much they remembered.
It was great– I got an accurate picture of who knew their stuff and what areas were the weakest, and they got to move around and talk and not know they were being assessed!
In this article, I will talk about what a write the room activity is, how to set it up, annnnnd how to make this happen if you are at a school full of “bad kids”. (Please notice the quotes around that.)
I do have a TPT product that will facilitate this activity– it’s basically print and go– which you can purchase here. You can do this activity without the product if you have instrument posters as well. But seriously, who doesn’t love a print and go activity?
And if your students are well behaved enough, this would be super fun for a sub. My kids act like they have no sense when there is a sub, so I do not do that.
Annnyway…. Check out this write the room activity!
What is a Write the Room Activity?
Write the Room activities are super fun. Basically, you put questions on paper and hang them around the room. Students walk around and write the answers on their paper. It is much more fun than a worksheet though, because they have to get up and move around.
How do I do a Write the Room Activity?
It is so simple to set up a write the room activity! From now on, I am going to talk specifically about an instruments of the orchestra write the room activity, since that is the name of the post.
First, put up instrument posters. I used six different posters– I have these that every elementary music class ever seems to have. I posted them around the room, and put a number above each one. I used the numbers out my Write the Room Activity on TPT.
The recording sheet can say whatever you want, but I wanted to assess instrument recognition as well as family recognition. I had students write the name of the instrument they saw and then they circled the family that it was in.
I feel like there should be more steps… but that’s pretty much it.
All you need is to make the recording sheets, or just buy the recording sheets. And that’s it.
Classroom Management for Write the Room Activities
The first time I heard about this sort of activity, my first thought was, “My students cannot handle that.”
But you know what? Most of them can, when prepped well enough. One of my goals this year was to incorporate more group and partner work and moving out of our seats. All of those things make me very uncomfortable. But the more we do them, the better they are at it.
So here are some quick tips for making this activity a little less chaotic:
Set the boundaries. Tell students what they are and are not allowed to do– Where can the go? How fast can they go? Can they touch anything?
I told students they could work in a group, with a partner, or by themselves. This meant that they got to pick one of those, but no one was left out of a group.
Have something to do afterwards. Some kids will get done sooner than others, and you don’t want them causing problems. I set out one of my Kaboom games (the treble clef one, you can get here, or you can get an instruments of the orchestra kaboom to stay on the same standard) for students to play once they were finished. This gives them incentive to want to finish quickly and also kept them occupied. You could also do a word search or another instrument worksheet out of one of my instrument sub plans.
Emphasize how they should treat people. Before we start, we review the rules and talk about each of them. I specifically say that we are not hitting people, pushing people, calling people names, or saying anything rude– even if that person is not your favorite person ever. This may seem overkill, but when we get down to the details, I have a lot less problems.
Set a timer. The first time we did this activity, it took 20 minutes. The second time, I set a 5 minute timer, and everyone finished in 5 minutes. It was like magic.
Are you convinced yet? Write the room is a super fun activity– and gives you very important data for when you start differentiating with centers! You could do this with anything– instruments, treble clef, solfege, history, anything that you need students to remember. I plan to do a lot more of these next year, especially at the beginning of the year as a review. (Yes, I am at the point in the year where I am already thinking about next year’s lessons…. When is summer again?)
So go try this out in your classroom– you will not be disappointed!
If you are interesting in saving yourself some time, you can get my write the room activity here. You can literally just print, tape to the walls, and go! My favorite kind of product.
Want to get free resources? Sign up for the FREE resource library– all you do is put your email in, and you have access to all of the resources in the library (including quizzes, powerpoint, beat charts, rhythm cards, lyric sheets, and more!)– and new resources are added monthly! Sign up here!
Have you ever done a write the room activity? What are your tips? 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!
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Most music teachers include lots of books in their elementary music classes. I see this all the time on social media, in trainings, and in classrooms. But can I admit something to you? When I was first starting out, I felt like i was very unclear as to HOW to go about incorporating books. Like– what do you actually do with them? (And don’t say read them.)
A while later, and I am (finally!) starting to get the hang of using books in my normal classroom life. So if you are thinking, “I want to use books but I don’t know how!” Then this post is for you.
As you read the book, have students look at the pictures of each of the instruments. Have them mime with their hands how to play the instruments. So every time you say cymbals, students can pretend to hit cymbals together in their hands. When you say cello, they can hold one hand up and use the other to play the imaginary bow.
This gets the students involved in the story annnnd the added bonus is that they are now thinking about how each instrument is played rather than “Oh a cello is some kind of instrument I’ve never heard of before.”
Speaking of which….
Show and Tell
For instrument show and tell, you can read the book and then have students look at pictures or posters for each instrument and talk about how it is played.
If you have any of these instruments (and, btw, you can get a fancy silver kazoo on Amazon for cheap here), bring them in! I love to bring in my cello and show the students what it looks like and how it is played. They are always super amazed (and impressed by my Mary Had a Little Lamb rendition).
Oh course, you probably don’t own a cello AND a harp AND a saxophone AND a flute AND cymbals AND all of the other things, but if you have one of them, it is still going to make a huge difference for the students.
This is what I used for my students this year, and it worked really well. I taught 2nd and 3rd grade about the instrument families. Later on, we read this book. While reading the book, I stopped at each instrument and had the students tell me what family that instrument belonged to. If they were correct, then they got to go to the board and put the picture of the instrument onto the section of the board.
For example, after the shy fellow swallowed the cello, I asked, “What instrument family is the cello in?” Athena says, “Oh it’s in the string family!” Athena walks up to the board, finds the cello, and puts it in the section of the board labelled “strings”.
By the way, Athena is my dog, not one of my students. She is sitting next to me while I write this, so I thought I would include her.
A few days later, I have the student do pretty much the same activity but on a printed worksheet. Students write or draw the names of each of the instruments in the boxes that correlate with that instrument’s family.
Here is the best video I can find that has the melody, although we did it much faster than this.
I use the original book at the beginning of the year with my kinders to show the students the difference between singing voice and talking voice (read about that lesson here!). So I read it one day and I sing it another day.
This one is a little bit trickier, but cumulative songs like this are fun to use with instruments. You assign each instrument a word in the song, and every time the word comes, you have a student play that instrument.
Parts of this book would be perfect, and others would take more creativity. Cymbals and a bell would be easy to come by, but finding an alternative to a cello or harp that won’t confuse the students would be more challenging.
Although, it would be a perfect time to pull out all of the autoharps in my closet that I don’t know what to do with…
If you have done this before or have a good idea for which instruments to use in your classroom, let me know in the comments!
And don’t forget to sign up for the FREE resource library– all you do is put your email in, and you have access to all of the resources in the library (including quizzes, powerpoint, beat charts, lyric sheets, and more!)– and new resources are added monthly! Sign up here!
Is St. Patrick’s Day a big deal where you live? It is one of those holidays that either your city takes very seriously, or no one cares.
Here in Savannah, we take it very seriously.
We actually have the third largest St. Patrick’s ay parade in the US– yes, right here in South Georgia! I looked that up to double check we are still #3, and one of the articles I read said we have the highest density of Irish-Americans for our size– 8%. I did not know that.
Now, I’m going to be honest, none of my kids are Irish. But they still love St. Patrick’s Day, and I am shocked by how much they looooved the music in this Irish lesson! I actually did this K-3, although it is probably best suited for 2-3 grade. Nevertheless, in every class, students were asking me if they could sing it again.
At the bottom, I will link some other ideas if you want to expound upon what we’ve got here!
We start the day out with a well known song as a warm up. We did not previously know any Irish songs (should have planned better!), so each grade did whatever they had done last week.
After that, I told them, “We are going to listen to Irish music today! Does anyone know what holiday is coming soon that has to do with Ireland?”
We learn the chorus to “Tell Me Ma”. I taught it to them by rote– first words, then with the melody. This is actually one of our Musical Explorers songs (find out more about that here), which means I have extra resources to go along with it– that you can access! So I use this page to show the lyrics. You can get the song here.
They sing along with the song for about 30 seconds, and then I pause it. Then we talk about how the chorus is a part of the song that keeps coming back over and over, and the verses are different each time. I have the class pick different ways that we can keep the steady beat, and we change each time the section changes. So I will write something like this on the board:
Instrumental: Pat legs
Verse 1: Stomp
Verse 2: Head
We will listen and sing and do the steady beat, changing our motions for each section. Of course, I am letting the kids pick it so it ends up being different each time.
Instrument time! We looked at the bodhran (an Irish drum played with a stick– you can look at one here) and– with the older students– talked about how it is a percussion instrument. We listened again and played hand drums, since they were the closest thing what we had to the bodhran.
To make it more interesting for my second and third graders, they each played the hand drums. Two students went to the front of the room and played tubanos (I have these!). Everyone was playing the steady beat. We walked in a circle on the chorus and stood still the rest of the time. Each section, the people at the tubanos had to switch with someone in our circle until everyone had played.
Next, I showed the students some pictures of Ireland (I literally just google “Ireland” and click on pictures– but make sure that you do this ahead of time and look to make sure they are appropriate!). We looked at the ocean, the castles, the cliffs, and make sure to show them the bogs.
After explaining what a bog is, I told them I had a song about a bog. They learned the chorus by rote. I sang the verses myself, and had them use their arms to make actions that represented all the things in the bog– the limb and the branch and the twig and the nest, and so on. They joined in on the chorus. And, of course, I played my ukulele (but you could play the guitar or the piano or xylophones or just do it a cappella).
After that, we watched some Irish dancing. Again, my kids are used to Irish dancing because– hello, parade– but they still amaze me with how much they love it. They think it is so cool. One fifth grader told me last year, “It’s kind of like our music, because it’s got a cool beat and then a melody on top.” I thought that was very insightful.
Anyway, I like to have them watch Riverdance, because it is super cool. This is my favorite video so far– I always look for one that have guys as well as girls.
I know that may seem like a weird comment, but it is true. I have a lot of fun teaching piano and forte. I think this is because there are just so many different things that you can do with it– and it is so different from teaching rhythm and melody and styles of music.
This post has a few of my favorite activities for teaching piano and forte. It is not nearly everything that can be used for piano and forte, but it is a couple things that my students have enjoyed.
And make sure you read to the bottom, because I saved the best for last.
The first thing that I do with my students is relate piano and forte to animals. I ask them to come up with ideas of what is loud and what is soft. This year, we did a series of lessons based off of mice and bears. This was an easy segway into piano and forte, because we were able to talk about how loud they were. (Are bears loud or soft?)
You could use something else, of course, like lions and bunnies or whatever.
You can also get a PowerPoint for FREE in my resource library. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do that here. I only send out one email every other week, and I add new free resources to the library once a month (and sometimes more, because I can’t help myself!). If you have already signed up, then you can click the tab at the top that says “free resource library” and enter in the password that was emailed to you.
Responding to a Drum
Is that really the best title to describe this activity, Becca? I guess so.
This is one of my favorite simple warm ups. Seriously. I use it the first week of school and for piano and forte and for any other day the kids just need to move. I play my djembe (I have this one and LOVE it!) piano, and students tip toe. Then I play forte and they jump or stomp. With the younger kids, I play piano for 4, 8, or 16 beats, then forte for 4 or 8 beats. If your students are doing a good job, then you can also change the tempo on them for an extra challenge.
With older students, I use this to get them thinking about groups of rhythms (often in preparation for the game Extra Beat, Take a Seat). I play the downbeat forte, and then play seven beats piano. After a few times, they can anticipate the downbeat.
Then we make it even more fun– we do statues. I still play the downbeat forte followed by seven piano beats, but when it is forte, the students strike a pose. They hold that statue until the next forte beat, when they switch to the next one.
Closet Key (or Lucy Locket)
Closet Key is a fun game for piano and forte. It is a song (check it out here). After learning the song, students sit in a circle. One person closes their eyes. While their eyes are closed, the “key” (or whatever object you have) gets hidden (I prefer to have it so that it is hidden in the circle, but you could have them hide it in the room.
Then the students sing while the person who had their eyes closed moves around. The students sing louder when they are close to it, and softer when they are far away. It’s like hot and cold with your voice.
I have also heard of people doing the same thing with the game Lucy Locket, so I included that in the heading. I personally do not play my game that way, but you certainly could. Check out how I play here.
Of course we are going to play instruments! I use these rhythm cards for piano and forte. Each one has either a bear or a mouse on them. If it has a bear, then the students play the rhythm forte. If it has a mouse, then they play the rhythm piano.
This can go along with singing or playing instruments.
For the little people: Make a sign with “piano” and “forte” (I use the ones that are included in the Piano and Forte Rhythm Cards set). Have the students sing and hold up the cards. While they are singing, switch the cards so that the students have to change dynamic. You can change them at any time. Then have a student come to the front and change the cards.
For older students: They can conduct. Hand them a baton (or a pencil) and have them conduct while the students sing or play instruments. If you don’t want to teach them the conducting patterns, then you could just have them show the beat (so like in one) and get bigger when students should sing forte and smaller when they should sing piano.
Of course, there are all sorts of listening activities that can go with piano and forte. The piece Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks has a very distinct piano section. And–of course– the Surprise Symphony. I am going to play this for my first graders this week and I cannot wait to see their faces!
Students could hold up a card with a bear on it when the music is forte and a card with a mouse on it when the music is piano. And of course, you could always use scarves. Students can make large movements for forte and small movements for piano. You can read more about creative movement with scarves here.
Stuffed Animal Sort
To go along with our animal songs, I’ll often ask students what animals are forte and which ones are piano. For a quick review (or during centers), we will sort them. I will put piano and forte signs on bins or next to a pile, and students come and place their animal in either the piano or the forte pile. This is also great for centers, because it is pretty easy.
I really did save the best for last. In The Monkey Game (which is really for crescendos and decrescendos, but I use it for piano and forte as well), one student hides a stuffed monkey. Another student has to find it. Then I have students at the tubanos who play forte when the person is close to the monkey and piano if they are far away.
Is there a game at your school that your students beg to play? Like all of the time? That’s the Monkey Game for me. I know that it teaches piano and forte to the littles and crescendos and decrescendos to the older students, but they do not care. They want to play it all the time.
Seriously. I’ll say, “We’re going to play a game!” and they’ll say, “The Monkey Game?!”
No. It’s not always the Monkey Game.
It actually got to the point where I was so sick of it that I started telling them we couldn’t play it because it took too long to get the drums out.
Anyway, this is a game that teaches crescendos and decrescendos (or piano and forte, if you differentiate). I learned it from my mentor teacher during student teaching, and I do not know where she came up with it. But it is so much fun.
Why do I call it the Monkey Game? Because we use a stuffed monkey. In your class it could be the bear game or the owl game or whatever depending on your stuffed animal collection.
First, discuss what crescendo and crescendo are. I like to have the students say the words with a crescendo and decrescendo. So when we say crescendo, we crescendo. When we say decrescendo, we decrescendo. I also like to have them move their hands up and down to show the dynamics. Then I project them onto the board so that we remember them.
Then, have a few students come up to the tubanos in the front. (After the long discussion about how we do NOT LEAN ON THE DRUMS, of course)
Have one student hide the monkey. They are the hider. (We always let a piece of the monkey stick out to make the game go a little bit faster.)
While that person hides the monkey, another student goes in the corner and closes their eyes. They are going to be the finder. Once the hider is finished, have the finder come out and open their eyes. They are now going to walk around the room and look for the monkey.
The people at the drums help find the monkey by playing with different dynamics. If they are close to the monkey, they play forte. If they are far away from the monkey, they play piano. This causes lots of crescendos and decrescendos. Throughout the game, ask the students, “Was that a crescendo or a decrescendo?”
The students at their seats watch, and I usually tell them they can help by playing on their legs or the ground if they want to. This helps those friends who just cannot sit still have an outlet.
Once the monkey is found, switch out the people. I usually let the drummer stay for two rounds before switching them.
Easy peasy! It’s kind of like hot and cold but with music. I know some people play Lucy Locket in a similar way (I don’t– you can see how I play here)
There you have it– the most requested game EVER in my elementary music room. I think I am going to break down and play it right before Spring Break…. They always need a little extra incentive to do a good job around Spring Break.
What is the most requested game in your elementary music classroom? Let us know in the comments!
While lesson planning, I kept finding all of these songs about bears. And I thought, I should do a bear unit. One of my top ideas was to sing and play the song Grizzly Bear. If you have been around Pinterest or any music blog, you will find people playing and singing Grizzly Bear to teach dynamics. At some point that caused my bear unit to because a piano and forte unit with mice and bears.
Now, you may have read that and thought, “Wait– what?”
Yes. I am teaching my first graders that mice are piano and bears are forte. It gives them a visual to put with the words, and it allows me to tie in all of the bear and mice songs with it!
We did those five songs plus a bunch of other activities– responding to piano and forte on drums, moving our bodies piano and forte to music, and– what I am really going to talk about today– playing instruments piano and forte.
First, warm up with Hickory Dickory Dock. I like to do some actions with this nursery rhyme. We start on the floor and keep the beat on our legs. On “the mouse ran up”, we pretend our fingers are mice and stand up. For “the clock struck”, open your arms like the hands of a clock. Then we have the “mouse” go back down at the end.
Ask the students: “Is a mouse loud or soft? We have a special word for soft. We call it piano. Can you say piano?” I always have them whisper it so that they think of it as being quiet.
Then, ask what kind of animals are loud. They will say a bunch or things, but we keep going until I lead them to bears.
Next, pick one of the bear songs so sing. I suggest Grizzly Bear, because it has dynamics built into it, so it emphasizes the point.
Tell them, “In music we have a special word for loud– forte. Can you say forte?” (side note– there are slides for this dialogue in my Piano and Forte Rhythm cards set)
Now onto the instruments! Get some rhythm cards ready. You can make them and put a bear or mouse clip art onto them. Or you could print a picture of a bear and a mouse and just hold them next to the rhythm cards. Or you could just tell them whether to play forte or piano. I have a set of ta-titi-rest rhythm cards in my TPT that I used. They come with both stick notation and regular notation. You can get them here.
Next, have students play rhythms on instruments. My go-tos are rhythm sticks and egg shakers. Alternate between piano cards and forte cards.
After students play instruments, have them write their own rhythm. You could use the heartbeat charts in my FREE resource library do this. (Sign up here!) Have them draw a mouse or a bear next to their rhythm so that they can choose whether it should be piano or forte.
So there we go! This is just one day of my five-lesson-long bear and mouse and piano and forte unit with my first graders. Of course, many of these activities can be used with students older or younger depending on your group, but I used it with first grade.
What are your favorite bear or mouse songs? How could you make this lesson better– maybe with puppets? Let me know in the comments!
And don’t forget to sign up for my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY. Once you sign up, you will get a password so that you can download any or all of the resources– including the heart beat charts I mentioned in this lesson. Make sure to check your email every other week to hear about any new items going up in the library. If you’re already a member, go to the resource library here.