Engaging Activities in Small Spaces

This post is in response to a reader who requested ideas for a traveling teacher. Traveling music teachers are constantly adjusting lessons around furniture or available space. The good news is: your lessons can still be powerful and engaging!

Today’s post will focus on activities for Kindergarten and first grade music classes. All of my games and activities reinforce an important musical concept and tend to support kinesthetic, aural and visual preparation as part of a Kodaly curriculum. Please don’t be scared off if you’re not a Kodaly educator. Good teaching is our goal, no matter how we approach it, right?

Rain, Rain Go Away

Concepts to prepare: Steady beat, meter

Students may be spread out, possibly near their desks, for this activity. Sing the song several ways: patsch the beat, step the beat, put raindrops on their heads on the beat, etc. Then demonstrate with an umbrella on the beat, opening on the strong beat and closing on beat two. Finally, hand out drink umbrellas such as these: 1 Gross (144) of Cocktail Umbrellas for Your Tiki Drinks and invite your students to match your movements. (If you purchase a gross, you’ll still have enough for your next class if a few get damaged. Shop at Amazon.com!)

Hey, Betty Martin (I only use verse 1 for this game)

Concepts to prepare: Steady beat (Also great for quarter notes and eighth notes)

(Fellow music teacher Cindy Hayes suggested this song and I love it for this age group. We need to include songs that deviate from so-mi-la!)

Teach this song as a non-locomotor game first (students move in place). Then, if there’s room to move around, students can earn locomotor movement once they master the game.

Game: Students stand in place and only move on ‘tip toe.’ It can be played as an elimination game, but doesn’t have to be. If they successfully stay still on the other words, I allow them to move around the room, still only moving on the verbs! Suggest some verbs to use in the game and allow students to practice, then solicit their ideas. For example, “Hey, Betty Martin, hop hop, hop hop…”

Hey, Betty Martin in G

(There’s another version whose last three pitches are la, so, do.)

Naughty Kitty Cat

Concept: Quarter Rest

Sure, there’s a chase game that many of us play with this song, but I always teach the song with motions first. If you don’t have room for a chase, leave it out or save it for a day when you can take your class outside or into the cafeteria. Here are the motions I use with the song. Feel free to adjust them to fit your style.

Phrase 1: Shake index finger at the cat then put hands on hips on the quarter rest.

Phrase 2: Shake index finger again, then put hands in front of you to show a big belly.

Phrase 3: Start at the sides of your mouth and pretend to wipe the butter off your “whiskers.”

Phrase 4: Shake index finger, then brush your hands together once on the word “scat!”

This is a great kinesthetic preparation for quarter rest and you can follow it up with simple aural questions. For example, sing phrase one and have the students echo you. Then ask which word they sang right before they put their hands on their hips. “Cat” Repeat for phrases two and four. Then ask if they sang any words when they made those motions. “No.” When the students are close to learning quarter rest, I might even ask them to sing the song with rhythm syllables, but still use the song motions. Then challenge them to sing with rhythm syllables, but put their hands on their shoulders if there is not a word. (This is the motion I use for quarter rest.)


Hopefully these ideas will spark new ones in your teaching. Which songs and activities do you use that require less space?

*Disclosures: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked item and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *