Differentiation part 2

Several years ago I wrote a post titled Differentiation in the Elementary Music Classroom. It was one of my first experiences providing leveled worksheets for my students that would be appropriate for their varying levels. Today’s post takes this a step further.

Each time my students complete a worksheet in class, a few students finish before the others. Rather than let them goof off, I try to provide a flashcard match or simple game they can work on independently while I help other students. This idea blossomed into a new differentiation technique. Why not create leveled packets? Students can work at their own pace and each level is slightly more challenging than the last.

Getting Started

Let’s use half note practice as an example. This scenario assumes that students know quarter notes, paired eighth notes, quarter rests, and half notes. Using known song material, all students would start with a 16-beat song with laminated flashcards cut into 4-beat phrases. Students put them in order to match the song and check their work. I highly recommend creating color-coded packets. Post the song order or color codes students should follow.

Checking Their Work

There’s only one of you and many more of them, so you may consider preparing manila folders with “answer sheets” inside. After they put the flashcards in order, they may check their own answers or have a friend check for them. If any flashcards are out of order, students should choose another packet in the same color/level. In this way, they only move up a level when they’ve mastered the previous level.

Creating Levels

A few 16-beat songs appropriate for Level 1 include I See the Moon, Sea Shell, and Let Us Chase the Squirrel. You might choose to cut these into 4-beat phrases or create another level by cutting one song into 2-beat phrases.

Level 2 may include Yellow Bird and Who’s That Tapping at the Window. Both of these can be written out completely, or you could include the repeat signs for an added challenge! These songs can be cut into 2-beat phrases or 4-beat phrases.

Level 3 might include Here Comes a Bluebird and Are You Sleeping since they are 32-beat songs. These songs can also be cut into 2-beat phrases or 4-beat phrases.

Just be sure to use songs that your students know very well. 

Hint: Be sure to cut the flashcards about the same size so students don’t try to “piece” them together like a puzzle. Cut after the bar lines and make each phrase the same number of beats.

Yellow Bird rhythms without the repeat sign

Yellow Bird rhythms without the repeat sign

Yellow Bird rhythms with the repeat sign.

Yellow Bird rhythms with the repeat sign.

Post Office Rhythm Game

It’s the beginning of another school year and time to review, review, review! All those previous concepts must be reinforced before preparing new ones. I put a new spin on a game Lamar Robertson taught in Kodály training called Post Office. There are three free sets for download: quarter and eighth notes; quarter, eighth, and quarter rests; sixteenth notes, quarter, eighth, and quarter rest. The patterns in these sets come from familiar folk songs, so they should tie into your curriculum easily.

I prepare students for the activity by telling them there’s a secret code or message in each rhythm pattern and I’ll share it with them when they find the correct one.

Every child receives an identical envelope of 4-beat rhythms. They’re instructed to lay them on the floor in front of them with the meter/time signature on the left and stand when they’re done.

Here’s my sequence. I clap the pattern and they clap it back. Repeat. The third time I clap the pattern, they clap it and say the rhythm syllables to match. If the class is correct, I ask them to find the pattern and hold it at their foreheads. A quick visual check lets me know if they need help. When the class is correct, I tell them the secret and they put the rhythm in the envelope. After two-three patterns, ask the students to find the pattern on their own without saying the rhythm syllables aloud.

Examples of secret messages or codes: Count the number of quarter notes in this pattern. That’s how many dogs I have at home. Which beat has eighth notes? That’s how many people are absent today. How many beats are in this pattern? That’s how many games we’ll play today, etc.

I copied my post office rhythm sets on card stock and didn’t need to laminate them. Feel free to change the game to suit your situation, and have fun!

What are your favorite ways to practice rhythm?

Post Office - Quarter Rest quarter_eighth_post_office_rhythms takadimi_post_office_rhythms

Simplify Concentric Circle Games

My classroom is rather spacious, but pull out the risers and a few instruments and suddenly the movement space dwindles. Here are a few ideas for implementing exciting lessons in small spaces.

Tideo and John Kanaka both have concentric circles as part of the game formation. However, I teach Tideo in second grade because of the takadimi tadi tadi ta pattern. Teaching young students to play in concentric circles takes more time than I’m willing to spend, so I simplify.

tideo_lyrics_CSimplified version: Scattered partners. Students play the clapping portion (patsch, clap, partner clap) each time they sing Tideo, and they add a dishrag during the last “jingle at the window, tideo.” When I’m ready to teach high do’ (fourth grade), the song comes back into circulation, but the game will be played in concentric circles. All students move one step to the left at the beginning of phrases one through three (on the word ‘pass’), performing the clapping pattern on all ‘tideo’ words. Students then stay with that partner and trade places on the first and second ‘jingle at the window.’ On the third ‘jingle at the window,’ students end the song with a dishrag.

Note: If there are chairs and desks in the way and there’s not enough room for the whole class to play in concentric circles, why not divide the group into two or three sections? Can you find two or three smaller places in the room for eight to ten students to play? This tactic works well with passing games, too. If one or two people make mistakes in the game, the whole class isn’t involved. The teacher can focus attention on the group that struggles and allow the rest of the class to continue practicing and playing.

John Kanaka is similar to Tideo. Rather than beginning with concentric circles, why not teach the game with scattered partners first? Students work with their partner until the high do’ in phrase five, then move to a new partner. In my class, I encourage students to find a partner within one step of their current position. If no one nearby is available, they raise their hand and walk to someone else with their hand up. It works remarkably well. I usually teach this game at the end of 3rd grade or early in 4th grade. By changing the game slightly and increasing the difficulty level, older learners don’t get bored. It’s also important to use well-known songs to prepare or practice known concepts and these songs are little treasures!

Look for reading examples of each of these songs under Resources for Teachers.john_kanaka_F_lyrics

Engaging Activities in Small Spaces, Part II

Tblack_snake_G_lyricshis post will focus on igniting the imaginations of K-2 students, with and without props.

Black Snake (Kindergarten and 1st)

Concept: Melodic Contour, Colors, Locomotor Movement

After the students learn the song, demonstrate moving your “ribbon snake” to the melodic contour of the song. If you’re able to, have students stand in a circle and pass out ribbon snakes. Make them in assorted solid colors, not all black. Demonstrate how to substitute other colors in the song (Red snake, red snake, etc.) and encourage students to move in the middle of the circle if they’re holding the color you sing about. In my classroom, students must be back to their “spot” by the last word of the song. After every color has had a turn in the middle, sing “rainbow snake” and everyone moves together. If you’re not able to form a circle, this game can be played in a scattered formation, too, as long as students have a place to return to. (See materials list at the end of the post for making ribbon snakes.)

Good Night, Sleep Tight (Kindergarten)

Concept: Steady Beat, dynamics, fast/slow

Demonstrate rocking a stuffed animal while singing this song and invite students to use their imagination to practice rocking. This is a great time to prepare them for the activity with questions about rocking fast or slow, singing loud or quiet, smooth or jerky, etc. Although I have a bunch of stuffed animals, I don’t pass them all out at once. Instead, try passing out enough for 1/4 or 1/3 of the class. It allows them to sing the song a few more times at different speeds and dynamic levels, and you may be surprised by the tender way they pass them to other students!

Star Light, Star Bright (or use Twinkle, Twinkle)

Concept: Steady beat, Dynamics

Often students are not interested in singing slower songs, so we must give them a reason to participate. Ask students to put stars in the air on the beat by starting with closed fingers that open toward the sky. Try tapping stars on a beat chart. Sit in a circle or across from a partner and put a star sticker on the back of one of their hands. They should tap someone else’s star and be tapped in return. (This is especially helpful for students who are beat-challenged.) And if that isn’t enough to motivate them, hand out a glow-in-the-dark star that they can hold in their hand and tap on the beat.

mouse_mousie_g_sourceMouse, Mousie (2nd grade)

Concept: preparing do

There’s a wonderful chasing game that we play with this song (similar to Naughty Kitty Cat), but sometimes there isn’t space, or there isn’t time. Instead, students can use their imaginations and have just as much fun, while preparing do kinesthetically. As soon as the students know the song, I tell them the mouse is hiding from the cat. He peeks over the furniture at certain parts in the song and ducks down every time the cat looks his way. I’ll show them when the cat is looking, so they must duck down every time I do. Duck down and put your hands on your knees every time you sing do. You really must be dramatic in the singing and ducking, and when there are repeated do’s, I recommend slowly looking from side to side. It amps up the fun. We sing and practice this several times. The first time I sing and duck with them, the second time they sing independently and we all duck, and the last time they’re independent. It’s great fun!

Engine, Engine

Concepts: Steady beat, Tempo

If you’re teaching in a classroom full of desks, I encourage you to try this game using the perimeter of the room (and if you use the term “perimeter” the teachers will love you!), or moving between rows of desks. Students step on the steady beat while chanting. In my room, we begin with “choo, choo, choo, choo” in the tempo we’ll be moving, and end with “choo, choo, choo, choo” unless it’s the last time in which I’ll hold out the third “choo” for a half note. Each time we move around we use a different tempo. When preparing fast and slow in Kindergarten, we have to drag the train all the way up a mountain and we pump our arms and use heavy steps. On the way down, we move lighter and faster. Sometimes we stop and “load” desks, chairs, or instruments and take them to another destination, where we laboriously unload them, changing our tempo each time, of course.

Once students are able to step on the beat independently, you might try dividing them into three or four smaller trains. The “engine” must lead their train on the beat without running into another train. This is great fun and allows the students to problem solve in real time. Of course, the leader goes around to the end of their train and new “engine” moves up until all have had a turn.

Ribbon Snakes:

Cut ribbons about 18-24″ long using something like: Hip Girl Boutique 125yd (25x5yd) 7/8″ Solid Ribbon Value Pack

Glue one end of the ribbon around a jumbo craft stick, then loop it over and glue the other side (This size works well: JUMBO CRAFT STICKS 6 X 3/4 100/PK)

Glue one wiggly eye on each side (Paste On Wiggle Eyes 12mm 118/Pkg-Black)

Write the color word on the stick in the correct color of marker (I always ask them to say the letters quietly and learn to spell their color word.)


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Songs for Fall

If you’re in a situation where you’re not able to use much holiday-oriented repertoire, this post is for you! In the past, Halloween songs have been frowned upon at my school, so I don’t introduce songs about witches, ghosts, or goblins. However, I always fall back on some fall favorites like Skin and Bones, Let’s Hide the Pumpkin, and Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Round and Fat.

Although Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Round and Fat uses the word “jack-o-lantern,” I have been able to use it without complaint. I hope you can, too, because it’s a wonderful way to begin improvisation, even in Kindergarten. The first time I introduce the song, I sing it and allow the students to just listen. (They start singing when they’re ready.)

1. One student stands in front of the class and holds a pumpkin face on a stick. During the song the face is toward them. At the end, they turn it to their classmates and the other students have to try to make that face. (I made 5 faces from paper plates.)

2. The next week, a student stands in front of the class and makes their own face. The students copy it.

3. For another variation on this game, see the Music a la Abbott blog. (You should be following Amy’s blog anyway. It’s full of great ideas!)

More on improvisation next time!

Fun ways to practice rhythm

Need fun ways for your students to demonstrate what they know? Try Musical Post Office, Meeting on the Street, or using your mascot as a rhythm eater.

At the beginning of the year, I try to ease my students through reviewing concepts while assessing new students. Playing Musical Post Office allows me to check their understanding of rhythms. (Click the link for examples with quarter notes, eighth notes, and quarter rest.)

Each student receives an envelope with the same rhythm cards in it. I clap a four-beat pattern and they clap it back. Repeat. Usually I ask the students to say the rhythm for the first few examples, and then hold the card at their forehead so I can quickly assess everyone. If I feel everyone understands, I’ll clap a few examples and ask them to silently find the card. Students put each used card in the envelope.

Meeting on the Street is a musical activity that fits the Tribes philosophy on my campus. Every student receives one finger cymbal. While the music plays, students mill to the music and “ding” finger cymbals with classmates. They hide it in their hands when the music stops and listen for a prompt. Students are given a question or topic and have a few seconds to discuss it with someone near them. Questions might include: 1. Talk about one special thing you did this summer, 2. Name your favorite music game from last year, 3. Can you name any rhythms we studied last year, 4. Do you have any pets, 5. Which solfége syllables do you remember? Each time the music resumes, students should stop talking and let their finger cymbals do the talking.

Our school mascot is a gecko. I tell the students we have a special Rhythm Gecko that only eats rhythms. He just had surgery (I cut a paper gecko in half!) and they need to nurse him back to health with good food. In small groups, students create 4-beat rhythm patterns (I provide small rhythm cards that we tape together) and feed them to the gecko one group at a time. To really play this up, the groups can give him a drink, salad, soup, bread, entrée, dessert, and after-dinner mint. Once all the rhythms have been presented to the gecko, the class has to clap the entire menu. They’re often surprised by this and laugh or groan, but they always play along. Yes, even fifth graders have fun with this! At the end of class, they take the gecko back to class to hang up as an artifact. Sometimes I still see the geckos in their rooms in May!

What creative ways have you used to practice rhythm concepts?

Listening Lessons

All of my listening lessons tie into my regular lessons in some way. Sometimes they relate to a rhythmic element, a related pitch or scale, or even form, such as rondo. The very best listening examples have a clear melody the students can sing. Need examples? Certainly.

1. Mozart’s “Allegro” from Symphony no. 1 in Eb begins do mi so so so so so so so so mi do with the rhythms ta ta takadimi takadimi tadi

2. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Song” from Peer Gynt begins so mi re do re mi so mi re do (all eighth notes)

3. Haydn’s “Andante” from Surprise Symphony no. 94 begins do do mi mi so so mi with the rhythms tadi tadi tadi ta (I use this in kindergarten for movement, in first grade for rhythm, and again in second grade for melody.)

How do I get to the listening from the folk songs? Musical transitions, of course. My students seem to enjoy it when I make a “mistake” from a pattern on the board and they have to identify what I did wrong. Another strong way is to simply change one beat at a time of a reading example from earlier in the lesson. If your students do not know the new concept yet, the students might clap an ostinato while I clap, hum, or play the melody of the listening example.

Learning about the composer doesn’t have to be dull, either. I have three initial ideas to share about this.

1. Use the Fandex Field Guide for composers to show a quick picture of the composer and tell a little about him/her.

2. Prepare two to three paragraphs of information about the composer and make enough copies for half your class. Students pair up. One student reads the first paragraph while the other listens and then tells two facts they remember hearing. The second person reads the next paragraph and the first person must tell two facts. Make sure the person listening is not looking at the paper. Come back as a group, hand in papers, and open the floor for a student-led discussion about the composer. My fifth graders really enjoy this activity!

3. Type out the composer information in sentence segments. Make two sets. Cut these into strips. Laminate. Put a piece of tape on each one and tape one to each student’s back. (Prepare them in advance by taping to the side of your desk.) Students will mill around and tell one another which fact is on their backs. They should try to find the other person with their matching fact. When all pairs are found, they will tell the class their fact from memory. (Every person they come to should read their fact aloud and vice versa, so this should not be a problem.)

Listening examples will be the next category of visual aids I add to the website. Are there any you’d specifically like to see posted?

Do you do anything special to make learning about composers fun and memorable?

Tongo – Polynesian Canoe Song

This awesome folk song has multiple uses. Its pentatonic range of low la up to la (la, do re mi so la) allows teachers to use it with multiple grade levels. The syncopated rhythms and dotted quarter note and eighth note rhythms make it engaging for upper elementary as well. The call and response format makes it very easy for students to learn. Finally, the opportunity for improvisation makes it a winner. Let’s dig in!

For the game, my students sit in long rows of equal length, as if they’re sitting in canoes. After singing the song, I clap a four beat pattern and they echo me. Actually, I do four different four beat patterns and they echo each one. Then I immediately sing the song again. By teaching them not to talk after each “set,” I’m also building good classroom management habits.

After we’ve tried this a few times, the head of each canoe chooses an unpitched instrument. During the final phrase of the song, they stand and face their row. They improvise four beat patterns and their row/canoe claps back the four beat patterns. Be prepared for a bit of chaos the first time. The students have to get used to listening for just their leader’s instrument and the four beat patterns. My student teacher made a sign that said, “Play” with four hearts under the word. She stood at the back of the canoes and pointed to the beats while the leaders were supposed to improvise their patterns. It helped the “leaders” stay together. When the song begins again, they should hand their instrument to the next person and walk to the back of the canoe.

Another helpful tip: Clap some patterns for the students while singing phrases that match such as, “Doggie, Doggie, where’s your bone?” “My paddle’s keen and bright” “Rain, Rain, go away” etc. so they get some ideas and realize they can use rhythms from songs they already know.

Eventually, ask your class who would like to be the singing leader. You’ll be surprised and delighted to hear your students take over. The full song with lyrics is also available under Resources for Teachers near the bottom with full lyrics. Tongo in F