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.)


Disclosures: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked items 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.

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.