Among my students, Valentine’s Day is controversial. Their reaction ranges from love to hate, with most hovering around total indifference. Fortunately, there is a way to make a Valentine’s activity that appeals to all of the above because the poems range from the traditionally sweet, through the silly surprising, down to the frankly insulting. I used this activity with all my students of all levels. The only difference was that the more advanced students could do it faster and with less help.
What You Need:
How to Play:
- Show the student all the Valentine poems so they can pick their favorite.
- Determine the time signature.
- I do this by telling them I’m going to clap and say the first measure (“Roses are”). Once they figure out that it’s in 3/4 time, they can write that before the first word of the poem.
- Draw the first bar line.
- Since I’ve already told them that the first measure ends after the word “are,” they need a bar line there.
- Draw the first three notes above the first three syllables.
- Repeat counting and saying the first measure. Some students may need a few hints to realize that each of those syllables gets a quarter note.
- Finish the first line.
- Count and say the entire first line. I made the final word a dotted half note. Obviously, alternate rhythms are possible, but the main point is not what the rhythm is, but whether the student can identify and write whatever rhythm you do.
- Dictate the second line.
- I did it as a whole line now that they have the idea of what to do.
- Point out that the rhythm between first and second lines are exactly the same. That is normal and expected in this type of poetry. In music, it would be called a rhythmic motif.
- Repeat the process for the third and fourth lines. The rhythms here will not be the same.
- Have the student say and clap the whole poem in rhythm.
- If there is still time, move to the piano and compose a song. The notes can be any note in C major (all the white keys). The rhythm should be the rhythm they wrote down.
- To make it easier, you can put in all the bar lines and time signature first, and do only one measure at a time.
- To make it harder, don’t use the natural speaking rhythm. Syncopation or other unexpected rhythms usually go over well.
- To make it longer, have the student change the rhythm after having written down yours.
- To review the rhythms again afterwards, use percussion instruments to play it.
If you don’t have a remote controlled thing of some kind already, this activity is not worth the effort. If you do, this is easy and thrilling for many of the kids
What you need:
- A remote controlled vehicle of any kind
- A selection of note values written out separately. I have a set I use on a giant staff, but even quickly written notes on scrap paper would work.
- Scatter the notes around the floor.
How to Play:
- The student gets 45 seconds to drive the vehicle over as many notes as she can. The teacher picks them up as the student gets over them.
- The student chooses a time signature. I offered 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4. Many students liked choosing an unfamiliar time signature.
- The student organizes the notes into measures. If the beats don’t come out right, they can have one free note per measure, as long as they can identify what kind of note they need.
- Once the measures were organized, the student have three tasks:
- Count and clap their rhythm.
- Pick their favorite note and play their rhythm on the piano.
- Pick several notes and play a melody using their rhythm.
- To make it easier, limit the type of notes you scatter.
- To make it harder, include a variety of note values, such as triplets.
- To make it very hard, have the student play the rhythm with one hand while simultaneously playing a different rhythm with the other hand.
- To make it more exciting, use different instruments to play the rhythms.
- To make it longer, have them choose and write down notes to go with their rhythm. They can also repeat their rhythm several times, putting it together to make a composition, with or without accompaniment.
Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah. None of my students are Jewish (nor am I), so I thought it was unlikely that any of them had ever played dreidel before (nor had I). My total knowledge of the game comes from My Jewish Learning. We used it to drill rhythms, but as always, it is easily modifiable to drill anything else.
What you need:
- A dreidel.
- These are not expensive. Think Oriental Trading Company, Amazon, etc.
- Cards with whatever you want to drill. I used rhythm cards.
- Game tokens of any kind.
- Mine are from the game Reversi, but you could also use pennies, pencil erasers, small chocolates, whatever.
- Paper and pencil (optional)
- Distribute tokens evenly between the players. I went with six each, but the actual amount doesn’t matter much. Add some to a center pile as well. I put four in.
How to Play:
- The first player spins the dreidel. There are four possible outcomes:
- ש – The player adds a token to the center pile, and count and clap a rhythm on from the stack of flashcards.
- ח – The player gets half the tokens in the center pile and must invent a rhythm, write it out, and count and clap it.
- ב – The player gets all the tokens in the center pile and must write out a rhythm that the other player claps.
- נ – The player does nothing.
- When the lesson time is over, the person with the most tokens wins.
If you thought through the statistics, you’ll have noticed that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of having an empty center pile. Plus it’s all random chance, and I always like to make sure my students win, so here are a few tips:
- Sometimes I make a mistake in my counting and clapping. If the student can catch me and do it right, they get the tokens I was supposed to collect. If I was supposed to add a token to the pile, I have to add double. I used this strategically whenever I was supposed to get a fair number of tokens.
- When the center pile has been empty for a couple of turns, it gets boring. A couple of times, I just told the student I was going to cheat and add a few more tokens to the center pile. I did not tell them that I only did that when it was their turn. That increases the likelihood that they end up with those tokens, not me.
The kids love drums. Any drumming activity always meets with approval from them, though I haven’t always been so pleased myself. This activity went better than many.
What You Need:
- Sort through your playing cards. You need one ace plus one each of the numbers two through seven. The suit does not matter.
How to Play:
- Explain how musicians usually count to four in each measure because most music is in 4/4 time. Dancers like to put two of those measures together and count to eight. For this activity, we’re counting to eight.
- Give the student one of the drums. Keep the other for yourself.
- To get the hang of how to play the drum, we always start with the easiest challenge: Both of us playing quarter notes as I count out loud to eight. (I always give them a preparatory measure or half measure first.)
- After that we go through a series of challenges in more or less this order:
- Pick a random card. Rest for every beat except the one drawn.
- Pick a second card. Play on both of your cards.
- Pick a third and fourth card. The teacher plays on those beats while the student continues to play on the first two cards drawn.
- Note: I find that many kids struggled if the beats alternated. For example, if their numbers were 2 and 6 and my beats were 5 and 7, they had trouble. If we swapped cards so they had 2 and 5 and I had 6 and 7, it seemed easier.
- It is also possible to go through the same series of challenges to practice eighth notes. For this version, there are no rests. Hit the drum on every beat, but on the beat that matches the card, double hit (play eighth notes) instead.
- One of my students inadvertently did this when I wasn’t planning on it. He always hit twice on beat seven because there are two syllables in it. By the time we finished the lesson, I still hadn’t managed to train him out of that.
This is one of my student’s favorite Halloween activities. We use it every year, which is the only reason I was willing to do all this cutting and laminating. This year I used it to drill rhythms, but it can be used for anything.
What You Need:
- A giant skeleton, like this printable one here.
- It will last longer if you laminate the pieces.
- Flashcards for whatever you want to drill.
How to Play:
- Ask the first flashcard. If the student gets it right, with or without coaching, they have earned one bone. The bones can be laid out on the floor as they earn them.
- Some of my students want to create a human skeleton, so they need to go in the right arrangement. (The link above provides a helpful diagram.)
- Most of my students prefer to get creative with a monster skeleton, in which case they place that bone wherever they feel like it.
- To make it go faster, award two or three or four bones per flashcard.
- To make it go slower, award one bone for every second or third correct flashcard.
- If you’re using rhythm cards, you can place two or three in a row for a multi-measure challenge.
- If you’re using note cards, you can place two or three on the piano for a multi-note sight reading challenge.