1. Ostinato Composition
I think of composition just like writing in any other language: it is the highest level of skill development (just like we speak, then read, then write in our native tongue). So the best way to practice a musical element (and assess student understanding) is to use it in composition! One easy way to do this is to have students add an ostinato to a familiar song. I usually pick a song we have recently learned that they know well and love, and tell them to create a 1-measure pattern to add to the song, using the rhythm we are learning somewhere in their pattern. I usually have them create the rhythm in small groups by clapping, or individually by writing it down, then have them choose a percussion instrument to use with the class. Sometimes we perform the song in a "theme and variations" format, where we sing the song over and over while one group or student at a time performs their ostinato as an accompaniment, or we will put all or several of the ostinati together to create a more complex, layered accompaniment. With older students I throw in some higher-order thinking by asking students to choose an instrument that fits with the overall message of the song, and after the performance, I have the class discuss which ones best fit with the piece. Another extension is to transfer the rhythm to xylophones or other pitched percussion!
2. Rhythm Chairs
Split the class into two groups, with each group in a line leading to the front of the room, where you will be displaying a 1-measure rhythm (on a projector screen, whiteboard, or even flashcards in your hand). At the front of each line, put 4 chairs going across, facing the front of the room. Tell the students that a person is a note, and a chair is a beat. They need to show you whatever rhythm they see. On your signal, show the first rhythm. The first team to get the correct number of people in the correct chairs wins that round- if there are two eighth notes on a beat, two people share one chair, a quarter rest would be indicated by an empty chair, and they would show a whole note with one person laying across four chairs etc. The best part of the game is making them figure that all out on their own without any additional instructions! This game has been a real aha moment for many of my students, and boy is it fun! I've been doing this game with just 1-measure rhythms projected on the screen, but Jennifer at The Yellow Brick Road has an awesome file, including game instructions and rhythms to use in the game, in her store here:
3. Rhythm Battle
I use this as a special activity during Music In Our Schools Month (read more about the things I do for MIOSM here), but you could definitely pull this out any time of year!I choose a song with a clear, stead beat- usually the instrumental version of an upbeat pop song to rev them up :) After the music starts, I put up a slide on my projector that says "Rhythm Battle!". When the intro is ending, I count off 4 beats and click to the next slide on "four". There is a 4 beat rhythm on that slide. If the class claps it correctly, I click to the next 4-beat rhythm slide on the 4th beat, and they have to continue clapping with no pause. They keep going until they make a mistake. When they mess up, they go back to the first slide and start over. Whatever their longest run is before the song ends, that is their class score for the day. For MIOSM I keep a running tally throughout the month and the winning class from each grade level gets a prize. The competitive aspect definitely makes it more exciting, so I recommend running it as a competition between classes, but you could also set a goal for a certain score and work towards the goal. This is by far the best activity I have found for improving sight reading, and the kids beg for it every year! Here are the slides I use if you're interested- you can also easily make your own slides to fit the level of your students or even use flashcards if you have those.
I also do a lot of focused practice on rhythm concepts in small groups/centers. If you missed my post last week on center ideas for teaching rhythm, go check it out here: