I give you: The Beat Walk.
Now, if this is something you already do in your classes, you may think this is one of those "duh" ideas. For a long time I did as well- I honestly can't even tell you where the idea came from- it's just something I do. But I have come to realize that this is not something that all music teachers have embedded into their DNA, so for those of you who haven't heard of this, you MUST try it!
The basic idea is simple. Any time students are learning a song for the purpose of experiencing a rhythmic element or concept, have them go through the following steps:
1. Sing the song while walking around the room on the steady beat (my rules: walking feet only, no touching any person or thing).
2. Stand in place (wherever they were when they finished walking) and sing while clapping the rhythm ("with the words"). If there are notes that last 2 beats or more, have them pretend they have bubblegum on their hands and stretch out the bubblegum over the length of the note.
3. Sing the song while walking around the room on the steady beat and clapping with the rhythm (start walking first, then on your cue, add in the singing/clapping).
4. Walk around the room on the steady beat while clapping the rhythm.
Once you have done this a few times, you won't even have to give many directions- it will just become a part of the routine that they go through these steps when they learn a new song.
The benefits of this simple activity are quite profound. Obviously for kinesthetic learners (which, honestly, who isn't at least partly a kinesthetic learner in elementary school?) it is probably the most effective way for students to experience rhythm. Moving with the steady beat ensures that students are maintaining the pulse as they perform the rhythms. And using their feet for the beat and their hands for the rhythm every time really helps students distinguish between the two concepts in my experience (I'm sure you all agree that we have a huge vocabulary problem in this area these days, with people talking about "awesome beats" and "sampling beats" when they are referring to rhythm patterns).
When students are learning new rhythms for the first time, it makes it much easier for them to understand it conceptually when they experience it kinesthetically before they see or name it. And it is much easier for them to remember how many beats (or fraction of a beat) a note occupies when they can remember how many steps they took for that note (or how many times they clapped within one step). I find students, when I am reviewing rhythms and ask them how many beats are in a dotted half note, often start lightly tapping their feet on the beat and clapping the rhythm to remember what it "felt" like!
The "bubblegum note" trick is my favorite. Students think it is hilarious to imagine gum stuck to their hands, especially when we all make a grossed out face while doing it! And they instantly understand the length of the longer notes.
Want more lesson ideas? After getting many requests to make my concept sequencing and lesson plans available, I've finally put together two ways to share those with you! Sign up for my free monthly newsletter here to get an overview of the skills and concepts I'll be covering for each grade K-6 for the upcoming month. Or, if you want detailed descriptions of all of the main lesson activities I'll be using, PLUS the accompanying resources you need to teach them, you can get all of it in this bundle (I have also made each grade and each month available separately- links in the bundle's description).
Do you have a favorite lesson activity for introducing new rhythms? Leave a comment!