Passing Games in Elementary Music Classes

Sep 8, 2019 | music classroom

Picture it… you’re excited to play a really cool passing game with your kiddos, complete with props and a catchy tune.  You introduce the song, start the game, and the race is on!  The students throw the beanbag like it’s a hot potato.  Or wait… they hold on to it because they want to be sure they’ve got it when the song ends three measures later.  Ugh.  You might try it again another time or two, but you’re probably ready to move on to the next activity, hoping the kids have forgotten about the game.  I’ve been there, too.

I really wanted to make this kind of activity work, so I got to thinking about what I could do to make my students feel successful.  And one day it clicked! (no pun intended, as you’re about to read).

An in-depth look:

I saw a version of a stick-passing game in an old book I have (unfortunately, it has been discontinued, but if you have access to it, the name of it is “120 Singing Games and Dances for Elementary Schools” by Lois Choksy and David Brummitt).  The song is Obwisana, a folk song from Ghana.  I read that it’s traditionally a stone-passing game, but since the book had an activity for stick-passing, I stuck with it.  The activity, as described in the book, was a bit too difficult for my second graders, so I adapted it to fit my needs.

Take a look, below, at the pattern notated underneath the lyrics.  You’ll see that it’s a repetitive pattern of “up – click – down – clap” that is executed with a pair of rhythm sticks:

Day 1: teach the song and ostinato

Teach the song using your preferred method.  Once your students know the song, model the ostinato pattern with rhythm sticks to the pattern shown below.  Say the words: “up – click – down – clap” as you perform the ostinato.  Model it a few times by yourself, not passing the sticks to anyone, so the students understand what you are doing:

Beat 1 – UP                 pick up the sticks from the floor in front of you

Beat 2 – CLICK          click the sticks together

Beat 3 – DOWN         place the sticks back down on the floor

Beat 4 – CLAP            clap hands once

You are now ready to have the students try it themselves.  Pass out the rhythm sticks so each student has a pair.  I like to use short, clave-style sticks for this game because they are much easier to pass and the chances of injury are less.  Check out the sticks that I use here on Amazon.

While you pass out the sticks, have students practice on their own, quietly whispering the ostinato as they perform the motions.  Give them a few more minutes once you’re done passing out sticks.

Now that the students have had a chance to practice, reign them in and practice the pattern as a class (still stationary… no passing yet!)

And that’s it for the first day’s lesson. Put the song away and come back to it the next time your students return to music class.


Day 2: Practice with a partner

Review the ostinato pattern that the students learned during the last class.  Most students should be able to perform the pattern now.  If they don’t, keep practicing for another day.  If they are ready, ask a student to be your assistant as you demonstrate the passing pattern:

“Remember how we chanted ‘up – click – down – clap’ as we performed the ostinato pattern?  Watch as my partner and I pass the sticks back and forth to each other while chanting the words:”

Face your partner and place your pair of sticks in front of your left knee.  Have your partner do the same in front of their left knee.  When you and your partner perform the ostinato and it’s time to place the sticks back on the floor, both of you will place them down in front of your right knees.  Then pick the new sticks up from the left side to repeat the pattern.  Do this a few times as you gain momentum in the pattern.

Now it’s time to pass out the rhythm sticks to the rest of the class.  Arrange them in pairs.  Have them practice as you walk around the room, helping them problem-solve.  If students have difficulty remembering which knee to begin with, place a sticker on their left knee to help them remember that’s where they pick up.

Practice for as long as the students need… perhaps 5-10 minutes and then call it a day.


Day 3: Whole Group!

Review the passing game with partners again to make sure everyone still remembers it.  If they can perform it successfully, move on to the next step; groups of four.  Using the same idea as before, have everyone sit in a small circle.  They should then place their rhythm sticks in front of their left knee at the start of the game.  However, when they put the sticks back down on beat three, they should place them in front of the left knee of the person to their right.  Groups of four can eventually become groups of six, eight, ten, etc… until you get the entire class going.

And that’s IT!  You’ve successfully taught the step-by-step process for playing a passing game!  Your students are having so much fun, they want to keep playing!


Now what?

Using the processes above, you can now integrate ideas into any passing game with any prop.  All you need is an ostinato pattern for students to chant as they move with their props so that they are moving purposefully and intentionally.  Want to play a beanbag passing game or maybe a cup passing game? Please check out this resource for more ideas like the one in this post.  And if you try something out, please leave us a note to let us know how it worked for you.

Thanks for stopping by!

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