#074: Practicing rhythm with primary grades

Maracas on a burlap background, with the text "Practicing rhythm with primary grades"

Wondering how to practice rhythm and rhythmic concepts with your primary grades? In this blog post and podcast, I'm detailing five activities that work especially well for Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade! Make sure to scroll to the end if you'd like to listen to the podcast episode!

In Kindergarten, I do a lot of practice of steady beat, then rhythm, then steady beat vs. rhythm. If you're looking for more information about how to best practice beat vs. rhythm, check out this podcast episode. Once students know the concept of rhythm well, and/or are working on rhythmic concepts such as ta and ti-ti, quarter rest, etc., you could try any of these lesson activities to further students' musical understanding:

#1: Rhythm reading

One of the first activities I like to do with students once they've learned a new rhythmic concept is rhythmic reading. This could be done with flashcards like these, with students reading the patterns 4 beats apart, then 2 beats apart, then no beats apart. You could also have students read the rhythm to a known song or chant on the board, or do a rhythm play along. For the rhythm play along videos, students could simply read the rhythm patterns, or they could play the rhythm patterns on non-pitched percussion. Here are a few that I've made, which would be great for any time of the year:

#2: Rhythm Playing

Another way to practice rhythm is through instrument playing. Students could read rhythm flashcards like described above, then they could play each pattern on non-pitched percussion. In my room, I have a bin of different instruments from IKEA (check out this post for more information.) I show the students each instrument, then ask them to choose which one they'd like to play. I call out each instrument, hand it out to the students who want that instrument, and keep handing out until all students have instruments. I have enough of each instrument (at least 5 of each) that students usually get the instrument they want, or at least get their second choice. Then, we play each rhythm pattern on instruments. First, I have students say the pattern, then they play!

Another way to play rhythm patterns on instruments is to have barred instruments set up in C pentatonic. Then, students can play the rhythm patterns on whichever bars they want.

#3: Rhythm decoding

Another activity with primary grades is to have students figure out the rhythm patterns after listening. To do this, you could simply have students say the rhythm patterns back after hearing you clap or play them. Alternatively, students could play a rhythm game, to listen to patterns, then identify them! These can be a great way to quickly assess students' rhythmic understanding. Here are a couple that would work well for primary grades:

Another fun way to track how well students do with a game like this is to use Plickers cards. Check out this post about Plickers (and I would suggest trying them with second or third grade first before trying them with younger grades!)

#4: Rhythm dictation

To really get an understanding of whether students understand a rhythmic concept, it's good to have them dictate rhythm patterns. With younger students, I enjoy using popsicle sticks for dictation, like described in this blog post. I find that students in primary grades LOVE using dry erase boards, so you could also have them use dry erase boards and markers to dictate rhythm patterns, and then create their own! You could circulate through the room as they are dictating, and write down the names of students who are not dictating a rhythm pattern correctly (after writing down the names of students who are absent). That way, at the end of the activity, you have a good idea of how well students can dictate, without writing down every single student's name!

#5: Creating rhythm

A fun way to see if students understand a rhythmic concept is to have them create with it! Composition cards can be a fun way to have students do this…you could write down several rhythm patterns on index cards, and students get to put them in any order they want!

Students could also use popsicle sticks or dry erase boards to compose, either after dictation, or as its own activity. Students could compose, then read and/or play their composition!

Lastly, I really love using fruit manipulatives like described in this blog post, as well as this blog post, to have students create!

Check out these sets, for practicing ta and ti-ti in primary grades:

Would you like to listen to this as a podcast? Listen in iTunes, on Google Play Music, on Amazon, on TuneIn, or here:

Here is an overview of the podcast episode:

  • 1:54 Rhythm Reading
  • 3:43 Rhythm Playing
  • 5:52 Rhythm Decoding
  • 8:37 Rhythm Dictation
  • 10:30 Creating Rhythm 


Hope this was helpful as you write your rhythm lessons for primary grades. Happy teaching!

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Hi, I'm Aileen

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